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.
Creole musicians were very well schooled in music and provided entertainment at elite house concerts and elegant 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 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.
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
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.
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.
The first woman to play Bluegrass, professionally, was an accordion player….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Without a doubt, The Beatles were the gigantic “elephant in the room” during the 1960’s.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
CONTACT: Karen Leipziger/KL Productions
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Sad news was received about Buckwheat Zydeco. He passed away on September 24, 2016 from cancer. Stanley Dural, also known as Buckwheat Zydeco, will be greatly missed. To mark his passing, I am running the following article that I previously posted on this site, September 2015. Rest in peace.
As a young child growing up in Lafayette, Louisiana, Stanley Dural, Jr. was said to look like the Little Rascal’s character “Buckwheat” in the Our Gang comedy series filmed during the 1930’s. This whimsical image was to stick with him his entire life as a professional musician. Drawing from his musical roots, the artist who became known as Buckwheat Zydeco,has shown that he is not afraid to move forward and reach beyond the Zydeco traditions to become a legend in American music.
Zydeco music evolved from the French speaking musicians who played at house dances who blended blues, rhythm and blues and the music of the indigenous people of southwest Louisiana. Stanley did not start out as a Zydeco artist, but he continuously worked as an organist from the late 1950’s throughout the 1960’s and well into the 1970’s. Dural concentrated on rhythm and blues, backing well known acts such as Joe Tex, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, among many others. As a mature musician in 1976, he agreed to be hired as a backing organist for Zydeco pioneer, Accordionist Clifton Chenier and his Louisiana Red Hot Band. It was the turning point in his career because it was through this professional relationship that Dural came to be, like Chenier, proficient on the piano-accordion. Stanley Dural, Jr. then recast himself as a Zydeco musician and formed his own band, Buckwheat Zydeco and debuted with One for the Road in 1979. Since then, Dural and his band have become one of the most renowned Blues and Zydeco acts. Buckwheat Zydeco is distinguished as being among the few Zydeco artists to find mainstream success in the music industry and he is the only accordionist of any genre to ever reach that level of recognition in recent times in America.
Throughout three decades, Buckwheat Zydeco has performed and toured extensively around the world. They have also performed at the 1996 Summer Olympics closing ceremonies, and for both of President Clinton’s inaugurations. Buckwheat Zydeco has performed and recorded with major names in the business such as Eric Clapton, Bono and U2, The Boston Pops Orchestra, Paul Simon, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, Ry Cooder and Los Lobos. The band has also appeared on television numerous times and was chosen by Jimmy Fallon for his final show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. They have appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, The Today Show, MTV, BET, CNN and have been featured on news programs on NBC, CBS and National Public Radio. Buckwheat Zydeco has appeared numerous times at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, as well as the Chicago Blues Festival, the Newport Folk Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival and countless major music festivals and venues across America.
Nominated several times for the Grammy Award, Buckwheat Zydeco won for ‘Best Zydeco or Cajun Album” for Lay Your Burden Down in 2010. They also received an Emmy for music performed in the CBS television movie Pistol Pete: The Life and Times of Pete Maravich. The music of Buckwheat Zydeco has been featured in the movies, The Waterboy, Fletch Lives, Hard Target, Ya La Tengo and Bob Dylan’s I’m Not There. The band also made an appearance and performed in The Big Easy, a movie that is credited with revitalizing Zydeco and Cajun music in America. Buckwheat Zydeco’s version of the classic “Cryin’ in the Streets” is featured on the album for Hurricane Katrina, Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast.
Because of his commitment to promoting Louisiana cuisine, Dural wrote and performed the theme music for the PBS television series, Pierre Franey’s Cooking in America. Out of that interest, in 2014, Dural and his long time manager and collaborator, Ted Fox, premiered the You Tube documentary series “Buckwheat’s World”. The online show focuses on the music and colorful lifestyle of the artist, Stanley Dural, Jr. who became known as Buckwheat Zydeco. Dural and Fox have shown their skill as writers and commentarians by becoming bloggers for The Huffington Post in 2014, with their first post, “Mardi Gras Is The Flip Side of the Blues”.
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.