C.J. Chenier, Accordion, Alto Sax and Vocals
Clifford Alexander, Jr., Rubboard and Percussion
Harry Hypolite, Guitar and Triangle (vocal and recitation on You Used To Call Me)
Jamie Kelly, Guitar, Percussion and Background Vocals
Mark Major, Guitar and Percussion
John Frederick, Bass, Percussion and Background Vocals
Greg Gordon, Drums and Percussion
Vasti Jackson, Guitar
And The Memphis Horns:
Wayne Jackson, Trumpet
Andrew Love, Tenor Sax
Floyd Newman, Baritone Sax
Steve Eisen, Congas on Zydeco Cha Cha and Man Smart, Woman Smarter
Harry Hypolite plays guitar on all songs except Give Me Some Of That and Richest Man.
Jamie Kelly plays guitar on all songs except Man Smart, Woman Smarter, Give Me Some Of That, You Used To Call Me, Got You On My Mind and Richest Man.
Mark Major plays guitar on all songs except Squeaky Wheel, Man Smart, Woman Smarter, Give Me Some Of That, Got You On My Mind, Richest Man and Louisiana Down Home Blues.
Vasti Jackson plays guitar on Man Smart, Woman Smarter, Give Me Some Of That, Got You On My Mind, Louisiana Down Home Blues and Richest Man.
Produced by C.J. Chenier and Bruce Iglauer
Guitar arrangements by Vasti Jackson
Recorded and mixed by Sam Fishkin
Recorded at Ardent Studios, Memphis, TN
Mixed at Chicago Recording Company, Chicago, IL
Additional recording at Kiva Studios, Memphis, TN
Additional recording by Jeffrey Reed
Recording assistance by James "Left Of" Senter
Mastered by Jason Rau at Monster Disc, Chicago, IL
Packaging by Matt Minde & David Forte
Photos by Sandro Miller
Lyrics to Louisiana Down Home Blues by John Frederick
Alligator Records wishes to thank Ellis Pailet, Bill FitzGerald and Kerry Peace.
Very special thanks to Sam Fishkin, who was much more than an engineer.
C.J. wishes to thank: "My dad -- without him going through what he went through, a lot of us might not be where we are now; my mother -- without her I wouldn't be here; the band, 'cause it takes all of us to do it; all the people who come out to see us 'cause without them there'd be no us."
Family ties are tight in the world of zydeco. Tradition is treasured, and so is the inherited ability to play rollicking, raucous music that immediately fills up a dance floor. C.J. Chenier is living proof of this rich legacy; he respects it deeply and he enjoys the hell out of it, too. Alongside such zydeco dynasties as the Ardoins, the Delafoses and the Chavises, no one honors his family name with more skill and enthusiasm.
And no family name in zydeco is more significant than Chenier, because today's sound was pioneered by C.J.'s father. Back in the late 1940s, Clifton Chenier began developing a potent, modern zydeco style by taking the Creole folk material and Afro-Caribbean "jure" rhythms of his youth and blending them with blues and R&B from the African-American mainstream, Cajun songs and waltz-time from his white neighbors, and odd traces of country music, swing, and a then-emerging genre known later as rock. This eclectic mixture caught on (thanks to Chenier's deft accordion work, soulful singing and irresistible dance groove) and for the next 40 years he reigned as zydeco's "king," gaudy crown and all.
Today - as the aptly-entitled Too Much Fun shows so clearly - C.J. Chenier is barreling down that same zydeco highway, pushing the music's parameters while also revering its roots. "I'm trying to keep zydeco in line," C.J. explains, "but still expand it. I want to give people more than one thing to listen to, but still have it be zydeco. I'm liable to take any kind of music and zydeco-ize it."
Despite such dedication, C.J. Chenier was a zydeco latecomer. "I grew up in Port Arthur, Texas," he recalls, "but my dad lived over in Lafayette, Louisiana, plus he was always on the road. I saw him a couple of times every year, and I knew he was a musician, but I hardly heard any zydeco when I was comin' up. It wasn't played on the radio like it is now, and I was too young to go to any clubs. So zydeco was really foreign to me. If anything I just thought it was old-folks' music."
"I took piano in the 3rd grade," Chenier continues, "and then the next year I started playing saxophone in the school band. I stuck with that all through school, playing in band contests and that kind of thing and then I got a music scholarship from Texas Southern University. I also started playing in top 40 bands, doing songs by people like the Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang, Parliament, Mandrill and Bootsy Collins. For a while I had my own band called Hot Ice. I played sax, flute and keyboards and sang back-up vocals."
C.J. might have pursued a career in soul or R&B, but a call from his father in 1978 brought him into the Red Hot Louisiana Band to replace saxophone master John Hart. "It was hard at first," C.J. admits. "I didn't know the music, didn't understand it, didn't have the feel. But after about a year I caught on." Clifton Chenier, meanwhile, was faced with worsening health; after winning a Grammy in 1983 for the valiant comeback album, I'm Here (also released on Alligator Records), he began grooming C.J. as the band's future accordionist. "By that time my dad was often too sick to play a whole show," C.J. says, "so I had to do it for him. He didn't really show me much on the accordion, or put much pressure on me; I mostly learned just by watching him and then practicing by myself. I think we only played accordions together one time."
"The King" passed on in 1987. "It was a rough time," C.J.reflects. "But after he passed it was natural for me to keep playing. He would have wanted me to, and the very next week after we buried him people started calling me for bookings, as if they already knew that I'd decided to keep it going. I wasn't an experienced bandleader or front man then, but I figured it was a task I had to tackle." And tackle it C.J. has ever since, cutting three previous albums for various labels, touring continually around the world, and earning critical acclaim -- both in his own right and as his father's worthy standard-bearer. "My dad would like this new album," C.J. says happily. "He'd give it a thumbs-up. There's lots of variety, songs from different places and writers, old and new material; there's my road band, and those great guys in the Memphis Horns. On the fast songs you can either two-step to them or do the MC Hammer, so it's good for any generation no matter how you dance. We've got some slow, sentimental ones like Got You On My Mind -- that's my most requested song by the ladies -- some old-time zydeco like Louisiana Two Step and a couple of my dad's songs with new arrangements. But one thing we don't have," Chenier states emphatically, "is this new type of zydeco that's big in Louisiana now, where they just play one riff over and over and shout out some words and don't even ever change chords. What we're playing here are real songs."
Like father, like son; real songs were equally important to Clifton. "I like to hear something with ideas," he told this writer back in 1983. "Give me an idea of something, not just noise and jumping up and down. Maybe your wife left you -- why she left you? You did something you ain't had no business doing, or maybe she was wrong, but something happened. See a lot of young people don't understand that; they cut a record but they don't tell a story, and you know why? They ain't got no story to tell, because they ain't been through nothin'. You got to go through the mill for that. You never learn nothin' 'til you been through the mill."
"And I'll tell you something else -- all them youngsters, I want 'em to know to follow in their daddy's footsteps sometime. See, I got my boy C.J., he's movin' on pretty good now following in my footsteps. I taught him how to play the accordion."
-- Ben Sandmel
New Orleans journalist Ben Sandmel plays drums with the Hackberry Ramblers, does folklore research for the State of Louisiana, and writes for such publications as Esquire and Rolling Stone.