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Way Down in Louisiana: Clifton Chenier, Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop Music Paperback – November 3, 2015
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"If you're a fan of Creole or Cajun music, this will be your bible. Way Down in Louisiana: Clifton Chenier, Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop Music is an insider's look at the music that made Louisiana famous. ... The pictures alone will keep you enthralled for hours. But the stories will keep you coming back again and again to baptize yourself in Louisiana's spicy watering holes with the help of the itinerant musical evangelists who made Louisiana music a world-wide ministry." - Grant Britt, No Depression
"For all his contribution to modern music, Clifton Chenier, though recognized for his achievements, has never been written about. ... A consummate performer, forever accompanied by his brother Cleveland on rubboard, who lived his life on the road, yet remained true to his people and his roots. Way Down in Louisiana is written by an insider ... [and] we are offered a personal insight on the inner workings of those musicians and bands which keep Cajun and Creole culture alive and well. And most important it is an invitation to go out and listen to the music." - James Nadal, All About Jazz
"One of 2015's best books" - The Independent
"Clifton Chenier ... injected high-energy and boogie-woogie rhythm into zydeco, blasting it into the charts and the commercial mainstream far outside the Pelican state. This handsome collection of profiles and photographs tells that story along with those of other masters of southwestern Louisiana music who followed: Buckwheat Zydeco, Steve Riley, BeauSoleil, Sonny Landreth, among others. Mouton casts these performers in their environments, showing that what makes the music special is not just the performance but the culture from which it sprang." - Mark Guarino, Chicago Tribune
..".vigorously researched and intimately reported...Way Down in Louisiana is as dynamic as the records and performances Mouton describes...a rare immersion in the personal lives of the working musicians in this singular America." -- David Fricke "Rolling Stone"
From the Author
[Excerpt] Introduction: Surf Music from Jupiter
On a warm Lafayette, Louisiana day in the mid-1990s I ran into a musician named Lafayette Saucier. We were outside the now-defunct Café 101 coffeehouse on Johnston Street, and I was at a table talking with musician and visual artist Richard "Dickie" Landry about Clifton Chenier. The Hub City being the no-degrees-of-separation place it is, I jumped at the chance to add another saxophonist to my rolling cassette tape, and that's when he said it.
"The first time I heard Clifton Chenier," Saucier intoned, "it sounded like surf music from Jupiter!"
His bohemian baptismal revelation probably parallels the experience most folks who haven't grown up in a south Louisiana Creole household have upon their first exposure to the noun and verb that is zydeco.
The music played, danced, and listened to way down in Louisiana and beyond is strange and powerful stuff, and it seems to pull just about everyone-- and everything--in. Our sounds cause adjectives and feelings to collide, and it's just that conjuring, that alchemical combining of elements, that makes Cajun, zydeco, and swamp pop music what they are: gorgeously indefinable and interrelated expressions.
Clifton Chenier occupies a singular nexus between all that's come before and since, and his music stands at the crossroads of countless cultural currents. He's the sun in this solar system born largely in rural south central Louisiana.
By the time the man now known as The King of Zydeco was in his mid-thirties, he'd shared the stage with a staggering array of stars whose work continues to shape popular music. Chenier received little formal education, but he learned the ways of the road courtesy of blues and soul luminaries from Jimmy Reed to Big Mama Thornton. By the early 1960s, the French-speaking Creole bandleader's squeezebox riffs had traveled through famed musical constellations crafted by legendary producers and record labels. Bumps Blackwell and Specialty Records in Los Angeles, the Chess brothers in Chicago, Huey Meaux in Houston, and J.D. Miller in Crowley, Louisiana, all provided valuable schooling, and when Chenier came out the other side he birthed a galaxy of sound still resonating across the cultural cosmos.
Over the course of his thirty-three-year recording career, Chenier journeyed from the humblest possible beginnings to a pair of Grammy awards, including one for lifetime achievement, and his 1976 Bogalusa Boogie album has been honored with inclusion in the Grammy Hall of Fame collection. He was born on the muddy prairies 140 miles northwest of New Orleans at the dawn of the recording age in 1925, and his story began when south Louisiana was still split in half by the 140-mile-long by 25-mile-wide Atchafalaya Basin swamp, then navigable only by boat. But sound travels well in the humid Gulf Coast air, and like the rest of the country cousins of the Crescent City profiled in these pages, Chenier and his band invented music that stands starkly apart while still remaining deeply connected to the wellspring of funky sounds emanating from The Big Easy.
Chenier's homeland is now called Acadiana, a group of twenty-two civil parishes (counties) that derives its name from the first New World home of the French Acadians who came to Louisiana from what is now the Canadian Maritimes after their mid-eighteenth-century exile at the hands of the British. Their descendants, known today as Cajuns, met and mixed with their new neighbors--the region's indigenous peoples, Spanish colonists, slaves, and free people of color among them--to help create the cultural riches this book celebrates.
