CAJUN COOKIN'


Here's the recipe:

You take a blues voice with plenty of soul. Add four hot, tight musicians on accordion, doboro, mandolin, slide fuzz guitar, acoustical guitar, wash board and bass. Mix in a variety of musical styles from traditional modern jazz, rock and roll (you know, that Elvis and Chuck Berry sound) with a dash of progressive rock from the late 1960s, a lot of general country flavor, a little bit of SKA and Reggae here and there, just to add some color and variety. Put all of this all into a big pot with a generous supply of Louisiana Hot Sauce. Turn up the heat and bring this mixture to a boil, then let it all just simmer and cook. Serve it up good and hot, you know what you get?

Lisa Haley and the Zydekats


Photo by Claudia Kunin

I first saw Lisa and the band on TV's The Late Mr. Pete Show -- they were the house band. And what a band they were! In my days, I've watched a lot of Saturday Night Live, Arsenio Hall, Tonight Show and David Letterman... For me, the Zydekats were, by far, the best house band I'd ever seen or heard on television. (Did you really think that this was literally another cooking article? Go, stuff a zucchini!)

They play their own unique blending of Cajun music. That's Louisiana party music, and it's unlike anything else you might have heard!

Cajun is French-American culture. Long, long ago some French people came to the new world and they settled in Canada and established the Montreal area. Then they went down the river all the way to the Gulf waters of the Atlantic ocean down there between Texas and Florida. They founded Louisiana and began incorporating a lot of things from this new area in to their life styles. Things from the nearby islands. Things around them in the bayou country down there in the delta region. While most Americans (yes, we do live in a different culture, Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. that bases it laws on France not England) certainly know New Orleans style jazz, as exemplified by Louis Armstrong. Oh, and some of us know a little about the cookin' -- crawfish, gumbo and things like that there. Traditional Cajun folk music is not all that mainstream. You see it in an occasional movie like Southern Comfort but for the most part we know jazz and country music to a far better degree.

Lisa and the band actually tell this story about Louisiana and the eatin' you get down there much better than I can, in a song off her album called The Crawfish Song.

A lot of the songs they do are traditional Cajun folk songs, often sung in Cajun (a variant of French), sometimes employing the more traditional and primitive instruments used in real Cajun folk music. Their music is not merely based on some superficial influence -- it's in their blood! Their presentation is tight, slick, tasty and at times hopping. When they do an up tempo number you just have to get up and dance. Again, that's what Cajun music is all about. It's all about everyone getting together on a nice weekend holiday, cooking up a community feast, then someone who owns a fiddle joins up with anyone else who can carry a beat on any device -- often a washboard (a device whose primary use was for cleaning your clothes back before we had washing machines) and they provide the entertainment. Everyone for miles around would come out, drink their homemade concoctions, eat their fill of crawfish (that's shrimp to you Yankees), dance all day and night to hot fiddle playing at disco speeds or slow, close dancing blues songs.

Not to be overly simplistic, but the way the Zydekats approach Cajun music is a little like fast country music, except that you often add a lot of extra beats and accents. Country music just goes on and on and on. Same tempo, same meter. Well, in their hot, style of Cajun playing you beat the drum fast and hard a couple of extra times every now and then, just to make sure everyone's awake and having fun -- and also so they know when to change direction during a dance! Mr. Leonard off their current album exemplifies this concept and it's also the type of song I used to see them do during the feature performances and segues on television -- and it's why I brought them in and served them up to you on a big platter!

Since those long-ago Mr. Pete days, Lisa's been heard on the music tracks for a whole slew of television shows, feature films and commercials, including: The Beverly Hillbillies Movie, A Thing Called Love, The Barbara Mandrell Story, Man in the Moon, Waterboy, The Muppet Movie, National Lampoon's Seven Deadly Sins, Delta Heat and Mr. Atlas. You may have seen her, live, on TV shows like Good Morning America, NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, performing with Randy Newman and Lyle Lovett). She and the band have also been included in historical projects, such as Sir George Martin's The Rhythm of Life (which also includes the likes of Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Celine Dion, Sting and Lionel Richie) and the Best of CD Highway, running on PBS, BBC-1 and the Discovery channel.

In between all of this, they managed to find time to do concert and club dates around the world, plus record several CDs. Louisiana, a somewhat traditional, slow country-crossover ballad, has been getting a lion share of their radio airplay. But they also get lots of airplay with some of the hotter or more Cajun cuts off their current recording, Waiting For The Sky (Blue Fiddle LHZ2-4884).


Available from Amazon.com ASIN B00000I10G

This album is absolutely delightful! I add it to my list of hot albums you can listen to start to finish (which had included Astro Lounge from Smash Mouth and Tragic Kingdom from No Doubt).

Fifi Poncho also reminds me of what I used to hear from them on television. A fast paced instrumental that's a pure Cajun delight. If you're familiar with country fiddle music you'll immediately see the similarities. The harmony bowing, the octave switching and nuances are indicative of country fiddle. The Cajun difference, as I mentioned, comes in the beat and breaks -- the way the Cajun player approaches the music as a style -- that triplet feel at the end measures which are not really part of the Nashville fiddle music, in general, but are part of rock music. Their Cajun music is also filled with accents that often seem to be island influenced, with touches of SKA and reggae -- having that up-beat accent. They seem to integrate both the back beat and upbeat into the music, so that your body is bobbing up and down, while your foot is tapping the straight beat. They also take breaks -- or tacets as they are called in musical vernacular. The music stops for a short pause, then picks up again after a moment of dead silence.

Mud Bug starts off with a mellow drone feel, then it suddenly takes a break, turns a corner and goes into a wild, fuzzed out, slide guitar solo. The guys in the band do some singing here, echoing back against Lisa's lead vocals near the end of the song.

Oh, Mon Cher is initially a slow shuffle (think of Canned Heat, the Doors and the Grateful Dead) but then turns into a faster, more driving shuffle. Again we hear fuzzed out slide guitar and a very free form vocal scat in the middle of the song. This is sung in both Cajun and English.

Mardi Gras is sung in Cajun and is very percussive. Sounding like a mixture between Cajun, Middle Eastern flavored music and something right off the Abraxis album by Santana, with the guitar trading opening riffs that are a little country, a little Cajun, with a light bit of Middle Eastern mode. Everyone takes a really nice, long solo in this cut: guitar, accordion and then the other instruments trail off leaving the bass to take a solo along the lines of a jazz cat right out of a Stan Getz session. A very hot track.

Genevieve is a 50s/60s influence rock 'n' roll song with that Elvis feel -- you know where he gets up close to the microphone and kisses it while he sings, with swing bass line vamping behind him! It sports a Chuck Berry style lead guitar solo with the accordion taking up most of the rhythm guitar syncopation. The title track Waiting For The Sky To fall starts off with a finger plucked guitar line that conjures up reminisces of those folk songs we all learn when we start playing acoustic guitar: Freight Train or Puff The Magic Dragon and ends with a kind of barroom sing-a-long feel. Don't Tell Your Mother is an up tempo song featuring some hot bass playing. We get a little bit of that Tennessee waltz flavor (counted in 3s like a waltz - 1 and 2 and 3) with Madame Soustain which starts off with the Euro-Cajun flavor (it's a little bit Celtic, a little bit Irish, a lot Cajun) then does a really tricky beat shift where the bass keeps the song anchored on the original count, while the drummer shifts his starting beat over to the vicinity of two, then slides back effortlessly to one (professional players on a closed race track -- don't try this at home kids)!

For the musically adventurous diner -- one who has a very eclectic selection of CDs in their rack, you should give Cajon cooking a try! Check out Lisa Haley and the Zydekats. You might find you have a real taste for this hot, Louisiana cooking'!

UPCOMING LIVE APPEARANCES

You can also see Lisa and the band on stage (warning -- you may need to wear both suspenders and a belt, least your pants fall down to your ankles when you find yourself getting up to dance at one of these Cajun parties) this summer doing concerts and event dates:

California

Wed July 4th: Cal State University Northridge (aka: Devonshire Downs) - 4th Of July Fireworks Festival! The perfect music before the Fireworks! Festival starts around noon time.

Fri July 13: Carlsbad "TGIF" Jazz In The Park - 6 p.m. at Magee Park. A great evening of music by the sea.

Wed August 8: La Habra Heights Park Concert - 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Thurs August 9: Blue Jay Jazz Festival, Ca - 6 P.m. - near Lake Arrowhead, this is the finale to the Blue Jay Summer Concert Series. Order tickets early, this event sells out!

Sat August 11: Silent Valley Festival - Banning, Ca - 8 p.m. - near Banning in the high desert.

Sun August 12: Manhattan Beach, Ca - Pollywog Park - 4 p.m.

Mon August 13: Central Park - Whittier, Ca - 7 p.m.

Thurs August 16: Redondo Beach Pier, Ca - 6:30 p.m. On The Pier.

Sat August 25: Olivas Adobe - Ventura, Ca 7:30 p.m. This show will sell out weeks in advance.

Michigan

Fri July 20th Venetian Festival, Saint Joseph, MI - With Edgar Winter and Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Get tickets early, as Lisa Haley's last appearance in Michigan sold out!

Sat July 21st Czar's Club, Saint Joseph MI

Mon July 23rd Union Street Station, Traverse City, MI

Tues. July 24th Venetian Festival, Charlevoix, MI - 9:30 p.m.

Fri July 27th Taste Of Kalamazoo, MI

Sat October 20th Alpina Arts Concert, MI

Washington

Sun September 2: Washington State Summerfest - Long Beach, WA - 7:30 p.m.. Site of the premier Labor Day Festival in Washington State by the coast. www.funbeach.com

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For more information on Cajun music visit: Zyda Dot Com Magazine and Cajun Music Association


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