Jefferson Street, downtown Lafayette, Louisiana. The heavy glass door is unlocked, and inside is a long, narrow staircase that leads to a small landing with two brown steel doors of industrial strength on either side. The mauve-colored walls are illuminated by a dim light fixture. An old sign reads “Watch Your Step.” Fling open either door and you’d expect to see a dentist’s office or an insurance company. After all, Jefferson Street is the main thoroughfare in Lafayette. Teche Drugs is right downstairs; Dwyer’s Cafe is a block away. Instead, you’ll find the headquarters of two of Lafayette’s most notorious partners in crime—musical and otherwise—guitarist C.C. Adcock and saxophonist Dickie Landry. The two play in swamp pop super-group L’il Band O’ Gold together, but most of all, they just really enjoy each other’s company. Landry is roughly twice Adcock’s age, but that doesn’t have anything to do with anything. Or perhaps it has everything to do with everything.
Landry isn’t home, but we’re hanging out in his apartment anyway. Why this is, I’m not really sure, but it seems to have something to do with the fact that there’s an album in Dickie’s collection that has to be listened to and it has to be listened to tonight. It just can’t wait. In fact, it’s an album of one of Dickie’s old bands, the Swing Kings.
The Swing Kings were on the scene years before Dickie left Lafayette for New York to play with Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass and the World Saxophone Quartet; decades before he returned to co-found L’il Band O’ Gold with Adcock. The fact that Landry has played so many disparate styles of music—that he started playing in three-chord swampy rock ‘n’ roll bands (“The horns were always out of tune”) and ended up playing be-bop; that he could swing between St. Martinsville and Greenwich Village—are great sources of inspiration for Adcock, who’s built his own career on the same sort of genre-busting reinvention and chopping and channeling of styles and influences.
Being from Lafayette, a Cajun crossroads only a half-day’s drive from Memphis, Houston, New Orleans, San Antonio, Austin and Panama City and just minutes away from South Louisiana recording centers like Floyd Soileau’s in Ville Platte and J.D. Miller’s in Crowley, Adcock can’t help but let all of the music that was made in these locales inform his very being. It’s why Ornette Coleman, Doug Sahm, Elton Anderson, Bobby “Blue” Bland and the Balfa Brothers all occupy the same mythical status. And it’s also why he recently drove to Robin Hood Brians’ studio in Tyler, Texas in a blinding rainstorm just to rehearse where both ZZ Top and John Fred and the Playboys once cut records. It was just one of those things—like coming to Dickie’s apartment tonight to listen to the Swing Kings record—that just had to be done.
“My favorite hits ever from the South were recorded there, so I took my band there to rehearse, just to recreate the vibe,” he says. “‘La Grange’ and ‘Judy In Disguise,’ those are my favorites. “The beats are righteous. They’re both about boogie music.”
“That’s what’s infectious about roots music and why roots music is pop music: you can’t stop singing it, you just can’t stop feeling it. I remember seeing John Lee Hooker at Grant Street Dance Hall when he played ‘Boogie Chillin’ for 20 minutes. People were on the tables. It got you so fired up after 20 minutes you were trippin.’ It’s one chord, there’s no chorus, there’s no bridge, there’s just one groove the whole time. That’s trance music. When I go hear zydeco; when I hear Keith Frank at Hamilton’s and he plays ten minute songs and takes three minute breaks, that’s a trance scene. And Dickie Landry’ll throw it back to you and say, ‘When I used to go hear jazz cats in the Village in the ’50s, it was repetition over and over until it worked you down and all of a sudden it’s in your head and you can’t ever get rid of it.”
Adcock slips the Swing Kings LP onto the turntable. It warrants a spoken introduction before the needle is dropped.
“One of the greatest sounding records, sonically and musically, to ever come out of South Louisiana,” he says with a mixture of reverence and undeniable fact. “Courtesy of the great Carol Rachou and La Louisianne studios.”
La Louisianne! Home to soul classics such as Jewell and the Rubies’ “Kidnapper” and Little Bob and the Lollipops’ “I Got Loaded,” Cajun anthems like Lawrence Walker’s “Allons Rock ‘n’ Roll,” garage-styled 45s by Eddie Raven and even an album by the Shondells, Warren Storm’s early ’60s band, the ones responsible for the greatest anti-British Invasion song ever cut, “Recorded In England.”
