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.
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana The late Country Music Scholar, Charles K. Wolfe wrote of Pee Wee King, “Pee Wee never picked cotton, never hopped a freight train, never worked as a song plugger in Nashville…unlike so many of his fellow members of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Pee Wee King was not known as a guitar player or even as a singer. His instrument was an ungainly one, the accordion, and he played it so well that he inspired dozens of country bands to add it to their acts in the 1940s and 1950s….he was also a bandleader par excellence whose work often pushed the envelope of older country music. He was a gifted songwriter….a creative promoter, a finder of new talent, an explorer of new media, and, best of all, a consummate professional. In his heyday, Pee Wee King took Country music uptown and didn’t ask whether or not it was ready to go.”
Pee Wee King was then, what we now refer to as a ‘Game Changer’. But even though King is credited as being one of the key people to formulate the sound and look of Modern Country music, even co-writing Nashville’s own state song, ” The Tennessee Waltz“, he and his instrument are still considered to be outsiders by Country music insiders.. His effort to “mainstream” Country music caused great resentment and is still a primary reason why Nashville is resistant to, and even disdainful of the accordion as a viable instrument in Country music.
Born in Abrams, Wisconsin, February 18, 1914, King grew up there and was known under his given name, Frank Kuczynski. He performed as an accordionist and as a fiddler with his father’s band from the time he was fifteen years old. Shortly after, taking the name of King while still in high school, he formed Frankie King and The King’s Jesters in 1930. Within three years, King had his own radio program in Milwaukee and he and his band performed at the local Badger State Barn Dance. It was there that he was discovered by the legendary Gene Autry, an emerging cowboy singer. Autry bestowed the honorary title, ‘Pee Wee’ on King, for his small stature. King and Autry, lifelong friends from then on, moved to Louisville, Kentucky where King backed up Autry on radio before “The Singing Cowboy” left for Hollywood to become a film star.
When Autry departed, King decided to stick with radio, stay in Louisville and remain as a member of Frankie More’s Log Cabin Boys. He already had a business relationship with Autry’s manager, and also was interested in the manager’s step-daughter, a singer on the Louisville radio station. So, in the middle of America’s Great Depression, Pee Wee King acquired both his wife, Lydia Frank, and as his manager, J. L. Frank. He would eventually legally change his surname to King.
In 1937, Pee Wee King formed The Golden West Cowboys and shortly after was asked to join the Grand Ole’ Opry on Nashville’s WSN radio. The ambitious King immediately seized the opportunity to move away from the Opry’s strict mandate to use only stringed instruments. He brought in musical instruments never before heard at the Opry, such as the accordion, an amplified electric guitar, horns and the pedal steel guitar. In addition, Pee Wee King did not make many friends at the Opry when he refused to change his band’s sound when asked to do so, or when, along with Bob Wills, he insisted on using drums on stage.
This new style of music was loud and lively, danceable and entertaining, and very much influenced by the Big Band sound that was popular all over the world in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This gave it new energy, a new sound and brought Country music into the mid- twentieth century. Perhaps, because he didn’t come from that exclusive community of musicians and songwriters that grew up in the hills and the ‘hollers’ of the South, King saw what was known then as “Hillbilly” music, in a broader geographic context. He recognized the new “Country” music as being the music that included the entire nation, from east coast to west coast, and not just the music from the Southeastern part of the United States. In his vision, the Country music genre shifted and stretched to include Texas, Arizona and Southern California, and with this, it acquired a new “western” sensibility. Singers and songwriters from those areas must have taken note, like Marty Robbins, Roy Orbison and Buck Owens and many others and may have felt a sense of inclusion and opportunity in the new Country and Western sound.
Because King saw himself as an entertainer, when America went to war in 1941, he envisioned that Country music should be a part of the war effort and entertainment scene of mainstream America. He knew that to accomplish this, Country music needed a bigger sound and a bolder image. King had a love for flashy, professional showmanship. He outfitted his band with fancy, custom made suits. This new take on Country music became enormously popular all over America and eventually became associated with Nashville. But, at first, such flamboyance was met with resentment in Nashville and there was a strong outcry against King by music traditionalists. King also “changed the game” when he insisted that his band members be required to read music. They were also among the first musicians in Nashville to join the musicians union. He wanted his band, not only to appear professional, but actually be the best musicians in the music business.
