Photo by Jay Hudson
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Austin, Texas is home to one of the most diverse musical landscapes in the United States. The accordion has always had a role in the local music scene from the advent of the town’s German Beer Halls in the 1800’s, through the evolution of Tex-Mex music. Because of this presence, the accordion is alive and well represented in Texas music, today.
One of the most popular and respected Texas accordionists is Debra Peters. For the last 24 years, she has consistently performed in Austin and all around Texas with her band, Debra Peters and The Love Saints Band. Debra is a career singer, songwriter, accordionist, pianist and session musician. Also, well-known in Austin as a teacher of the accordion, she is an entrepreneur, producing and marketing her own music recordings and accordion educational videos.
Women musicians who have their own bands are rare. But, a woman musician with the professional longevity that Debra Peters has shown, are all the more rare. Monthly, for the last 2 decades, Debra Peters has appeared at the legendary Broken Spoke in Austin. Also, throughout that time, Debra and her band have toured Europe, Japan, Mexico, North America and Hawaii. Debra Peters and The Love Saints Band were featured at the International Accordion Festival held in San Antonio, Texas. They are scheduled to appear at the upcoming 2016 Texas Folk Life Festival in Austin. This marks the 32nd anniversary for Texas FolkLife, which was started in 1984. The festival presents and honors the diverse cultures and living heritage of the Lone Star State. Tex-Mex and Zydeco/Cajun music are represented in The Love Saint’s Band’s repertoire along with Americana, polkas and other dance music. The daughter of a Canadian railroad engineer, Debra enjoys performing a selection of railroad songs, as well.
As an accordion educator, Debra has presented workshops every year for the past 12 years. ” I am a lifelong music student as well as a lifelong music teacher. Around every corner, there is always something more and great to learn!” Her vision of producing and marketing her own accordion educational videos came out of a workshop held in Las Vegas. Upon viewing an accordion lesson video done by another accordionist, Debra remembered that, as a child, she was introduced to the piano by a lesson video on VCR. At that moment, she determined that she would create her own lesson videos. “It was almost like I was stung by a bee!” Immediately, she went to work to produce an educational video and, in 2005 created The Blues, Chords and Chops. The reaction from her students was positive and in 2007, Debra created The Blues ,Chords and Chops, Volume II. Since then, she has produced and marketed other video accordion lessons, including one that focuses on bass patterns for the Stradella bass keyboard, 25 Bass Patterns. It was a lot of work for the already busy musician to “write and present the lessons, film and edit them, design the covers, produce the actual copies, set up the mail system, build a website, and do the marketing.” She persevered, and today sales from her web site are healthy and she has plans for more lesson videos.
Her enthusiasm for the accordion and her passion for people is evident. Debra strives to encourage others to play the accordion, especially girls and other women. A hardworking professional musician, Debra Peters is inspired, not only to entertain, but to empower others who seek to become skillful accordionists locally and in places far away from her Austin, Texas home. Update: Debra Peters and The Love Saints Band have been invited to participate August 20-21, 2016 at the Cotati Accordion Festival, Cotati California.
Love Saints Music, Austin Texas USA
John Mayall had no goal other than “to make a normal blues album” , which is what the veteran artist and bandleader has done over the course of his 51-year recording career. And if you start adding it up, after 50 years, it’s obviously quite a career.” Mayall recorded “A Special Life,” his first release in five years for Forty Below Records, during a three-day session with his band during November at Entourage Studios in North Hollywood. It features four originals — one written by band members Greg Rzab and Rocky Athas — plus covers of songs by Jimmy Rogers, Albert King, Sonny Landreth and others. Mayall’s band is also bolstered by accordionist C.J. Chenier on several tracks, including a version of his father Clifton Chenier’s “Why Did You Go Last Night” that kicks off the album. “That was one of the songs I’ve always had a fondness for,” Mayall says. “In fact, we used to play it when Jack Bruce was in the band, so it goes that far back, and it’s far less Zydeco than straightahead blues. I thought it was a perfect time to approach C.J.; his father wrote and sang the song originally, and he was available, so I just contacted him. I hadn’t met him before, but he flew in for the day and we nailed it. It was a really great experience.”
