C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band
C.J. Chenier is “the true royal successor” of his pioneering father, the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier. Like his father Clifton before him, C.J. Chenier embraces the zydeco imperative to laissez les bon temps rouler: “Our main goal,” he declares, “is happy feet and happy faces.”
A driving, accordion-led music with signature frottoir (rubboard) percussion, zydeco is an energetic and highly danceable music that emerged from southwest Louisiana after the Second World War. Clifton Chenier was a leader among the French-speaking black musicians who created modern zydeco by mixing older Cajun and French Creole dance music (“la la”) with blues, R&B, and rock and roll. Zydeco, which is said to take its name from the idiomatic title of a popular song, “Les Haricots [zydeco] Sont Pas Salé,” continues to express the trials and joys of life in Creole Louisiana today.
As a child growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, C.J. had little exposure to zydeco. His father lived in Lafayette, Louisiana, and was always on the road. C.J. was attracted to music, though, and started playing the piano in third grade. He stood out as a sax player in the high school band, and ended up with a music scholarship to Texas Southern University. In 1978, his father brought the 21-year-old into his Red Hot Louisiana Band as a saxophonist, and their musical partnership flourished.
As his father's health worsened in the 1980s, C.J. took over more and more of the accordion duties from his dad. When Clifton died in 1987, C.J. inherited leadership of the band, recalling this advice from his father: “All [he] really told me was to do the best I could do with my own style.” In the 30 years since, C.J. has done just that, amplifying traditional zydeco with his own R&B and funk stylings, but always bringing the music back to its roots. Now approaching his 60th birthday, C.J. Chenier continues to tour tirelessly, bringing the rollicking energy of zydeco to audiences all over the world. “You play zydeco and you see shoes flying off,” says Chenier of his live performances. “You can’t come to my show and stay unhappy all night long. You’re going to break a smile and stomp your foot before too long. This is happy music and it makes you dance.”