Thursday, December 03, 2015

Way Down in Louisiana: Clifton Chenier, Cajun, Zydeco and Swamp Pop Music

Todd Mouton
Way Down in Louisiana: Clifton Chenier, Cajun, Zydeco and Swamp Pop Music
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Just released is Todd Mouton's excellent new book on Louisiana Music "Way Down in Louisiana." The book is centered on the great Clifton Chenier, but in addition to Mouton's biography of the great zydeco legend, he weaves in portraits on a number of Louisiana acts including Chenier alumni Buckwheat Zydeco, Sonny Landreth, and Lil, Buck Sinegal along with other acts, many who have been touched in some way by Chenier's influence including Beausoleil avec Michael Doucet, Filé, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys; Zachary Richard, Couteau, Lil Band O' Gold, Bonsoir Catin, and Roddie Romero & the Hub City All-Stars. Many of the portraits appear to have been previously published (likely in "OffBeat"), but have been updated from original publication. It is the four chapters devoted to Chenier that make this book essential as Mouton traces his life and his music's evolution along with his many extensive recordings with recollections of Buckwheat Zydeco, Chris Strachwitz, Lil Buck, Landreth, son C.J. Chenier, the late John Hart and others helping flesh out this gentleman who saxophonist and visual artist Dickie Landry recalled first hearing Chenier and thinking it "sounded like surf music from Jupiter." In addition to Mouton's narrative, this book is wonderfully illustrated with photos (many rare) and album covers and includes recommended listening for each chapter. Anybody who has listened to Chenier's music or some of the artists will love this book.

Released at the same time as this volume is a documentary DVD produced by Carl Colby, "Clifton
Chenier" (The Phoenix Learning Group) that captures Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band at a dance in Louisiana in the mid-1970s. This video captures Chenier, brother Cleveland with arguably his best that included Lil Buck, Buckwheat Zydeco on keyboards and the great John Hart on saxophone. Mixed in with performances from a dance at The Kingfish in Baton Rouge is video from a performance from Jay's Lounge and Cockpit in Cankton, Louisiana, and a brief clip showing a cock fight (some cajun and zydeco lounges at the time also had a cock pit). This may be unsettling but fortunately brief and the bulk of the video is nothing but some of the best Chenier on video this writer has seen with one of the greatest roots music bands of all time doing 15 numbers including some of his most famous numbers such as "Bon Ton Roulet," "Party Down," "Calinda," "Zydeco Est Pas Salé," and "Black Gal," along with covers of Fats Domino's "Hello Josephine and a stone cold rendition of Lowell Fulson's "Black Nights." This is modestly packaged, but the performance is spellbinding and gives a sense of why Chenier was (and still is) so loved. And the magnificent tenor sax of Blind John Hart is such a bonus.

I was a supporter of the Kickstarter campaign to help get the book published and received the DVD in addition as a premium. Information on this book and the DVD is available on the website, The DVD cover on the website differs from the one I received (the cover above). Not only is there links to buy the book and DVD, but there is a free downloadable sample and a performance from the DVD which I have also included below.

1 comment:

Seth Kibel said...

This blog post (and accompanying video) reminded me how bad ass John Hart was! Thanks! Found this video on the tubes, which is equally awesome: