Chris Ardoin and his heavy-on-the-R&B zydeco have put him at the top of the game for well over a decade. But a local TV appearance a few years ago made Ardoin consider a return to his roots as a third generation Creole recording artist.
“They wanted me to bring my accordion and play a few tunes,” said Ardoin. “When I got there, I noticed I really couldn’t play a lot of my songs. So many of my songs were lead by the keyboards.
“I found myself playing a lot of Boozoo (Chavis) and my grandfather’s songs. I was like, ‘Dude, I got to do something. This is not cool.’
“I’m here trying to promote something and I’m having to play standard tunes by other artists instead of playing my own.”
Ardoin has a more rootsy sound with his new CD Back Home, published on Maison de Soul Records in Ville Platte, La. The 17 new tunes still boast lots of contemporary flavor. But the accordion, long the driving force in zydeco, is front and center.
Ironically, the downhome sound of Back Home had the world paying attention when the CD debuted in March, 2014. The CD hit No. 1 on the iTunes Best-Selling World music chart and No. 1 on Amazon’s Best-Selling Blues chart.
Back Home also went into the top 20 on Google Play’s Top Albums chart, which includes all genres of music. That ranking put Ardoin in the company of Bruno Mars, Jason Aldean and other mainstream stars.
The rankings were rare feats for zydeco music and pleasant surprises for Ardoin.
“For the culture, it’s a big thing to get that kind of response on an album,” said Ardoin.
“The album started getting a lot of buzz when I dropped the album cover. The picture was taken in front of an old house on the back of my property. I think it caught a lot of people’s attention.
“I put a waltz on this album. When people heard it, it was different and something they hadn’t heard since the early 2000s. I think the music got a little too close to R&B.”
Chris’ CD continues an historic legacy of Ardoins recording and performing zydeco and its predecessor, Creole music. In the 1920 and ‘30s, Amede’ Ardoin, a cousin of Chris’ grandfather, and Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee recorded tunes that helped lay the foundation of Cajun and zydeco songs that followed.
For 60 years, Chris’ grandfather, Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin, and fiddler Canray Fontenot played traditional Creole music around the world. The Ardoin Brothers, which included Chris’ father Lawrence, further fueled the legacy in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Chris, his brother Sean and their Double Clutchin’ band were leaders in the groundbreaking contemporary style of the 1990s. Chris, who turns 34 in April, looks back at his career and family legacy with fond memories.
“I’ve done so much,” said Ardoin, who started playing at the age of 4. “Not to say that I didn’t appreciate it, but I didn’t realize the magnitude of what I was a part of. Back then, I was just playing for fun.
“But now, I realize I played Carnegie Hall. I was 9. I’ve traveled the world, been in movies, just a lot of stuff. It took me a long time to get the recognition locally, which is something we strive for around here.”
Ardoin has plans for a tribute CD to zydeco’s pioneers. Projects with Cajun musicians are also in the works.
He’s enjoying having a foot in the zydeco’s contemporary world and another going “Back Home” to the roots.
“Zydeco is at an all-time high. People are getting into it left and right.
“I also feel we kind of lost the zydeco in zydeco. We need to get people to realize where it came from.”