COREY LEDET KICKS UP HIS GAME WITH “STANDING ON FAITH”
Parks, LA — CPL Records proudly announces the release of Grammy-nominated Zydeco innovator, singer/songwriter/accordion player COREY LEDET & HIS ZYDECO BAND’s “STANDING ON FAITH” (his ninth album) on MARCH 3, 2017. “STANDING ON FAITH” was co-produced by Cecil Green and Jesse Delgizzi and recorded at the Green Room in Ville Platte, LA. Joining Ledet (Accordions/Drums/Vocals/Washboard) in the studio were Delgizzi (Guitar/Bass/Moog/Vocals) and Green (Keyboards).
Ledet injects pop, funk, rhythm-and-blues and reggae on “STANDING ON FAITH”. In doing so, he continues to work from the genre-splicing template set by such zydeco pioneers as Clifton Chenier and Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural. After opening with the funky, Prince-like “Intro,” “STANDING ON FAITH,” continues with the upbeat zydeco-pop instrumental, “Love Never Felt So Good”; stays positive with the album’s zydeco-pop title song; glides to breezy R&B balladry for “Take Me There”; plots a reggae course with the sunny “A Good Day”; and slips into the sleek, contemporary R&B of “Street Light.”
“I don’t like to stick with something that’s easy, or just the way it’s supposed to be,” Ledet says. “I like to explore and experiment. That makes music fun. It’s like cooking. When you’re cooking a recipe, you say, let me try this with that, let me see if this works.”
During most of his 14 years as a band leader, Ledet based his repertoire on the foundation set by Clifton Chenier and other zydeco pioneers. But now he’s moving beyond the zydeco classics. “I can do that all night long,” Ledet says. “But I can do other things as well. Traditional zydeco, nontraditional, pop. I can go any which way I want. This is my way of creating a sound that fits me.”
Blending styles is challenging for Ledet, but he likes the challenge. But before he became a music mixologist, he learned the zydeco basics. “I did all the studying and research I could do,” he says. ‘It took a long time. There’s a lot to learn about zydeco and Creole music. But it’s important to know your background before you learn anything else. After I finished studying all of that, I learned other stuff that interested me. Pop music, classical music. I even listened to Frank Sinatra. People laughed at me, but I listened to anything that’s got notes.”
On the bandstand, Ledet mixes songs originally recorded by pop and country artists into his show: Bruno Mars, Prince, Michael Jackson, Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker, reggae fountainhead Bob Marley. Again, Chenier served as a model. “He mixed the old French music with rhythm-and-blues,” Ledet says. ”Ray Charles and Etta James and Louis Jordan were of Clifton’s time. That worked for him. I’m applying Cliff’s recipe to modern-day times, my way.”
At 35, Ledet brings 25 years of bandstand experience to the stage. He turned pro at 10, playing drums in his native Houston for Wilbert Thibodeaux and the Zydeco Rascals. Ledet came naturally to the drums, his first instrument. His late grandfather, Buchanan ‘Tbu’ Ledet, worked as drummer for Clifton Chenier. Although Ledet’s grandfather died in 1978, three years before his birth, the grandson idolizes his grandfather. Chenier’s longtime drummer, Robert Peter, followed the drumming example Ledet’s grandfather set in 1940s and ’50s. “Cliff wanted a drummer who played like my grandfather,” Ledet says. “When you hear Robert, that’s my grandfather’s style.”
For Ledet, working with Thibodeaux and the Zydeco Rascals was like going to zydeco school. The lessons included such essential subjects as keeping the beat and, something less definable, reading audiences. “And whenever other drummers came in the venue, Wilbert called them up to the drums and let me play accordion,” Ledet remembers.
During his decade with Thibodeaux, Ledet organized some gigs on the side for himself as a front man. He officially launched his own band in 2003, after moving to his father’s hometown, Parks, Louisiana. Many people ask Ledet why he left Houston for Parks, a town that has hundreds, rather than millions, of residents. Ledet already knew Parks well. When he was growing up in Houston, his family visited Parks during summers and for holidays and special occasions. “It was hard to leave to go back to Houston,” he remembers. “I like the city, but I like the country better. Some kind of spiritual connection.” On those family drives from Houston to Parks, the family tuned to a zydeco radio as soon as they got close enough to receive the signal. Once they reached Parks, the zydeco music never stopped. “I like all music,” Ledet says. “But zydeco is the first pick for music for me.”