The new sound of Country music spoke to wartime America. People needed opportunities to go out and dance, have a good time and for a few short hours, forget that the war was asking for big changes and great sacrifices from them. Country music was American music, and an expression of the new pride and nationalism that the entire country was experiencing. Music served to unify everyone during wartime and to underscore that we were one nation in the fight against tyranny. This new “Western” side of Country music, in its own way, placed American music, defiantly and squarely in the face of fascism and ideologies of “the East”, looming large in Europe and Japan. The Country and Western sound had nothing to do with any European immigrant tradition, and the piano accordion, for the first time, was front and center. It was the soldiers during the war that brought the new sound of Country music to where they were stationed. This opened up the world to Country music and laid the groundwork for its influence on pop music.
In spite of controversy, Pee Wee King remained with the Opry for ten years, quite a long time in show business years. During that decade many performers passed through the training ground of The Golden West Cowboys on their way to fame and fortune. They included singers Eddy Arnold, Cowboy Copas, Milton Estes, Tommy Sosebee, and singer/yodeler Becky Barfield. Pee Wee King and The Golden West Cowboys recorded and toured as Minnie Pearl‘s backing band over 1941-1942, as well as for Ernest Tubb. They also entertained the troops during the War with the Camel Caravan Tours, crisscrossing the country.
In 1946 as the war ended, King composed “The Tennessee Waltz” along with Redd Stewart, vocalist for The Golden West Cowboys,. It was inspired by Bill Monroe‘s composition of “The Kentucky Waltz“, now a standard in Bluegrass music. “The Tennessee Waltz” became an enormous hit, not only for King, but for Patti Page, becoming one of the biggest cross-over hits, of all time. It went on to become a Country music standard and, later on, the state song of Tennessee.
Pee Wee and his family moved from Nashville to Louisville in 1948 when an opportunity surfaced for Pee Wee to work on WAVE radio and television. He explained years later, “The main reason (for moving) was that I wanted television.” The conservative Opry management saw no real future in TV and, again, their view was at odds with King’s vision. But Pee Wee King saw great commercial success as a pioneer in the new medium of television, with regional and national television shows, not only from Louisville, but Cincinnati, Cleveland and Chicago. King won multiple Cash Box and Billboard awards for his television shows and had a six year run on ABC Television with “The Pee Wee King Show“. Just as King had foreseen, television had become an indespensible method of packaging and promoting talent and hit songs in all genres of music in just a few short years.
Pee Wee King continued to perform and record throughout the 1950’s, reuniting with Minnie Pearl until 1963. In 1965, the state of Tennessee adopted “The Tennessee Waltz” as the official state song. Pee Wee was always interested in the history of the music he had helped redefine, and served on the board of directors for the Country Music Hall of Fame and also served as Director for The Country Music Foundation.
Pee Wee King appeared in four movies, always as a band leader, “Gold Mine in the Sky” with Gene Autry, “Flame in the West” with Johnny Mack Brown, “Riding the Outlaw Trail” and “The Rough, Tough West” with Charles Starrett. He also released his own movie production, “Country-Western Hoedown” in 1967. About disbanding The Golden West Cowboys in 1969, King said, “I wanted to find what I thought was the top of my career. When I believed I had found it, I stopped striving and searching and enjoyed it.”
In 1970, Pee Wee King was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He composed or co-wrote more than 400 songs, including some of the most popular songs in American music including the enormously successful “The Tennessee Waltz“, “Slow Poke“, “Silver and Gold“, “Changing Partners“, “Bonaparte’s Retreat“, “You Belong to Me“, “Walk By the River“, “Busybody” and “Bimbo” among many others.
In October 1971 Kentucky Governor Louis B. Nunn declared an official Pee Wee King Day in the state.
In 1974, Pee Wee King was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His recording career included more than twenty albums, 157 singles with eleven of them becoming chart hits. “Slow Poke” reached the top of both the pop and country charts and held that position for three months. It became not only King’s biggest hit, but his biggest crossover hit. Pee Wee performed and recorded hundreds of sides, from fiddle tunes to pop ballads.
In 1996 Pee Wee King worked with writer Wade Hall to produce his authorized autobiography, “Hell Bent for Music“ (University of Kentucky Press). It was a first person account about his life and career, narrated by King.