But the Swing Kings! The LP jacket is, well, exceptionally swingin.’ Done up in various shades of purple, pink and blue, the hand-crafted psychedelic lettering could have come off of a Bill Graham poster advertising a show at San Francisco’s Fillmore East. “But this isn’t California,” Adcock reminds all present, “this is Lafayette, circa ’65.”
The Swings Kings are a horn band, sort of like the Boogie Kings but more adventurous. They throw a little progressive jazz into their soul and big band R&B. They use a flute when they feel like it. The music is hard to categorize; its ingredients obviously having come from many places. Sort of like the Lafayette Marquis of its time. Lafayette Marquis is the title of Adcock’s new album—and the Lafayette Marquis’ (plural, note the apostrophe) is the newest moniker for the band that he’s led for ten years. But when he pronounces the band’s name, he pronounces the “S” so it sounds like “Mar-Keys,” the Memphis band that—like so much Southern musical history—also plays an inadvertent role in the Adcock story.
BAILING WIRE AND BUBBLE GUM
Like the Swing Kings in the ’60s and Adcock today, the Mar-Keys were a white band that were heavily influenced by black music. Their 1961 hit “Last Night” was so huge that it turned the tiny Satellite Record label into the Stax Recording Company almost overnight. But when the smoke cleared, nobody really knew who had played on the thing. It had been culled together from this take and that take, with a little of this and a little of that, until it was perfect. Perfect not because it had no rough edges, not because it was slick, but because it still sounded alive and raw and instantly infectious. Like Lafayette Marquis does.
Adcock can tell you exactly who is playing on his new record; they’re the same people whose pictures are tacked up on his walls of his apartment next to those of Elvis Presley, Clifton Chenier and Jimmy Reed. Along with Landry, the characters drifting in and out of Lafayette Marquis are uniquely individual talents like New Orleans drummer Freddie Staehle, dreadlocked Texas blues master King Cotton, drummer and guitar playing father and son Doyle Bramhall I and II, longtime friend and producer Tarka Cordell, mentor Jack Nitzsche and the man whom Adcock credits with brilliantly helping to piece it all together, New Orleans producer/ engineer Mike “Mic” Napolitano. Together, they represent a family of running partners as important to Adcock’s past, present and future musical mythology as Presley, Chenier and Reed.
“It’s got a lot of people’s fingerprints all over it,” he says of the album. “It’s a collection of recordings I had laying around for years. Different false starts, collaborations, projects and ideas. I had all this source material—from twenty thousand dollar two-inch tapes that I’d recorded with Nitzsche to four track cassettes that I’d recorded here. With the help of Mike and all his wizardry we were able take all the best bits and mash this together, weld it and tape it in bailing wire and bubble gum. It’s sort of like pop art, it’s got all these pieces of things in it and different images all thrown together to make a new image.”
“I believe the best way to make a record is write a great song, get some great musicians, go in a room with some great equipment, record it and take it to a DJ. That’s the way to make a great record.”
It’s an approach that Adcock’s recording idols—men like Carol Rachou, J.D. Miller and Sam Phillips—are revered for, and one that he himself used to great advantage on his debut album Houserocker, as well as with Li’l Band O’ Gold and on productions of Steve Riley’s most powerful records to date, Bayou Ruler and Happy Town. And it’s one he’ll most certainly return to, he says, as just about all of his favorite records were made that way.
“But, in lieu of that,” he continues, “I’ve learned two things from this project: The good news is the cream rises to the top and at least you know what always rings true after multiple listens over several years. The negative side is that it does your head in and can you get stuck.”
In the end, though, there were more pros to the cut-and-paste process than there were cons, he says. “A lot of this record was a tribute to my band (bassist) Jason Burns, (drummer) Chriss Hunter and (saxophonist and accordion player) Pat Breaux—as well as Tarka Cordell—because we worked really hard after my first record came out and they weren’t on that record; I used Jockey Etienne and Warren Storm and Kenny Blevins and all these great cats from around here. But immediately thereafter I had to re-create the record on the road and that’s when I formed my band.
“We went on the road for a couple of years and played really hard and we made all these recordings. I wanted to make sure these recordings saw the light of day and that those cats knew that that work hadn’t been all for naught. Now we get back together and we play again and the stuff holds up. It’s cool influencing yourself and also going back and seeing how you’ve influenced yourself.”
