You know, it's funny - some of life's best moments go unplanned. Bonne Musique Zydeco's founding father and bassist Bervick Deculus never thought he would end up in one of Southern California's up-and-coming zydeco bands. Despite growing up in zydeco country, Basile, LA, and later Beaumont, TX, and can count Queen Ida, her brother Al Rapone and the late Beau Jocque as cousins, Deculus never gave Louisiana French music a second thought. Instead, his musical passion centered around the saxophone, playing soul and R&B in Beaumont's smoke-filled clubs, even before he held a driver's license. Later, Deculus relocated to the other LA and honked his golden horn as part of the Los Angeles City College jazz band. When Deculus joined the Sheriff's Department, he shut the instrument's case for good.
While he may have left music, apparently music never left him. One day in 1987, Queen Ida, Rapone and the band were in town for a benefit school gig. During the day, Rapone showed Deculus a few bass lines, which the law enforcement official took to immediately. But to Deculus' surprise, later that night Rapone called him onstage to play bass on a couple of tunes and hence, a future zydeco man was born.
The rest didn't happen overnight, however. Eventually Deculus secured a bass, began practicing and formed Bonne Musique Zydeco (meaning good zydeco music) with accordionist Ken Menard. After Menard's departure, Deculus began flying in Louisiana accordionists such as Jo Jo Reed, Willis Prudhomme and Chris P. Ardoin to continue with the proper feel of the music. Each imparted zydeco wisdom along the way while deep friendships were rooted. As a result, the band's debut disc Gumbo Mix spotlighted each of the aforementioned in appreciation for their contributions.
Bonne Musique's sophomore effort, Keep On Dancin,' doesn't feature any guest accordionists but emphasizes the band's interlocking strengths. On accordion is Dennis Gurwell who not only plays the piano variety but the Cajun and the triple-row as well. "He is very versatile," Deculus says approvingly of his prized accordionist. Deculus has similar praise for guitarist Stephen Guillory by lauding him as 'the best rhythm guitarist on the West Coast.' Like Deculus, Guillory is also Creole and hails from Beaumont.
Heard here on drums but normally seen as the group's rubboardist and animated frontman is Billy Butler who never fails to ignite a crowd. At a recent performance, Deculus recalls how Butler magnetized the kids by having them call out their favorite animal during a rendition of the Meters' 'They All Asked For You.'
Additionally, every member of Bonne Musique sings, so no particular vocalist carries the loin's share. "Having all these solid musicians makes me work harder," Deculus notes about his veteran band that's loaded with horsepower.
In essence, Keep on Dancin' is an apt representation of the live shows by offering a little something for everyone. Zydeco dancers will appreciate rollicking rug-cutters "Don't Mess With My Toot Toot," "Jambalaya" and "Tee Toe Hot Step," a song from Beau Jocque's father Sandrus Espre (AKA 'Tee Toe), which was also recorded by the zydeco giant on Lanor Records. Geno Delafose's "Je Va's Jamais La Voir Encore" glides effortlessly along while Clifton Chenier's "I'm a Farmer" is a resilient waltz with a resounding chorus.
Yet, you don't have to be a zydeco zealot to appreciate what Bonne Musique offers here. Several songs will appeal to uninitiated revelers of all types, like the slinky mambo groove of "Down in Eunice Town," the high-steppin' "When The Saints Go Marching In" and the bluesy bender "Woke Up This Morning."
As critics have noted, a Bonne Musique gig bursts with energy as people hang on until the very last drop. "I will tell you this," Deculus says firmly. "I have never had to stop playing because no one was there." No surprises here. As the title rightly indicates, Bonne Musique guarantees to keep 'em dancing all night along. After all, that's what 'good zydeco music' is all about, isn't it?
-- Dan Willging
Dan Willging is a regular contributor to New Orleans' Off Beat Magazine.