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West Texas’ Own, Ponty Bone

Ponty Bone II

Ponty Bone

Christa T. for Accordion Americana Ponty Bone always knew he was different. “…I always thought of myself as some sort of artist…a character in a novel, all my life…I knew something was up.” Harry DePonta Bone, or “PB” to his friends, started playing the accordion when he was five years old, but dropped it several years later to study the trumpet. Little did he know that one day, he would come back to that first instrument and in time, become an institution in the heart of the West Texas music scene and internationally recognized as an Americana accordionist.

Ponty Bone was born and grew up in San Antonio. Because musicians lives are never easy, Ponty decided to do the wise thing and go to college at Texas Tech in Lubbock. Soon, he found himself with a wife, twin daughters and a job as a surveyor and draftsman living in Arizona, just trying to make ends meet. But, he wanted more. Mostly, he wanted to be back in Texas working as a musician.  Looking for any excuse, Ponty and his family always headed back in the direction of Texas. In the late sixties, while living in Phoenix, Ponty and his wife, Sarah started their first band, New Moan Hey and began playing gigs in Texas, beginning with The Vulcan Gas Company in Austin. Sarah, it has been noted, was a pretty good singer. But, for whatever reason, their marriage ended in 1976.

For Ponty, from the first band began long associations, performing and recording, with some of the best musicians in the music business, from Austin to L.A.  It’s hard not to talk about Ponty’s career without mentioning Lubbock, Texas because Ponty Bone has been so closely associated with the town and its music scene since the early 1970’s. He explains, “”Lubbock’s always been a lucrative market. A lot of great bands came out of Lubbock. And a lot of great bands came to Lubbock. A lot of ‘em were there because of, something a little bit more on the intellectual side of the equation. Like being in a band, or going to Texas Tech, or having some kind of a connection with the arts…”

But, Lubbock is more than your average college town. From the city’s night clubs emanated some of the grittiest and most visceral music ever produced in America. Key hot spots were the “Thunderbird Lounge”, the “Cotton Club” and “Stubb’s Bar-B-‘Que”. “Stubb’s” is on the city’s Eastside and at that time, was exclusively an African American night club. A guitarist changed that and put the club on the map. His name was Jesse Taylor, with whom Ponty Bone collaborated, from the time Jesse was a hard rocking, tattooed, self taught sixteen year old white kid who lived not far from “Stubb’s”. This association lasted until Jesse Taylor’s untimely death at age 55 in 2006. Both Jesse and Ponty eventually became members, touring internationally with The Joe Ely Band.

Joe Ely, a Lubbock born musician and band leader of international renown,  is a pivitol  figure in the life of Ponty Bone. Both met in the clubs in Lubbock and came to know each other well as musicians, and they knew everyone that played in and around the area.  One day, as Ponty describes, “Joe Ely drives up on his bicycle. He says, ‘Hey, Ponty. It looks like MCA is gonna do my first album. Listen, we’re getting together tonight over at my house on 9th Street; Man, get your accordion and come over there and jam with us! I got some songs I want you to play on the album.'” It a was fortuitous conversation that led Ponty to tour, perform and record with the Joe Ely Band for seven years prior to forming his own group, The Squeezetones which has been in existence for the past two decades.

Ponty Bone performs with Joel Guzman At Squeezebox Mania 2009:

Ponty Bone shows off his own brand of great musicianship on the accordion playing the blues.

Throughout his career and residency in Lubbock, as well as in Phoenix and Austin, wherever he has performed, domestically or internationally, PB has delighted and entertained and has always been in the best of musical company. He is hailed as an outstanding musician and revered as one of the most interesting and charismatic performers.  It’s that personality that makes one “different”.

Tragically, Ponty Bone was diagnosed in 2015 with a neurodegenerative disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy or PSP.  It is a brain disease of no known origin and it is eventually fatal.  PSP impairs all movement, balance, vision, speech and swallowing, yet it allows the victim to remain conscious and aware, with all mental capacity and personality intact. In a nutshell, it means one is a prisoner within one’s own body, left with no means of communication or expression.