Ledet paid his dues after he launched his career as a band leader from Parks. “I had to build everything from nothing, make my name, make my rounds, prove myself,” he says. “Playing to chairs and tables, paying my band members 10 bucks or five bucks for the night. For a long time, I didn’t make anything.” Ledet persevered, building his music career from the muddy southwest Louisiana ground up. Highlights include his 2013 Grammy nomination for “Nothin’ But the Best,” a collaboration with fellow zydeco musicians Anthony Dopsie, Dwayne Dopsie and André Thierry. “Oh, man, when that happened, I was like, ‘Is this for real?’ Because never in a million years did I think I’d be sitting in the same row at Grammys with Taylor Swift. To come from ground zero to that, lets me know I’m doing something right. I’m kicking up my game by making records like ‘Standing On Faith.’ I want to go even further and do bigger and better things.”
Corey Ledet keeps one foot firmly in the tradition while exploring surrounding influences in order to create the best of both worlds, and is able to infuse old and new styles of Zydeco into his own unique sound. “STANDING ON FAITH” presents the best view yet of the Grammy-nominated Ledet’s expansive talent. Corey Ledet has recently signed an exclusive representation deal with Mitchell & Matt Greenhill’s FLi Artists: fliartists.com/corey-ledet-zydeco-band.
Catch COREY LEDET & HIS ZYDECO BAND (Corey Ledet – Accordion/Vocals, Jesse DeGizzi – Bass/Vocals, Julian Primeaux – Guitar/Vocals, Gerard Delafose – Drums, Statton Doyle – Sax and Nicholas Victorian – Washboard) on tour Spring 2017 in support of his new release.
UPCOMING TOURDATES INCLUDE:
May 5, 2017 Breaux Bridge, LA “Crawfish Festival”
May 25, 2017 Shreveport, LA “Mudbug Madness”
CONTACT: Karen Leipziger/KL Productions
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Sad news was received about Buckwheat Zydeco. He passed away on September 24, 2016 from cancer. Stanley Dural, also known as Buckwheat Zydeco, will be greatly missed. To mark his passing, I am running the following article that I previously posted on this site, September 2015. Rest in peace.
As a young child growing up in Lafayette, Louisiana, Stanley Dural, Jr. was said to look like the Little Rascal’s character “Buckwheat” in the Our Gang comedy series filmed during the 1930’s. This whimsical image was to stick with him his entire life as a professional musician. Drawing from his musical roots, the artist who became known as Buckwheat Zydeco,has shown that he is not afraid to move forward and reach beyond the Zydeco traditions to become a legend in American music.
Zydeco music evolved from the French speaking musicians who played at house dances who blended blues, rhythm and blues and the music of the indigenous people of southwest Louisiana. Stanley did not start out as a Zydeco artist, but he continuously worked as an organist from the late 1950’s throughout the 1960’s and well into the 1970’s. Dural concentrated on rhythm and blues, backing well known acts such as Joe Tex, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, among many others. As a mature musician in 1976, he agreed to be hired as a backing organist for Zydeco pioneer, Accordionist Clifton Chenier and his Louisiana Red Hot Band. It was the turning point in his career because it was through this professional relationship that Dural came to be, like Chenier, proficient on the piano-accordion. Stanley Dural, Jr. then recast himself as a Zydeco musician and formed his own band, Buckwheat Zydeco and debuted with One for the Road in 1979. Since then, Dural and his band have become one of the most renowned Blues and Zydeco acts. Buckwheat Zydeco is distinguished as being among the few Zydeco artists to find mainstream success in the music industry and he is the only accordionist of any genre to ever reach that level of recognition in recent times in America.
Throughout three decades, Buckwheat Zydeco has performed and toured extensively around the world. They have also performed at the 1996 Summer Olympics closing ceremonies, and for both of President Clinton’s inaugurations. Buckwheat Zydeco has performed and recorded with major names in the business such as Eric Clapton, Bono and U2, The Boston Pops Orchestra, Paul Simon, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, Ry Cooder and Los Lobos. The band has also appeared on television numerous times and was chosen by Jimmy Fallon for his final show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. They have appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, The Today Show, MTV, BET, CNN and have been featured on news programs on NBC, CBS and National Public Radio. Buckwheat Zydeco has appeared numerous times at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, as well as the Chicago Blues Festival, the Newport Folk Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival and countless major music festivals and venues across America.
