Meet Zydeco Radio

photo By romero & Romero
The group infuses traditional zydeco with funk and ‘60s soul

The world seems like it’s becoming smaller – with the Internet harboring a million new bands in just about as many new genres. It was inevitable that even zydeco music would some day be influenced by the modern world, if only a little bit. This worthwhile experiment comes in the form of young Lafayette band Zydeco Radio, which has mixed old-school zydeco grooves with big ’70s rock riffs and New Orleans-style funk/blues since August of 2014. “

“We play a zydeco hybrid of some sort,” laughs bassist Seth Rung. “Zydeco’s at the root of it all, but we have a lot of rock, a lot of blues, a lot of energy.”

Rung adds, “The bass is real consistent the whole way through, so it’s real strenuous on your fingers.”

Zydeco Radio’s 26-year-old singer, Billy McDonald, picked up his main instrument, the accordion, at age 17. “I got into accordion because of my uncle, Roddie Romero,” he explains. “My great-grandfather also had an accordion he used to play, so they always had Cajun music and the food cooking. I grew up going to festivals; my parents loved to dance, and they always encouraged us to play.”

Until recently, Billy McDonald fronted the Cajun rock zydeco band, Sons of Voodoo, with his brother, Lane McDonald. “After a while I just got the inspiration to start a new band with music getting back to when we were growing up listening to Beau Jocque and Zydeco Force,” says Billy. “I wanted to play that really in-the-pocket 1990s zydeco music.”

But McDonald surrounded himself with a more eclectic ensemble that has helped mix up something new. “One thing that sets us apart is that a lot of zydeco bands are moving toward hip-hop style, which I like and respect, but it’s not where I’m comin’ from, which is ’60s soul, Meters grooves, Toussaint grooves, grooves that are different than what any contemporary zydeco artists are doing now.”

McDonald attributes Zydeco Radio’s hybrid sound in part to his guitarist: “Bob Brahan is from Mississippi and grew up listening to a lot of the music from Muscle Shoals and Stax-style soul stuff,” he attests. “My bass player kinda plays that same way.”

Bassist Rung agrees. “Bob Brahan is a fantastic guitar player, always in-the-pocket. He’s from Mississippi, and he’s hard into the blues, and also he’s lived in New Orleans for many years, so as a result he has that funk-blues guitar picking style.”

The result is zydeco with a darker blue hue – plus blistering solos.

All members attest that it’s drummer Charles Brandt’s rhythms that tie it all together under the zydeco banner. “Charles plays in church every weekend – wakes up real early and goes and plays like, three gigs every Sunday,” says Rung. “So he, too, has like, an R&B-type structure a lot of times, which adds a lot. I think he brings a lot of rhythm and ultimately he brings the ‘cool’ into the band.”

Scrubboard artist Trent Ouvre from New Iberia rounds out the quintet. Zydeco Radio is the first band he’s played in. “Ouvre brings like, an artistic quality to that music, if that makes sense,” says Rung. “He’s very outgoing, and he is a visual artist, too. So he has a totally different mindset from us in regards to how music should be portrayed or played.”

While talking art, McDonald makes sure to note that “At the same time, the most important element for me is playing stuff that people can dance to. All of us being from this region and growing up around zydeco music, it’s very important to all of us that people dance.”

This dance-first attitude has already won the band gigs for great big dancing crowds of friends at Festival International and Festivals Acadiens et Creoles. “When we do a two- or three-hour dancehall gig, people like to hear the standards,” says McDonald. “We spread out the originals but we do a lot of covers as well, especially zydeco B-sides that people aren’t used to hearing, like ‘Treat Me Right’ by Tony Delafose.” For this balanced selection of old and new, Zydeco Radio recently won Downtown Lafayette’s Downtown Award for “Favorite Band.”

Along with playing many shows in its native Acadiana, the band’s modernity sometimes gets Zydeco Radio in front of crowds who’ve never heard authentic zydeco. McDonald cites a recent shows during Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest: “It was one of those shows playing for people who maybe don’t know much about what zydeco is and aren’t exposed to it,” he remembers. “The doors were open, though, and while we’re playing we could see people walking by and stopping and then coming in to hear something they don’t normally get to hear. It ended up being a packed house.”

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Categories: Music, Theatre + Art