His daughter Leah, writes, “Knowing PB, what he would appreciate… is to see the support and encouragement from you all through notes…. emails to him, letters or photos in the mail, or even better, visits, if you’re here in Central Texas. Again, even though he won’t be able to fully reciprocate, rest assured that the way our Dad lights up, in his own way, when he sees old friends or receives an email from an old fan, is something that speaks far louder than words ever could. If you need help reaching Ponty via email, mail or in person, please contact us.

Ponty Bone
P.O. Box 163421
Austin, Texas 78716 U.S.A.
PHONE: (512) 443-7952
pb@pontybone.com

All quotes from:

Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends of West Texas Music
by Christopher Oglesby
Published by the University of Texas Press

Thank you to Debra Peters for her input regarding this article

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A History of the Accordion in Americana Music

 


CarterSisters_Cover

Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters

Invented in 1829, the accordion came to be embraced by people in North America early on….

Soon, up in the mountains and down in the bayous….

in big cities and in small towns….

in the country and in the deserts of the West, as well as deep into Mexico,

on the Great Lakes and the Great Plains…

in the northern states and Canadian provinces….

the accordion thrived…

 it entertained,  delighted, inspired and brought folks together, to dance and sing….

 

Some of the first to become proficient on the accordion were French educated Creoles from the South,  just a few years after the instrument was invented.

Early Accordionist

This photograph, taken about 1850, just 21 years after the invention of the accordion, indicates that the instrument was already being mastered by African American musicians in Louisiana.

Creole musicians were very well schooled in music and provided entertainment at elite “house concerts” and elegant parties in Louisiana.

historical African American Accordionist

This musician, probably Creole from Louisiana is unknown to us, but from his fine clothing, he may have been well known in 1870

Young people were eager to make some noise with the accordion. Although it was expensive, it was new and it was radical. With its bellows providing the “lung power”, the accordion impressed women, who saw that they could participate and make music with this rather tiny, relatively light weight and very expressive instrument.

Young woman with her accordion c. 1870

This very “steampunk” teen age girl, looking directly into the camera, proudly and defiantly displays her accordion c. 1870

Because it was loud enough for sound to be carried above the “din”, the accordion was heard in music that emanated from front porches, weddings, social gatherings, dances and as entertainment in theaters and taverns for over 150 years..

The piano accordion evolved from the smaller bisonoric diatonic accordion, into a completely different, unisonoric musical instrument. The piano keyboard was added as was the innovative Stradella bass section which used preset chords.

The accordion grew larger, but the changes empowered players of other types of keyboards to find it easier and faster to learn the instrument.

Historical accordion boys

Brothers NYC c. 1900

The piano accordion was played by artists who were immigrants….

Guido Diero 1910

Guido Diero studied the accordion in Italy,  immigrated to America and worked in a mine in Oregon.  Photo c.1910

PietroDeiro1920

Guido’s younger brother, Pietro, also studied the accordion. Both were very influential for the spread in popularity of the piano accordion in America, as performers and as music publishers. Photo c. 1920

….And it was played by artists who were sons and daughters of  immigrants

Violaturpeinen

Viola Turpeinen was probably the first woman accordionist to record, and certainly the first female accordion star in America. A second-generation Finnish-American, starting in the 1920’s she played the Finnish dance circuit in the upper mid-west region of Michigan / Wisconsin / Minnesota. Eventually based out of New York, she toured widely and it became a tradition for dancers to see her headlining travelling shows every summer. (Accordion Noir) c. 1920

The accordion was popular in live stage productions in Vaudeville

Father with Daughters Vaudeville 1920's

A father and daughters act c.1920’s

The accordion was heard in early recordings of Gospel, Blues and Boogie Woogie………

 

Lead Belly c. 1930

Huddie Ledbetter , known as  Lead Belly,  with his diatonic “Windjammer” c.1930

The Death of Amede Ardoin

amede-ardoin-1075

Amede Ardoin, a diatonic accordionist beloved in  Louisiana, was highly influential in Cajun music. Ardoin died from being horrifically beaten after performing at a white dance in Eunice, LA. This heart breaking event haunted African American musicians who, from that point on, began to shy away from the accordion. Photo c. 1930’s.