Before his death, a boxed set of King’s RCA work was released by Bear Family and a collection of his 1950’s radio transcriptions was released by Bloodshot Records (Pee Wee King’s Country Hoedown)
Pee Wee King died on Tuesday, March 7, 2000 at age 86 while recuperating after suffering a massive heart attack the week before. He was survived by his wife and their four children. Pee Wee and Lydia King were married for sixty-four years. Mrs. King passed away in 2011.
Pee Wee King was fearless, creative, ambitious and successful. He thought big and accomplished great things for his family, for the music industry, for Nashville, and for American music. Pee Wee had a vision from a very young age and never hesitated to trust it and to follow it, through out his life. He fought hard for what he believed in, and withstood an incredible amount of criticism for it. Though I never met him, I believe that his life was the stuff of which movies are made. AND, he was an accordion player…..
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Danny Federici was never one to try to steal the spotlight. It was not in his character. But, though sweet-natured and shy, his presence was always felt by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and by their fans. After over 40 years The E Street Band was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. Although he had been with Springsteen throughout every evolution of the band, sadly, Danny Federici didn’t live to experience his own well-earned moment in the spotlight.
Born in Flemington, New Jersey in 1950, Danny Federici’s first instrument was the accordion and from the age of seven, his mother often booked him at events, parties, and on the radio. He eventually won the early television talent program, “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour” at a very young age. Danny recalled, “I had quite a little accordion career going on, before I even got involved in rock ‘n’ roll…..” It was the 1960’s and there wasn’t any path into the world of rock ‘n roll for an accordionist. E Street band mate Nils Lofgren was a witness to this and remembers in a 2015 interview, “Well, I spent 8 years on the South side of Chicago where I was born. When I was five, every kid played accordion. I asked to take lessons and I did. After the waltzes and polkas you moved into classical or jazz. My teacher sent me into classical accordion….. I fell in love with the Beatles and the Stones and through them, I discovered the British invasion, the American counterpart of the great rock bands of the 60’s….” Nils eventually became a guitarist. Unlike only a decade earlier, an accordionist had to move on and study other instruments to be accepted within rock ‘n roll. There were no role models and few music publications supported a rock ‘n roll repertoire for accordion. Danny Federici adapted to this drastic change and chose to continue his music career by mastering piano and the Hammond B-3 organ, keyboards favored in the Blues, Jazz and in Rock ‘n Roll music.
Danny graduated from Hunterdon Central High School in New Jersey where, in 1968, along with classmate Vinnie “Mad Dog” Lopez and an unknown Bruce Springsteen, he started a band called Child. Out of Child evolved the group Steel Mill, then Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom which then became The Bruce Springsteen Band. Finally, around the time of the release of their first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. in 1972-73, they took the name Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The band memorialized E Street in their name because David Sancious’ mother allowed them to practice at the family home located on that street.
(Bruce Springsteen and the band that would eventually be called The E Street Band in the earliest days: L to R: the late Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen, David Sancious, Vinnie “Mad Dog” Lopez, Danny Federici, and Garry Tallent, c.1972)
Springsteen was determined to build their reputation on live performance. His career breakthrough came when Rock Critic Jon Landau, observed Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform at a small venue in 1974. What Landau wrote and published in The Real Paper, according to David Remnick, (July 30, 2012 issue of Profiles) “is considered to be the most important review in Rock Music history”. Landau writes,”Last Thursday, at the Harvard Theatre, I saw my rock ‘n roll past flash before my eyes. And I saw something else: I saw rock ‘n roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen. And on a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was feeling music for the first time…. He is a rock ‘n roll punk, a Latin street dancer, a ballet dancer, an actor, a joker, bar band leader, hot-shot rhythm guitar player, extraordinary singer and a truly great rock ‘n roll composer. He leads a band like he’s been doing it forever…..He parades in front of his all-star rhythm band like a cross between Chuck Berry, early Bob Dylan, and Marlon Brando.” From that time, the future for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band changed dramatically. The years that followed brought great success that garnered best selling albums with hit singles and multiple Grammy Awards. After constant touring for nearly two decades, the band took a much needed hiatus. Throughout the 1990’s, Springsteen and the E Street Band members worked on other projects.