Nominated several times for the Grammy Award, Buckwheat Zydeco won for ‘Best Zydeco or Cajun Album” for Lay Your Burden Down in 2010. They also received an Emmy for music performed in the CBS television movie Pistol Pete: The Life and Times of Pete Maravich. The music of Buckwheat Zydeco has been featured in the movies, The Waterboy, Fletch Lives, Hard Target, Ya La Tengo and Bob Dylan’s I’m Not There. The band also made an appearance and performed in The Big Easy, a movie that is credited with revitalizing Zydeco and Cajun music in America. Buckwheat Zydeco’s version of the classic “Cryin’ in the Streets” is featured on the album for Hurricane Katrina, Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast.
Because of his commitment to promoting Louisiana cuisine, Dural wrote and performed the theme music for the PBS television series, Pierre Franey’s Cooking in America. Out of that interest, in 2014, Dural and his long time manager and collaborator, Ted Fox, premiered the You Tube documentary series “Buckwheat’s World”. The online show focuses on the music and colorful lifestyle of the artist, Stanley Dural, Jr. who became known as Buckwheat Zydeco. Dural and Fox have shown their skill as writers and commentarians by becoming bloggers for The Huffington Post in 2014, with their first post, “Mardi Gras Is The Flip Side of the Blues”.
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Whether you are a new student of the accordion or you are again getting back to playing it, here are some thoughts as we “advance the cause” of reintroducing the accordion to America. (Please note that I am not creating a list of ‘rules’, but, rather, ‘talking points’. Use what you can, but it’s expected that there may be some point that you don’t agree with, or have found that it works differently for you. This article is protected by copyright and can only be used with my permission.)
1) Safeguard your instrument.
- It is expensive and not a toy.
- It is your property so don’t allow anyone to touch it, put it on and try to play it without your permission.
- Set your boundaries and stick to them.
- Treat your accordion like it’s your best friend, your child, or your pet by not leaving it outside in the rain, in a hot car, or alone.
- On a gig, carry it with you when you take a break.
- Remember that you are responsible if anything happens to your instrument.
2) Stand up when you perform so that the audience can see you.
- You are more likely to interact with them, move more freely, play more expressively, make eye contact and be more entertaining. Seated accordionists have a tendency to look down and away from the audience, which makes the performer seem remote and aloof, and your audience could feel shut out. Your intention should be to ‘engage’ the audience in your performance and establish an emotional connection.
- If you are unable to stand, perhaps your piano accordion is too heavy for you. You could exercise to build strength or get a smaller or lighter accordion. Accordions built today with new age materials, weigh substantially less than in the past. A disproportionately large accordion can be distracting. It should fit your body, be comfortable and have enough bass keys for you.
- Perhaps getting more thickly padded shoulder straps for your instrument may help to distribute the weight and may also help If you have shoulder strap slippage.
- A back strap will keep straps from slipping off of your shoulders, but if you need assistance or must go through some gymnastics to secure it, then it may look like you are having a problem with it. Having someone help you with your back strap, backstage, will mean that you will be walking onto the stage with your accordion already on. You may not be able to see equipment and electrical lying around and could trip and fall. And that may be a problem.
- If you ask yourself, “What do other musicians do?”, the answer is: they walk confidently onto the stage, put their instrument on, perform while standing, then easily remove their instrument and leave the stage when finished. Just as any professional musician would do with any instrument, you should strive to do the same with your accordion, without any problem.
Jenny Conlee of The Decemberists
3) Practice with a purpose. There is much to be said about how to practice.
- Practice systematically every day for an hour.
- No matter what type of instrument you have, practice the bass section of your accordion. Other musicians don’t ignore half of their instrument! Knowing the bass is essential to give your music dimension and depth, so, know them and don’t be afraid to use them.
- Practice your bellows action so it is as smooth as possible. Work with your accordion teacher on phrasing, or when to inhale, and exhale (much like a singer does) with the bellows.
- Have a list of songs, about 6 at a time. Systematically play each, one after the other, every day for a week. At the end of the week, the best one drops off (assuming you know the piece well enough) and is put on a different list of songs that you already know. At some point, perhaps once per week you will revisit those songs and refresh your memory. Another song that you plan to learn is placed on your practice list, to replace the song that you removed from the list. This system will guarantee that you are always working on new songs, yet not forgetting the songs that you took time to learn. Or come up with your own system. It’s all about managing your time and effort, and you shouldn’t waste either.