In the transitional years from the Great Depression forward into the war years, the piano accordion was widely used because dances were an important source of entertainment. By the mid 1940’s, so many immigrant Catholics and returning soldiers wanted their children to play the songs of their ancestral homelands on the accordion, that the Roman Catholic Church forgave the instrument its “tavern” reputation and gave it a special status allowing it to be used in church services.  Because of this, the piano accordion was suddenly deemed respectable and “pent up demand” fed the market for instrument sales and lessons.

gang of accordion players

The accordion, with Anita Carter, was used by Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, in what would have been strictly a “string band” in previous years.

Mother Maybelle, the Carter Sisters with Chet Atkins

Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, along with Chet Atkins. Photo c. 1945

The first woman to play Bluegrass, professionally, was an accordion player….

Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys II

The first woman to be hired as a professional Bluegrass musician was Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester who performed with and was a member of Bill Munro and his Bluegrass Boys. Photo c. 1947

Pee Wee King reinvented what was known as “Hillbilly Music”, founding a new genre of music known as “Country & Western” music. His Western Swing Band was the first to wear the spangly “Nudie Suit” that came to be associated with Country music.

Pee Wee King V

Probably the most influential musician in Americana music, Pee Wee King helped to create a new genre of music, Country & Western music, combining the two under “one roof”, in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. He even co-wrote the state song! C & W music was among the first genres that was not inspired by the music of Europe. c. 1948

The piano accordion became synonymous with “class”. The big band dance scene had died off, but small combos in swanky clubs became a new kind of venue.

Art_VanDamme3

Art Van Damme brought the accordion into the world of Jazz. He toured for forty years, performed brilliantly with the instrument and elevated it to an unprecedented level of coolness. Photo c. 1950

Dick Contino V

Teenager, Dick Contino was earning $4000 a week billed as the “Greatest Accordionist in the World” c. 1950

JoAnne Castle c. 1957

Jo Ann Castle is significant for what she didn’t do, as much as for what she did. A rare and gifted musician, she headlined in Las Vegas clubs as an underage teen, had a best selling instrumental album in 1957 that scored #67 on the Billboard Hot 100. The pretty 18 year old created a lot of excitement and Castle was promptly hired by a well known variety show as an accordionist. After a short time, her employer insisted, as a condition of her employment, that she change her instrument to honky-tonk piano, which was not her specialty (her repetoire consisted of three songs at that time).This was done to make way for a male accordionist of average proficiency to displace her.

From that point the “bubble” flattened as demand for the instrument’s sales plummeted to a fraction of what they had been a decade before.  All through the 1950’s, the accordion establishment did not trust or support Rock ‘n Roll or any aesthetic associated with the genre. Publishers did not want to pay songwriters for current hit songs to be reformatted for the piano accordion but preferred instead, to push the “same-old, same-old” European style tunes to a changing demographic.  As young people advanced in proficiency on the piano accordion, classical music was the promoted path because it was already in the public domain. In fifteen years of post war popularity, this short sighted business plan shifted the identity of the accordion from an American “grass roots” instrument to one perceived as predominantly, a European instrument.