“I think records can be a great blueprint for a live band if you let the record influence the sound of the band. And while making the record, just try to have everybody push it as hard as they can, even if they don’t feel like they can replicate it immediately live. Because I believe the greatest influence on a band is if it’s on a record.”
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
While most musicians are busy trying to reinvent themselves year after year, adapting to whatever trend they deem hip, Adcock’s career is a work in progress that stretches back to his earliest years on stage and builds from there. To paraphrase a great country song, his past is always present. It’s all over Lafayette Marquis, from the spooky tremelo guitar on “Stealin’ All Day” to the Creole fiddle on “Runaway Life” to the explosively raw zydeco drums on “I Love You.” You’ll hear a half a line from Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Somebody Help Me,” a half a lick from Freddie King’s “San-Ho-Zay,” a little Ike Turner here, a little Johnny “Guitar” Watson” there. But unlike many of his hipper-than-thou contemporaries, Adcock doesn’t try to edit his past. The good, the bad, the ugly; he celebrates all of it.
“I’ve always just been trying to re-create the bands I had when I was a teenager. I think that’s the strongest expression of who you are. Ricky Rees, who was the guitar player in my first band Night Flyer—now he’s a great bass player; he started the Redstick Ramblers—called me up the other night and said, ‘I heard your record and it sounds like what we were listening to when we were 12-years-old.’ He can hear the influences of what we were listening to back then, like those bad Stones records, Dirty Work and Under Cover of the Night. I love those records just as much as I love ‘Paint It, Black’ because that’s what we grew up playing and that was our gateway to the blues. It was through that and through Ricky’s big brother’s records that we heard Johnny Winter and subsequently Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins and Freddy King.
“I grew up in the ’80s so whether I was lucky or unlucky I don’t know. I heard AC/DC and Van Halen but of all the things that influenced me, nothing influenced me like going to see John Lee Hooker at Grant Street when I was 14. Or Clifton Chenier or Belton Richard at festivals. Or Tommy McLain and Warren Storm playing at the old Yesterdays’ Lounge. It’s not like you really have to seek out cool music here, it comes pretty easily. Whether it’s on the radio or at festivals or at school dances or going out to clubs, you hear it and it weighs against all the stuff that’s being piped in from the outside.”
“In small towns punk rock wreaked havoc because kids really had to revolt, but when I was a kid in Lafayette I didn’t have a huge rebellion. My mom and dad were going to see the Fabulous Thunderbirds before they were even signed, just to go dancing, so I got into rock ‘n’ roll behind blues music. I didn’t need to rebel against culture, ’cause culture was cool. I thought, ‘Look at these old people; they’re cultured and they’re cool. I’m listening to John Lee Hooker and I’m happy to be here.’ And we went back to our school dances and tried to play that stuff for people and turn ’em onto it.”
This was done first by way of Night Flyer (“We inherited the name Night Flyer because Ricky’s older brother’s band had been called Night Flyer and the name was stenciled on the side of all the Heathkit amps!”), formed when Adcock was 12, and a blues offshoot called Boogie Chillin, whose sole goal was to channel that trance-like vibe that they’d witnessed Hooker laying down at Grant Street.
“When we played at a party we’d just play ‘Boogie Chillin’ all night long,” he laughs, putting on another record, one that he believes is one of producer/ arranger/ songwriter/ and all-around musical maniac Jack Niztsche’s finest moments. It’s Jackie De Shannon’s “When You Walk In The Room” and indeed, it is a masterpiece. It brings to mind Los Angeles and the great Western migration that all rock ‘n’ rollers seem to make at one time or another. Adcock made it in the late ’80s.
It’s where he met friends like King Cotton, who got him a gig playing in Bo Diddley’s band, and Tarka Cordell, who wound up producing both Houserocker and Lafayette Marquis. And ironically, it’s what brought him back to Louisiana, where he really jumped off the deep end, touring with Buckwheat Zydeco, forming bands like the Cowboy Stew Blues Revue and L’il Band O’ Gold with his musical heroes (L’il Buck Sinegal and Warren Storm and Dickie Landry respectively) and getting his solo career rolling.
“I went out to L.A. when I was 17,” he remembers, “and it wasn’t too long before I realized I was getting work because I was from down here and I could play like I was from down here.”