- Work with a metronome to check that your speed and timing are consistent.
- Practice your performance by beginning with a quick introduction, getting into the piece quickly, taking your time with it to play it well, then end it smoothly. Why do you need an introduction? So you can settle into the song and draw the listener in. It gives you a chance to get the right tempo and reminds you if you are in the right key.
- The piece should be arranged and appropriate for the accordion, for you and for the setting.
- Do not just “wing it”. Put a great deal of thought and care into how you present yourself. Dress to fit the setting and for your performance. Strive to perform each piece from memory, not sheet music or an Ipad. As a musician, you are not just playing music, you are interpreting it and giving a performance.
- Time each piece so you know how long you will need for your performance. Really great performers spend copious amounts of time on preparation, so that it is second nature after awhile.
4) Choose music that is special. Song choice is important to your audience and affects their perception of you.
- Don’t feel you have to “play everything”, then perform passably or even badly; or comply with requests to “play a polka” if you are unwilling to learn to play them well–they are a very demanding genre.
- Choose a musical genre that you love, dedicate yourself to those songs, and get proficient at playing that type of music. Develop a clearly thought out vision with goals and objectives and decide what you are trying to accomplish, as a musician. Depending on that vision, selecting from multiple genres might be a good objective. Whatever you decide to do is up to you.
- If you can’t find any songs you care about, compose your own music. Take time to arrange and practice your songs so you can perform them well and subject them to the same care and high standards as you would had they been written by a well-known composer.
5) Be sensitive to how the accordion is presented to others.
- By not being well presented, any musical instrument can be annoying. Getting together with fifteen other accordionists (or fifteen of any one instrument, for that matter) is fine if you have a club and want to share ideas. But, please recognize that more than two at a time in public, especially in unison, is too intense for most audiences. To those maniacs that think it is fun, as a group, to use accordions to assault diners with obnoxious performances, I am sure that these events are counterproductive. This approach does not teach people to care about the accordion. In fact, it’s easy to predict that a negative impression of this instrument will be formed or reinforced by such shenanigans.
- Referring to it as a “squeezebox” is inaccurate because the accordion is a musical instrument, not a silly noisemaker.
- By using the accordion as a prop or as a lame joke, the image of the accordion is seriously diminished.
Substitute ‘guitar’ for ‘accordion’, and suddenly it’s not funny.
- This doesn’t imply you can’t strive to be humorous and entertaining. But, take the accordion or whatever instrument you play, seriously, and have some respect for your time and effort. Think of it this way: if you owned a business and produced a product for sale, it would be a bad business strategy to teach people that your product was a joke. People will not buy your product. If you are a musician/singer/songwriter, you want your audience to “buy” into your music, support you and respect you. They won’t if you treat yourself and your instrument as though it is a joke. If you are making fun of the accordion, you are not promoting it, effectively. Perception begins with you because you are the one in control at that moment. Reach higher, and set grander goals for yourself as an artist. Sell your audience on the concept that you are special and have something special to show them on an instrument that is special. But, before you can accomplish that objective, you have to believe it, yourself.
- Know who you are and who your audience will be. The more you understand, the better you can anticipate and plan your performance.
•By showing pride in yourself, your performance and your instrument of choice, your audience will respect you and recognize that you care about them.
Tink Lloyd of the Grand Slambovian’s Circus of Dreams
6) Try to mainstream the accordion by starting a band where the accordion isn’t the usual instrument and you are the only accordionist in the group.
- It can be an unexpected delight to both the audience and to the other musicians in the group.
- By treating the accordion as though it’s just like any other instrument, ironically, enhances how special and how cool it is. This, more than anything else, promotes the accordion.
- Here is an exquisite song, Silver Line by Americana Singer/Songwriter Ray Tarantino, accompanied, beautifully, by Joe First, Accordionist:
- To be a good accordionist, you don’t have to be the fastest or the loudest player, although that may be a part of what you do. But, keep in mind that music is not an athletic event, and musicians are artists.
- A good musician is one who is sensitive and knows when to alternate between using restraint and showmanship, when to blend in and when to stand out.