C.J. Chenier grew up in the 1960s, in the housing projects of his native Port Arthur, Texas, where he was aware of, but not exposed to his father’s music as a young child.
Upon first listening to his father’s music, Chenier thought all the songs sounded the same. But he eventually began to appreciate and master his style, as he later joined and then took over his father’s band and career. He has since played such venues as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, San Diego’s Street Scene and Milwaukee’s Summerfest. Paul Simon first heard Chenier in 1990, and featured him on the The Rhythm of the Saints album, and that year’s ‘Born At The Right Time’ tour. In 1992 Chenier played accordion on “Cajun Song”, a track on the Gin Blossoms‘ album, New Miserable Experience. 1992 saw Chenier featured with the Red Hot Louisiana Band on the PBS music television program Austin City Limits. By October 1994 Chenier was signed by Alligator. His debut release there was Too Much Fun, named the next year as best zydeco album of 1995 by Living Blues magazine. In 1995, Chenier gained his widest audience to date with television appearances on the Jon Stewart Show and CNN. His 1996 appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was featured in a segment by the VH1cable music television network, as well as by Entertainment Weekly. Chenier and the band also appeared that year at the Austin, Texas, 1996 SxSW Music Conference, a special event for Alligator Records’ 25th anniversary. Chenier won the 1997 Living Blues’ Critics’ Poll Award and also an AFIM Indie Award for best zydeco album, for his next release, The Big Squeeze. In 2001, Chenier played in front of 60,000 fans at the Chicago Blues Festival.
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana It began with a knock on the door and a promise of success. In mid-century America, many parents thought that if their child studied a musical instrument, he or she would be more intelligent, be a better student and therefore be more productive in life. So, the common practice all over America through the nineteen fifties and into the nineteen sixties was for local music studios to go door to door and sign children up for music lessons at the studio. Band and orchestra music lessons were always given through the schools, and studios would compete for the coveted contracts to supply students with instruments. So, door to door salesmen were commissioned to offer lessons as an introduction to other instruments, such as the accordion, the piano and the guitar, with rental or purchase of an instrument through the music studio.
In the door to door method of marketing, the guitar was the more frequent choice because it was the easiest for a family to afford. The cost for the guitar was twenty-five dollars or less. With a few lessons to learn some basic chords, a boy could make inroads into the worlds of rock ‘n’ roll, country-western music, jazz and–yikes!–the blues! So, for those who were fearful of such outcomes or especially if their child was a girl, the choice was usually between the accordion and the piano. Although relatively expensive, the accordion started out as a popular choice. It was smaller and portable and, unlike a piano, it could be carried to a basement, or another room in a small home for practice sessions. That offered the rest of the family a chance to watch television in peace (preferably in the dark, just like at the movies). It was seen as a “win-win” situation for everyone.
As in almost all direct sales, salesmen started with lists of names and addresses obtained from telephone books, a recent census, directories and other sources through subscriptions. They determined where to focus their sales efforts, and pursued their target market systematically. For example, if the family’s name came from a church directory, the more likely the instrument of choice would be the piano, and sometimes the studio could move a student to the organ, as well. If the family had an Italian, Polish or Eastern European name, perhaps another instrument would be a better fit. So, for a Lynwood, California family named Yankovic, a name already associated with the accordion (Frankie Yankovic), it was highly probable that a child in that household, in time, would be a student of the accordion.
Alfred was a very smart boy. He was enrolled in elementary school one year early and was found to be gifted and allowed to skip the second grade. One day, when Alfred was six or seven years old and already a third grader, a salesman came to their door and impressed upon Nick and Mary Yankovic that their only child should take music lessons at the studio. His parents thought it would be a good idea for Alfred to learn to play the accordion because, just as it had for the unrelated Frankie Yankovic, it might lead to something for their boy. But, neither one could have foreseen that their son would seize this opportunity to completely reinvent Alfred Yankovic as “Weird Al” and would become an enormously successful entertainer, music satirist, songwriter, record producer, actor, music video director, film producer , and children’s book author.
