Clifton Chenier Awarded Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award

Clifton was given a Lifetime Acheivement Award at the Grammys this year. The Grammys asked Chris Strachwitz to write something about Clifton for their awards program.

In the cotton-and rice-growing prairie country of Southwest Louisiana in 1954, a black talent scout, John Fulbright, heard a remarkable Creole accordionist and singer who billed himself as "the King of the South," and his name was Clifton Chenier. Together, they went to a Lake Charles radio station where Clifton cut his first rocking accordion instrumental, "Louisiana Stomp," for the tiny Elko label. Although that first record went nowhere, it was soon leased to the bigger Imperial label, which in turn drew the attention of the even bigger Specialty firm. A year later, Clifton's Specialty release "Ay-Tete Fee" made the R&B charts, sending Clifton on a brief nationwide tour of the chitlin' concert circuit. But greater fame would have to wait. After the tour, Clifton returned to the segregated black beer joints of Southwest Louisiana and East Texas where French-speaking Creoles kept on dancing to his music.

In 1964 I was in Houston, visiting my favorite blues singer, Lightnin' Hopkins, who one night asked if I wanted to go and hear his "cousin Cliff." Keen to go anywhere Lightnin' wanted to go, I accompanied him to a tiny beer joint in what he called "Frenchtown," and there was this lanky black man with a huge piano accordion on his chest singing the most low-down blues in a strange patois for a small dancing audience. This was Clifton Chenier and I was totally enthralled by his totally unique Creole music.

Records were meal tickets in those days. As soon as Clifton heard from Lightnin' that I was a "record man," he expressed his desire to record — tomorrow! I did manage to arrange a session at the old Gold Star studio, and "Ay Ai Ai," a catchy Creole song but with English lyrics, enjoyed local radio and jukebox play. When it came time to make an album, I wanted to capture the sound of that Creole or "French music" I had heard at that beer joint. But Clifton wanted to make it rock and roll. After some debate, we settled on a compromise: half rock and roll and half "French." But it was the "French" two-step "Zydeco Sont Pas Sale," with "Louisiana Blues" on the flip side, that became a regional hit, and sent Clifton well on his way to becoming known as "the King of Zydeco."

Soon he and his Red Hot Louisiana Band were playing for wider audiences. The Rolling Stones went to hear them at a church dance in Los Angeles, they played the Fillmore in San Francisco and soon the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Tours of Europe followed as well as an appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York and in 1983 Clifton became a GRAMMY winner and an NEA National Heritage Fellow in 1984. By blending the older local rural Creole music with rhythm & blues, a touch of rock and roll and his unique personality, Clifton Chenier invented what today is known the world over as zydeco music.

Chris Strachwitz - 2014

Arhoolie Records' 50 Years of Roots Music Celebrated in Film at SXSW Read about on Billboard Magazine's website

New Documentary on Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records
Near Completion:
You can donate to help finish this remarkable film:

No Mouse Music! (working title, subject to change) is a feature-length documentary by Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon about the life and vision of Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz and his adventures searching out America's roots music. Through one man's amazing journey, we will experience the rich panorama of American regional music.
For more information and to donate, click here.

Arhoolie Records' 50th Anniversary on to be released and highlights on the radio.

Arhoolie Records to release 50th Anniversary Concert CDs and Book.

In February 2011 Arhoolie Records celebrated its 50th anniversary with three days of concerts featuring Santiago Jimenez Jr. & La Familia Peña-Govea, Los Cenzontles, Ry Cooder , Any Old Time String Band, David Doucet, Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands,  Peter Rowan, The Goodtime Washboard 3, Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, Barbara Dane & Bob Mielke's All Stars w/ Lars Edegran, Toni Brown & Terry Garthwaite (of The Joy of Cooking), The Creole Belles, Tremé Brass Band, Los Cenzontles, Suzy & Eric Thompson, Country Joe McDonald, The Campbell Brothers, Savoy Family Band, and Taj Mahal.

