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A History of the Accordion in Americana Music

 


CarterSisters_Cover

Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana 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…

northern states and Canadian provinces….

the accordion thrived, entertained,  delighted, inspired and brought folks together, to dance and sing….

 

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

Early Accordionist

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

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

historical African American Accordionist

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

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

Young woman with her accordion c. 1870

As this “steampunk” teen age girl looks directly into the camera, she proudly and defiantly displays her accordion c. 1870

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

The piano accordion evolved from the smaller bisonoric diatonic accordion or “button box”, into a completely different, unisonoric musical instrument. It grew larger when the piano keyboard was added along with the innovative Stradella bass section which used preset chords. These changes empowered players of other types of keyboards to more easily adapt to the instrument.

Historical accordion boys

Brothers NYC c. 1900

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

Guido Diero 1910

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

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

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

Violaturpeinen

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

The accordion was popular in live stage productions in Vaudeville

Father with Daughters Vaudeville 1920's

A father and daughters act c.1920’s

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

 

Lead Belly c. 1930

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

The Death of Amede Ardoin

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

 

Through the Great Depression into the war years, the piano accordion was widely used because dances were an important source of entertainment. By the mid 1940’s, so many immigrant Catholics and returning soldiers wanted their children to play the songs of their ancestral homelands on the accordion, that the Roman Catholic Church forgave the instrument its “tavern” reputation and gave it a special status allowing it to be used in church.  Because of this, the piano accordion was suddenly deemed respectable and, like never before, “pent up demand” fed the market for instrument sales and lessons. After World War II, Americans were all working, had more discretionary income and were more likely to be living in cities, towns and suburbs than in the past. To be able to afford musical instruments and lessons became very important to parents as evidence of status, as well as to help their children to become  better students and well rounded individuals.

gang of accordion players

Retro accordion poster II

Some of the roots musicians had, early on, incorporated the accordion into their music. They chose the piano accordion over the diatonic because they wanted to be seen as more “mainstream”.  Anita Carter was the accordion player for Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Sisters, in what would have been strictly a “string band” in previous years.

Mother Maybelle, the Carter Sisters with Chet Atkins

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

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

Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys II

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

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

Pee Wee King V

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

The piano accordion continued to evolve and became synonymous with “class”. The big band dance scene died after World War II, but small combos in swanky clubs became popular.

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

Dick Contino V

Teenager, Dick Contino was earning $4000 a week billed as the “World’s Greatest Accordionist”. He was an enormously popular star who even had a brief film career until he found himself in the middle of a military draft scandal, disappearing for a week when required to report. Although he did serve honorably in the military, in the press, he was tried and convicted as a “draft dodger” for decades, even though he was not. He performed for fifty years and was the most frequently seen guest on the Ed Sullivan Show. c. 1950

The accordion establishment, those that made the marketing and business decisions for the piano accordion, were a highly conservative group.  They set out to sanitize “their” instrument, to prevent it from being rocked by another scandal. They also determined that it should never be associated with social unrest, as the bandoneon later came to be in Argentina (Astor Piazzolla). Through their own fear,  they effectively began to “starve” their own market.

Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla

Through the 1950’s in “Cold War” America, the accordion establishment did not trust, approve of or support the current music of the day or anyone associated with it. They believed that Rock ‘n Roll was contrary to conservative American values.  As a lot of people during the McCarthy era felt, they feared that “Commies” lurked around every corner and suspected that Folk music was a breeding ground for Communism.

With those excuses, publishers felt justified not to use and pay for current hit songs to be reformatted for the piano accordion. It was cheaper to push the “same-old, same-old” European style tunes to a changing demographic. As young people advanced in proficiency with the piano accordion, classical music was promoted because it was the path of least resistance and was already in the public domain.

In the 1950’s, the piano accordion was a white man’s instrument, but males were also leaving the accordion in favor of other instruments. In response to this, women sought recognition and status among performers but were not even spoken of as legitimate musicians and drifted, instead, into teaching the instrument.

 

JoAnne Castle c. 1957

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

From that point the deflating “bubble” was finally crushed flat as demand for the piano accordion plummeted to a fraction of what had been seen a decade before.

 In the years of post war popularity, the accordion establishment managed to shift the identity of the piano accordion from one of American “grass roots”  to one perceived as  “off shore”. Jazz accordionists found that they had to leave America and travel to Europe to find an audience. Curiously, accordion players stopped singing with their instrument in the 1950’a and 1960’s, which they had freely done in the 1940’s.

In America in the 1960’s, the immigrant’s children had moved on and were protesting and urging “Make Love, Not War”.  The Civil Rights movement had inflamed the cities and the South.  The Viet Nam War and the draft angered America, especially young people. Women were agitating for equality and rights. Music galvanized American youth because they knew that they had a lot to gain or lose. It became their weapon of choice with which to fight back and they were determined that their message, suggestive lyric and angry protest be heard.

The accordion establishment was afraid of it and the musicians and songwriters who created it.

As their market crashed around them and with draft able males defecting from the ranks of accordion players in favor of the guitar and other instruments, the accordion establishment did little to explore new markets for the instrument.  The accordion community had insulated itself so well from the times that there was nothing new allowed in, nor out.