Yankovic made his first career decision when he decided to write a song about his family car, a Plymouth Belvedere and called it “Belvedere Cruisin'”. He taped the song, and gave the crudely recorded demo to his idol, Dr. Demento(Barry Hansen), when the radio show host visited Lynwood High School in Alfred’s senior year. Hansen liked it and played it on the air during The Dr. Demento Show. It turned out to be a breakthrough move for Alfred.
Alfred graduated at age 16 as Valedictorian of the class of 1975 at Lynwood High School in Lynwood, California. But, during his sophomore year at California Polytechnic Institute, Alfred’s professional career actually began when he promoted himself as “Weird Al” while he was a student disc jockey. He worked Wednesdays from midnight until three in the morning on campus radio station, KCPR. He also performed at local coffee houses in the area and remembers, “It sort of was like amateur music night and a lot of people were like wannabee Dan Fogelbergs. They would get up on stage with their acoustic guitar and do these lovely ballads. And I would get up with my accordion and play the theme from 2001 (A Space Oddessey)….people were kind of shocked that I would be disrupting their mellow Thursday night folk fest.” In 1978, his recording (as Alfred Yankovic), “Take Me Down” appeared on the Slo Grown LP, as a benefit for the Economic Opportunity Commission of San Luis Obispo County. It was a mockery of landmarks in the county.
The next year, just before his senior year in college, “Weird Al” did a parody of a then-current song that was high on the charts in 1979, “My Sharona” by The Knack. Al dashed across the hall from the campus radio station with his accordion. He used the hard bathroom walls to achieve an echo chamber effect and recorded a parody of the song, named “My Bologna”. Fortunately, Al was able to record it using a cord found that happened to be long enough to reach all the way from the men’s room to the tape deck in the radio station.
In 1980, Al was invited as a guest on the Dr. Demento Show, where he recorded, live on air, “Another One Rides the Bus”, a parody he had written based on “Another One Bites the Dust”, by Queen. Al met drummer, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, while rehearsing the song for the show. Jon stepped in to give him a steady beat, banging on Al’s accordion case to keep time. They rehearsed the song only a few times before the show began. Al played his accordion on the show and on the recording, while Schwartz banged on the accordion case. TK Records released it as a single, just as the company was going bankrupt. No royalties were received from the initial release, but it was a hit and was eventually performed on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder in 1981.
One thing led to another. Al reached out, again to Dr. Demento, and sent “My Bologna”. He played it and received positive response from listeners. Doug Feiger, lead singer of The Knack, heard the parody and loved it. After a show they performed at his college, Al met The Knack and introduced himself as the creator of “My Bologna”. Feiger, suggested to Rupert Perry, who was Vice President of Capitol Records, that it be released as a single. “My Bologna” was released and on its flip side was “School Cafeteria” and along with that release, Al received a six month recording contract. In spite of all of the distraction, Al Yankovic graduated, at age twenty, with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture. But, he wanted to see if he could make a living doing parodies of current songs. Al recalls, “If it hadn’t been for Dr. Demento, I would have a real job right now.”
As Al Yankovic’s career took off in the 1980’s, there were recording artists who loved his work and allowed him to parody them. But, even now, there are those who do not allow him to lampoon them because they don’t want another version of their work to exist or because they think a parody may damage their reputation. Yankovic always requests permission from the artist that he intends to satirize. Al didn’t think that Michael Jackson would agree to it, but was surprised that MJ thought the parody of his song “Beat It”, called “Eat It” was funny. So MJ became a fan of “Weird Al” Yankovic.
In fact, Michael Jackson thought so highly of him, that MJ allowed WAY to use the set from his music video “Badder” for Al Yankovic’s video, “Fat”, a parody of the hit song, “Bad”. It won the Grammy Award for Best Concept Music Video of 1988.
