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Clifton Chenier

The undisputed "King of Zydeco," Clifton Chenier was the first Creole to be presented a Grammy award on national television. Blending the French and Cajun 2-steps and waltzes of southwest Louisiana with New Orleans R&B, Texas blues, and big-band jazz, Chenier created the modern, dance-inspiring, sounds of zydeco. A flamboyant personality, remembered for his gold tooth and the cape and crown that he wore during concerts, Chenier set the standard for all the zydeco players who have followed in his footsteps. In an interview from Ann Savoy's book, Cajun Music: Reflection of a People, Chenier explained, "Zydeco is rock and French mixed together, you know, like French music and rock with a beat to it. It's the same thing as rock and roll but it's different because I'm singing in French." The son of sharecropper and amateur accordion player, Joe Chenier, and the nephew of a guitarist, fiddler, and dance club owner, Maurice "Big" Chenier, Chenier found his earliest influences in the blues of Muddy Waters, Peetie Wheatstraw, and Lightnin' Hopkins, the New Orleans R&B of Fats Domino and Professor Longhair, the 1920s and '30s recordings by zydeco accordionist Amede Ardoin and the playing of childhood friends Claude Faulk and Jesse and Zozo Reynolds. Acquiring his first accordion from a neighbor, Isaie "Easy" Blasa in 1947, Chenier was taught the basics of the instruments by his father. By 1944, Chenier was performing, with his brother Cleveland on frottoir (rub-board) in the dance halls of Lake Charles.

Moving to New Iberia in the mid-'40s, Chenier worked in the sugar fields cutting sugar cane. After moving, to Port Arthur, TX, in 1947, he divided his time between driving a refinery truck and hauling pipe for Gulf and Texaco and playing with his brother. In 1954, Chenier signed with Elko Records. His first recording session, at Lake Charles radio station KAOK, yielded seven tunes including the regional hit single, "Cliston's Blues" and "Louisiana Stomp."

Chenier's first national attention came with his first single for the Specialty record label, "Ay Tete Fille (Hey, Little Girl)," a cover of a Professor Longhair tune, released in May 1955. The song was one of 12 that he recorded during two sessions produced by Bumps Blackwell, best known for his work with Little Richard. By 1956, Chenier had left his day job to devote his full-time attention to music, Touring with his band, the Zydeco Ramblers, which included blues guitarist Philip Walker. The following year, Chenier left Specialty and signed with the Chess label in Chicago. Although he toured, along with Etta James, throughout the United States, Chenier's career suffered when the popularity of ethnic and regional music styles began to decline. Although he recorded 13 songs for the Crowley, LA-based Zynn label, between 1958 and 1960, none charted.

The turning point in Chenier's career came when Lightnin' Hopkins' wife, who was a cousin, introduced Chris Strachwitz, owner of the roots music label, Arhoolie, to his early recordings. Strachwitz quickly signed Chenier to Arhoolie, producing his first single, "Ay Yi Yi"/"Why Did You Go Last Night?," in four years. Although they continued to work together until the early '70s, Chenier and Strachwitz differed artistically. While Chenier wanted to record commercial-minded R&B, Strachwitz encouraged him to focus on traditional zydeco. Chenier's first album for Arhoolie, Louisiana Blues and Zydeco, featured one side of blues and R&B and one side of French 2-steps and waltzes.

In 1976, Chenier recorded one of his best albums, Bogalusa Boogie, and formed a new group, the Red Hot Louisiana Band, featuring tenor saxophonist "Blind" John Hart and guitarist Paul Senegal.

Chenier reached the peak of his popularity in the '80s. In 1983, he received a Grammy award for his album, I'm Here!, recorded in eight hours in Bogalusa, LA. The following year, he performed at the White House. Although he suffered from kidney disease and a partially amputated foot and was required to undergo dialysis treatment every three days, Chenier continued to perform until one week before his death on December 12, 1987. Following his death, his son, C.J. Chenier, took over leadership of the Red Hot Louisiana Band.

