July 26--Jeffery Broussard's not merely singing and playing music on his accordion. He's also deeply committed to preserving his Louisiana musical culture.
"There's only a few of us still out there doing this," said Broussard, who leads the five-piece Creole Cowboys, white Stetson and all. "My thing, as far as me fighting to keep my culture going, is to try to influence kids that are a lot younger.
"Creole music is roots music, man. It's our music. If we're not doing it now, what's gonna happen to our kids and grandkids and our culture? I'll fight as long as I can to spread it all over the world. Before it gets lost, man."
Broussard, from the Creole music capital of Opelousas, La., can be found Saturday, pumping out this joyful, infectious south Louisiana export at Twisted Oak Winery in Vallecito.
Creole music, with its roots planted deeply in the 18th century, has been an integral -- and inspirational -- aspect of Broussard's life since he started drumming at age 8. He and his Cowboys still play some of the vintage songs he learned while in his share-cropper father's band.
"I play some songs people are not even hearing anymore," Broussard, 46, said from Seattle on Wednesday. "Most of them are straight off the top of my head. Right from the heart. I don't read music. I don't understand it. Everything is coming out straight from my heart."
In Louisiana, music -- a rich gumbo of styles and influences -- is part of the heart, soul and fabric of the soil and air.
"It's generational," Broussard said. "Made by my grandfather and my daddy. There are a lotta, lotta, lotta musicians. It just generates form generation to generation. I have five kids and they just about all play music. It's just being around it and growing up around it. Once you're hooked, you're hooked."
Born in Lafayette, La., as the youngest of 11 children -- "my mama (Ethel) really spoiled me" -- he had four brothers. His dad, Delton, was a share-cropper, so "we were poor." There was just one accordion, stored on a closet shelf, to satisfy those multiple musical curiosities.
"We would take our turns," Broussard said. "Mom would fuss at us about it. Dad knew someone was playing it. He didn't know exactly who. He knew from the way they put it back, though."
Before he was 10, Broussard was drumming with dad's Delton Broussard & the Lawtell Playboys. He left school in seventh grade, working the fields to support the family. Broussard also was teaching himself to play accordion, based on dad's style -- and replacing it in the closet very precisely.
"Dad would come back from the fields and sit on the porch and have all his friends come over," Broussard recalled. "I remember when I first started playing around home, dad (and his band) performed just to say he could do it."
The group would earn $6 or $7 for a four-hour gig and entertain at "house dances" for $2. Broussard earned $11 after the first show with his brother's band.
"That's rough, man," he said. "What am I gonna do with $11? I never gave it up. I just stuck it through. The whole thing right now is to keep his (dad's) legacy going."
Two years after his father took a job with an oil company, Broussard's mother died from bone cancer. He was 14.
"It was rough," he said. "It was hard. It might sound crazy, but I didn't wanna see her suffer anymore. When she passed, it was a relief. She was going to a better place. My dad and I got very close. Not like father and son. More like brothers."
Broussard still has to monitor his emotions when singing dad's songs. They also prompt memories of mom: "Yeah, man, I have to slow down. If I get into thinking -- I can't even think about it -- I'll break out in tears."
At 16, Broussard's father finally realized Jeffery had been teaching himself the accordion -- "he'd just sit there and laugh" -- based on the "same touch and feel."
Broussard played accordion publicly for the first time -- and only periodically -- in a band (Clinton Broussard & the Zydeco Machines) led by an older brother. He still was the group's shy drummer. He didn't muster the nerve to sing until he became a member of Opelousas' Zydeco Force.
Broussard emphasizes the intoxicating Creole rhythms and spirit of his band -- fiddle and frattoir (washboard) included. They also have developed a contemporary style of zydeco. Broussard still plays a triple-note accordion similar to that of pioneering Clifton Chenier (1925-87).
Broussard and his band have released two albums -- "Keeping the Tradition Alive" (2008) and "Return of the Creole" (2011) -- and he's starting on a third.
"It's music that originated from Louisiana," he said. "It's music mostly about our life, man, a lot of our songs. It's good dance music, man. A lot of these songs touch a lot of people. It's heartwarming, man. Put it that way."
That's partly why its legacy -- and its purity -- will prevail, Broussard said: "Yes, definitely. Back when we were younger, especially at home around Louisiana, at dances there were more older people. Now, with the new generation, it's not radical to have an accordion. It's really hip-hop.
"My thing is it (Creole music) can speak for itself. I still play traditional songs. There's not that many doing it. If they weren't doing it, our music would be lost. I'm definitely gonna stick to my roots. You'll never hear me doing rap-zydeco. It's never gonna happen."
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