Walkin’ To New Orleans: Clifton Chenier


We’re taking a trip from Texas to New Orleans and plan to get there in time for Mardi Gras.  Along the way, we’re revisiting some of the interesting characters we’ve met in past years.  Today we go deep into the dark heart of Cajun country.

They called Clifton Chenier “King of the Bayou.”  Even after his death in 1987, Chenier remains an undisputed giant of Louisiana music – he singlehandedly attracted millions of listeners to the rhythmic gumbo of blues and Cajun music called Zydeco.  Hell, he may not have invented the music but he came pretty close to setting an unreachable standard for anyone who follows in his footsteps.

We saw him a lot toward the end of his life.  Chenier loved to play close to his home in Lafayette, Louisiana, because as he approached his 60s Chenier battled diabetes.  I remember calling his home in 1984 for an interview and Chenier was under the supervision of a nurse.  One of his legs had to be amputated below the knee due to poor circulation, but he was grateful the doctors didn’t take his hands.


Clifton and Cleveland Chenier

Chenier played the accordion, and it’s nothing like you remember from watching Lawrence Welk on TV.  He supercharged Cajun music with bluesy fills and crazed solos, all while his brother Cleveland kept time on the washboard.  (This is a truly brilliant thing: an everyday metal washboard strummed with metal can openers like a guitar.  Listen for it on the recordings below.)

We just to drag people out to Chenier’s shows just to watch their jaws drop as senior citizens would dance like fiends to the music.  Cajun, and particularly Zydeco, is party music plain and simple.  In Chenier’s hands that shit was mighty rockin’.   Luckily, late in his life Chenier was honored worldwide for his music; he won a Grammy Award in 1983 and accepted all sorts of awards from people around the world.  Paul Simon paid tribute to Chenier on his album Graceland; C.J. Chenier, Clifton’s son, can be seen on the tour circuit playing some pretty decent zydeco of his own.  But nobody did it like Clifton Chenier.

MP3: “Eh, Tit Fille”

MP3: “Zydeco Et Pas Sale”

MP3: “I’m A Hog For You”

MP3: “Clifton’s Waltz”

MP3: “Jambalaya” (live)

MP3: “The Things I Did For You”

MP3: “Opelousas Hop”

MP3: “Release Me” (live)

MP3: “Allons A Gran Coteau (Let’s Go To Grand Coteau)”

MP3: “Clifton’s Boogie Woogie” (live)

Clifton Chenier tribute website

YouTube: Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band

2 Responses to “Walkin’ To New Orleans: Clifton Chenier”

  1. Great stuff. Thanks guys. Just in time for a Mardi Gras party I’m going to this weekend.

  2. Thanks Ken. For anyone planning or attending a Mardi Gras party this weekend, tomorrow’s post is also essential.

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