Being so far from home also put a valuable perspective on the swamp pop music that he’d grown up hearing Johnnie Allan play on radio station KRVS on Sunday afternoons.
“In Lafayette a lot of people just regard swamp pop as comedy; something that isn’t to be taken too seriously and certainly not in the face of the cultural renaissance. Almost like it’s anti-music or anti-culture. But to me it struck a deep, deep chord. I didn’t grow up playing accordion or fiddle so I could understand the licks and the chord progressions they were playing and the way they were arranging songs. I thought they were really cool. And I also thought the whole environment of it was incredible, like some sort of mystery novel or something. I could really get into it and lose myself in it.
“Johnny Perez, who played drums for the Sir Douglas Quintet, had a studio in L.A. that was a hang-out for people from the Gulf Coast and Tarka hung out there because his dad (producer Denny Cordell) worked with Sir Doug. I walked in there one day and Tarka—who’s an Englishman—was playing guitar and singing ‘Before I Grow Too Old,’ Tommy McClain style. And he said, ‘You’re from Lafayette, you must know Tommy McClain.’ That was a real turning point for me because I had no idea that anyone in London knew what was going on in Lafayette on a Saturday night. And Tarka was just convinced that people like Marc Bolan (of T-Rex) had spent months or weeks here listening to this music; that they’d studied Earl King records. Now, I’d studied Earl King records but I certainly didn’t know who T-Rex was. But now that I’ve listened to T-Rex I can see what he means.”
We walk into a cinderblock, Christmas light-festooned joint called Club Flamingo and even though it’s a Monday night, the dance floor is packed with couples grooving to an eight-piece soul band. They’re four horns strong and sound as if they could’ve recorded some lost classic for La Louisianne Records back in the ’60s. No wonder Adcock could never really leave Lafayette. There’s always something surprising and new—even if it’s old—to discover.
“I’m fascinated by the way people in this community reinvent music,” he says. “Zydeco artists almost reinvent it in real time. I can’t figure it out. They copy each other to a T in order to reinvent, which I don’t understand. I mean, I don’t understand how you can mimic in order to reinvent but they do it. They base their sound on the last band who drew five more people than they did, yet in some way they’re able to—after a few years of doing that—invent a whole new sound and take it a little bit further. That’s fascinating to me.
“Right now a lot of these cats are going back and playing in a more Creole style using fiddles. They utilize the same three chords as the rest of the genre but in different places; every song is very distinguishable based on these infectious pop melodies. In a need to reinvent they’re going backwards, which can yield a pretty cool result. They have the perfect ideology that something new is also something old. They want something that feels like they always felt but that turns ’em on in a new way. That’s a good thing.
“Dickie says it the best: ‘People in Louisiana are always inventing new music.’ And that’s the truth.”
ON PLAYING WITH BO DIDDLEY
“The coolest thing about playing with Bo Diddley was that we traveled in matching ’62 black Cadillac Coupe De Villes. I remember us breaking down and Bo going, ‘I can fix this,’ then walking down the exit ramp with his toothpicks in his hat and the whole nine yards, and coming back with a Twix bar and shoving it into the carburetor. Now, I know you’re thinking at this point, ‘C.C., you’re full of crap.’ But I sawBo Diddley shove a Twix bar into a carburetor and get a car running. It happened. He did something.
“I always wanted to know what he played on ‘Bo’s Bounce’—which I later recorded on my first album—because I was enamored with the sound he got on that record; like a jungle/ Echoplex/ wood beatin’ sound. (Editor’s note: an Echoplex is a primitive tape delay machine that produces a stunning reverb effect when used in tandem with an electric guitar). I used to always ask him how he got it and he was always playin’ dumb: ‘I don’t remember how that happened, I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.’ But one night I’d been buggin’ him like a little kid and we were in front of a packed house in San Diego. At the encore I see him step on the Echoplex and start beatin’ his guitar with a drum stick. It sounded exactly like what he’d done on ‘Bo’s Bounce.’ And then he hands me the drum stick. Now, all I’ve got is a Stratocaster and a Twin Reverb; no Echoplex, no hollow body guitar, no nothin’. So I beat the hell out of my Stratocaster and I can hear the whole crowd just snickering and laughing. I hand the stick back to Bo and Bo knocks it out once again. He hands me back the stick and I beat my Strat again—no go, I ain’t hittin’ on nothin’. I hand it back and he makes it happen again. Then he gives me back the drum stick and I don’t remember what I did but I make enough of something happen—play some solo and beat the hell out of the strings—to get at least most of the audience cheering for the kid. I rose to the occasion somehow and they liked it so I handed the guitar back to him and the show was over. But then I knew his trick ’cause I’d seen him turn on the Echoplex.