A documentary video of Chenier's performances at the San Francisco Blues Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and on Louisiana television was released by Arhoolie. ~ Craig Harris
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Sings The Blues

1. Ain't No Need Of Cryin'

2. Rosemary

3. Brown Skinned Woman

4. Done Got Over

5. Gone A La Maison

6. Me And My Chauffeur Blues

7. My Little Angel

8. Paper In My Shoe

9. Blues After Hours

10. Trouble In Mind

11. In The Mood

12. Worried Life Blues

x

Track List: The Best Of Clifton Chenier

1. Je Me Reveiller Le Matin (I Woke Up This Morning)

2. I'm Coming Home (To See My Mother)

3. Ay, Ai, Ai

4. Brown Skin Woman (Who Can Your Good Man Be)

5. Hot Rod

6. It's Hard

7. All Your Love

8. Party Down (At The Blue Angel Club)

9. Why Did You Go Last Night

10. Ma Mama Ma Dit (My Mama Told Me)

11. Zydeco Cha Cha

12. Bon Ton Roulet

13. Black Gal

14. Johnny Can't Dance

15. I'm On The Wonder

16. Zydeco Sont Pas Sale (Snap Beans Without Salt) (Alternate Take)

17. Ain't No Need Of Crying (Every Day Is The Same/Louisiana Blues)

18. Interview

x

Track List: Zydeco Sont Pas Sale - King Of The Real Creole French Zydeco

1. Zydeco Sont Pas Sale

2. Blues De Ma Negresse

3. Cher Catin

4. Going La Maison

5. J'ai Conet, C'est Pas Ma Femme

7. Mo Veux Connaitre

8. Je Suis En Recolteur

10. Je Marche Le Plancher

11. Louisiana Two Step

12. Weetee Ta Robe

13. Zydeco Two Step

15. Tu Le Ton Son Ton

x

Track List: Live At St. Mark's

1. Zydeco Cha Cha (Live At St. Mark's)

2. Bad Luck And Trouble (Live At St. Mark's)

3. Cher Catin (Zydeco) (Live At St. Mark's)

4. New Ma Negress (Live At St. Mark's)

5. J'is Conet, C'est Pas Ma Femme (Live At St. Mark's)

6. Rockhouse (Live At St. Mark's)

7. I'm A Hog For You (Live At St. Mark's)

8. Mama Told Papa (Live At St. Mark's)

9. Tu Le Ton Son Ton (Every Now And Then) (Live At St. Mark's)

10. You're My Mule (Live At St. Mark's)

11. Tighten Up Zydeco (Live At St. Mark's)

12. Going Home Blues & Mess Around (Live At St. Mark's)

x

Track List: Bogalusa Boogie

1. One Step At A Time

2. M'appel Fou

3. Quelque Chose Sur Mon Idee

4. Ride 'em Cowboy

5. Ma Mama Ma Dit

6. Je Me Reveiller Le Matin

7. I May Be Wrong

8. Take Off Your Dress

9. Allons A Grand Coteau

10. Je Suis En Recolteur

11. Ti Na Na

12. Come Go Along With Me

13. Bogalusa Boogie

x

Track List: Live! At The Long Beach And San Francisco Blues Festivals

1. Introduction And Theme By Band (Live)

2. I've Had My Fun (Live)

3. Zydeco Two Step (Live)

4. Calinda (Live)

5. What'd I Say (Live)

6. Party Down (Live)

7. I'm Coming Home (Live)

8. Pinetop's Boggie Woogie (Live)

9. They Call Me Crazy (Live)

10. Zydeco Cha Cha (Live)

11. You Gonna Miss Me (Live)

12. Caledonia (Live)

13. New Orleans Beat (Live)

14. Clifton's Zydeco (Live)

15. Let The Good Times Roll (Live)

16. Rock Me (Live)

17. Louisiana Two Step (Live)

18. Cher Catin (Live)

19. I'm The Zydeco Man (Live)

x

Track List: I'm Here!