However, MJ would not allow him to parody “Black or White” because he reasoned that permitting it would change the impact of the song’s message which was meaningful and sensitive, and he felt strongly that he needed to protect it. Although never recorded, sometimes “Weird Al” Yankovic does “Snack All Night”, his parody of “Black or White”, at live shows.
Unlike Michael Jackson, the late Prince would never allow Yankovic to parody his songs, although he had been approached many times throughout the years to do so. Prince even went so far as to request, in writing via a telegram, that Yankovic make no eye contact with him at the American Music Awards, (Yankovic was one of several at the event to be notified).
“Like a Surgeon”was based on Madonna‘s signature hit, “Like a Virgin” and was the only time that “Weird Al” took an artist up on doing a parody of their own song. She mused about it and confided to a mutual friend of Yankovic’s manager, who passed the information on to Al Yankovic.
“White and Nerdy”, (from Straight Outta Lynwood, released 2006) a parody of a rap song, “Ridin'” by Chamillionaire, was the only Top 100 hit to make the Top 10 by “Weird Al” Yankovic, peaking at #9 and with more than six million views on YouTube.
Since Al began his career in the late 1970’s, he has sold more than 12 million albums, recorded more than 150 parody and original songs and has performed more than 1000 live shows. He was nominated for a Grammy eleven times, and won four Grammy Awards, four Gold Records and six Platinum Records in the U. S. A.
Al Yankovic’s latest album is Mandatory Fun (2014). It became his first number one album during its debut week. In addition to recording his albums, “Weird Al” wrote and starred in the film UHF(1989) and The Weird Al Show(1997). He has also written two children’s books When I Grow Up and My New Teacher and Me.
Professional accordionist and multi-instrumentalist, Jeff Taylor, grew up in Batavia, New York, and began playing accordion and keyboards in his dad’s band when he was 10. He studied classical piano at the Eastman School of Music and was leader of a small jazz/rock group when he was in the Air Force in Ohio. He has lived in Nashville since 1990. Taylor counts among his performing highlights his two years as bandleader at the Ryman auditorium for the musical production Always, Patsy Cline, hundreds of shows as bandleader at Opryland theme park and on the General Jackson showboat, The Skaggs Family Christmas Tour, and many appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, backing numerous artists. He has recorded with Elvis Costello, Paul Simon, Harry Connick Jr., Keith and Kristyn Getty, Amy Grant, George Strait, The Chieftains, Martina McBride, Buddy Greene, Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs. He was a featured artist on the Ricky Skagg’s and Kentucky Thunder Instrumentals CD that won a Grammy in 2007 for Best Bluegrass Album. Besides excelling on accordion and piano, he also shines on the concertina, penny whistle, mandolin and bouzouki.
Jeff Taylor performs as a member of The Time Jumpers, along with Vince Gill and also some of the best musicians in Nashville. The Time Jumpers are an award winning Western Swing band from Nashville, Tennessee, with two awards from the Association of Western Artists, one from the Western Music Association and two Grammy nominations! This group of Nashville’s studio elite has evolved from casual jam sessions at the Grand Ole Opry to performing on the main stage, and becoming THE Monday night destination in Nashville,.
Their individual recording and performing credits cover virtually the entire history of country music, ranging from Slim Whitman to Carrie Underwood, and their members have recorded extensively with artists in other genres as well, from Barbra Streisand to Megadeth. The Time Jumpers appear, regularily, at The Station Inn, Nashville, Tennessee.
Jeff Taylor, performs on the accordion, along with the great Vince Gill and The Time Jumpers
Jeff Taylor, Accordionist, with the late Dawn Sears at the Station Inn
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana In the world of entertainment, the word “play” has been used, forever. As athletic games are played on fields and in arenas, music is similarly played on a live stage or in a recording studio. The indefatigable Accordionist, Aaron Hurwitz, known as ‘Professor Louie’, has participated in the game for a long time, as a multi-instrumentalist, a seasoned live performer and, behind the scenes, as a sought after session musician, recording engineer and producer. What a rare, “five tool player” is to baseball, Professor Louie is to the music business.