- A musician is always attempting to emotionally connect with the listener and also to make any artistic judgement as to what the music needs at that moment.
7) Find your voice!
- Sing with the accordion, and learn harmony. Singing with the accordion is seen more now than in the recent past. Sheryl Crow gave a fantastic performance accompanying herself with the accordion, when she sang her hit song, “Strong Enough”.
Although she does nothing with the bass section of her instrument, what I particularly love about Sheryl Crowe’s method of playing is that she is a ‘partner’ with her accordion, harmonizing with it and giving it equal time to be heard along with her voice. She could have simply left the accordion in the background, blandly structuring chords to support her voice. Instead, she chose to use a more dynamic approach, which gives her song fullness and warmth and it allows the accordion to have a real presence in her music.
Aaron Weiss of Mewithoutyou
8) Be visible.
- Leave your comfort zone and go out and busk! “Busking” is giving a live performance in a public place. You should check with your city about any ordinances that prohibit busking and where it is permitted. If you get out of your comfort zone you will become more comfortable, confident and perform better each time.
- Live performance is a great way to “test market” your sound, your songs, your image and your ability to relate to an audience. It gives you a chance to assess their reaction to you and what you do. It also helps you to get over your apprehension about appearing in front of others. After a very short while, you are “over it”. You realize that nothing bad will happen to you. People may laugh….but, guess what? You haven’t melted and run away.
- To those that try to heckle you with their demands because they think they can, just smile, and ignore them (or if they cross your boundaries, either call the police or call it a day.) Performing helps you “build a backbone”, develop patience and character and helps you to learn who you are as a creative individual. Joey Cook busked with her accordion for quite some time before trying out for American Idol in 2015, as a vocalist, rising to be one the top seven finalists! Good for you, Joey!
- Look for opportunities to perform in front of others. Some hospitals and nursing facilities look for live performers to entertain their patients. Seniors at your local Senior Center may enjoy a performance from you.
- Join a musical “meet up” group where there are people who play a variety of musical instruments.
- Take advantage of “open mic” nights that are locally held at restaurants, coffee shops and theatres in your area.
- Listen to others as well as perform. Look for those who are positive, empowering and who enjoy being creative with their music and performance. Good people generate good energy and they can get everyone excited about being there.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for inspiration or collaboration. Also, competition can be interesting. When two collaborate on a song, one can challenge the other to solo to see what you both can create, individually.
- If available, there is nothing better than an old-fashioned talent contest that will require one to focus and rise to the challenge.
- In addition to hiring an accordion teacher, take a class about performance to enhance your professionalism.
- Even if you don’t become a professional entertainer or musician, what you learn by being visible is “portable” and can be transferred to other pursuits in your life. It can make you a stronger person and less likely to feel intimidated by uncertainty or by others.
9) Never give up.
- If something does not work for you on the accordion, revisit and find out what or how it can work on this instrument. It may be the smallest of details that you haven’t considered that might be bogging you down.
- Ask your accordion teacher or other musicians for their opinion about your song choice and delivery and how you may improve on your instrument.
- Listen to others that are more experienced than you are.
- Model yourself after someone you admire. Your idol doesn’t need to be an accordion player. Art Van Damme, the great Jazz accordionist, admired Benny Goodman, the big band leader and clarinetist. Art successfully learned Goodman’s techniques and applied them to the accordion.
- Do not listen to anyone who recommends that you change to another instrument. They are not well-intended and do not have your interests at heart.
10) Pass on your knowledge to other people.
- Try to engage their interest by showing them a different kind of music than has been associated with this instrument. The accordion was removed from mainstream American music at a critical time in pop music history. Someone decided that the accordion should not be involved with American music , when it really could have been. As a result, it was left out of the music scene for decades.
- For performing accordionists that seek publicity, keep in mind that information control is everything. What is said or written about you and your efforts instantly forms an image and an opinion in the minds of the public. It can get people motivated to come out and hear you play. That’s the point of publicity. Or it can completely turn them off, so that they simply stay home. Don’t allow anyone to define you or your music, or your instrument of choice because they don’t know any better. So, to protect yourself, don’t make any reference to accordion humor, any mention of a certain big band leader who was an accordion player from long ago , the word “polka” unless they are your specialty, or any language that is detrimental. Move the writer forward and away from the stupid accordion jokes, and the distant past of the accordion. All of these are a waste of your time and a ‘road to nowhere’ for you. Tell them what you expect them to say about you by providing a bio that outlines interesting facts that will help them find an angle for your write up. Insist that they focus on your music, your tour and you as an artist. You deserve the best publicity that you can get, so be involved and be prepared to established the ground rules. If you aren’t sure, write your own promotional material.