The mysterious process of creolization--in which cultural mixing unpredictably leads to the formation of new identities--often clashed with the social, economic, and political realities of history, and before long two musical styles divided essentially by skin color spawned further innovation and variation. And when mainstream mass culture further penetrated the isolated coastal marshes, swamps, and prairies of south Louisiana, the Cajun music of white culture and the zydeco music of African American culture served as a springboard for the development of a third art form, the sometimes black-and-white Cajun and Creole R&B and rock'n'roll sound British writer Bill Millar dubbed swamp pop.
Clifton Chenier died in 1987, and his sixty-two years form the backbone of this collection of stories about artists directly and distantly connected to his life and work. The tales that surround the central section of this volume are like planets, moons, meteors, and comets expanding the boundaries and definitions of roots music, and many of them were gathered during the 1990s when I worked primarily as a music journalist.
"Someone really needs to write a book about Clifton," my dad said early in that decade, and I emphatically agreed, before realizing he envisioned me as its author. With his help and encouragement I took up the challenge and began conducting extensive interviews with the surviving members of Chenier's Red Hot Louisiana Band. About a decade later I realized that the King's legacy was perhaps best understood through the diverse work of his many artistic acolytes.
So this book travels from the blistering electric slide guitar blues of Sonny Landreth to the bombastic accordion-and-horn-fueled soul of Buckwheat Zydeco, stopping off for visits with dozens of well-known and more obscure musicians gathered across more than two decades. Between the shorter chapters tied to specific datelines and Chenier's chronological throughline, connections are revealed and fade away.
King Clifton is one of the world's most important musicians and an historical figure on the order of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Bob Marley. And, at some level, all the musicians in this book are working to stand on the stage he defined. But real life isn't all tied up with neat little thematic bows, so this book is not a definitive, encyclopedic, or exhaustive survey of anything. What you now hold is a collection of glimpses into a living, breathing, evolving culture.
Though this book overflows with first-hand tales of innovators known the world over, these artists' gains have been primarily spiritual. Like Chenier, who was born a sharecropper and lived the majority of his six-plus decades on the road, most of these players live their lives pretty close to the bone, thriving on the intrinsic rewards that come from reimagining your ancestors' music for appreciative audiences. In the words of legendary south Louisiana guitarist and Red Hot Louisiana Band alum Paul "Lil' Buck" Sinegal: "We weren't doing it for the money, no. We were doing it 'cause it was fun."
At its core, most of these artists play folk music as described by songwriter and longtime Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys guitarist Sam Broussard: "It's music of the people, by the people, for the people."
As current Red Hot Louisiana Band leader C.J. Chenier says of his father in the documentary film Zydeco Gumbo: "It's a pure music. Without all the electronics, without all the gimmicks, just pure down-home, get-down music. I never heard anybody play accordion nowhere close to him. I mean nobody. I mean, he was a incredible blues accordionist, zydeco, rock'n'roll, whatever you wanted to play, he could play it on a accordion. He was number one in my book, number one."
Merci à tous!
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Top Customer Reviews
The author’s research and accuracy is only exceeded by his gifts as a writer. The project could have been rendered in an academic manner and in fact, it will be considered as “the source” or ultimate resource for those who research this unique music.
Instead of this being an academic work, it is a collection of fluently written stories by a talented storyteller who is able to bring to life all of the people who have made this music, their influences and those they have influenced.
In some cases, the author introduces us to musicians we do not know. In many cases he brings to life musicians we have only known from hearing their recordings. In all cases, Todd Mouton makes both the music and musicians live as we feel as though we know them well and understand their influences and the reasons they both create new variations on themes as well as honor the original music rooted in the cultures they honor in their work.
The most valuable pages are those devoted to a musical biography of Clifton Chenier, an icon who created “zydeco” in an historic recording session chronicled by Todd Mouton. The world has embraced the music of Clifton Chenier and those who followed him, walking in the same musical trace, but until now little was known about this genius who hailed from way down in Louisiana.
The stories in the volume that precede the Chenier pages and follow the telling of his story are spellbinding and reflect the familiarity of the author not only with the music but also with the musicians.
Apparently, Todd Mouton has devoted his life to the music way down in Louisiana and he’s been honored many times for his work with music and his role as a cultural activist. Anyone who reads this book will be grateful that this dedicated, knowledgeable, gifted author has shared his knowledge and gifts with us.
If one is to own only one book about south Louisiana music, this is the book to own. No one's library will be complete without this volume.
It's an intelligent book too - it assumes that the reader will know a little about the subject matter and doesn't waste too much time with generic histories of the music and the state. It's so much better for it - it has loads of the good stuff! Todd has done a superb job on this and anyone seriously interested in Clifton Chenier or Cajun, Zydeco and swamp pop needs this book. Essential.
Here you get a front seat right where it happened from someone who understands and loves the Louisiana music scene and has been in the midst of what's happening for the last 4 decades.
Todd's book will be the source of reference for our music for the future but it is a joy to read now. Well done Todd!
Clifton was gone before I discovered his music, and I've always been chagrined that I didn't find him until it was too late. Now I don't feel as though I have to kick myself quite so hard.
A really great read. Turn up the volume while you're turning the pages.