C.J, Chenier to bring rare zydeco show to the valley
The Aspen Times
I was at the Fais-Do-Do Stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival a few years ago when a friend of mine in the music business commented to me about the state of zydeco.
Zydeco, for those of you who might not be familiar, is a Louisiana-bred musical genre that sprouted up in the 1940s. It’s been described many ways and stereotyped as Cajun music with a rocking beat and a dominant accordion sound.
Over the decades, it’s become a lot more than that, though, taking in elements of blues, R&B, jazz and rock, all blended into one big gumbo of danceable sound. Generally, all of the best zydeco artists have been Creoles from the south Louisiana prairie region between Lake Charles and Opelousas.
“Zydeco was on its way in terms of world popularity,” my music-industry buddy told me, “and then 1999 came along.”
“Yes,” I said, “and then 2001 came along, too.”
1999 and 2001: Respectively, those were the years that the two titans of zydeco, Beau Jocque and Boozoo Chavis, passed away. During the previous decade, Beau and Boozoo were doing a lot to restore the music to its former glory, even holding Beau-vs.-Boozoo competitions at music halls in New Orleans in a mock competition for the unofficial title of “king of zydeco.”
Those were the days: sweltering heat in the Louisiana clubs and outdoor festivals, cold beer, zydeco and quick dance partners.
Since that time, zydeco’s overall appeal has waned a bit — though generations apart, Beau and Boozoo were masters of their craft, and their deaths were a huge loss to music lovers worldwide. Still, the music was strong enough to get its own award category (combined with Cajun music) in the Grammy Awards from 2008 to 2011.
Not only has zydeco survived — it’s as fun as ever. For proof, just head over to Snowmass Village’s Fanny Hill on July 5. C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band roll onto the stage at 6:15 p.m., and it promises to be an event where everybody, especially those who like to twirl their bodies and shake their butts on the dance floor, stands to “pass a good time,” as they say in Cajun country.
C.J. Chenier, 55, is the son of the legendary Clifton Chenier, who during the 1970s and ’80s was the undisputed “king” of the musical genre. At the time of his death in 1987, Clifton was the only zydeco artist ever to win a Grammy. Fans of Paul Simon might recognize his name from the lyrical homage paid to the elder Chenier on 1986’s “Graceland” track “That Was Your Mother.”
C.J. Chenier has had a good career, carrying on his father’s legacy, fronting the band and regularly performing at esteemed venues such as the New Orleans JazzFest. Interestingly, the younger Chenier grew up apart from his famous dad, about 20 miles from the Louisiana border in Port Arthur, Texas. As a youth, he was into James Brown and Miles Davis, but he later came to appreciate the zydeco style and began joining his father on stage in the late 1970s, first as a saxophonist and then on the accordion.
They performed together through the 1980s, and after Clifton passed, C.J. took over. His career took off in the 1990s, and he was signed to Alligator Records in 1994. In 2001, he played in front of 60,000 people at the Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park. He is a steady touring presence across the United States, especially within the busy summer festival circuit.
“Zydeco to me has always been, I’ve always described it as, ‘happy-feet music.’ It’s a mixture of blues and waltzes and boogie, two-steps, just something to make you happy, make your feet move,” Chenier said in a recent promotional video.
“When I’m on stage playing accordion, I’m thinking, ‘OK man, get these people’s feet moving. Let’s make them happy. Let’s play this thing and make them feel where you’re really coming from.”
The sighting of a zydeco band has become rare in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley over the past few years, so lovers of live roots music (especially those who want to shake their tails off) should strongly consider the free Friday show on Fanny Hill.
Take it from a Louisiana native: You won’t be disappointed.
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