Interview with Geno Delafose (1997)

“There was always music around the house when I was a boy, y’know? So for me, music was kinda like a bad habit: I just picked it up from my daddy.”

The speaker is Geno Delafose, a luminary in the contemporary Southwest Louisiana-based zydeco scene and son of the great John Delafose, one of the leading modern interpreters of traditional Cajun and zydeco musical styles. The younger Delafose will be leading his band, French Rockin’ Boogie, into Proctor’s Theatre tomorrow (Friday) night for the annual Mardi Gras Festival, which will also feature Michael Doucet’s Beausoleil.

“I started played in my daddy’s band when I was seven years old,” continues the now-26-year old Delafose during a recent phone interview. “First I played the rub-board in the band. Then I played the drums for a while; I enjoyed that a whole lot. Finally, I started to play the accordion, and I been doin’ that ever since.”

Geno Delafose went on to record seven albums with his father’s band, the Eunice Playboys (named after the Delafose family’s home-town in Louisiana), before his father’s untimely passing in 1994 at the age of 55. “We were all kinda expecting it,” Geno recalls, “‘Cause he’d been having trouble with his heart for a long time, but it was still a shock for us all when he was finally gone. And I guess what happened was that I just sort of inherited his band; a couple of his musicians started to do some other stuff but I got some new players since then who are real good . . . and we’re just all keepin’ it goin’.”

The re-dubbed French Rockin’ Boogie’s current line-up features Delafose’s cousin Germaine Jack on drums, Steven Nash (another cousin) on rub-board, Pop Esprit on bass and David LeJeune on guitar. Delafose himself continues to play accordion and sing, but is quick to note that despite his top-billing, he’s just one part in a well-oiled music-making machine. “Whenever I do interviews, people always want to talk about what I do, but when you get down to it, zydeco is always more than just a one man show. A zydeco band has to work together like a team; we all need each other if we’re going to make it all happen on record or on a stage.”

French Rockin’ Boogie have released two albums since Geno assumed the helm of the family business: an eponymous debut disk in 1995 and 1996’s That’s What I’m Talkin’ About , both of which have garnered near-unanimous accolades from regional, national and international music press. Both records also make it clear that Geno intends to follow in John Delafose’s footsteps by continuing to perform both original and classic material with a strong traditional touch, keeping things as much in the old-style Cajun music camp as in the more contemporary zydeco field. “We don’t do all traditional music,” Delafose notes. “We throw in some blues and a little bit of R&B sometimes to give the people a little variety, but in between that, basically we’re really just playin’ very traditional Cajun and zydeco music for people who want to hear it.”

How are those traditional forms defined? “Well, a big part of it you’ll hear right away when I sing,” explains Delafose. “I sing most of my songs in French, and that’s a big part of the Cajun tradition there. And while we do have some guitar solos and things like that, we don’t do as much of that as some of the other zydeco bands out there, because the traditional music is just pretty straight-forward: there’s not too many breaks or other things like that, just a solid rhythm thing going on all the time while we’re playing.”

In addition to six Geno Delafose originals, That’s What I’m Talkin’ About features three of John Delafose’s songs, as well as numbers by Cajun heroes Amede Ardoin and Iry LeJeune. “I really like the stuff that the older Cajun musicians like Iry LeJeune and Canray Fontenot and them did,” says Geno when asked about his choice in material and influences. “And I really admire my dad: what he did and they way he did it, his whole style . Who else? I like Boozoo Chavis a lot, he’s a hot item at home. Of course, everyone at home picks up a little somethin’ from Boozoo, ’cause he’s so good in his own way. And I guess I have to say that I really admire Clifton Chenier a whole lot, because he’s the one what really got the whole zydeco thing started.”

Chenier’s artistic breakthrough came in late ’50s and early ’60s, when he began infusing elements of blues, R&B and African polyrhythm into the traditional Cajun party music he had learned from his grandfather. (“Cajun” refers to the descendants of the Acadian French who were forcefully relocated to Louisiana when the English stripped Nova Scotia and New Brunswick from the French in 1755, although it is often used interchangeably-outside of Louisiana–with “Creole”, a term describing descendants of the early French and Spanish settlers who came to Louisiana directly from the Old Countries). The subtle distinctions carved out by Chenier to separate zydeco from cajun music persist to this day.

“Zydeco is obviously a lot bluesier than Cajun music,” Delafose explains when asked about those differences. “A little more upbeat. And Zydeco music doesn’t have as many waltzes in it anymore as Cajun music does. In Cajun music bands you have a fiddle, while in Zydeco instead of a fiddle you’ve got a rub-board. And in Zydeco they use the piano and triple-row accordion more than they do in Cajun music, [where the concertina-style Acadian accordion prevails]. But the bottom line is that both kinds of music . . . they’ll move ya’.”

“And zydeco and cajun music are both really startin’ to get around these days. You got to give credit to Buckwheat Zydeco [the pre-eminent Chenier disciple] and Beausoleil because they went out and really spread the music around all over the place. And I’m trying to do my share now, too. I haven’t been in front of as many people as Buckwheat or Beausoleil, but I believe that it’s gonna happen someday.”

Delafose’s gig with Beausoleil will be their second twin-bill of the year. “I played with Beausoleil in San Diego last September,” recalls Delafose. “It’s not too often that we cross the same path, but every now and then we do, and when we do, it goes real good, really really good.”

To what do we here in the Capital Region owe such a fortuitous alignment, then? “Y’all gettin’ lucky,” laughs Delafose.

