Michael Tisserand, “The Kingdom of Zydeco” (Arcade Publishing)

The Kingdom of Zydeco was reissued in paperback after being out of print for some time. Since it was the first book ever written about zydeco, the indigenous music of Louisiana’s French-speaking Creoles, Kingdom was nothing less than groundbreaking and further legitimized the genre since it was written by someone outside the culture.

The original Francis Pavy painting is once again on the cover after being replaced by a photo of Clifton Chenier’s hands playing an accordion on the second, short-lived softback edition. “That painting is incredibly meaningful to me as a representation of what I was trying to do in the book,” says Tisserand.

The idea to write Kingdom was inspired by a visit that Tisserand, then on assignment for OffBeat, paid to Boozoo Chavis at his home in Dog Hill near Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“I went out there and the first thing was ‘Hey can you wait for me? I need to go get some hay from a neighbor,’” Tisserand explains. “Having worked on farms as a kid in Minnesota, I’ll go along. I am up there in the truck with Boozoo and bringing the hay down and then he brings me back to his kitchen. There were all the kids and he and his wife are going back and forth shouting at each other and squirrel stew is on the stove. Boozoo is holding court at his kitchen table and I’m realizing that my mind was officially blown at that point because all of this was going on and I had already felt connected to his music.”

It was at this moment Tisserand realized he wanted to cover zydeco in-depth and draw the necessary connections between the music and the lives of its musicians to provide a deeper understanding of where it comes from.

Equipped with a cassette recorder, boxes of tapes and 400 notebooks, Tisserand spent 1996 in Lafayette researching and interviewing musicians, venue owners and folklorists. Oftentimes he began his day with the intention of interviewing someone and ended up interviewing someone else.

Through the recollections of Canray Fontenot, “Bois Sec” Ardoin and Milton Ardoin, who knew the legendary Amédé Ardoin, Tisserand constructs a relatively comprehensive portrait of Amédé, something he could not do the same way today since the aforementioned are now deceased.

“I consider The Kingdom of Zydeco to be very much a work of oral history” says Tisserand.