Here’s the latest addition to the Louisiana music book collection. Mouton, a Lafayette native, has assembled a dozen biographies of South Louisiana individual musicians or bands. The 300-page book in a way contains a mini-book, as over a third of it is dedicated to the King of Zydeco—Clifton Chenier.
Though he’s now been gone three decades, old-school zydeco enthusiasts are familiar with Chenier’s music. Born in 1927, Chenier took zydeco from sugar cane fields and oil patches to Carnegie Hall and the concert halls of Europe. But Chenier’s forte was playing the area zydeco clubs like Slim’s Y-Ki-Ki, Jay’s or especially Richard’s in Lawtell. In his prime, an evening with Chenier was not for the faint of heart. Wielding an accordion and sporting a mock crown, he and his Red Hot Louisiana Band (featuring his brother Cleveland on rubboard) played dances from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., only pausing between songs for a gulp of beer and a drag on a cigarette—with only one 15 minute intermission.
Thankfully, Chenier was a prolific recording artist, which Mouton details throughout. Interestingly, two of Chenier’s protégés are profiled: fellow accordionist Buckwheat, who eventually commercialized the genre, and former band member/guitarist Lil Buck Senegal, arguably the best guitarist in South Louisiana. Fellow guitarist Sonny Landreth is also profiled as an adept player who has worn several hats over the years. (Landreth played with the Red Hot Louisiana Band briefly.) Thankfully both are still active. Cajun-wise, Mouton makes only passing reference to the early masters like Leo Soileau, Joe Falcon, Dewey Balfa and Nathan Abshire, choosing to focus on a later generation, with lengthy profiles on Zachary Richard and Michael Doucet. He goes one step further by documenting even younger musicians like Filé, Steve Riley, Coteau and Bonsoir, Catin. Of the first generation swamp pop artists only Warren Storm warranted a detailed biography (as part of a chapter on Lil’ Band o’ Gold), but Shane Bernard’s book on swamp pop covered that ground 25 years ago as did John Broven’s South To Louisiana even earlier.
Not a complete overview of South Louisiana music (that would be too daunting), but subjects here are covered well. A valuable guide and apt compliment to this area’s proud music tradition. Recommended.