Danny recorded and performed with Arizona-based band, Diamondback and co wrote many of the tracks on the album Ragin’ Wind with lead singer, Franklin Jenkins. He also recorded a solo jazz album called Flemington, named after his home town. It was re-released under the Music Masters Jazz label in 1997. Danny followed up with a self released album of Jazz in 2004, Sweet, which was re-issued as Out of a Dream in 2005 on V2 Records. Federici performed on other artists recordings during the hiatus, including Joan Armatrading, Graham Parker, Gary U.S. Bonds and Garland Jeffreys. Danny remained with Bruce Springsteen throughout the duration of the E Street Band performing for the last time just three weeks before his death in 2008 from Melanoma.
Springsteen described Danny Federici as “the most instinctive and natural musician I ever met” and told him, “Your organ and accordion playing brought the boardwalks of Central and South Jersey alive in my music…” and also acknowledged that “Danny is one of the pillars of our sound and has played beside me as a great friend for more than 40 years.”
Jason Federici, one of Danny’s three children writes: “Since my father’s death, my family and I created a foundation dedicated to raising funds for melanoma research, The Danny Fund. Today, we are honored for the foundation we built to be a program of the Melanoma Research Alliance. Together, we are working to fund the most promising melanoma research worldwide that is hastening the discovery of better treatments and hopefully, a cure. Your participation today will directly support a young investigator whose ambitious and innovative research often spearheads groundbreaking scientific developments.”
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana It’s not a stretch to call the Petrojvic Blasting Company an Americana band. While strong inflections rich in Eastern European folk tradition are identifiable, their music possesses a ‘here and now’ sensibility, drawn from genres rooted in North America. It is music that is original in style, and combines a consistent jazz groove with an infectious exuberance that propels it forward, like a funeral band blasting through the streets of New Orleans returning from ‘setting the body free’. The effect that The Blasting Company has on their audience is evident. With an electricity rarely felt, even in live performance, it is the very definition of ‘good time music’ and it is entertainment at its best.
Josh Kaufman, along with his brother, Justin, grew up in the greater Nashville, Tennessee area and as teenagers, regularly busked on the city’s street corners. It was through this process that their live performance edge was honed. In the classroom of the street corner, the multi-instrumentalists earned their passing or failing grades and could always count on making some money at the same time. It was there that they formed their first band, Albania Mania, and after relocating to East Los Angeles, founded the California Feetwarmers Jazz Band. Although now involved with many other successful projects, The Blasting Company persists as a live act performing in diverse settings such as open air farmers markets, art walks as well as gigs at night spots throughout Los Angeles.
Since arriving in Los Angeles only a few years ago, the brothers have continuously worked to establish a group of musicians with similar musical sensibilities. Usually, the Blasting Company consists of Josh on the accordion, two trumpets, a trombone, played by Justin, drums and sousaphone. A kind of “super-drum” is played by Corey Beers, percussionist for the Blasting Company, to which he added pieces. In addition to the drum, it consists of a rope, a cowbell and a washboard giving their music a dramatic dimension.
The Petrojvic Blasting Company participated in a collaboration between the Library Foundation of Los Angles, the Los Angeles Public Library and University of Southern California Professor Josh Kun, called Songs in the Key of L. A. The intention of the ambitious effort was to repurpose sheet music pieces from the 1840’s through the 1950’s stored in the Library’s archives, known as the Southern California Sheet Music Collection. The goal of the project was not only to preserve the collection, but to bring it back to life and create “a singular portrait of Los Angeles history and culture rendered in music and visual art.” Along with other artists, The Petrojvic Blasting Company was invited to pick some sheet music, study it, and then interpret it in any style of their choosing. The finished products are available for free download from the website of the Los Angeles Public Library.
Josh, his brother Justin and The Blasting Company, composed the entire score and performed all of the music for Cartoon Network’s Over The Garden Wall. It is an American animated television miniseries created by Patrick McHale for the Cartoon Network that features two brothers who travel through a strange forest in order to find their way home. The show is based on McHale’s animated short film, Tome of the Unknown, which was produced as part of Cartoon Network Studios’ shorts development program. The miniseries, Over the Garden Wall was awarded an Emmy in 2015 for Outstanding Animated Program.
The Petrojvic Blasting Company also participated, along with its mastermind, Accordionist Jason Webley, in the Monsters of the Accordion Tour, a West Coast event.
Whatever musical direction the Petrojvic Blasting Company has taken since Josh and Justin busked on the streets of Nashville, the accordion has been present and central to their performance. Talented and savvy, they will, without a doubt, continue to create and find success in the strange land of music and film. But, these wandering brothers, like those in Over the Garden Wall, are forever seeking, trying to find their way home.
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