Born in Peekskill, New York, Hurwitz began his career with The Mighty Gospel Giants of Brooklyn, touring and performing across the U.S. Gospel music was a training ground for some of the giants in Gospel, Motown, Soul, R & B and Pop music with many great musicians coming out of the churches such as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and Al Green. “Gospel music always intrigued me as a kid. I would listen to it on the radio and hear these groups that just sounded great, and the feeling was great, and I realized it was basically rock ‘n roll. I mean, when you hear gospel music, especially the groups of gospel music, it sounds like blues, and it sounds like rock ‘n roll” Playing back up for the group and living out of a suitcase was life altering for the young musician. It was illuminating for him to observe the gospel group performing at “very classy gospel shows, and then… some were just in the middle of a field someplace.”
In the 1970’s, music was thrown a curve ball in the form of Disco. “I really wasn’t into playing that kind of music. And that was the only way to get work at the time, was playing disco. Being a keyboard player, I was more into working in a studio (at that time), and so I started hanging out in the New York City recording studios as an assistant engineer and doing session work, playing keyboards on some records. I’d pretty much had it with doing live music at that point. So I started going to Atlantic records a lot, and I worked with some great people, It was also another source of income, because, you know, as a player, a lot of times things slow down, and financially you’d have to take other jobs. I drove a cab in New York for a while or I’d work for a roofing company or a car wash. I had maybe 15 or 20 jobs like that. So I learned to engineer fairly well, and was able to get hired by well-known producers like Eddie Kramer and John Simon as their engineer. So I was producing records and engineering and playing on them, as opposed to only playing in live places, and I became more than just a session player.”
By the 1980’s, Hurwitz was able to leave the odd jobs behind and work as a fully employed member of the music industry. “When I got with The Band in ’85, there was never a lack of great keyboard players, so there was never a lack of great musicianship, but what there was a lack of, especially in the mid-80s was technical people, who could engineer and produce. I started getting hired by a lot of musicians to help produce records and play on them and engineer”.
It was during his time with The Band that the name and persona, ‘Professor Louie’ was invented. Rick Danko, vocalist and bassist for The Band was “actually the one who gave me the name Professor Louie, because that’s my middle name and a lot of The Band guys used their middle names…you know Levon Helm’s middle name is Levon and Garth Hudson’s middle name is Garth. What happens is all through history, keyboard players have been given monikers, like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Professor Longhair, Doctor Lonnie Smith” …While performing as a duo with Rick Danko on stage,”Rick would start calling me Professor Louie, and it was really a great honor. Most people, especially those on the business end, knew me as Professor Louie. So I kept it”. Professor Louie remembers that, “my experience working for The Band was great, and a great lesson in learning the music business and the music of that time…The Band was really the source of Americana music. They were actually one of the first groups to be classified as Americana”.
In addition to his friendship with Rick Danko, one of the critical relationships in Professor Louie’s professional career was that of Garth Hudson, accordionist and keyboardist for The Band.”I got more into the accordion of course after hanging out with Garth Hudson. The one thing that always appealed to me about the accordion is that nobody was playing that much rock ‘n roll on it and blues; it’s always been more of a traditional, ethnic or classical instrument”. But Garth Hudson was, perhaps, the only musician at that time, to focus on the accordion as an instrument that could play rock ‘n roll, blues, and gospel infused country music. He was, after all, Bob Dylan‘s accordion player.
About the accordion, Professor Louie observes, “America isn’t really associated with accordion music, because most accordion music that came here came from someplace else. I mean, New Orleans has authentic accordion music, but a lot of it is sometimes associated with music from France, or Cajun music or Arcadian.” One of the advantages that the accordion has that other keyboard instruments don’t have is portability. “A lot of times when you’re out and people are playing acoustic guitars and sometimes there’s no piano, I mean, you can always bring a little synthesizer or small portable electric piano, but the accordion is more of an authentic acoustic instrument so I found that it blended in better.”
