Saturday’s Music

Sunday’s Music

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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 31, 2000. All rights

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E-mail: RichardSkelly@princetoninfo.com

Zydeco Music — For Dancing & Drinking

After he had made his decision to become a performer,

zydeco singer, songwriter, and accordion player Terrance Simien never

really considered other career options. He was 16 when he formed his

first band, and he began touring regionally around his southwest

Louisiana

home at 17. Home for him in those days was Mallet, a small prairie

town not far from where he lives now, on the outskirts of the city

of Lafayette, Louisiana. Now he leads a group of zydeco performers

called the Mallet Playboys.

"I’ve been very fortunate to be making a living all these years

doing something I love," says Simien, now 34, who visits Waterloo

Village on Saturday, June 3, and the Trenton Heritage Days Sunday,

June 4.

Simien’s latest album, "Positively Beadhead," for the

Boston-based

Tone-Cool Records, was released last fall. It’s an artful blend that

includes a few covers, including Hedy West’s "500 Miles,"

but mostly it features Simien’s original songs, some sung in French.

A well-mixed and well-produced affair, the CD’s 12 tracks take the

listener on a geographical jaunt around southwest Louisiana and New

Orleans. The music is clearly zydeco, which comes from the blues,

but the mixing job is so well-done that a lot of these tracks have

crossover pop and adult radio potential.

Simien says he’s just an accordion player and songwriter. "Once

we make a record, it’s out of our hands," he says by phone from

a tour stop in Elmira, New York. "My wife, Cynthia, does all she

can in working with the record company and the booking agent, but

then, it’s up to the record company to get it out to all the right

places," he adds.

He says it took nearly two years to make the record, in between tours,

and his laid-back personality leads one to believe people don’t do

much of anything in a rush in southwest Louisiana.

"We recorded in a good studio, but most important, things weren’t

rushed," he stresses, "that’s so important," he adds,

hints of his French accent creeping into his speech. "You really

need to take as much time as you need so that you’re satisfied with

the way everything sounds when you’re mixing."

Simien grew up at the crossroads of State Highway 190

and Rural Route 103 in Mallet, and at that crossroads sits the St.

Ann’s Roman Catholic Church. His singing career began there. "I

was real young, it was the Catholic church, so there was no real heavy

songs, just hymns, but it’s still songs I sing from time to time,"

he explains. For example, when he’s home (which is only about four

months of the year), if someone asks him to sing at a hometown wedding

or funeral, he almost always obliges.

Simien attended elementary and high school in nearby Lawtell,

population,

1,000. "I began playing trumpet in the school band when I was

10, and we had a great summer music program and a great teacher,"

he says. His mom is a housewife and his dad is a bricklayer who just

retired last year.

His interest in zydeco music was spurred by his older brothers and

sisters, he explains, who were always coming back from nightclubs

around Mallet and nearby Eunice with stories about the fun they’d

had dancing and drinking.

"I was a kid trying to grow up before my time, so finally my dad

took me to this club called Slim’s Waikiki, where parents were allowed

to take their children," he explains. Shortly after getting his

first taste of authentic zydeco, Simien fell in love with the music

and got his first accordion. "Before that experience, I thought

zydeco music was just for the older generation, which it was, at that

time, just a thing for the older folks," he says. He began

teaching

himself songs, and by 16 he had formed his first band.

"The first gig we did as a band was a Christmas party for a

National

Guard Armory in Oakdale, and we did that and a dance at the church

hall," he recalls. He explains that in the South, for many years,

there were black and white churches, but all of them had halls next

door to the main church building for wedding receptions, dances, and

bingo.

"There was a zydeco dance in our parish every Friday, and 1982

was the first church hall dance I ever did, and from the church halls

I started doing clubs like Richard’s [pronounced ree-shards], Slim’s

Wakiki, the Bon Ton Roulet Club, and the Blue Angel Club."

By the time he was 17, he had assembled his first touring band and

was ready to extend the fingers of his brand of squeeze-box music

to places beyond Eunice and Lafayette. How did his parents react when

he told them he wanted to be a touring musician?

"They really supported me," he recalls. "They had seen

my progress in playing accordion and they got behind me all the way.

I was still finishing up high school, playing gigs in between. When

I finished high school I went to work with my daddy as a bricklayer

and played music on weekends."

"It didn’t take that long, I did that for maybe a year and then

my music became my full-time job," he says. "I went on the

road in 1985, and it’s been great ever since."

