Clifton Chenier biography
Clifton Chenier (June 25, 1925 - December 12, 1987) was an American Zydeco accordion player and singer.
Chenier, a Creole French-speaking native of Opelousas, Louisiana, was an eminent performer and recording artist of Zydeco, which arose from Cajun and Creole music, with rhythm & blues, jazz, and blues influences. He won a Grammy Award in 1983. In 1984 he was honored as a National Heritage Fellow and in 1989 he was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame.
He was known as the 'King of Zydeco', and also billed as the 'King of the South'.
Chenier began his recording career in 1954, when he signed with Elko Records and released Clifton's Blues, a regional success. His first hit record was soon followed by "Ay 'Tite Fille (Hey, Little Girl)" (a cover of Professor Longhair's song). This received some mainstream success. With the Zydeco Ramblers, Chenier toured extensively. He also toured in the early days with Clarence Garlow, billed as the 'Two Crazy Frenchmen'. Chenier was signed with Chess Records in Chicago, followed by the Arhoolie label.
In April 1966, Chenier appeared at the Berkeley Blues Festival on the University of California campus and was subsequently described by Ralph J. Gleason, Jazz critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, as "... one of the most surprising musicians I have heard in some time, with a marvelously moving style of playing the accordion .. blues accordion, that's right, blues accordion."
Chenier was the first act to play at Antone's, a blues club on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. Later in 1976, he reached a national audience when he appeared on the premiere season of the PBS music program Austin City Limits. Three years later in 1979 he returned to the show with his Red Hot Louisiana Band.
Chenier's popularity peaked in the 1980s, and he was recognized with a Grammy Award in 1983 for his album I'm Here. It was the first Grammy for his new label Alligator Records. Chenier followed Queen Ida as the second Louisiana Creole to win a Grammy.
Chenier is credited with redesigning the wood and crimped tin washboard into the frottoir, an instrument that would easily hang from the shoulders. Cleveland Chenier, Clifton's older brother, also played in the Red Hot Louisiana Band. He found popularity for his ability to manipulate the distinctive sound of the frottoir by rubbing several bottle openers (held in each hand) along its ridges.
During their prime, Chenier and his band traveled throughout the world.
Chenier suffered from diabetes which eventually forced him to have a foot amputated and required dialysis because of associated kidney problems.
He died of diabetes-related kidney disease in December 1987 in Lafayette, Louisiana, and was buried in All Souls Cemetery in Loreauville, Iberia Parish, Louisiana.
Since 1987 his son, C. J. Chenier, has carried on the Zydeco tradition by touring with his father's band and recording albums.
In 1989, Chenier was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame.
Rory Gallagher wrote a song in tribute to Chenier entitled "The King of Zydeco". Paul Simon mentioned Chenier in his song "That Was Your Mother", from his 1986 album Graceland. John Mellencamp refers to "Clifton" in his song "Lafayette", about the Louisiana city where Chenier often performed. The song is on Mellencamp's 2003 album Trouble No More. Zachary Richard mentioned Chenier in his song "Clif's Zydeco" (on Richard's 2012 album Le Fou).
The jam band Phish often covers Chenier's song "My Soul" in live performances.
Chenier is the subject of Les Blank's 1973 documentary film, Hot Pepper.