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Texas Zydeco, In Five Indelible Images

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One of Rocks Off's main resolutions most years is to both see more zydeco and write about it more often. Unfortunately, we don't get out to the country as often as we should, and no one ever seems to want to give us a ride to Jax Grill on Friday evenings. We have to remind ourselves to check the excellent Zydeco Events Web site from time to time, too.

Ironically for about the only kind of music not represented at Summer Fest this weekend, zydeco is the one genre Houston can lay the most claim to. When the Creoles of Southeast Texas and Southwestern Louisiana moved to the Bayou City for work in the first half of the last century, they brought their lively, accordion-fueled dance music with them, and roughed it up with the blues and R&B pumping out of Third Ward and Fifth Ward juke joints - making Houston's relationship with zydeco analagous to Chicago's with the blues.

This evening, author Dr. Roger Wood and photographer James Fraher will be at the Museum of Printing History's opening reception for Texas Zydeco, an exhibit featuring 40 of Fraher's photographs from the duo's 2006 book of the same name. Saturday, the action shifts to Miller Outdoor Theatre for the 22nd annual Accordion Kings & Queens festival, featuring Houston zydeco shuffler Corey Ledet alongside Denton's Brave Combo and conjunto group Mickey y Sus Carnales.

Rocks Off asked Wood to send us a few of Fraher's photos from the new exhibit, and a little background from each one. Enjoy.

That's the able hand of one of the old-timers, Dan Rubit, on the accordion. Like countless players of his generation, Mr. Rubit followed the lead of the King of Zydeco, playing the larger, more versatile piano-key accordion just like Clifton Chenier. Because this type of instrument is fully chromatic - i.e. can play in any key, unlike the smaller button-key instruments that pay in fixed intervals - it allowed players like Chenier and Rubit to jam more readily with blues bands, a key phenomenon in the evolution of modern zydeco.

Cedric Powell is one of the many younger Houston zydeco musicians we met while working on our Texas Zydeco book. This shot was was staged on the patio at Jax Grill on N. Shepherd, a casual restaurant that continues to throw a major zydeco dance party with live bands, every Friday in the early evening.

The accordionist Jerome Batiste is one of the many players who performed at a zydeco festival (staged at an enormous rodeo arena) that we documented in Crosby, Texas, in 2004. Though relatively young, he played a more traditional stile of zydeco than some of the hip-hop-influenced peers of his generation.

Of course, zydeco is all about dancing, and for many years the now-defunct Pe-Te's Cajun Barbecue House, located down near NASA, had big dances every Saturday afternoon. In this shot, dancers enjoy the crossover sounds of the band Bourbon Street.

That's Raymond Chavis, for many years the accordionist for the popular Houston band the Zydeco Dots, in silhouette at the historic Eldorado Ballroom in Third Ward. Though that venue, which opened in 1939, is mostly associated with big-band blues, jazz and R&B, the great Clifton Chenier also played there in the 1950s.

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