Invented in 1829, the accordion came to be embraced by people in North America early on….
Soon, up in the mountains and down in the bayous….
in big cities and in small towns….
in the country and in the deserts of the West, as well as deep into Mexico,
on the Great Lakes and the Great Plains…
in the northern states and Canadian provinces….
and through the Northwest Passage to the Pacific Ocean….
the accordion thrived…
it entertained, delighted, inspired and brought folks together, to dance and sing….
Some of the first to become proficient on the accordion were French educated Creoles from the South, just a few years after the instrument was invented.
Creole musicians were very well schooled in music and provided entertainment at elite “house concerts” and parties in Louisiana.
Young people were eager to make some noise with the accordion. Although it was expensive, it was new and it was radical. With its bellows providing the “lung power”, the accordion impressed women, who saw that they could participate and make music with this rather tiny, relatively light weight and very expressive instrument.
Because it was loud enough for sound to be carried above the “din”, the accordion was heard in music that emanated from front porches, weddings, social gatherings, dances and as entertainment in theaters and taverns for over 150 years..
The piano accordion evolved from the smaller bisonoric diatonic accordion, into a completely different, unisonoric musical instrument. The piano keyboard was added as was the innovative Stradella bass section which used preset chords.
The accordion grew larger, but the changes empowered players of other types of keyboards to find it easier and faster to learn the instrument.
The piano accordion was played by artists who were immigrants….
….And it was played by artists who were sons and daughters of immigrants
The accordion was popular in live stage productions in Vaudeville
The accordion was heard in early recordings of Gospel, Blues and Boogie Woogie………
The Death of Amede Ardoin
In the transitional years from the Great Depression forward into the war years, the piano accordion was widely used because dances were an important source of entertainment. By the mid 1940’s, so many immigrant Catholics wanted their children to play the songs of their homeland on the accordion, and the Roman Catholic Church forgave the instrument its “tavern” reputation and gave it a special status allowing it to be used in church services. Because of this, the accordion was suddenly deemed respectable and “pent up demand” fed the market for instrument sales and lessons.
The accordion, with Anita Carter, was used by Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, in what would have been strictly a “string band” in previous years.
The first woman to play Bluegrass, professionally, was an accordion player….
Pee Wee King reinvented what was known as “Hillbilly Music”, founding a new genre of music known as “Country & Western” music. His Western Swing Band was the first to wear the spangly “Nudie Suit” that came to be associated with Country music.
The piano accordion became synonymous with smoothness and proficiency. The big band scene had died off, but small combos in swanky clubs became a new kind of venue.
Around 1960, the bubble burst for the accordion in America and the instrument’s sales plummeted to a fraction of what they had been a decade before. Publishers of accordion music had failed to provide new music for young people to play on their accordions because they didn’t want to pay songwriters for current hit tunes to be reformatted for the piano accordion. In the 1950’s, they were part of the establishment that didn’t trust or support rock ‘n roll or any aesthetic associated with it. They preferred to push the same European style tunes to a changing demographic. As young people advanced in proficiency, classical music was the promoted path. Because of this short sighted business model, during the fifteen years that the instrument was extraordinarily popular, the piano accordion became misidentified as being a European instrument.
In America in the 1960’s, ‘The Times They Were A-Changing’ and the immigrant’s children had grown up. Americana music was taking them in a different direction and young people needed to participate. The Civil Rights movement had inflamed the cities and the South. The war in Viet Nam and the draft angered America and its students. Women were agitating for equality and rights. Much of the music of the 1960’s were songs about life and death issues that were impacting young people during that era. It had a message and an edge– the accordion establishment was afraid of it and the musicians who created it. In spite of the history of the accordion in North America, the establishment wanted to make sure that the accordion was not going to be a part of any undercurrent or rebellion, as it had been in Argentina. They deliberately chose not to cultivate, especially, outspoken African Americans as legitimate players of the piano accordion in current music, or women, who were routed into teaching the instrument. They stopped marketing and promoting the instrument to them, because, with white males defecting from the ranks of accordion players in favor of the guitar in significant numbers. they were afraid that the future of the instrument could be left in the hands of African Americans and women.
Curiously, accordion players became afraid to sing with their instrument in that era, which they had freely done in the 1940’s. So, young people could not see how the piano accordion could be used to make their music, and found no one inspiring that could play or sing with it their way. There was nothing new coming out of the accordion community and no one to emulate. Young people saw the piano accordion as part of something that they loathed and their strong feelings were transferred to the instrument. So, instead of finding this very expressive instrument worthy, talented musicians simply went on their way and found other instruments with which to express their angst through their music.
