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Sep. 23rd, 2006 @ 09:07 am Sunday Afternoon Zydeco
Here's an article from the Houston Chronicle. Please join us Sunday afternoon for a truly special event.

Sept. 21, 2006, 4:47PM

Zydeco sprouted in Louisiana, blossomed in Texas

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

In his new book Texas Zydeco, Roger Wood pinpoints exactly where the origins of Franco-Creole zydeco music are found.

Dancers take to the floor at PeTe's Cajun Barbecue House in Houston to music by Bourbon Street.At the risk of giving up some historical subplot, all you need to do is jump on Interstate 10 and follow the exhale of accordion party tones and the chank-a-chank rhythm of a rub board.

Start that trek around Lafayette, La., and head west toward Houston.

(Louisiana natives who claim ownership of zydeco traditions are free to gasp here.)

"Houston is to zydeco what Chicago has been to American blues," says Wood, paraphrasing a notion that Michael Tisserand asserted eight years ago in The Kingdom of Zydeco.

This is the spine of Wood's study in Texas Zydeco. Combined with photography by James Fraher, the 324-page book stands as the most concentrated history of Houston's influence on modern zydeco to date.

On Sunday Wood and Fraher will celebrate the release of Texas Zydeco with a book signing noon-2 p.m. at Sig's Lagoon, followed by live zydeco music by the Zydeco Dots and special guests, 2-6 p.m. at the Continental Club nearby.

"I don't want anyone to misunderstand. Without the French-Creole culture of Louisiana, there would be no zydeco," says Wood, an instructor at Houston Community College.

But history does not lie. There is no disputing that the original acoustic black creole folk, originally known as "la-la," began on accordion and kitchen washboards in southwest Louisiana by French-speaking Creoles. According to Wood, what's often forgotten is that the music now known as zydeco — from the current spelling to its electric instrumentation and other modern evolutions — rely on past musicians (often former slaves) who migrated in the 1920s to historic Frenchtown, in Houston's Fifth Ward in the 1920s.

"Hurricane Katrina was not the first time that those living in Louisiana were forced to migrate to Houston," says Wood, who cites harsh weather as merely one of the ways "la-la" artists ended up here. "When these folks settled, they were socialized not just as Creoles but as Texas African-American."

Like Wood and Fraher's first illustrated music history, Down in Houston, three years ago, Texas Zydeco is not just a musical genealogy but also a sociopolitical study of Houston and what part this musical style played in that evolution.

"In the book there is a photograph of the Houston Ship Channel (Page 70) with downtown Houston visible in the background," says Wood. "Some may ask why that's in a music book, but you have to get into the economic and social history of the Creoles who came here to understand the music."

For instance, the Spindletop oil find of 1901 made Beaumont a boomtown where Louisiana sharecroppers found their window into the more lucrative oil industry. They brought their cultural music with them.

Wood explains how the "zydeco corridor" that runs from Lake Charles and Lafayette to Beaumont and Houston has been instrumental in the refining of modern-day zydeco. How zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier, of Opelousas, La., moved to Houston and recorded many of his celebrated songs (Zydeco Sont Pas Salé), and how black Texas audiences flocked to venues like the El Dorado Ballroom to see French Creoles showcase this lively combination of hooks and rub-board syncopation.

Unlike Down in Houston, with its historical tone, Wood's zydeco book celebrates the notion that zydeco is still a growing and thriving music scene in Houston, Beaumont, Sealy and Port Arthur, where multigenerational families and groups like Les Amis Creole, Cedric Watson and Lil' Brian Terry carry on the tradition.

"Down in Houston was about a beautiful sunset. It's about Houston blues culture in its sunset," says Wood. "Texas Zydeco is about a zydeco culture where it's still high noon."

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