Eat Their Poussière

Zydeco’s Louisiana Purchases Inch Toward Raunch

Sometimes Beau Jocque's motives do seem loco. His version of War's "Low Rider" is only marginally preferable to Korn's, his "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" almost as interminable as Guns N' Roses'. Still, to hear him reconfigure "Cisco Kid," "Keep a Knockin', " "Tighten Up," "Tequila," and "I'm a Girl Watcher" is to hear him leap tall Beach Music anthologies in a single bound and land in a party zone all his own.

Well, almost all. On his excellent '98 Rounder record Turn the Page, teenage star (and Amédé Ardoin's grandnephew) Chris Ardoin debuted "Fever for Your Flavor," powered by psychedelic space electronics and grown-up red-clay soul vocals that welcome zydeco to the urban jungle, blackboard jungle, and rubyfruit jungle simultaneously. You can, it seems, take the accordion squeezer out of Crawfish Country after all.

Beau Jocque's latest, by the way, is called Zydeco Giant (Mardi Gras, 1-800-895-0441)—appropriately enough, given that he's over six-and-a-half feet tall and three feet wide with a full-throated bear growl where most zydeco artists have a voice. When I shook his paw at the beginning of an interview a few years back, I thought I'd never type right-handed again.

Teenage Chris Ardoin
Rick Olivier
Teenage Chris Ardoin

But where, you ask, are the women? Dancing to the men, mostly. Queen Ida is winding down at 69, and Ann Goodly, who in the late '80s seemed poised to inherit Ida's crown, is missing in action. That leaves two, both recording for Maison de Soul: bassist Donna Angelle and accordionist Rosie Ledet. Angelle may have the musical goods (cf. '97's Old Man Sweetheart), but Ledet has the sex appeal. Never one to pass up a squeezebox double entendre, she includes on her recent I'm a Woman a little something called "You Can Eat My Poussière."

The lives and music of Chenier, Ledet, Jocque, Frank, Chenier, the Ardoins, and everyone else who's anyone in zydeco have recently been chronicled in two books, Michael Tisserand's The Kingdom of Zydeco (Arcade) and Ben Sandmel and Rick Olivier's Zydeco! (University of Mississippi Press). The latter mainly showcases Olivier's award-winning photos of musicians at rest, at play, and out standing in their fields; Sandmel's text, while informative, is for novices only. (Bet you didn't know that "rap is a major force within the music industry and an important expressive vehicle within the African-American community.")

Tisserand's book is the gold mine. The product of years of re search, interviews, and van, bus, and horse travel with zydecizers and their kin, Kingdom should do for the genre what Nick Tosches's books have done for country and Peter Guralnik's did for r&b and the blues—make the music seem like a mystery both worth solving and worth spending a bunch of money on.

And besides, come to think of it, what do New Zealanders know about "standard rhythm-and-blues" anyway?

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