The establishment chose to wait it out, banking on the return to sensibility when the war was over and rock music died out, and women, well, were just done trying to be men. In the rest of the world, the accordion didn’t receive this treatment and actually thrived alongside, both the electric and acoustic guitar. It’s not the fault of the guitar for existing that the accordion became almost extinct, but rather, fear and censorship.
When the well seems to run dry, go to the source–New Orleans.
New Orleans is not afraid of the music or the musicians that create it. That is why it is the epicenter for the development of major new genres of music.
Zydeco music emerged in the 1960’s from New Orleans where the piano accordion was put to good use by Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band.
Without a doubt, The Beatles were the “eight hundred pound gorilla” in the room during the 1960’s.
2012 was the “Comeback Year” for the piano accordion.
The piano accordion continues to participate in Americana music, today.
Not the end…….
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana There is no place in America that is more “about the music” than Louisiana. While it is true that New Orleans was the sweet spot for those responsible for the birth of several distinct genres of music, Louisiana, in its own right, has served as a fountain of inspiration for generations of musicians and songwriters. It is where “it” all comes together–where the dry meets the moist, where the crackling heat of the cotton field converges with the murky depths of the swamp. Where the crunch of gravel under the boot binds with the squish of mud between the toes. “It” can be heard and felt in the music of Louisiana. In one form or another, the accordion has been a part of the texture and grit of Louisiana, for a long time.
Singer/Songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and keyboardist Steve Conn has been a part of that, as well. Originally from Pineville, Louisiana, he is the son of a professional musician, southern and western swing fiddle player, “Peanut” Conn. Steve began to learn his craft early, and decided to pursue music and songwriting as a profession. He followed through at Louisiana State University, choosing a foundation of coursework in Literature. Since then, he has worked constantly as a writer and musician, moved from Louisiana to Colorado, and then on to Los Angeles. He finally settled just outside of Nashville, Tennessee in 1993, and it has been his home base ever since then.
He spent two years as musical director for E-Town, a weekly National Public Radio variety show based in Boulder, Colorado that has since become an Americana institution. Conn enlisted a roster of great artists, a tradition that continues today, that included James Taylor, Michelle Shocked, Shawn Colvin, David Wilcox, Maura O’Connell, Emmylou Harris and by now, hundreds of other musicians. He also continued to perform as a solo artist during that time, as well.
Steve has used the accordion as a session musician and front man, performing with the best in the business. He has performed on 9 Grammy nominated albums with a cadre of artists including Bonnie Raitt, Sonny Landreth, the Dixie Chicks, Nanci Griffith, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Mark Knopfler, Kenny Loggins, Albert King, Marshall Crenshaw and many others. Steve Conn received a Grammy nomination for his piano, harmonica and saxophone contributions with BeauSoleil, and another for his work on accordion with Arlo Guthrie.
With his old friend from Louisiana, the great slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, Steve collaborated on “Beautiful Dream”, from which the song “Let the Rain Fall Down” is drawn. He says. “I’m writing for people who have lost at love but know that love is still the greatest force of all….I’m writing for people who are trying to find the best in themselves and in the world, people who get up and try again, over and over, because they know on some deep and ancient level that it’s all just a beautiful dream even when it seems like a damn nightmare.” Only through music can one even begin to express such complexities of the human spirit.
Bio courtesy of Rachelbellmusic.com Rachel Bell is an accordion player, tunesmith, and music teacher from the wilds of Pennsylvania. She is in demand throughout the United States and beyond for concerts, contra dances, English country dances, French dances, and workshops.
Over a decade of musical travel has landed her smack-dab in the middle of some of her most exciting projects ever. A vibrant and versatile collaboration with Karen Axelrod, exquisite violin and viola sounds from Eric Martin, a rich and energetic contra dance band called Seaglass, and a slew of French-focused music and dance adventures with Susan Kevra are just the tip of the iceberg. A recent addition has been a joyful musical partnership with Becky Tracy, and other combinations often round out the mix.
Rachel Bell grew up playing the piano and spent her college years studying music education and classical piano. As a college freshman, she surprised even herself when she picked up a piano accordion and “accidentally” fell in love with it. Rachel now enjoys a busy gig schedule playing concerts, contra dances, English country dances, French dances, and festivals.