What occurred for the piano accordion was a “brain drain” as creative energy was sucked away from the stylistic evolution of the instrument and refocused on other instruments. Young people could not imagine how the piano accordion could fit into their music because there existed no young innovative players for them to emulate that could have developed the chops to play it.  Young people were not mildly disinterested in the instrument–they loathed and scorned it as it was played in the 1960’s! Their attitude  stuck to the instrument, and is the reason for the “hairy eyeball”  and stupid accordion jokes that so many accordion players are subjected to, today.  Instead of the piano accordion being an option, talented musicians found other instruments with which to express their musical vision. The Hammond B3,  Hohner harmonica, saxophone,acoustic and electronic piano and both electric and acoustic guitar defined the music of the 1960’s,70’s, 80’s, and still do.

In retrospect, the accordion establishment places blame on the conservatism of music teachers or that the piano accordion “fell out of fashion”.  They also blame the invention of the electric guitar for the decline in the accordion market.  They imply that both can’t coexist together, while in the rest of the world, the accordion actually thrived alongside both the electric and acoustic guitars.

New Orleans is not afraid of music or the musicians who create it.  That is why New Orleans is the epicenter for the emergence of major new genres of music.

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

Clifton Chenier

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

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

Paul McCartney with Accordion

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

Titano Tiger

The Titano Tiger

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

Faith and Ernest Deffner

Ernest and Faith Deffner

After substantial research and development, the Titano Tiger was rolled out, but, sadly, the Deffners chose a spokesman to endorse their product who was a prominent member of the very “same-old, same-old” accordion establishment from whom young people so desperately wanted to escape. After all their fierce determination,  the Deffners didn’t recognize that by choosing someone not relateable, it was to be their critical error and a “big wet blanket” on their efforts to sell the Tiger to their target market–America’s youth! The futuristic vision of Ernest and Faithe Deffner was derailed because they were afraid of youth culture and its music.  As a result, young musicians didn’t buy the Titano Tiger, which sits today in collections of rare instruments and in museums gathering dust.

The “Blue Accordion” is a Tiger, recently acquired by accordionist Mark Yacavone.

 

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

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

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

Danny with accordion III

As a child prodigy on the accordion, Danny Federici won Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour in the 1950’s. He graduated from high school,  co-founded a band which became The E Street Band and enlisted a young Bruce Springsteen as his lead singer. Danny performed for nearly 40 years with  The E Street Band until his death in 2008. Photo c. 1973

Jon Hammond

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

billy-joel-philadelphia-1978

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

Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac c. 1980

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

Tom Waits II

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

NY Underground artist Phoebe Legere

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

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Charlie Gillingham of Counting Crows c. 1990’s

Buckwheat zydeco III

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

Sheryl Crowe

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

C.J._Chenier

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

Regine

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

corey-pesaturo-iii

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

Ben Lovett with Mumford and Sons

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

Johnny Kongos

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

Bill Haley and the Comets

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

Danny and Bruce

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

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

Buxton

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

The+Band+Perry

The Band Perry

 

Not the end…….

 

 

 

 

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Corey Ledet & His Zydeco Band

 

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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


The Many Facets of Kate Dunphy

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Photos by Johnson Sarkissian

By Christa T. for Accordion Americana   Kate Dunphy brings to music a skill set envied by many, but possessed by few.  She is a gifted musician and performer and an emerging young composer and arranger. Kate is not only reviving the accordion but, reinventing it. With her artistic vision, she is also changing perceptions by allowing us to see that the accordion can be used to inspire new and different music in America.

Kate Dunphy began to study the accordion at a later age. An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, beginning the study of piano at the age of four, it wasn’t until her last year of music school that Kate received an accordion as a gift from her father. In 2007, Kate graduated from Hartt School of Music in West Hartford, Connecticut, with her B.A. in Music Composition and also earned the composition prize, the prestigious Edward Diamante Award. Determined to be a professional musician and composer,  she relocated from her home state of Maine, to New York City, settling in the borough of Brooklyn.

Since then, Kate Dunphy has composed many original works for the accordion, performing those with several different groups, independently and also with her previous world music project, Loukoum. Her original compositions are beautifully wrought, and range from the haunting and complex, Tire Iron to the charming French musette of L’Oiseau en Bois. The forceful, passionate, Tango highlights Kate’s proficiency as an accordionist and as a composer.  Ruby Roadwith its Celtic moodiness, imparts a sense of magic and madness.

Kate Dunphy has appeared at international events, such as The U.S. Open and Instyle Magazine‘s Anniversary Gala in Mexico City.  She has performed for the Royal Family of Kuwait and for many celebrities such as Martha Steward, Vera Wang, Tyra Banks, Oscar de la Renta, Christina Hendricks and others.

Along with Loukoum, Kate has also performed with Avalon Jazz Band and Postmodern Jukebox. Her current project, Carte Blanche Jazz Band has recently released a new EP, Back To Henri, and features 5 original tracks that Kate wrote for the band. Carte Blanche recently released their first music video for this EP in August, 2014 and features her composition, C’estJuste Un Tango. 

                                                                                                              

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 www.carteblanchejazzband.com

The incredibly versatile Carte Blanche Jazz Band, featuring Kate Dunphy,Accordionist

Post Modern Jukebox and Kate Dunphy perform a delightful, Klezmer cover of Jason Derulo’s Talk Dirty.

The bright, fresh interpretation by Avalon Jazz Band, with Kate Dunphy, Accordionist.

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Kate Dunphy