1. I'm The Zydeco Man

2. Dry Your Eyes

3. Zydeco Disco

4. I'm Here

5. The New Zydeco

6. You Got Me Crying

7. Going Back Home

8. Eighteen Long Years

9. In The Mood

10. Got To Have Your Love

x

Track List: Bon Ton Roulet! And More

1. Bon Ton Roulet

2. Frog Legs

3. If I Ever Get Lucky

4. Black Gal

5. Long Toes

6. Baby Please Don't Go

7. Houston Boogie

8. Blues De Ma Negresse

9. Sweet Little Doll (Cher Catin)

10. Jole Blonde

11. Ay, Ai, Ai

12. French Town Waltz

13. Keep On Scratching

14. Black Snake Blues

15. Let's Talk It Over

16. Walking To Louisiana

17. Key To The Highway

18. Things Ain't Like They Used To Be

19. I Got A Little Girl

20. I'm On The Wonder

21. Jump The Boogie

x

Track List: In New Orleans

1. Boogie Louisiane

2. Cotton-Picker Blues

3. J'aime Pain De Mais (I Love Corn Bread)

4. Pousse Cafe Waltz

5. Hello Rosa-Lee

6. Jusque Parce Que Je T'aime (Only Because I Love You)

7. Boogiein' In New Orleans

8. Rumblin' On The Bayou

9. I'm Gonna Take You Home Tonite

10. Mon Vieux

11. Crying My Heart Out To You

12. Tous Les Jours (Everyday)

13. Mardi Gras Boogie

x

Track List: Frenchin' The Boogie

1. Caldonia

2. Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler [Let The Good Times Roll]