The Band produced three final albums in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Professor Louie co-produced, engineered and performed with The Band on Jericho, High on the Hog, and Jubilation. Professor Louie and his backing band, The Crowmatix, were also featured musicians on Rick Danko’s album, Times Like These, before Rick’s death and they also performed on Garth Hudson’s solo album, The Sea to the North in 2001.
Since that time, Professor Louie and The Crowmatix have tirelessly toured throughout the world. The group features Marie Spinosa of Brooklyn, N.Y, or “Miss Marie”, a powerful vocalist, songwriter, pianist and percussionist. Also, Grammy Award winning Gary Burke, who was the drummer for Bob Dylan, Graham Parker and many other groups. He performed on over a dozen albums with Joe Jackson, and was a drummer for The Radio City Music Hall Orchestra for four years. Frank Campbell, bassist for The Crowmatix, played bass for the Rick Danko and Levon Helm tours, and was based for many years in Austin, Texas. He moved to Woodstock, N.Y, which is now home base for Professor Louie, as well. Josh Colow, from Woodstock, N.Y. is an in demand rhythm and blues guitarist. He toured with his own groups, Jesse Winchester, as well as other renowned musicians.
About Woodstock, Professor Louie says, “being in an area like the Woodstock area, where there’s so many musicians who live here, everybody has a little bit of a common cause, it’s sort of like living in a big college campus. I think by everybody being in a place, with a lot of people doing the same creative type of work helps, and also the Woodstock area has been great for recording studios. There are a lot of people coming in and out recording. And that’s what separates this area as opposed to some other music areas, is that sometimes people will travel to record here. You can meet people from other places, and Woodstock also has a good film festival, so there’s a lot of creative energy in general and always has been. For hundreds of years, that’s why people have come here”.
The latest offering by Professor Louie and The Cromatix is “Music from Hurley Mountain“. The album opens with “Golden Morning,” and closes with “Goodnight, Hurley,” In between, it tells the story, in four chapters, about Ulster County, located in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, from its initial settlement until its eventual home to a unique group of musicians who have made it the epicenter of their lives.
The John and Anna Kaufman farm and barn, just across from Hurley Mountain, is one of four original farms in the area. It became the site of the recording studio that would become central to The Cromatix and to other musicians and sound people, local and legendary, that would make their way to Hurley Mountain to record. The studio has been in existence for thirty years and is now known as the Rock and Roll Barn. Professor Louie explains, “John (Kaufman) chugged on by many a day” in his classic John Deere tractor while Louie was recording. One day Louie finally put the microphone out the window. He commemorates that moment and the family in “John’s Tractor” with the use of the ambient sound of the Kaufman’s tractor from long ago. They further honor the site with the straight up rock ‘n’ roll celebration, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Barn“. “Crop Dustin’ Blues” evokes an old Animals vibe and addresses a long environmentally challenging practice still used to this day. Professor Louie and his ensemble, The Cromatix, move in a traditionalist direction with acoustic instrumentation used extensively in tunes such as the sweet and sentimental “Family Reunion”, “Four Farmers” and the swampy “You Got Me Dizzy“, composed by Mississippi bluesman, Jimmy Reed. Louie features the accordion throughout the album, most prominently on the opening and closing compositions.
Professor Louie shares lead vocals with Miss Marie in most of the album’s songs, including “Light In Your Eyes”, a beautiful, soulful ballad performed in the tradition of the nineteen fifties and sixties. Other personnel featured on Music From Hurley Mountain consists of drummer Gary Burke, guitarist/vocalist John Platania, bassist/vocalist Frank Campbell, lead guitarist Josh Colow and violinist Larry Packer.
Web address www.professorlouie.com
(All quotes from an interview, “Aaron Hurwitz aka Professor Louie and the Crowmatix” by Monica Sirignano and Dave Bower for The Free George Magazine. Thank you to Aaron “Professor Louie” Hurwitz and Graham Clarke for additional information regarding “Music From Hurley Mountain”. )