Treasure Hunter

Chris Strachwitz's 40-year journey through ethnic music deserves an arhoolie of its own

But Chenier had a different agenda. "He showed up with a whole damn band the next day. And he said, 'Oh, Chris, this ain't where it's at, the French stuff. We've got to make rock and roll records.' The first records were a weird mixture. But thank goodness half the band blew up. The damn guitar player's amplifier started smoking, and the electric bass player that he brought, his damn speaker cone was literally disconnected" from the housing. "So nothing came out of it. So we were down to drums and accordion and piano, I think. Then he agreed finally to make the first album. He said, 'Okay, Chris. I'll make it half French, and half rock and roll.' "

Chenier was astonished to see his zydeco numbers outsell the rock and roll. "That really helped him regain his confidence in his Creole roots," says Strachwitz. "And eventually helped him become the king of zydeco."

Although Strachwitz urged Chenier to stay true to his roots, one salient characteristic of the Arhoolie catalog is that it doesn't conform to the stuffy notions of "purity" that all too frequently infect the folk world. It is obvious to anyone who listens to the boxed set, or to the label founder himself, that Strachwitz is no moldy fig. "People still ask me, 'How come you like Lightnin' even though he played an electric guitar?' " he says. "I didn't give a shit; he didn't give a shit. He had whatever guitar wasn't in hock. That's the only thing he cared about: Did he have one. Some of those [folk] people today are just totally out to lunch."

Strachwitz digs the down-home blues.
Strachwitz digs the down-home blues.

Strachwitz feels fortunate that he's not alone in treasuring music that falls outside folkie fussiness. "I think that there are enough people who are tired of the overarranged and slick music, who miss that aspect of rawness in our lives," he says. "I've always been captured by that rawness, yet [also] having it sweet at times. It's got to be both."

Though he's justly proud of what he's accomplished, Strachwitz worries about whether traditional music will survive as a living cultural entity. When asked if he thinks the pendulum might swing back to rawer sounds, he offers, "Yeah, who knows. It could come on back again. But it'll never be the same. There will be a different taste to it."

So even if youngish African-Americans like Corey Harris and Alvin Youngblood Hart continue to mine the blues tradition, there's a certain essence that has been lost forever. "The experience isn't the same as meeting Fred McDowell out in this damn field, playing for all his drinking buddies. It isn't the same thing."

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help
Houston Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • April
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri

Find Any Show in Town