“After the gig he was like, ‘Well, now you know how to play ‘Bo’s Bounce,’ I want you to have the guitar.’ So he gave me the Guyatone guitar that I ended up recording ‘Bo’s Bounce’ on after the gig that night. He gave me the guitar but he sold me the case for 75 dollars. And the case is made out of papier-mache! But now the joke’s on him ’cause I put that song on my first record and it still gets played more than anything else I’ve ever made! That was a real night.”
ON WORKING WITH JACK NITZSCHE
“Jack’s understanding of premium was so high grade. It was very simplistic but it was grandiose at the same time. He just wanted to get the most art out of a human being that he could. When he believed in you he’d get inside your relationships, inside your head, inside your life. He was like a junior high basketball coach times a thousand; he just wanted to know what you were made of. And he was certain that he could lead you to greatness, because he’d done it for so many other people. The Rolling Stones and Jackie De Shannon, the Ronettes, Graham Parker, Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, he’d brought ’em all to that place so many times. If you worked with him you learned a lot about music, a lot about art, a lot about your heart…you learned that it ain’t about style, it’s about heart. He just understood how hearts work. He was like Amadeus meets Sanford and Son; those are the two worlds he lived in. He understood Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and he understood Wagner. When he would score a movie he’d watch it without any sound and then get up and grab paper and start writing down orchestrations as he watched, never even touching an instrument.
“He saw things in a very simplistic manner. He didn’t understand styles, he only understood hits. And if you weren’t making a hit he didn’t really understand. He didn’t understand retro; he was Phil Spector’s partner so he didn’t need retro. Time to him stood still: the ’60s were no different then today, it was all about pop music. He couldn’t compartmentalize music which was a brilliant thing to learn because that’s what taught me that roots are brand new again. It was just, ‘That sounds good, that’s a hit.’ And that was an amazing gift to be granted, to see it through his eyes.”
ON L’IL BAND O’ GOLD
“When we started Li’l Band O’ Gold one of my goals was I just wanted to sing more and sing better and sing with the great singers. It’s humbling having to sing next to Warren Storm and to have the old guys rolling their eyes at how ridiculous they think you sing and how ridiculous they think your musical ideas are. But when you get away from it, you realize how much it rubs off on you and makes you a better singer.
“When I made my first record I was a kid; I was 22-years-old. I was still at that stage in my life where I was enamored with styles and other people’s records. I had a cool collection of crazy records and I wanted to shroud myself in those influences even to the point of going out and playing live shows with my band and inviting Tommy McClain and Warren Storm and King Karl and Guitar Gable to come play with us. But then I realized that my band wasn’t the right venue for those sorts of collaborations and that’s when we started L’il Band O’ Gold. I originally wanted to champion all these sounds in my band but it became really clear looking back on it that my music and my band is about being original and new and not having too many confines.
“L’il Band O’ Gold is this big, beautiful plush Cadillac that you can take a Sunday drive in with all your cats; my band is more like a little sports car. I love ’em both, it just depends on what kind of ride you feel like. My thing just curves the road a little bit tighter and might flip a couple of times before the end of the night. You might have to roll it a couple of times just to make it right.”
ON BUCKWEAT ZYDECO
“My mama taught me how to dance early on so I could go to high school dances but what she didn’t know was that after the high school dances we were going to El-Sido’s and listening to Buckwheat. And that’s why I really knew how to dance because in order to make things look right in that place, being a little white kid, you had to at least get on the dance floor and have some fun to break the ice. After a while he was opening up for U2 and we were going to high school dances where they were playing U2. All the cool people would cut out early, jump in somebody’s car and go hear Buckwheat; their music was so good.
“Later, when I was living in L.A., I heard he was looking for a guitar player but didn’t really think about it. I came home for Mardi Gras and went to see L’il Doyle [Bramhall] play with the Fabulous Thunderbirds and afterwards we went over to the Maison Creole and sat in with Buckwheat. He invited me over to his house the next day and we jammed some more and then he offered me a job in his band. So I moved home to go on the road and never be home!”