T-Wayne and the Swamptones, the Zydeco Crawdaddys, Gumbohead…these bands and more keep Louisiana in St. Louis’s soul within the month of Mardi Gras and without, but the pre-Lenten frenzy for all the delights of the flesh gives us a convenient excuse to shine the spotlight on them now.
T-Wayne and the Swamptones
Specialty: “Danceable Cajun waltzes and two-steps seasoned with a little zydeco, swamp pop & honky tonk,” according to Cajun Dance facilitator Donna Eckberg (a/k/a Dancin Donna, a/k/a the Dance Gypsy—she who shares her knowledge at her Web site).
What the heck is “Cajun,” anyhow? It’s a style named for the French settlers in Louisiana, émigrés from the Acadian region of eastern Canada. It has a country-western swing and French vocals that tend to sound like the singer is on the verge of tears.
Creation myth: Thayne Bradford—T-Wayne—whipped out an accordion when he was performing in a western swing band. He started wailing in French—sort of. He’d been so keen to try a new style of music, he skipped any attempt at comprehension and learned the Cajun tune phonetically.
Distinction: They’ve sure run through a bunch of names in their eight years of existence, including the Bayou Rats, the Bluebottle Swampcats, Les Chats Aller, and Fais Do Do.
How do they sound? You won’t pay much attention if you’re a newbie and you’re too busy wondering how to avoid stepping on your partner’s toes. Bradford says, “The dancers created the band. The dancers take the focus off the group”—and that’s fine by him. He’s happy when the room is swinging, and at “the Cajun,” it always is.
What do they play? “J’ai été au bal,” “Eunice 2 Step,” “Everything on the Hog is Good” (“except the eyeballs,” Bradford elaborates).
Catch them at: the Focal Point at the Cajun Dance—but not until March 9. The Cajun dance is every second Wednesday of the month, but in February there is a special guest band and a special date: fiddler Dennis “McGee” Stroughmatt and his Creole Stomp perform on Feb. 2.
Specialty: Not exclusively zydeco, despite the assumptions you might make from the name. They’re also known to play Dixieland jazz and their own bluesy originals.
And what the heck is “zydeco,” anyhow? A blend of Cajun and African shout music. Bandleader Paul Jarvis figures the simple, chantlike melodies have Native American roots, as well. The name comes from an early hit tune, “Les haricots sont pas salé”—“The green beans aren’t salty”—since in slurred French “les haricots” comes out as “lay zy-dee-co.”
Creation myth: Jarvis stumbled on Al Boudreaux’s Louisiana show on KDHX (now helmed by “Sunny Boy” Mason Tuesdays from 4–6 p.m.) and thought nothing had ever sounded so good. He collected more than 60 tapes to analyze the music’s structure.
Distinction: Until he hears a competing claim, Jarvis will say the Crawdaddys were the first zydeco band in St. Louis.
How do they sound? A bit rough around the edges, but that may be because they are breaking in some new musicians.
What do they play? Originals with names like “St. Louis Mardi Gras,” traditional tunes like “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” or “The Second Line Dance.” (Ask Jarvis to tell you the history of second line dances if you’re into fun funeral facts.)
Catch them at: Broadway Oyster Bar on the 4th, Patty Long’s 9th St Abbey on the 5th (from 3–9 p.m.), or the Great Grizzly Bear on the 8th—look for updates on www.zydecocrawdaddys.com.
Specialty: They call it “Red-Hot Louisiana Zydefunk,” and they mean it.
Creation myth: Founding members Tim Halpin and Andy Coco would often discover they were both attending the New Orleans Jazz Fest. Afterward they’d compare notes and tell each other, “Wouldn’t it be great if some band in St. Louis played the widest possible range of New Orleans music?” And then they thought, “Hey…we could do it…”
Distinction: The Gumbohead logo, a cosmic-looking fella with a saucepan on his noggin, was designed by Mark Andresen, a New Orleans artist who has also done design work for the Neville Brothers. Andresen told Halpin he’d gotten a voodoo priestess to impart some good mojo on the image. “Hopefully there’s no expiration date on the juju,” Halpin says today.
How do they sound? Zydefunky. Gumbohead have an easy camaraderie and infectious enthusiasm, not to mention incredible grooves. On a recent cold night in the Oyster Bar’s heated tent, the drummer was inspired to play the Southern Comfort lightbulbs hanging above him. What’s not to love about that?
What do they play? “Everything from songs by the Radiators to the Iguanas to the Neville Brothers to Buckwheat Zydeco,” according to Halpin.
Catch them at: The Schlafly Krewe of Brewe Tent on the afternoon of the 5th and the Broadway Oyster Bar that evening; many more gigs listed at www.gumbohead.com.