Zydeco music is one of the most fun and vibrant genres of ethnic music to come out of North America. With danceable, pulsing rhythms and simple, elegant melodies, zydeco clearly bears the multicultural influences of the Southwestern Louisiana region that created it. It's a genre in which it's hard to go wrong when you're picking out a CD -- most of it is great -- but if you're looking for some guidance, these ten fantastic CDs should get your, ahem, zydecollection started out right.
No self-respecting music collector should be without this crucial item, the first zydeco record ever recorded. In 1965, Arhoolie Records producer Chris Strachwitz went to Houston to make a Lightnin' Hopkins record. Hopkins tipped Strachwitz off to a great blues accordion player, his cousin by marriage, Mr. Clifton Chenier. Chenier was playing a new kind of music, which blended old-fashioned French Creole and Cajun music with electric blues and R&B: zydeco! Strachwitz recorded him, released this record, and the rest is history.
Buckwheat Zydeco, born Stanley Dural, Jr., got his start playing in Clifton Chenier's band, but soon branched out on his own, and has been one of zydeco music's favorite artists ever since. He's toured with Eric Clapton, recorded with Keith Richards and Paul Simon (among others), played for both of Bill Clinton's inaugurations and the 1996 Olympic closing ceremonies, but after all that, his sound remains decidedly rooted in classic, bluesy zydeco. His records have been consistently outstanding over the years, but this one, re-released as a CD just a few years ago, is a personal favorite. The songs are great, but the cover art seals the deal. It's frameworthy, to be sure.
Rockin' Sidney, born Sidney Simien, was the first and only zydeco star to have a true international hit, with the song, "My Toot Toot," The song, which declares, "Don't mess with my toot-toot!" was interpreted as a hilarious double entendre to many, though actually is a reference to the sweet Louisiana French term of endearment, "Tout-tout," which means literally "All-all," but translates roughly to "My everything." Rockin' Sidney's style was very punchy and upbeat, giving dancers a real workout, and this CD includes a number of his greatest songs, including "My Toot Toot," of course, but also zydeco favorite "Jalapeno Lena" and "If It's Good for The Gander."
Wilson "Boozoo" Chavis played a brand of zydeco that was decidedly more country than the slick R&B-laced music of Clifton Chenier. Seldom seen without his signature Stetson hat, playing a traditional Cajun-style button accordion and singing in both Creole French and English, Chavis, a former quarter horse trainer and jockey, appealed to the large French-speaking rural black population in Louisiana, and was one of the first popular performers on the zydeco trail ride circuit -- regular country events that start with a long horseback ride and end with a zydeco dance. Zydeco Homebrew contains a slew of zydeco favorites, including "Johnnie Billy Goat," a zydeco version of "Susie-Q," and the funky, crooked shuffle "Sugar Bee."
John Delafose was a versatile and wildly talented accordion player who comfortably spanned the gap between urban zydeco music and traditional Creole French music. He played all three of the main types of zydeco accordion (traditional single-row Cajun accordion, triple-row diatonic accordion, and piano keyboard accordion) equally proficiently, and sang in both English and French, but had a sultry, heavily rhythmic style that made him a favorite among dancers.
In the late 1980s/early 1990s, zydeco really reached a crescendo of popularity, aided in no small part by the sensational Beau Jocque, born Andrus Esprit. Though he learned to play the accordion as an adult, he quickly became a great player, but what really made him stand out was his big gruff baritone voice. His sound was modern, clean, and extraordinarily danceable, and he went from not playing the accordion to becoming a star on the zydeco circuit in a matter of years. Sadly, he died of a heart attack at the height of his popularity in 1999.
Keith Frank first took to the zydeco stage as a teenager, alongside his sister Jennifer and his brother Brad, in their father Preston Frank's Zydeco Family Band, a fantastic group that still occasionally tours today. In his late teens, Keith stepped out in front on his own, though, and quickly became one of the best-known and most-respected artists in zydeco music. His accordion skills are second to none, he has a voice that any classic soul singer would be envious of, and he deftly combines quirky covers (which include songs from the Bob Marley and Rolling Stones catalogues, as well as the theme song to "The Jeffersons") with his own dance-driven originals for a sound that has really driven most of the zydeco trends of the last twenty years.
Geno Delafose is one of several music-playing sons of accordion legend John Delafose, and, like Keith Frank, got his start playing in his Dad's band. A genuine Creole cowboy (he lives on and runs a horse and cattle ranch), Geno is a proud purveyor of his ancestors' traditions. He sings in French and unashamedly incorporates very old Creole songs into his repertoire, but is by no means stuck in the past -- he's breaking plenty of musical boundaries. Clean, rhythmic, and both listenable and danceable, French Rockin' Boogie (also the name of Geno's backing band) is just a fantastic all-around zydeco CD.
Zydeco stars are, more often than not, male. A few feisty (and talented) ladies have managed to break onto the scene over the years though, including the legendary Queen Ida, but Rosie Ledet is the woman to see nowadays. Rosie has a distinctly urban style, leaning heavily into the Rhythm and Blues side of things, but keeps it old-school with her single-row accordion. Her lyrics are bolder, funnier, and often sexier than most of the men on the circuit can get away with, and her stage presence is hot, hot, hot. This CD includes a number of great songs -- check out "I'm a Woman," "Closer to You," and "Eat My Poussiere." Poussiere is French for "dust," of course... why, what did you think she was talking about?
Terrance Simien might very well be the best-traveled of any zydeco musician in the world, having taken his modern twist on the classic Creole sound to over 40 countries worldwide. He's a great performer and has a really magnificent singing voice, so it's no surprise that audiences everywhere love him. Simien is also an advocate for Cajun, Creole, and zydeco music in general, and with his wife, spearheaded the movement to establish the now-defunct Best Cajun/Zydeco Recording Grammy category. This CD, recorded live at several concerts that took place all over the world, was the first winner in that category, and is a very worthy addition to your budding zydeco CD collection.