The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we examine previously-released albums but the platters we’ll peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This edition of the series focuses on Clifton Chenier’s Bogalusa Boogie.
For those not up on their music history, Clifton Chenier, born in Louisiana on June 25, 1925 and died on December 12, 1987 was a Grammy Award-winning musician, singer-songwriter and recording artist who specialized in Zydeco music which is a product of Creole and Cajun music with blues, jazz and R&B influences. Known as both the King of Zydeco and the King of the South he was also posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
While recording Bogalusa Boogie in 1975 Chenier, on accordion, harmonica and vocals, was backed by his Red Hot Louisiana Band: bassist Joe Bruchet, drummer Robert Peter, guitarist Paul Senegal, saxophonist John Hart and his brother Cleveland on washboard/rubboard. The original 11-track album opens on “One Step At A Time”. This is the first example of Chenier’s writing skills although perhaps an incomplete one.
The second selection is “Sa M’Appel Fou (They Call Me Crazy)”. Very quickly listeners begin to grasp the band’s signature sound. Yes, Chenier’s lyrics are often en Francais but those who listen to this genre of music are not necessarily focusing on the lyrics anyway.
The next number is “Quelque Chose Sur Mon Idee (There’s Something On My Mind)”. This is one of his mid-tempo blues-tinged tracks which are considered by many to be very beautiful.
It is quickly followed by a fun instrumental titled “Ride ‘Em Cowboy” which is highlighted by particularly effective rubboard and sax. Also included here are the quite fitting “Ma Mama Ma Dit (My Mama Told Me)” and the reflective “Je Me Reveiller Le Matin (I Woke Up This Morning)” which further demonstrate not only Chenier’s writing skills but the adhesiveness of the band.
The seventh selection is “Allons A Grand Coteau (Let’s Go To Grand Coteau)”. Here the easy-going, good-natured groove set up by the band continues. It’s followed by “Je Suis En Recolteur (I’m A Farmer)” which in some places might seem odd but one must remember that Chenier was first big in places like Louisiana and Texas before becoming a worldwide figure.
“Ti Na Na” is next as the band continues to prove what prime sessions they played to record this platter. “Come Go Along With Me” comes along next further demonstrating how fine this specific band line-up was. The closing cut is the titular track “Bogalusa Boogie” which serves as an excellent encore if you will.
Released in 1976 on the Arhoolie label with a running time of over 50 minutes, this album was considered by critics to be excellent examples of an artist who can make people get up on their feet and dance. Indeed, while his onstage persona was full of flash complete with cape, crown and gold tooth, it was his especially exuberant signature sound that has made him a legend in the genre of Zydeco. He combined waltzes and two-steps with rock and roll, R&B and twelve-bar blues to birth his brand of infectious, very rhythmic music.
His brother’s rub-board adds additional spice and Hart’s tenor sax adds a clever counterpoint to Chenier’s accordion. The group has a subtle interplay born of all their live gigs. The LP was critically praised as being the most naturally mixed and best-recorded of all their sets.
It would even be re-released on CD in 1993. The disc would include two bonus tracks: the personalized “I May Be Young” and the sexy “Take Off Your Dress”. Songs such as these influenced other artists including: Elvin Bishop (Mountain), Ry Cooder (Little Village), Taj Mahal (Rising Sons) and fiddle player/singer-songwriter Doug Kershaw. Chenier’s playful purity is musically more than what one might expect. He proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the accordion has been obviously unduly maligned by the likes of Mel Bey and Lawrence Welk. For that alone, Clifton Chenier’s Bogalusa Boogie/Arhoo. 1076 deserves its five-star status.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.