Interview With Marky Ramone (1997)

“It feels great when you go out to play to thirty- or thirty-five-thousand people,” says erstwhile Ramones drummer, Marky Ramone during a recent phone conversation. “The energy’s there, the exposure is incredible and the money is obviously good. But when you play a good packed club, that energy and electricity and excitement are all contained better. I recently played two shows with the Sex Pistols in Rio de Janeiro, and there were forty- or fifty-thousand people there. And that was great–but I also just did a show at Coney Island High in New York [a nightclub, not a school], and I liked that just as much.”

Marky Ramone is rediscovering the special joys of clubland with a new four-piece called the Intruders, who will play at the QE2 Friday night, along with the Trauma School Dropouts and 4 Minute Warning. “I got the Intruders together about three or four months before we did the final Ramones tour on Lollapalooza,” recalls Ramone. “I knew that [Ramones vocalist] Joey [Ramone] was tired; he didn’t really want to deal with the whole thing anymore. I also knew that [Ramones guitarist] Johnny [Ramone] wanted to retire to live in Beverly Hills or wherever, so I said to myself ‘Jeez, what the hell is this? Are these guys sixty years old or something?’ And since I just love playing so much I wanted to have a new band with a bunch of young guys in it, so I could keep playing for the Ramones fans and hopefully build up a new set of fans for some new stuff.”

It’s not the first time Ramone has embarked on a new musical adventure. His first band, a pop-power-trio called Dust, issued two albums on the bubblegum-oriented Kama Sutra/Buddha label in the early ’70s while the pre-Ramoned Marc Bell was still in high school; Dust disintegrated when Bell’s school commitments and the band’s touring requirements became mutually exclusive. By 1974, Bell had graduated from high school, begun hanging out in New York City’s underground nightclub scene and scored a drumming gig as time-keeper for club fixture Wayne (now Jayne) County, a hard-rockin’, Georgia-bred, preoperative transsexual who along with better-known glam-bam scenemates, the New York Dolls, was bent on stretching the limits of acceptable on-stage behavior.

“That period was all really amazing,” recalls Ramone. “And really unusual for me, ’cause I wasn’t used to all that kind of stuff yet, but I was finding myself hanging out with Wayne and with David Bowie and others in the back of Max’s Kansas City [nightclub] with all these Andy Warhol types around. It was all just really interesting , if nothing else.”

After recording the semi-official, but wholly-legend-making, theme song for Max’s with Bell on the drum-kit, County relocated to London to help pump its burgeoning pre-punk scene. Bell then found himself courted by ex-Neon Boy, ex-Television, ex-Heartbreaker bassist-vocalist Richard Hell, who was assembling his ferocious and influential Voidoids; within a year, Bell, Hell and guitarists Bob Quine and Ivan Julian had released one of New York punk’s most seminal–and most enduring–documents, 1977’s Blank Generation .

Within another year, Hell had decided to focus on his writing and acting careers–and Bell had become Marky Ramone, replacing founding drummer Tommy Ramone (who went on to become an influential producer under his real surname, Erdelyi) in New York’s first nationally-known punk troupe, those four-beat, three-chord wonders, the Ramones. The Marky-fortified band released five albums between 1978 and 1983 (a period that found the Ramones stretching creatively into the metal and pop spectrums to escape the artistic pigeon-holes defined and mastered on their three pre-Marky albums), before Marky opted out for a four-year music sabbatical and head-clearing period. Returning clean and mean in 1987, Marky rode the kit until the Ramones’ demise after last year’s Lollapalooza tour.

I ask Ramone how he felt watching the ’90s neo-punk bands attaining the strong commercial success that largely evaded the Ramones throughout their careers–just as the Ramones were fizzling out. “I thought it was all great, myself,” he answers. “Green Day, the Offspring, Rancid . . . all of those bands loved the Ramones–and they admitted it! Green Day’s Billy Joe named his kid Ramona, and the Rancid guys, they’re big fans–but they’re also good friends of ours. The bottom line is that if it weren’t the Clash and the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, there would be none of this whole punk thing anyway–so these new punk bands really owe a debt to those older bands, but that doesn’t mean that the new ones aren’t good themselves. I’m glad they all pulled it off. It’s good for everybody.”

The success of the neo-punk movement certainly can’t hurt the Intruders, who have already signed record deals in Europe, Japan and South America and are currently shopping their record in the States, shooting for a May release date. “The new record kinda sounds like the Ramones,” explains Ramone, “with a few differences. I kept the rhythm the same, because I’ve been playing it that way for so long that it’s become like my trademark. I wrote the album with my friend Skinny Bones, who sings and plays guitar, and we added a bass player and another guitar player–so the Intruders have a fuller sound than the Ramones with that extra guitar. I really just wanted the thing to be a sort of a mix of the pop and the punk thing, instead of having it come out like a straight hardcore record. We’re trying to integrate the old punk school with the new punk school.”

Does Ramone ever see his namesake band reassembling? “No, no chance,” he answers without a pause. “The Ramones just had so many problems, y’know? I mean, Joey and Johnny didn’t really get along because Johnny married Joey’s old girlfriend and that bothered Joey for years, and all that kinda stuff just really interfered with the group. Plus, with all due respect to the man, Joey really can’t deal with being in a band anymore. He’s just burned out, and that was why we had to call it quits; he just didn’t want to do it anymore.

“But me? I can go on with this forever, you know? I do all the right things that I need to do to keep myself strong and to allow me to keep going for as people will come out and see me play. I love playing too much to quit doing it now.”