The entire event was a benefit for the Arhoolie Foundation, and the proceeds went a long way toward paying for the matching funds for the Foundation’s N.E.H. grant to digitize and make accessible the Frontera Collection (see here for more information). We still need to raise another $40,000 in matching funds for the Foundation's N.E.A. grant. When completed, the Foundation will have digitized all the 78 rpm, 45 rpm, and rare cassettes in the Arhoolie Foundation’s Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican American and Mexican Recordings,

Arhoolie Records is planning to put out a 4-CD set with an approximately 200 page book featuring the photos of the event taken by Mike Melnyk, along with text by Chris Strachwitz and Adam Machado, quotes from artists etc. celebrating 50 years of Arhoolie Records. This set will include the highlights of the three concerts. Stay tuned for the release date.

You can hear selections from the weekend on American Routes Radio.

American Routes will feature selections and interviews from the Arhoolie 50th Anniversary concerts, recorded live at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse.Routes' host Nick Spitzer will chat with Arhoolie's founder, Chris Strachwitz, about his passion for putting American roots music on record. Streamed on the internet, beginning June 29th, at http://americanroutes.wwno.org/ or on a radio station near you.

There is a very nice tribute page to our late friend Jaime Nicolopulos on the PTERODÁCTILO website.

"Mal Hombre" recorded by Lydia Mendoza (1934) added to the Library of Congress’ 2010 National Recording Registry. 

(available here on Arhoolie Records)

Singer Lydia Mendoza (1916-2007) once said, "It doesn’t matter if it's a corrido, a waltz, a bolero, a polka or whatever. When I sing that song, I live that song." Mendoza had been performing and recording with her family’s band since the late 1920s, and was only 16 when she recorded "Mal Hombre," investing the song’s bitter lyrics with an artistic maturity that belied her age: "Cold-hearted man, your soul is so vile it has no name." "Mal Hombre" launched her solo career, her stark voice and graceful 12-string guitar lines resounding strongly with the Spanish-speaking audience of Texas. The Houston-born singer was soon known as "La Alondra de la Frontera," The Lark of the Border.

As part of its congressional mandate, the Library is identifying and preserving the best existing versions of each recording on the registry. These recordings will be housed in the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va.

photo by Mike Melnyk

Thursday, March 3, 2011

News from Arhoolie Records founder and president Chris Strachwitz who's recuperating from a hip replacement.

Hello everyone:

If you attended any of our events around Arhoolie's 50th Anniversary you no doubt noticed my hobbling around with a cane! Well, I just got a brand new right hip here at the Stanford Medical Center, and thanks to Dr. Malone, his team, and his great expertise, it seems to be a rousing success. Although the recovery period is a bit long, I look forward to getting back to work and hearing some fine music very soon!

The three day Benefit for the Arhoolie Foundation was a huge success and resulted in the Foundation making over $55,000.00 plus additional donations coming in from various friends. I wish I could personally thank every one of you who helped in this amazing production, but at this stage I can only say: Thank you all from the bottom of my sometimes cranky but well meaning heart!

I am glad to have received this computer from my local "angel" Rob Robinett, who along with his incredible wife Sandy Miranda, invited me to have this operation down here on the Peninsula, and my man at Arhoolie, Tom Diamant, who put my e-mail file on it as well as other goodies! But it is very tedious for me to type this since I am neither a fast typer nor quite used to this keyboard!

I want to express special thanks to Ry Cooder whose many loyal fans filled the Freight & Salvage to capacity for the Friday show and I believe many more were turned away. But that special THANKS does not diminish my THANKS to all the other fantastic musicians and all the many helpers! I am just now starting to listen to the music from those three incredible days and hope to pick out my favorite performances for a CD package release in the hopefully not too distant future.

I also want to go ahead with the production of several other projects which have been on my mind for some time: The Chicano Experience will be a book with four CDs, including the texts and translations of all the corridos, along with lots of illustrations. Another project is the Legacy of Dr. Harry Oster - again probably a book with some of his writings, transcriptions of texts and translations (for the Cajun/Creole material), and four CDs of his finest recordings covering a wide variety of American regional music.

Since the Arhoolie Foundation is now in better financial health, I also plan to move forward on several AF projects:

1) Of course continuing the digitization of the 45s and rare cassettes in the Frontera Collection.

2) Installing a listening station for the Frontera Collection at the Down Home Music Store so that fans, students, and scholars of the music can come in and listen to the complete recordings free of charge.

3) Contacting (with your help!) all the schools in the Bay Area who have any interest in Chicano Studies to make them aware of the listening station and to invite their involvement in our efforts to preserve, document, share and celebrate this great music!

That's it for now - cheers from Chris