If you are living in America, doesn’t it make sense to promote the music that is rooted in America, and not just play the music of the rest of the world? By the way, those folks perform their own music, brilliantly. Like us, their music represents who they are as a people and has evolved from their shared experience. It is their identity. They have lived it, and they own it. But, after four hundred years, America has developed its own identity, and surrounding us is music that reflects that fact.
People in the U.S. don’t seem to realize that the accordion is not new to American music. It has been a part of our pioneer experience and has been in America since the mid 1800’s. It has been played, not only in the mountains and the bayous, but by folks in the city and in the country, on the prairie and in the desert, for a long, long time. It was played solo and with orchestras, at weddings, dances and social gatherings for over 150 years. Because it was portable, the accordion was used when pianos and organs were too heavy or delicate to transport. Accordions continued to participate throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st, along with pianos and organs, fiddles and guitars. It was used in the early Blues, the Boogie Woogie, Gospel and every American genre of music. The accordion is a critical piece of our music history and we should be proud of that connection, celebrate it and hold the accordion in high regard because of it.
- But, the accordion must participate in current music to survive. So, please, take your accordion–whatever type you prefer– go and find your audience, and make the most out of any opportunity!
I have sad news to share about the great Dick Contino. We are sorry to learn that he has passed away, April 19, 2017. In honor of his memory, I am sending you this post that I wrote previously Rest in peace, Soldier.
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Memorial Day is a day of remembering and honoring, not only the fallen soldiers, but also those who have served America. Among the ranks of musicians, one of our own, Dick Contino, stands out as a veteran of the Korean War and as a brilliant accordionist and entertainer.
Born in Fresno, California in 1930, Dick Contino was a precocious child with parents dedicated to his success, from the beginning. The Continos (his father was an accomplished accordionist), recognized their son’s talent from an early age and for years, drove him 180 miles each week for accordion lessons in San Francisco. His first break in show business came in 1946, a year before Dick graduated from High School. He won the prestigious Horace Heidt/Philip Morris talent competition in Fresno which was broadcast on national radio.
Dick also won first place in talent contests in Los Angeles, Omaha, Des Moines, Youngstown, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and New York City. When he graduated from high school in 1947, he enrolled at Fresno State College. Always feeling the pressure of his intense ambition and drive to be a successful entertainer, Dick chose to leave college and dedicate himself to a career as an accordionist. Dick Contino was successful…. very successful. He toured with the Horace Heidt Orchestra and was billed as”The World’s Greatest Accordionist”. Barely out of high school, Contino reported earnings of four thousand dollars per week, an enormous sum for a musician, just before his career was interrupted by military service.
Because he was quite handsome, when he returned from his tour of duty, Dick Contino gained entry into the film industry in Hollywood. He starred in some acting roles, without his accordion. But it was his accordion playing that kept him as a returning star, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show for a record of forty-eight appearances.
Dick Contino continuex to perform regularly throughout the United States. His repertoire was eclectic, ranging from Italian songs such as “Come Back to Sorrento” and “Arrivederci Roma” to his signature song, “Lady of Spain” and standards like “Swinging on a Star”.
On the accordion, following in the footsteps of his legendary father, is son Pete Contino and his blues band, The Pete Contino Band. Growing up, Pete never aspired to a career in music. But when his Mother passed away (actress Leigh Snowden), he went on the road with his father to learn the music business. It was therapeutic and it kept his mind busy. Through his involvement with his father’s band, he discovered a love for music and for the accordion. Now that he is a professional with his own band, Pete has observed, in an interview with Michael Limnios, “To use an old cliché, (my Dad’s) are very big shoes to fill. His fans are hardcore, and rightfully so. My father made a huge niche with the accordion. The expectations are sometimes high, but I never try to compete with my father’s reputation.” He states, ” A lot of his fans were funny and interesting and very devoted. Sometimes a fan would be uncomfortable to go up to my dad and they would start asking me questions about him. I would finally grab whoever it was and drag them over to meet him. He’s very friendly, my dad, very approachable.”
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.