Whole Lotta Rosie

What a weird–assed juxtaposition it was. Freezing as hell outside, like 20 degrees with a stiff breeze, and a Zydeco band inside generating a sweaty mess. On top of that, a mysterious fever swept the place. The kind of fever, brought on by alcohol, that you have to sort of call Jazzfest fever. Anyone who’s ever been to the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans and gotten into the spirit of the thing can instantly reconnect with those feelings, once they have a few beers and hear some NOLA music, be it Cajun, Zydeco, funk or whatever. Hey, you have to hand it to Jazzfest, they’ve created a mojo that goes way beyond the music and creates wildly loyal fans, every festival should be so lucky.

I enjoy slugging beer outta bottles, sucking crawfish tails, puttin’ on my Luccheses and clinging onto/dancing with sweaty, fragrant (preferably drunk) females all nite as much as next guy—or at least I did until I got married— but the whole Jazzfest magic thing never ceases to amaze me. One visit and they’re hooked. From then on they’ll wade through blood to hear New Orleans music and get even a whiff of the spirit of that event. And if they’re the kind of aging fratboys that Randy Newman sang about in “Rednecks” God help you. To anyone who’s semi–normal, it’s really pretty wholesome and innocent and all about getting a buzz on and dancing. Letting the good times roll is, I believe, the correct Loo–See–Anna term. I watched a couple chicks at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village on Friday night who staggered up and introduced themselves while they were getting their beers and then proceeded to dance and booze it up the rest of the night, often in the archetypal drunk–chick–loving–music pose: arms over head, fists clenched, hips waggling, biting lower lip. God help me but I do love it so!

The star of Export NOLA, a kind of mini–Jazzfest that took over two venues in GV last weekend, was Rosie Ledet, who is a kind of Queen Ida for the next generation. Though Ida, who is now 80 but I’m sure can still get out there and squeeze that box (so to speak) if so motivated, was never the wild woman (at least to my knowledge but then I could be wrong) that Ledet is. Part of the reason I haven’t seen Rosie until now is that she blew off the last gig I was supposed to see her. While that’s annoying as hell—and in a situation like today’s music world where the only way to make money is through touring, downright lethal to your career—dusting off gigs is nothing compared to this whole weird story, which I got from one of the guides on About.com. According to this tale, Ledet who lives out in Southwestern Louisiana and is in her mid–thirties, and was “unaware she was pregnant,” (?) had a miscarriage, hid the corpse in the shed of a bandmate and went off to do a weekend’s worth of gigs up in Illinois. When she returned home, she told another bandmate who then called the cops—who then did not in the end charge her with anything because there had been no foul play.

To translate this story into any sort of logic that can be grasped outside of Louisiana, let’s just say that this could mean any number of things and like most things in Louisiana, there are a probably a million shades of the truth going on here at once. There is literally no getting to the bottom of anything in New Orleans. And so, let us leave that sordid tale alone because true or not, it adds to Ledet’s reputation as an asskicker, which is basically what you have to be to play Zydeco—well.

Ledet, who learned from one of the best, Boozoo Chavis, plays the real thing as opposed to one of the rocked up offshoots—which feature more guitars than accordions and more rock star posing than actual singing and playing. I blame Bourbon Street for this watering down of Zydeco, which is really from out west in Louisiana and east Texas and not NOLA anyway. Although before getting all purist on this subject, I have to stop and remember that attracting young players to what is still a traditional music form, and one you ain’t gonna get rich playing, is difficult. And then if they can’t rock it up in their own way, a lot of young players who might stay with Zydeco which they probably learned near where they grew up (no Zydeco players in Iowa for example), are more than happy to go on to hip hop or R&B or some other more lucrative stream in music.

All blues shuffles and waltzes, Zydeco is truly a revelation when you hear it for the first time. I remember the first time I saw Clifton Chenier (as John Lee Hooker once cautioned me several times, “it’s pronounced SHEN–YeAA not Shen–Near) and it blew me away. Because of its overuse in music writing, the word “infectious” has almost ceased to be a medical term, but when it comes to Clifton and his music, it really applies. There was no way not to dance to it, even if you just moving back and forth from foot to foot, spilling your beer and occasionally yelling out some unintelligible words of encouragement. What a sweet soul that man truly was. Damned Diabetes took him way too soon.

As for Rosie, while her records like the one pictured are good, and all on the great Maison de Soul label, they like most Zydeco records (with the notable exception of live sets), fail to capture the essence of seeing the stuff live. Rosie, who impressed me with a song that talked about the devil being circumcised (again, think Louisiana where that’s actually nuthin’) is certainly the best Zydeco act I’ve seen in a long time. Four hundred pound guy playing bass. Totally incongruous white dude guitar player from the Bronx. A lead singer/accordion player who may or may not have been pregnant and on this bitter NYC night, never took off her wool hat. In short, crazy as hell, just the way it has to be.

zydecofeva's picture

There is Zydeco in Iowa. ;-)Iowa, Louisiana I-10 East on the way to Lake Charles.Boozoo's Dog Hill Festival, Iowa (800-456-7952; www.lakecharles.com) - Labor Day Weekend