Burt Feintuch – Creole Soul: Zydeco Lives | Book Review

Burt Feintuch – Creole Soul: Zydeco Lives

University Of Mississippi Press


280 Pages Hardcover edition

The word Zydeco has an exotic ring to it. The truth is the word springs from the Creole culture of Louisiana. The word Creole can have a number of different meanings, but most often is used to refer to people of color whose ancestors came from those bound in slavery as well as those who manage to attain “free” status. For these people, zydeco music is their cultural heritage. For anyone who has ever heard a real zydeco band in all of it’s glory, Zydeco simply means having a damn good time, and dancing, lots and lots of dancing.

Author Burt Feintuch fell under the sway of the music, leading him to explore the music on its home turf. He quickly discovered that Louisiana gets the majority of attention when the music is under discussion, but there is an equally ardent fan base in Texas, primarily in the Houston area. Feintuch decided to document the current scope of the music across the two states, highlighting artists who are the torchbearers today, or at least in 2015-2017 time frame during which he conducted the interviews that are the heart of this work.

The book is a true labor of love. The pages are printed on heavy stock, glossy paper, which allows the photographs spread throughout the book to jump off the page in all of their full color glory. Most are the work of Gary Sanson, with some done by the author. Whether a portrait style shot, or a photo catching a musician in full flight on stage, the photographs are tasteful gems that give life and extra meaning to the printed word. Feintuch utilizes the question/answer format, giving each artist plenty of space to tell their story

As he worked towards finishing the book, the author was diagnosed with brain cancer. After an operation, he was undergoing treatments when he lost his life due to an accident at home. It fell to his close friend and Editor, Jeannie Banks Thomas, to make final decisions on content and to fulfill Feintuch’s final wish that his book would be completed.

After some words from Thomas and an introduction from the author, the stories began. The book is divided into two sections. The first delves into the Texas scene, with Ed Poullard leading the way, describing a common theme of growing up in a musical family, learning how to play the accordion. Poullard utilizes the diatonic style, with 12 buttons, which limits what can be done, but packs a real punch. There are also three button row models. Some players favor the chromatic accordion, or piano key model, which has a full twelve note scale. The King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier, played the chromatic in order to be able to play the blue tones he wanted to hear in his music. Poullard is partial to the sounds of the past. In addition to being an expert on accordion and fiddle, he makes beautiful diatonic accordions, combining his love of music with his skills as a woodworker. A photo of three of his instruments on Page 49 illustrates the beauty of his intricate work.

Two more chapters highlight several stars of the Texas trailride circuit, Step Rideau & the Zydeco Outlaws and Brian Jack & the Zydeco Gamblers . Extremely popular at the time, trailrides are like-minded people going horseback riding by day, then eating and drinking at night while a zydeco band does it’s best to keep the dancers motivated. The idea so popular that there are numerous rides every weekend in the greater Houston area. At the time, several artist commented that they were making a great living playing ride events. It paid well, kept travel to a minimum, and the people love the music.

For Jerome Batiste, he likes the older style with a twist, keeping his music clean for family enjoyment. Some artists have injected elements of rap and hip-hop into the zydeco mix, which appeals to younger generations but can alienate the older listeners, who comprise a major portion of trailride die-hards. Ruben Moreno loves the music as much as anyone, but lays out the issues he has faced gaining acceptance with his mixed-race heritage. He also provides a telling rundown about the difference in sound between Texas and Louisiana artists.

The next section highlights Louisiana artists, all of whom are the latest musician in each of their family’s lineage. Lawrence “Black” Ardoin is an accordion player schooled by his father, Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin, who recorded classic music with fiddler Canray Fontenot. He remembers a bygone era when he spent time with Chenier and Boozoo Chavis, another zydeco legend. Many artists also give praise to Beau Jocque, the man who was changing the sound of the music without sacrificing the traditional elements, until his tragic death from a heart attack. His band never failed to fill the dance floor, with a driving sound that kicked like the finest stallion.

Continuing in the family, Lawrence’s son, Sean, gets his own chapter, showing respect for his father’s legacy while acknowledging his understanding of the business aspects of being a Zydeco artist, trying to appease one faction who wants the traditional sound while realizing that a stagnant music is a dying music. One thing for sure, he works hard to avoid being categorized. Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers have a high energy live show that entertains while offering a driving sound that delights the dancers.

Leroy Thomas and his accordion manage to stay close to home, working steady while playing to a predominantly white audience of locals and tourists. His father was the only drummer to front a zydeco band. Corey Ledet is a masterful musician who was born in Houston, but moved to Louisiana after his high school graduation to immerse himself in the Creole culture. He has released several critically acclaimed albums that prove the soundness of his decision.

Moving through the book, several common themes emerge. As noted earlier, zydeco fans are split as to which approach offers the most appeal – sticking closely to the traditions or welcoming change as other musical influences make their presence felt. The popularity of the trailrides provides a number of the artists with a steady income, while others see that culture changing, and not for the best, as younger people get involved without any real respect for the culture. It is interesting to read how each of the artists assesses their place in the zydeco domain. And of course, there is the eternal debate on which style accordion is the best.

All told, this beautiful package contains a wealth of knowledge on the world of zydeco. Feintuch made a wise choice to focus on the current scene rather than limiting his focus on the giants of the music that are no longer among us. Those legends still get their due with respect from each of the artists interviewed. And readers will surely be exposed to some key players, particularly from Texas, who have been flying under the radar. The book is indeed brimming with ‘Creole Soul,” and makes it abundantly clear that Zydeco music has carved out a niche that will carry on the traditions for future generations. Highly recommended to all music fans!

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