Zydeco and Horses in a Creole Neighborhood
In south Lake Charles, on Common Street, there was a neighborhood the likes of which we may never see again. An exception now, tight-knit communities, by necessity and choice, were pretty much the norm back then. Sometimes linked by kinship, often by the need to share the work and the celebrations of life, the inhabitants of Dog Hill formed one of those unique groups. It produced a man who distinguished himself in two fields often associated among the Creoles: Zydeco and horses. Trail rides testify to the intimate bond. Wilson Chavis, Sr., aka Boozoo, was not only a Zydeco music great with a two-part career, but also a highly sought-after racehorse trainer. “I Got a Paper in my Shoe”, tells the story of a poor young man who, unable to buy new ones, puts paper in his shoes full of holes. Released in 1954, with over 100,000 copies sold, the song was a huge hit. Despite its popularity, suspicion of the sometime dishonest side of the music industry made him leave the stage and devote himself to racehorses for about twenty years.
He nevertheless continued to play for his pleasure until the day he noticed that the zarico was playing more and more on the radio. In his own words, this music was not as good as his. After a long hiatus, he resumed the accordion with the same fervor as for horses. Dressed in his cowboy hat and waterproof apron to protect his instrument from sweat, Boozoo was back on stage. His neighborhood was immortalized in another of his best-known songs, “Dog Hill.” Released in 1990, it helped jump-start his career to a popularity he hadn’t enjoyed before. It was at the top that his career unfortunately ended. In 2001, he succumbed to a heart attack which he suffered on stage. Like a real cowboy, he died with his boots on.
Zydeco musician Sean Ardoin remembers with nostalgia the concerts that Boozoo and his family gave on Dog Hill. “There was never a problem. Everyone respected each other. Respect is what’s missing today.” This celebration was always on Labor Day. Boozoo’s son Wilson Jr., better known as Pancho, says, “People came from all over. It got so big that we had to find a bigger place.” In 2019, the 35th and last festival took place, a victim like so many others of COVID. At the moment, there are no plans to restart it but, as Pancho says, “it’s not out of the question.” While waiting for its return, you can still dance the Zydeco on “Dog Hill, where all the pretty women at.”