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…….
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.
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.
Interview with Jeremiah McLane onWCAX Tv:
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 Summerfest. Paul 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. 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.