In America in the 1960’s, ‘The Times They Were A-Changing’ and the immigrant’s children had grown up. Americana music was taking them in a different direction and young people were listening and participating. The Civil Rights movement had inflamed the cities and the South.  The Viet Nam War and the draft angered America, especially young people. Women were agitating for equality and rights. Much of the music of the 1960’s were songs about life and death issues that were impacting young people during that era. They knew that they had a lot to gain or lose and expressed it through their music with a message, sexual tension or an angry protest. The accordion establishment was afraid of it and the musicians who created it. In spite of the long history of the accordion in North America, the establishment felt a sense of ownership and wanted to keep their instrument away from any political or social undercurrent, fearing that it would become associated with rebellion, as the bandoneon had been in Argentina. (Astor Piazzola) They did not cultivate as potential customers, African Americans who could have easily become prominent players of the piano accordion in current music and taken it in their own direction. They did not explore new markets and promote the instrument, for example, to inner city children through churches as they had aggressively and systematically pursued white children and their parents in the suburbs. Women were seen as teachers of the instrument rather than as legitimate players and potential performers, as they had been in the past. With draftable white males defecting, in significant numbers, from the ranks of accordion players in favor of the guitar and other instruments, the accordion establishment was afraid that if they didn’t take control, the future of the piano accordion could be left in the hands of black and women musicians.

Curiously, accordion players never sang with their instrument in that era, which they had freely done in the 1940’s. Young people could not see how the piano accordion could be used to make their music, and found no one inspiring that could play or sing with the instrument their way. The accordion community had insulated itself so well from the times that there was nothing new allowed in, or out and there were no innovative players to emulate. Except for jazz, accordion music was cheesy and watered down, at best. Young people were not only disinterested in playing the accordion, they scorned it.  They saw the piano accordion as part of something that they loathed and their strong feelings were transferred to the instrument. This attitude is the very reason for the accordion jokes, the disrespect and the “hairy eyeball” that so many accordion players still encounter. As a result of these tactics, there was a “brain drain”, as energy was taken away from the stylistic evolution of the instrument for decades in America because it was held back. Instead of finding this very expressive instrument worthy and highly regarded as it always had been, talented musicians simply went on their way and found other instruments with which to express their musical vision. The Hammond B3, Hohner Harmonica, saxophone, piano and both electric and acoustic guitar defined the music of the 1960’s,70’s, 80’s….The establishment’s action was to do little to nothing, wait it out and bank on the return to sensibility when the Viet Nam war was over and the music changed, and women were done trying to be men.

 As far as the piano accordion was concerned, it was fear that ran the show,  In retrospect, the accordion establishment blamed the conservatism of music teachers or that the piano accordion simply “fell out of fashion”.  They put the blame for the downturn of the accordion market heavily on the existence of the electric guitar, while in the rest of the world, the accordion actually thrived alongside both the electric and acoustic guitar.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself” Franklin D. Roosevelt

New Orleans is not afraid of the music or the musicians who create it.

That is why it is the epicenter for the emergence of major new genres of music.

Zydeco music came out of New Orleans in the 1960’s and it was there that the piano accordion was put to good use by Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band.

Clifton Chenier

“Zydeco” music gained popularity in the early 1960’s with Clifton Chenier, considered by many to be the Father of Zydeco, in his landmark 1965 song “Zydeco Sont Pas Sale.” The word “zydeco” is popularly associated with the French phrase “les haricots sont pas sales,” or “the snap beans are not salty.”

 

Without a doubt, The Beatles were the gigantic “elephant in the room” during the 1960’s.

Paul McCartney with Accordion

Paul McCartney’s first instrument was the accordion. He frequently took one with him and used it as he wrote songs for the Beatles. c 1965

Titano Tiger

The Titano Tiger

Ernest and Faith Deffner, owners of their newly acquired Titano Accordion Company decided it was time to design a more radical accordion to appeal to the youth culture of America. The Deffners saw a void in the market in the mid-1960’s and looked at it as their great opportunity. They were bold and right to embark on their idea. The Tiger Combo’Cordion was a compact, colorful instrument featuring a ‘quint’ treble tuning for “piercing lead or swinging chords…to flip the crowd”(Hullabaloo Magazine). The main feature of the instrument was the resurrected slanted keyboard which was more user friendly for the position of the human hand, thereby allowing faster finger work.