3. Tu Peux Cogner (Mais Tu Peux Pas Rentrer) [Keep-A-Knockin' But You Can't Come In]

4. Le Blues De La Vache A Lait [Milkcow Blues]

5. Moi J'ai Une P'tite Femme [I've Got A Woman]

6. Tous Les Jours Mon Coeur Est Blue [Every Day I Have The Blues]

7. J'veux Faire L'amour A Toi [I Just Wanna Make Love To You]

8. Choo Choo Ch'boogie

9. La Valse De Paris

10. Shake, Rattle And Roll

11. Going Down Slow (In Paris)

12. Aye, Aye Mama

13. Don't You Lie To Me

14. I Want To Be Your Driver

x

Track List: Out West

1. I'm On The Wonder

2. The Hucklebuck

3. Je Marche Le Plancher (You Know It Ain't Fair)

4. Calinda

5. You're The One For Me

6. You're Fussin' Too Much

7. Just Like A Woman

8. All Your Love

9. C. C. Special (Take #2)

10. I'm A Hog For You Baby

11. C. C. Special (Take #1)

12. Ti Na Na

13. Zydeco Cha Cha

14. Crawfish Jambalaya

15. Ma Negresse Est Gone

16. Breaux Bridge Waltz

17. Louisiana Two Step

x

Track List: King Of The Bayous

1. Tu Le Ton Son Ton

2. Hard To Love Someone

3. Who Can Your Good Man Be

4. Zodico Two-Step

5. Going La Maison

6. I Believe I'll Go Back Home

7. Release Me

8. Grand Mamou

9. Ton Na Na

10. I'm Coming Home (To See My Mother)

11. Josephine Par Se Ma Femme

12. It's Christmas Time

13. Coming Home Tomorrow

14. Me And My Chauffeur

15. Mo Veux Connaitre

16. Tired Of Crying Over You

17. Clifton's Blues

18. Let's Rock A While

x

Track List: Bayou Blues

1. Boppin' The Rock

2. The Things I Did For You

3. Yesterday

4. Clifton's Squeeze-Box Boogie

6. Eh, Petite Fille

7. All Night Long

8. Opelousas Hop

10. Think It Over

11. Zodico Stomp

12. The Cat's Dreamin'

x

Track List: Louisiana Blues And Zydeco

1. Zydeco Et Pas Sale

2. Lafayette Waltz

3. Louisiana Two Step

4. Clifton's Waltz

5. Louisiana Blues

6. Hot Rod

7. Banana Man

8. Ay-Tete-Fee

9. It's Hard

10. I Can't Stand

11. I Can Look Down At Your Woman

12. Accordion Boogie

13. Banana Man (Take 2)

14. Ay, Ai Ai

15. Clifton's Blues (Where Can My Baby Be)

16. Let's Rock Awhile

17. Elmore's Blues

18. Clifton's Two Step

19. Zydeco Et Pas Sale (Take 1)

x

Track List: Squeezebox Boogie

1. Intro

2. Rock Me Baby

3. Bon Ton Roulet

4. Tu M'as Promis L'Amour

5. In The Mood

6. I'm A Hog For You

7. Jole Blonde

8. Zydeco Cha Cha

9. Whole Lotta Lovin'

10. Instrumental

Comments

Report as inappropriate
Clifton Chenier was the best musician of his time he set the bar for Zydeco music my brother and I Mark st. Mary both played behind him Clifton and his brother Cleveland put on a show and became a zydeco Heroes
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Oh oui, c'est super !
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Been listening to "the King" since I found that ole pepper in my shoe.
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Zydeco King? mais oui. my absolute fave! God bless Clifton Chenier for all his good music!
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The Zydeco King!!!
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I love this music it talks to me
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Happy birthday
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I remember Clifton he used to live next door to Totie. Played cards at her house.He parked his tour bus in front of the house.
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My husband has every Zydeco song from everyone incluing The Sam Brothers,my husband wants to be buried in La. so he can be close to his Zydeco Kings and Queens
Report as inappropriate
My husband is from Franklin,La and he loves all of his Zydeco music mainly Cliffton Chenier Black Snake,my husband is a true Cajun,my husband says Zydeco is better than blues,please keep us alive
Report as inappropriate
Zydeco music is the best heard it first in Medford, Oregon at a Jazz fest there, when I heard it I could not stop for a minute had to start dancing and I am not a dancer. Absolutely love it forever. By the way the group who introduced me to it was Gator Beat. Love it your group is really great too. I set up a station for you on my Pandora.
Report as inappropriate
borninbeaumo n t 3 7
Born in Beaumont, raised up oncajun music in SoLa. Got my first Clifton Chenier at Chaney's Auditorium in Bmt in 1954. Changed my life.
Report as inappropriate
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest Friday by the love of your life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post this you will die in 2 days. Now you have started reading this so don't stop. This is so scary put this on at least 5 songs in the next 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lovers name will appear on the screen in big letters this is so scary because it actually works
Report as inappropriate
I discovered Zydeco Music in my 40's....Ther e was a place in Houston, Texas called: Pe-Te's Cajun Barbecue House that had dances with live area Zydeco bands....2 to 6 O'clock on Saturday afternoons.. . i t was so much fun...The music made you feel so good...I made a lot of wonderful friends from all over the state that would come to these dances...I even learned to play Rubboard and played with the bands....I got so good at Zydeco dancing that I eventualy started giving lessons before the dance wou
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grew up with zydeco music in golden triangle area...Big times at the Rodair Club.in the 70's with the King of Zydeco Clifton Chenier he would entertain from start to finish ...you would dance all night long and be sore the next moring....ma n i miss the good times...8:)
Report as inappropriate
in the 70s I had all his albums.....s o m e t i m e s more than one copy because of different labels had same music but different album covers.I don't understand French,could have 'cuz mu grandfather was French Canadian. The music transcends all languages
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larrybrundre t t 4
Love his zydeco in Geography of a Horse Dreamer, the play
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shootingstar 7 2 6 8 3
Who Dat, We miss and love you Bro
Report as inappropriate
rhon6464
such a happy music...list e n to it when i'm down and im down no more.
Report as inappropriate
elartx
pretty cool
Report as inappropriate
The 1st time I heard Zydeco was on my 40th B-day when I went to LA to see my friend. I am now 55 and still love it, and the gumbo too.
Report as inappropriate
we still make gumbo!! in New Orleans the Gumbo House has good old cajun food
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i love my culture!livi n g in boston i forgot! kaplan la.i need some gumbo!
Report as inappropriate
gregjarrtt2
I used to live down the street from Clifton in Lafayette. The man could BBQ too!!

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