Louisiana’s Curley Taylor will play accordion tonight with his band Zydeco Trouble at Jessup, Md., beer hall Blob’s Park, but that doesn’t mean he’s just another traditional roots musician. He’s a fan of ’60s soul and contemporary R&B, he told me in a recent email, and his favorite singer is R. Kelly. He even plans to use some Auto-tune on his next album. It’s a mix of new and old that attracts folks of all ages back in the bayou. But on the road, he’s still trying to get the word out.
Tonight’s gig is no exception. While the rockin’ chank-a-chank of a rub board was once a common sound in the D.C. and Baltimore areas, Taylor’s show at Blob’s Park might be the only local appearance by a zydeco band we’ll get this summer. Zydeco had a home here in the ’80s and ’90s, at venues like the Twist & Shout Club (which was in a Bethesda American Legion Hall) and at traditional dance venues like Glen Echo. In 1994, zydeco kings Boozoo Chavis and Beau Jocque even played Carter Barron.
But this year, the 23rd annual Louisiana Swamp Romp on June 10th is featuring only New Orleans bands, Artisphere will feature the country-influenced Cajun sounds of Steve Riley coming June 13, and nightclubs haven’t picked up the slack (Hill Country Barbeque is having traditional Creole musician Cedric Watson on June 18). The May 18 Ruben Moreno & Creole Soul zydeco gig at the Greenbelt American Legion Post 136 attracted only a small crowd of older zydeco fanatics, and no one is booking zydeco in Baltimore anymore.
Where’d the zydeco go? Lots of Texas and Louisiana zydeco bands don’t tour, and will only travel if they’re guaranteed big paydays, says Michael Hart of Dancin’ by the Bayou Productions, which organized the Moreno show and tonight’s Taylor gig. But he expressed hope he could grow his zydeco audience by winning over partisans of other couples dance styles, like swing.
Taylor, who grew up playing drums for his father Jude Taylor and the likes of C.J. Chenier and Geno Delafose, also feels strongly about his ability to gather a crowd. This fan of Sam Cooke and Seal says, “In the Creole communities younger folks listen to [zydeco] cause that’s what their parents listen to, and the kids like the [zydeo on horseback] trailrides, so the music becomes part of their culture.” For the rest of us, Taylor sees himself as something of a bridge-crosser. Younger audiences may not know zydeco “cause they’re into rap and pop music, and the zydeco music that they’ve heard may have been too traditional for their taste,” he says. “That’s why I play a style that is traditional, yet cutting-edge-to-urban, so that it makes them want to listen to it and enjoy the music.”
Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble perform tonight at Blobs Park, 8024 Max Blobs Park Rd., Jessup, Md. A dance lesson takes place at 8 p.m. and the music begins at 8:30 p.m. $15. dancingbythebayou.com. (410) 799-7130.