Leroy Thomas & the Zydeco Roadrunners

zydeco
Elton, Louisiana

 Photo by: Tom Pich

Photo by: Tom Pich

A throwback to first-generation zydeco masters, Leroy Thomas plays what he calls “old school zydeco.” That’s no surprise, given he was born into a zydeco family: his father has inspired countless zydeco drummers, while cousins Geno Delafose and Keith Frank are some of the leading zydeco performers today. A giant on the zydeco scene for over 20 years, Leroy wears out the “zydeco corridor” traveling between Lafayette, Louisiana and Houston, Texas.

Springing from the rich cultural mix of southwest Louisiana and East Texas, zydeco combines traditional black French Creole music—known as “la la,” it is closely related to the local Cajun tradition—with blues and R&B to create irresistible dance music. Zydeco is said to take its name from the idiomatic title of a popular song, “Les Haricots [zydeco] Sont Pas Salé” (“The Snap Beans Aren’t Salty”). A driving, accordion-led music with signature frottoir (rubboard) percussion and electric guitars, zydeco is a relatively modern sound that emerged after the Second World War. Clifton Chenier, known as the “King of Zydeco,” is most often credited with creating modern zydeco—an energetic, highly danceable sound—by mixing Cajun and French dance music with blues, R&B, and rock and roll.

A Louisiana native, Leroy Thomas was born in Lake Charles and raised in Elton, Louisiana. His father, Leo “The Bull” Thomas, was the only known drummer to lead a zydeco band. As a young boy, Leroy emulated his father’s drumming on an improvised drum set fashioned from five-gallon paint buckets, using tree branches as drum sticks. In his teens, he began to learn the music in earnest after trading an old cassette player for a used accordion; he joined his father’s band by the time he was 18. Father and son toured together for 15 years; while not touring, Leroy worked odd jobs on rice and soybean farms and in auto body shops, later moving to Houston where he went to trade school and became a pipe welder. Leroy left his father’s band in 1998 and formed the Zydeco Roadrunners.

Now known as “the Jewel of the Bayou,” Leroy is a master of both the button- and the piano-style accordion, and his playing is energetic, fun, and old school. For Leroy, zydeco starts with the dance. “It’s just a feeling about the music,” he explains. “The dance floor [should] be packed from the first song to the last.” His songs are often playful, with titles like “Leroy’s Boogie” and “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound,” and he’s been known to spin his accordion above his head during a set. With his fast and furious accordion and a full band, Leroy Thomas & the Zydeco Roadrunners promise to bring the bayou to Richmond.

The Zydeco Roadrunners are Gerald St. Julien, Jr. (drums, vocals), Gerard St. Julien III (rubboard, vocals), Kenneth Ray LeBlanc (lead guitar, vocals), and Morris Ledet (bass, vocals).