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Corey Ledet & His Zydeco Band

 

coreyledet-ii

Corey Ledet

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.”

corey-ledet

Corey Ledet

“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.

corey-ledet-iii

http://www.coreyledet.com

CONTACT:    Karen Leipziger/KL Productions

   klpzgr@earthlink.net

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Out of Houston’s Heat, Emerges the Very Cool Band, Buxton

Buxton

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

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana In Houston, Texas, the weather is frequently hot and the tamales are even hotter. But,  those who choose to live in such a climate don’t shrink from heat, they just find cool ways to compensate for it.  One of the coolest bands to arise from steamy Houston is Buxton. Originating from LaPorte, Texas, the Americana band is comprised of Sergio Trevino on guitar and vocals, Jason Willis on guitar, mandolin and pedal steel, Chris Wise on bass, Justin Terrell on drums and the recent addition of Austin Sepulvado on guitar and piano accordion.

It’s the accordion that gives Buxton its distinctive Alt-Country/ Folk sound that draws the listener in. An accordion has a way of doing that, if one knows their way around the instrument. It’s evident that Austin Sepulvado adds the elements of sweetness and yearning that perfectly counters and complements the vocals of Sergio Trevino. The vocal talents of Trevino along with his wistful resemblance to an iconic  era of Texas music, compelled the Houston Chronicle to award Trevino Best Male Vocalist and to award the band, Buxton, Best Folk/Americana band.

“Half A Native” is the latest offering for the band, Buxton, their first album since “Nothing Here Seems Strange“(2012). Previous works have been “Feathers 7” (2009), “A Family Light” (2008) and their first album, “Red Follows Red” (2005). “We take from a lot of different genres and present it in a way that I think is most honest for us”, Trevino says. “Half A Native is music for the search for home, the long journey to find somewhere, something or someone that makes everything fall into place.” After finding great success as a regional band, “Half A Native” was recorded in Los Angeles, a departure for Buxton, this time. It was both a business and creative decision to record the album on the West Coast and also to work with Producer Thom Monahan (Peter, Bjorn & John, Devndra Banhart and Vetiver).

As an Indie band, Buxton is seeking new musical directions, deliberately and subtly reinventing itself. “Half a Native” confirms that with each album, their true artistic identity is revealed more and more, making them one of the most interesting Americana bands to emerge in recent times.

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Buxton

Contact: buxtonband@gmail.com


Ami Saraiya & The Outcome

Ami Saraiya II

Ami Saraiya

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana It has long been a challenge to bring the piano accordion to a new generation of Americans. But, by using the instrument more and more, Alternative musicians, or artists who write and perform outside of the present musical mainstream, are giving the accordion  a lot of exposure.  Artists such as Ami Saraiya and her band, The Outcome, are examples of this growing trend of young musicians who seek different ways to express their own unique style in a new age.

The piano accordion is” like having a symphony in your hands” Ami Saraiya says. “I picked it up and I was in love. It’s very rhythmic, and since I grew up playing piano, it came very easy.”  Trained as a classical pianist, Ami was a former music major at Indiana University. “I started playing piano when I was 5, and when I was growing up I was always singing and in choir….but the classical world was not for me. I joined a band when I was 19 and found my niche.”” Ami was the lead vocalist of pop collective Radiant Darling and R&B band Pelvic Delta, and has toured locally and regionally throughout the U.S.

Ami Saraiya

Ami Saraiya

Coming out of the Chicago music scene, the songs of Ami Saraiya reveal a distinct part of that American urban aesthetic, and reveal to us how she experiences her world. With original songwriting and instrumentation, Ami interprets it through a wide range of instruments.  Along with her voice, she performs with  the accordion, guitar, violin,  and xylophone and other instruments, as well. Whether with the roar of any Pop icon or the soft and sultry style of a chanteuse, her live performance is captivating. Amy Saraiya always sings and writes with  deep conviction, while she totally “shreds” on the accordion.

As a songwriter, “I create what I feel. I start with an idea and do lots of work out from there, but it’s just raw perspective — I’m not trying to create something in particular. What I do comes from the heart, and the hard work comes in finishing what you started. Ideas come and they aren’t always understandable, but I manage to find some transcendence.”

 Ami Saraiya and The Outcome received excellent reviews with Saraiya’s first album under her own name entitled, “Archeologist” in 2009. She followed up with an EP entitled “Purging” which critics thought dark, “surrealistic” and “the best tracks she’s ever produced”(Joseph Montes, Loud Loup Press). With her second album, released in 2012, “Soundproof Box,” the singer/songwriter/bandleader “showcases the performer’s creative energy and intensity….vintage cabaret sound is drama in bold relief, swinging from playful to maudlin in a single measure.” (Jessica Hopper, The Chicago Tribune).

 

The Outcome, including Marc Piane (upright bass), Ronnie Kuller (violin), Gary Kalar, (electric guitar), Shirley Caen Rogiers (vocals), and Courtney Glascoe (vocals).