Faith and Ernest Deffner

Ernest and Faith Deffner

After substantial research and development, the Titano Tiger was rolled out, but, sadly, they decided to choose to endorse the instrument, a spokesman who was a prominent member of the very “same-old, same-old” accordion establishment that loathed youth culture and from whom young people so desperately wanted to escape. After all their fierce determination,  the Deffner Team didn’t recognize that by choosing someone who could not relate to American youth, it would be their greatest tactical error and be a “big wet blanket” on their effort to sell their accordion to America’s young musicians. The futuristic vision of Ernest and Faith Deffner was undermined by fear and, as a result, the Titano Tiger didn’t sell and sits today in collections of rare instruments and in museums gathering dust.

But, there were accordionists who existed outside of the establishment.

179.-Garth-Hudson-The-Band-811C_25-copy

Garth Hudson was a proficient accordionist long before he was hired by Bob Dylan, as a member of The Hawks, renamed The Band. (Photo by Barry Wenzel c. 1968)

Jon Hammond

Musician Jon Hammond deliberately pushed the envelope for the accordion in the 1970s. Photo c. 1974

Large_Nitty GrittyDirt Band_5

Americana band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had a huge accordion-based hit song in 1972, the now classic “Mr. Bojangles”

billy-joel-philadelphia-1978

Singer/ Songwriter Billy Joel frequently incorporates the accordion in his music to this day. photo c. 1978

Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac c. 1980

Christine McVie and Lindsay Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, in their live performance of “Tusk”, used the accordion to replace the entire USC marching band! c. 1982

Tom Waits II

Singer/Songwriter Tom Waits is a prominent advocate of the accordion in his performances and recordings since the early 1970’s. Photo c. 1990

NY Underground artist Phoebe Legere

A classically trained pianist and vocalist, Phoebe Legere used the accordion when she opened for David Bowie in 1990, and still uses it as an underground artist in New York. Photo c. 1990’s

Buckwheat zydeco III

Stanley Dural was a break through artist for the piano accordion and was well known in Louisiana as a blues organist even before associating himself with the piano accordion or with Zydeco music. Stanley Dural continued the blues tradition as Buckwheat Zydeco and was the most successful Americana accordionist until his death in 2016. Photo c. 2000

Sheryl Crowe

Sheryl Crowe, vocalist, guitarist, pianist and top recording artist caused quite a stir using the accordion on tour and in her recordings. In doing so, she made a tremendous contribution to the presence of the accordion in Americana music. Photo c. 1998

C.J._Chenier

C.J. Chenier took up where his father, Clifton, left off and performs as a blues and zydeco musician throughout the world. c. 2005

Regine

Regine Chassange shreds on the accordion as a member of Montreal’s Arcade Fire. Photo c. 2000’s

corey-pesaturo-iii

In the 21st Century, Corey Pesaturo became recognized as the most internationally awarded American accordionist of all time. Photo c. 2010.

2012 was the “Comeback Year” for the piano accordion.

Ben Lovett with Mumford and Sons

2012 Grammy Award for Best Americana album, “Babel”, featuring the piano accordion, made Mumford and Sons a household name in North America

Johnny Kongos

In 2012, out of the Phoenix Valley arose Arizona’s own homegrown band, KONGOS, who composed and recorded the most successful, piano accordion-based hit song, “Come With Me Now”.  It shattered all records, blew the roof off of perceptions about the instrument, and earned Johnny Kongos and his brothers plenty of contracts and a world wide following.

Bill Haley and the Comets

Also, 2012 was the year that Bill Haley’s group,  the Comets, along with Johnny Grande, were recognized by their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Danny and Bruce

Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, co-founded by the late Danny Federici in New Jersey in 1969, were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 2014.

The piano accordion continues to participate in Americana music, today.

Buxton

Buxton (Photo by Jacob Blickenstaff of Mother Jones, Americana Music Awards, Nashville, 2016)

The+Band+Perry

The Band Perry

 

Not the end…….