Louisiana Stomp 

Meet Andre Thierry of Richmond, the younger generation of zydeco music.

In conversation, the unassuming young man makes listeners lean forward just to catch his soft-spoken words. But onstage, 24-year-old Andre Thierry becomes a dynamo. Smoke seems to billow from the bellows of his fast-pumping accordion, and sweat flies in all directions as he leads his band, Zydeco Magic, through some of the freshest and most energized zydeco and Cajun sounds of the day.

To mark this week's release of his second CD, A Whole Lotta Something, Thierry and crew play a celebratory dance at Berkeley's Ashkenaz (1111 San Pablo Ave., 510-525-5054) this Saturday night. Following a free Cajun-zydeco dance lesson with Diana Castillo at 8 p.m. to warm up the crowd, the band cuts loose at 9:30 p.m. Ashkenaz is Thierry's home turf. He has been performing professionally for half his life, and at the tender age of eleven was already sitting in there with the California Cajun Orchestra, playing with that group's accordionist and his sometime teacher, the late Danny Poullard.

Richmond native Thierry was raised with four sisters and a brother in the transplanted Louisiana Creole culture that came together at dances produced by his grandmother, Mama Lena Petre. They were often held at Richmond's St. Mark's Hall, where some of original zydeco king Clifton Chenier's concerts were recorded (those are now available on CD from El Cerrito's Arhoolie Records). That culture was strong at home, too -- his mother, an architectural secretary, is from Basile, Louisiana, and his ferryman father is from Jennings.

"I grew up around the music," Thierry says of zydeco, the accordion-driven blend of Louisiana French Cajun waltzes and two-steps with Creole blues, "but at the time I didn't like it. I thought it was weird music. I was listening to rap and R&B. Finally I picked up the piano accordion when I was ten. My dad started me even though I didn't want to. But then I got interested in the diatonic [the smaller button accordion] and the three-row. Now I take all three accordions on the road. At first I learned all the songs of Boozoo Chavis, and John and Geno Delafose. After a while, the songs didn't matter; I just wanted to play." His new CD mixes original songs with classic blues tunes such as "Trouble in Mind" and "Pine Top Boogie Woogie." Thierry even teams with Michelle Shocked on the tribute CD to zydeco music, Creole Bred, due May 11 on Vanguard, where they cover Chavis' 1954 hit, "Paper in My Shoe."

Thierry has become a favorite at cross-country summer music festivals and regional dance halls in the twelve years he has led Zydeco Magic. Drummer Lee Neal and guitarist Larry James have been with him four years, bassist "A.J." since last year, and his rub-board-playing cousin Jason Thierry, 21, has been at his side for ten years. While the trend in recent years has been to turn zydeco into disco-fied pop, Thierry loves the older styles and intends to stick to them. "Andre's about the only person playing zydeco these days besides Geno Delafose that I actually like," says Cajun fiddler Suzy Thompson, who has watched Thierry grow up. "Andre kind of takes up Boozoo Chavis' mantle, which is saying a lot."


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