Simien recorded his debut album, "Zydeco on the Bayou" in

1990, but it was his appearance and music in the 1987 film, "The

Big Easy," a Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin thriller set in New

Orleans, and that movie’s soundtrack CD, that gave his career a

significant

boost. Other films Simien has contributed music to include "Blue

Bayou" (1989), "The Lonesome Pine Special" (1992),

"Exit

To Eden" (1995), and Cuba Gooding’s "Murder of Crows"

in 1998.

"`The Big Easy’ definitely helped to put my music out there, but

it also hipped a lot of people to New Orleans music, and it helped

the whole New Orleans music scene," says Simien.

Aside from some lucky breaks in the movie world, it was also Simien’s

decision to adopt the grueling lifestyle of a bluesman on tour, which

may involve challenges like a festival in Germany one day and a club

show in Boston two days later. Simien recalls that world depicted

in Willie Nelson’s movie, "Honeysuckle Rose," while he was

still a teenager.

"I was heavily into Willie Nelson at the time and it was a story

about life on the road and all the excess baggage that goes with

that,"

he explains, "I said to myself, `If I could ever live like that,

it would be fantastic!’"

Relative to the other zydeco performers, Simien and his Mallet

Playboys

are on the road a lot, from February until the end of October. The

annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a time the group

plays close to home. While JazzFest is going on in New Orleans,

several

other festivals are going on around Lafayette, and there is a lot

of trekking back and forth between the two cities.

Given that he grew up in a hotbed of zydeco activity

and the place where the music was born from blues and classic rhythm

and blues, who did Simien learn from? "My biggest influence on

accordion would have to be the late John Delafose, that was the hot

zydeco band at the time I was learning. But singing-wise, I love Aaron

Neville, Rick Danko, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye,"

he says.

Asked to explain the difference between Cajun music, such as the music

of Christine Balfa and Balfa Toujours, and zydeco music, Simien says

that Cajun is country-oriented and is the music of the French-speaking

white people, whereas zydeco is blues-oriented and is the music of

the French-speaking black people.

"Even with the racial barriers that were around in the South in

the ’40s and ’50s, if you were a musician and heard somebody doing

some stuff on accordion that was interesting, you respected that no

matter what color you were," he says. Looking at Simien’s photo

on the back of his CD, it’s not readily apparent what color he is.

"I have Cajun ancestors and black ancestors and Native American

ancestors. My people were multi-racial, going way back," he

laughs,

"and we even have some Spanish in there, too."

The band’s live shows are high-energy affairs featuring lots of

rhythm,

lots of dancing by band members and audience alike, and Simien’s

accordion

solos and high, soaring vocals. Simien says he is optimistic about

the future of zydeco music in the U.S., because the novelty of the

late 1980s and ’90s zydeco renaissance still doesn’t seem to have

worn off on American audiences. You can dance to it, for one thing,

and it features such unusual instruments as rub-boards and accordions.

"There are now zydeco bands in Albany, New York, in San Francisco,

in Ohio and in Chicago," he says. "It’s great to see that

the music has inspired people from outside of the culture to want

to play it."

— Richard J. Skelly

Trenton Heritage Days Festival , Mill Hill Park, Old Barracks,

and New Jersey State Museum, 609-777-1770. Continuous entertainment,

arts, family fun, and food. Free. Saturday and Sunday, June 3 and

4, noon to 7 p.m.

Top Of Page
Saturday’s Music

State Museum Stage: 12:30 p.m., Nine Fold Muse. 3 p.m., Ron Kraemer

& the Hurricanes. 5:30 p.m., Eddy Wilson Band.

Mill Hill Park: 12:15 p.m., Johnson Singers. 1:30 p.m., the

Dazzling Mills Family. 2:30 p.m., Universal Creative Arts Ensemble.

3:30 p.m., the Dazzling Mills Family. 4:45 p.m., Universal Creative

Arts Ensemble. 5:45 p.m., Dennis Guitar Rogers Band.

Old Barracks: 12:15 p.m., Ronnie James & the Jez Hot Swing Club.

2:30 p.m., Johnson Singers. 3:45 p.m., Plex. 6 p.m., Swing con Seis.

Top Of Page
Sunday’s Music

State Museum Stage: 12:15 p.m., George V. Johnson Jr. 2:45 p.m.,

Ernie White Band. 5:15 p.m., Terrance Simien.

Mill Hill Park: 12:15 p.m., Geist. 1:30 p.m., Daisy Jug Band.

4 p.m., Grace Little. 6:15 p.m. St. Phillips Baptist Mass Choir.

Onstage at the Old Barracks: 12:15 p.m., Phoenix Rising. 1:45

p.m., Joe Zook & Blues Deluxe. 4 p.m., Craig Hayes & the United

Voices.

5 p.m., Latin Flavor.


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