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A History of the Accordion in Americana Music

 


CarterSisters_Cover

The Carter Sisters

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.

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 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

This very “steampunk” teen age girl, looking directly into the camera, 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, 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.

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

PietroDeiro1920

Guido’s younger brother, Pietro, also studied the accordion. Both were very influential in the development 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

amede-ardoin-1075

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.

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.

gang of accordion players

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.

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”, 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.

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 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.

Art_VanDamme3

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

Dick Contino V

Teenager, Dick Contino was earning $4000 a week as a touring professional accordionist c. 1950

 

JoAnne Castle c. 1957

Jo Ann Castle is significant for what she didn’t do, as much as for what she did. A rare and gifted musician, she headlined 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 Castle was promptly hired by a well known variety show as an accordionist. After a short time, her employer insisted, as a condition of her employment, that she change her instrument to honky-tonk piano, which was not her specialty (her repetoire consisted of three songs at that time).This was done to make way for a male accordionist of average proficiency to displace her.

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.

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 “eight hundred pound gorilla” in the room during the 1960’s.

Paul McCartney with Accordion

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

179.-Garth-Hudson-The-Band-811C_25-copy

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)

Jon Hammond

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

Large_Nitty GrittyDirt Band_5

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

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

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, 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, Corey Pesaturo became recognized as the most internationally awarded American accordionist of all time. Photo c. 2010.

2012 was the “Comeback Year” for the piano accordion.

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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New England’s Jeremiah McLane: Simply “The Best!”

Jeremiah McLane

Jeremiah McLane

Bio courtesy of jeremiahmclane.com  Jeremiah was raised in a family with deep ties to both its Scottish heritage and its New Hampshire roots. Traditional New England music and dance were a part of his parents and grandparents generations. After an early formation in classical piano, Jeremiah spent his teenage years playing blues and jazz. Following undergraduate studies with jazz legend Gary Peacock, he studied Indonesian Gamelan, West African drumming, and the music of minimalist composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass. It wasn’t until his mid twenties that Jeremiah began to immerse himself in the world of traditional Celtic and French music, studying accordion with Jimmy Keene and Frederic Paris. He then spent several decades traveling in Europe, doing field research that laid the groundwork for a Master’s degree he received many years later from the New England Conservatory.

Jeremiah McLane and David Surette

Jeremiah McLane and David Surette

In the early 1990s Jeremiah formed two bands: The Clayfoot Strutters and Nightingale. Both bands had strong traditional New England roots and had a deep and lasting impact on the traditional dance scene in New England. In 2003 he formed Le Bon Vent, a sextet specializing in Breton and French music, and as an outgrowth of this ensemble, has formed several duos with individual members including James Falzone, Ruthie Dornfeld and Cristi Catt. Since the early 1990s, Jeremiah has recorded over a dozen CDs with Nightingale, the Clayfoot Strutters, Bob & the Trubadors, Le Bon Vent, with Ruthie Dornfeld. His second solo recording, Smile When You’re Ready, was nominated by National Public Radio in their “favorite picks”, and his fifth release, Hummingbird, with Ruthie Dornfeld, received the French music magazine “Trad Mag” Bravo award, as did his CD Goodnight Marc Chagall with Le Bon Vent. He has composed music for theater and film, including Sam Shepard’s “A Lie Of The Mind”, and been awarded the Ontario Center For The Performing Arts “Meet The Composer” Award, and the Vermont Council On The Arts “Creation Of New Work” grant.

In 2005 Jeremiah started the Floating Bridge Music School, which is devoted to teaching traditional music from the British Isles, Northern Europe, and North America. An adjunct instructor at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, NY, he also teaches at the Summit School of Traditional Music in Montpelier, VT, at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon NH, and at many summer music camps including Ashokan Fiddle & Dance, Augusta Heritage Arts Center, American Festival of Fiddle Tunes, and the Maine Fiddle Camp.

 

Jeremiah and Ruthie

Jeremiah McLane and Ruthie Dornfeld

Interview with Jeremiah McLane onWCAX Tv:

http://www.wcax.com/story/24087130/vermont-composter-and-teacher-jeremiah-mclane-talks-accordion

Jeremiah McLane II

Jeremiah McLane

http://www.jeremiahmclane.com/bands/

 


C.J. Chenier, Louisiana Blues and Zydeco Accordionist

C.J._Chenier

C.J. Chenier

John Mayall had no goal other than “to make a normal blues album” , which is what the veteran artist and bandleader has done over the course of his 51-year recording career. And if you start adding it up, after 50 years, it’s obviously quite a career.” Mayall recorded “A Special Life,” his first release in five years for Forty Below Records, during a three-day session with his band during November at Entourage Studios in North Hollywood. It features four originals — one written by band members Greg Rzab and Rocky Athas — plus covers of songs by Jimmy Rogers, Albert King, Sonny Landreth and others. Mayall’s band is also bolstered by accordionist C.J. Chenier on several tracks, including a version of his father Clifton Chenier’s “Why Did You Go Last Night” that kicks off the album. “That was one of the songs I’ve always had a fondness for,” Mayall says. “In fact, we used to play it when Jack Bruce was in the band, so it goes that far back, and it’s far less Zydeco than straightahead blues. I thought it was a perfect time to approach C.J.; his father wrote and sang the song originally, and he was available, so I just contacted him. I hadn’t met him before, but he flew in for the day and we nailed it. It was a really great experience.”

C.J.  Chenier grew up in the 1960s, in the housing projects of his native Port Arthur, Texas, where he was aware of, but not exposed to his father’s music as a young child.

Upon first listening to his father’s music, Chenier thought all the songs sounded the same. But he eventually began to appreciate and master his style, as he later joined and then took over his father’s band and career.  He has since played such venues as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, San Diego’s Street Scene and Milwaukee’s SummerfestPaul Simon first heard Chenier in 1990, and featured him on the The Rhythm of the Saints album, and that year’s ‘Born At The Right Time’ tour. In 1992 Chenier played accordion on “Cajun Song”, a track on the Gin Blossoms‘ album, New Miserable Experience. 1992 saw Chenier featured with the Red Hot Louisiana Band on the PBS music television program Austin City Limits.[3] By October 1994 Chenier was signed by Alligator. His debut release there was Too Much Fun, named the next year as best zydeco album of 1995 by Living Blues magazine. In 1995, Chenier gained his widest audience to date with television appearances on the Jon Stewart Show and CNN. His 1996 appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was featured in a segment by the VH1cable music television network, as well as by Entertainment Weekly. Chenier and the band also appeared that year at the Austin, Texas, 1996 SxSW Music Conference, a special event for Alligator Records’ 25th anniversary. Chenier won the 1997 Living Blues’ Critics’ Poll Award and also an AFIM Indie Award for best zydeco album, for his next release, The Big Squeeze. In 2001, Chenier played in front of 60,000 fans at the Chicago Blues Festival.