Ami Saraiya & The Outcome

Ami Saraiya & The Outcome

http://www.amisaraiya.com


Boogie Woogie and Blues Master, Christian Dozzler

Christian Dozzler

Christian Dozzler

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Those folks who know Texas and know the Blues probably know that Christian Dozzler plays a sultry Blues piano and organ and a mean harp. What they may not know is that Dozzler, also known as “Vienna Slim”, is a master of the Boogie Woogie and Blues and also an enormously talented accordionist.

Standing 6 feet 7 inches, Dozzler is a shy man. When he was just 13 years old, he was captivated by the Boogie Woogie from the first time he heard it on the radio. He immediately quit his classical piano lessons and from then on, made it his business to master the Blues and the Boogie Woogie, and to make it his life’s work.

In his first band, Christian played guitar and harmonica as well as the piano and also sang. In a few years, he added the piano accordion.”The accordion is often misunderstood by people, because it appears in almost every folk music in the world. My influence, of course, is the Zydeco music. But I think it is a great instrument to solo on, I often use saxophone or organ phrases in my accordion solos, I think. I come from a rather puristic blues attitude, but my taste has opened up to a much wider spectrum over the years. While many blues musicians of my generation, especially here in the US, have started with rock music and then went back to the roots, I actually started with 1930s piano blues and boogie woogie and then chronologically went up in the blues history with the styles I listened to and tried to play…..But I myself try to play a wide variety of different styles within the blues framework, write much of my own material and avoid overplayed standards that everybody else plays too. In my choice of songs that I cover, I look for the hidden gems: great songs that are not so well known.”

For nearly 10 years until 1993, Christian was the co-frontman of one of Europe’s few blues bands, the reknowned Mojo Blues Band. He left to form his own band, Blues Wave, and for 7 years, toured with them nationally and internationally. He produced his first solo album “All Alone and Blue” and  today, Christian Dozzler tours Europe and North American, performing mostly as a solo act.  He has since moved permanently to the U.S. from his native Austria and has made the Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas area his home since 2000.

Christian Dozzler was nominated for the Blues Critic Awards in 2008, for “Best Blues Keyboardist” (Piano, Organ, Accordion,Harmonica and vocal). He has been featured on over 40 cd’s and has met and played with many Blues greats and legends. Because of this exposure throughout his career, his musical influences are broad. “But out of the probably 5,000 or more gigs that I’ve played in my life it is hard to pick out a special one. It is always an honor to play with a legend or somebody you have admired for many years, that’s for sure… But I like jamming with other musicians after a festival, or sitting in with other bands that I know and like….. maybe the most fun I had was at an organized jam at the Salmon Arm Festival in Canada a few years ago. It was part of the program and they just sat 6 or 7 individual musicians on a stage in a half circle and watched what happened.”

About being a musician, Christian reflects, “…I like to listen and observe, in every life situation. And that is very important (as a professional musician) in a band context as well. You have to listen to what everybody in the band is doing and intuitively react to it or even anticipate it. How you accompany a singer or soloist is just as –if not more- important than what you do on your own solo. That’s the biggest problem with a lot of “wannabe” musicians, they don’t listen to what’s going on stage, and they just concentrate on themselves. Most of the greatest musicians, at least the ones that I respect, are also good accompanists. Because they do whatever the song needs, not what boosts their ego.”

He says that his experiences in America, as a musician, are far different than abroad. “(In Europe)..there is a respect for the artist on stage. In the U.S.…there is free live music on every corner, blues is an every-day thing that everybody grew up with, and most people cannot even distinguish between good and mediocre musicians or real and fake. They want to be entertained, dance and have a good time, and often don’t even care who the person on the bandstand is. So that’s a completely different approach for the musician…”

Christian Dozzler has seen many changes in the music industry since he became a professional musician. He says, “The CD/album sales have gone down drastically over the last decade or so. It used to be that buying an album was the only way for you to listen to the music at home. Now you can download it, listen anytime on internet radio, watch it for free on YouTube, you don’t need to necessarily own a product anymore. And especially in a niche market like the Blues, this has the effect that it almost makes no sense anymore to produce a CD. In the 90s I used to break even with the production costs within 6-8 months, now it might take 2 years or more.”

But, Christian says that there are more changes underway, “The particular problem that Blues and also Jazz seem to have worldwide is also that our audience is growing too old –like we are. There are not enough young people coming up who are interested in our style of music to fill the gap.” He adds, “I can only hope that more young people, in spite of all the distractions from the internet, cable TV and superficial pop culture, would get a chance to discover the heartbeat of the blues.”