Rachel’s bands include Alchemy, Peregrine Road, Old World Charm School, Seaglass, Eloise & Co. and a slew of other combinations. She plays tunes from France, New England, Scotland, Ireland, England, Quebec, and beyond, as well as songs, original compositions, and even crazy roots-rock arrangements. Recently, Rachel has been collaborating with Susan Kevra to compose new tune/choreography combinations to send out into the English country dance repertoire.
The past few years have been bursting with big changes, big travel, and exciting new musical collaborations. After six years as a public school music teacher, Rachel finally let go of that last shred of normalcy and launched into full-time freelance musicianhood. Her obsession with French music and dance led to three music-focused overseas trips, and her obsession with finding the perfect instrument led to the purchase of an incredible tone-chambered Beltuna that sounds exquisite. During June 2016, in the midst of playing piles of camps, gigs, and festivals, Rachel released her debut solo album, Tone Chamber. This recording highlights the versatility of the accordion and boasts and impressive cast of guest musicians.
Rachel’s playing is infused with a contagious enthusiasm for her instrument and a deep love for the musical traditions she carries. Her passion is to share with others the delight she finds when immersed in this music, ushering them into a place where their toes can’t help tapping and their ears are dunked in strawberry jam.
Whenever she’s not playing accordion or chasing after waterfalls, Rachel is busy instilling the joy of music in children of all ages. Through her Crab Apple Jam Music Studio, Rachel offers everything from mommy-n-me musical playgroups for toddlers to piano lessons to dulcimer clubs. Rachel’s upbeat, engaging teaching style is grounded in 9+ years of public school teaching experience and 2 years of Montessori School teaching experience. Every Crab Apple Jam Music Class is packed to the brim with hands-on, creative experiences that build musical skills as well as essential life skills. Children are captivated by the rich array of puppets, ribbons, songs, dances, dulcimers, boomwhackers, bells, drums, and more.
Bio courtesy of AdrianDolan.com Adrian Dolan is a multi-instrumentalist and composer perhaps best known for his work with the award-winning roots ensemble The Bills over the past 13 years. His skills as an accordionist, violinist, fiddler and pianist have landed him on stage with some of the best in the business, and along with a passion for composing, educating and leading a new generation of folk music into the 21st century.
Classically trained on piano, violin, and viola, Adrian began composing at a young age, and performing professionally in his mid teens. After taking up fiddling he was soon putting his piano skills to use as an accompanist, culminating with guest performances with the Victoria Symphony, and summer festival stages around the province.
After Adrian joined The Bills at age 17, the band became one of the foremost touring groups playing over 160 shows annually in Canada, the U.S., the UK, and Europe. Their 2002 and 2004 releases both garnered JUNO Award nominations, Western Canadian Music Awards, and received worldwide airplay. Music videos for two songs from “Let Em Run” have been featured on CMT Canada. They’ve played for countless radio broadcasts, including CBC (This Morning, Q, Canada Live), Radio-Canada, BBC Scotland, Radio Sweden, NPR, and Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour. The Bills continue to tour in support of their latest release “Trail of Tales” (2016).
For the past 10 years Adrian has been honing his creative and technical prowess in the studio as a producer and engineer, working with an eclectic array of artists over the years spanning the folk and Bluegrass realms, into country, garage rock, storytelling, jazz, and comedy. Adrian’s skills as an arranger have been sought out in many projects to expand the sonic landscapes to include live string sections. As a multi-instrumentalist he has been frequently called upon for session work in Vancouver, Victoria, and beyond
Currently, Adrian maintains a busy schedule of performing, arranging, producing, sound engineering, and teaching. He frequently travels to instruct at traditional music workshops across Canada, and has also served as Musical Director for the BC Fiddle Orchestra. Adrian currently performs with Ruth Moody (The Wailin’ Jennys), and has also toured and recorded with a wide array of artists including BCCMA winner Ridley Bent, The Arrogant Worms, Irish legends The Chieftains, Barney Bentall, Old Man Luedecke, Raffi, and Cape Breton’s Rankin Sisters. He recently was hired by Musical Director Bill Henderson to perform viola in the band for the world premiere production of Bruce Ruddell’s “Beyond Eden” which ran for 49 performances in Vancouver and Calgary as part of the Cultural Olympiad in 2010.
Adrian has served as concertmaster for Bach on the Rock Chamber Orchestra, and the Sooke Phiharmonic Chamber players under the direction of Norman Nelson, as well as performing on both viola and violin with the Victoria Chamber Orchestra and the Victoria Civic Orchestra.
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.
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…..