Christian Dozzler II

Christian Dozzler

http://www.dozzler.com

All quotes from “Christian Dozzler: Two Meters of Blues” by Michalis Limnios BLUES @ GREECE


The Enigmatic Crystal Bright and The Silver Hands

Crystal Bright III

Crystal Bright (Photos by Christopher Lubinski)

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Sometimes a performer emerges with the potential to completely redefine our impression of musical performance using the piano accordion. Crystal Bright has shown she has courage to dare to push the envelope a little farther, dig a little deeper and forge a path to go beyond what is merely expected and acceptable.

Crystal Dawn Bright was born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1981 and raised in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina. She began piano lessons at the age of seven, and while growing up, performed in musicals and studied drama. After earning her B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and M.A. from Florida State University, Crystal traveled, studied and worked from Spain to Yellowstone. Something that she had previously read resonated with Crystal. It was a book that she credits as influencing her creative path, and one that continues to motivate her today, Clarissa Pinkola Estes’, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.

She deliberately sought to absorb all that she could that is magical and wild in the world, inspired by thoughts such as these:

  • “Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods nothing will ever happen and your life will never begin.”
  • “I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories from your life– not someone else’s life–water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom. That is the work. The only work.”
  • “Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in, polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life.”
  • “All the ‘not readies,’ all the ”I need time,’ are understandable, but only for a short while. The truth is that there is never a ‘completely ready,’ there is never a really ‘right time.” Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

Crystal returned to Greenboro, North Carolina, and in 2010 she formed her band, Crystal Bright and The Silver Hands. She named her band after a fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm, called ‘The Handless Maiden’. Crystal Bright said, “it is about her losing her hands and gaining them back in the end, representing her coming into her full creative and soulful self which I felt like I was doing then, and am still doing.” Crystal adds, ” I had written these songs and I needed help in creating a band and taking my music to the next level. The Silver Hands helped me create something bigger than my own hands could.”

A multi-instrumentalist in the truest sense, Crystal performs with a vast assortment of ethnic and exotic instruments, including a musical saw. She has shown that she can captivate an audience with her vocal ability and style, described as operatic and ethereal. Crystal utilizes the piano accordion; taps into and takes full advantage of the edgy, noir quality that the instrument can evoke, to effectively convey a sense of mystery,  and of darkness and light.

Crystal Bright I

Crystal Bright

Since forming her band, Crystal Bright has performed with the North Carolina Symphony, winning their Triangle Talent Search. She has earned awards for her singing performance and musicianship, songwriting, best music video ,”Drowned Out”, as well as international recognition. In 2010, the Broach Theatre in Greensboro, N.C. featured Crystal Bright’s musical theatre production, “Illuminating and Transcending the Shadow”, which she wrote, produced and directed, and in which she starred. It featured her band, The Silver Hands and a cast of sixteen costumed actors.

As a performance artist, Crystal acted, sang and performed with musical instruments, collaborating with mixed media sculptor, Grey Pascal in “20/20: Filters of Light and Insight”(2010) “Downward Spiral” (2011). Crystal Bright also co-produced and starred in her musical concert, “Bones and Lilies” along with members of the Flowjo Family Circus. Two performances featured acrobatics, interpretive dance and circus arts. The events took place at The Flowjo (2012) in Carrboro, North Carolina. A visual album by Crystal Bright and The Silver Hands, “The Absolute Elsewhere”, was performed at the Carrboro Arts Center (2014) and received positive reviews. Most recently, Crystal Bright and The Silver Hands performed an original, live score to the classic silent movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2015 & 2016)

With her highly intuitive determination, Crystal takes her audience along the enchanting path that she has chosen to fashion. The direction that she will take is only beginning to unfold as Crystal Bright continues to evolve as a brilliant star

Permanent members Crystal Bright and The Silver Hands
Crystal BrightVocals, accordion, keyboards, concertina, adungu, bombo, zheng, piano, guitar, vihuela and musical saw

Current rotating members:
Aaron Bond – Double bass
Sanders Davis – Double bass
Jeremy Denman – Trumpet
Jeremy Haire – Acoustic guitars
Robbie Link – Double bass
Seth Oldham – Drums
Bradley Spencer – Mandolin

Crystal Bright and The Silver Hands has performed at over 500 concerts including:
South By Southwest
Savannah Stopover
FloydFest
DragonCon
Midpoint Music Fest
The Steampunk World’s Fair,
Shakori Hills

Releases:

June 2010: Crystal Bright & the Silver Hands

March 2012: Muses & Bones

April 2013: Live on All Hallows’ Evening’

May 2015: The Absolute Elsewhere 

 

Crystal Bright II

http://www.crystalbrightandthesilverhands.com


The Extraordinary Dick Contino

 

dickcontino

Dick Contino

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.

Part I:

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.

Part II:

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.”

Pete Contino

Pete Contino

 http://www.petecontino.com

 


Nashville’s Game Changer: The Influential Pee Wee King

 

 

Pee Wee King

Pee Wee King

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.

Pee Wee and Lydia 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.

Pee Wee King V

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.

Pee Wee King IV

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 III

King and “The King”

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…..