If you ever doubted that music in southwest Louisiana is a family thing, consider the party for Mr. Rodney Bernard, "Mr. Bernard's Past to Present Throwdown Throwdown." The man’s been playing music since he was 8 years old and is known for the quiet kindness of his nature and the less quiet way he can make a spoon sing as he drags it across a frattoir (rub board).
There are scores of musicians around here who are playing well into their seventies and a few right into their eighties. People don’t defer to them because of their senior status. They defer to them because they can still play the daylights out of their chosen instrument or vocal chords.
Rodney’s pals, 70 year-old guitar player Paul “Lil Buck” Sinegal, 63 year-old youngster bass player Lee Allen Zeno, and 69 year-old keyboard player Lynn August, who sang and played a glorious set with Mr. Bernard, are a prime examples.
Mr. Bernard has played with some of zydeco’s best bands, including Thomas “Big Hat” Fields (his long-time great band mate), accordionist Marcel Dugas, keyboard player Lynn August, had his own career as a band leader, and since 2009 has played the frattoir (scrub board) with Horace Trahan and The Ossun Express. Mr. Rodney is Horace’s father-in-law. Did I mention that music down here is a family thing?
Today's party was a Who’s Who of Zydeco. You don’t get musicians like Lil’ Buck Sinegal, Lynn August, Kevin Naquin, Lee Allen Zeno, Horace Trahan and the Ossun Express, Dexter Ardoin, Jamie Bergeron, Jeffery Broussard, Eric Singleton, Corey Arceneaux, Rusty Metoyer, Tiger Dopsie, Gerard Delafose, Randall Lee Jackson II, and Kaleb LeDay make time to celebrate your birthday unless you’ve earned their respect. Hanging out at the side door is like watching stars arrive at the Oscars as musicians say hello to the family and get ready to play. The red carpet is replaced by a simmering vat of gumbo.
Music and food around here go together like roux and gumbo. Outside the side door, a constellation of Bernards and their close friends are tending to a huge vat of gumbo they’ve been simmering since 9 AM. Chantelle Bernard Trahan, Horace’s wife, is the field general, checklist in hand. She’s good at this stuff. Chantelle also handles marketing and PR for Horace’s band, The Ossun Express.
The scene out the side door under the small blue and white striped tent looks like a family reunion. Chantelle’s sister Sheila Bernard Nelson and her husband Peter and long-time friends Mike Hurst (of Mike Hurst & the Zydeco Cut Point Band) and his wife Carolyn Hurst are ladling gumbo into bowls for a line of grateful celebrants.
“I did the cooking, she did the stirring!” Peter says playfully as they serve bowl after bowl. Louise Begnaud (married to Doug Garb on saxophone and flute in Horace's band) along with two of her sisters, joins the tag team serving gumbo for several hours.
Today, with all these luminaries of zydeco performing on stage, Mr. Rodney is the brightest star.
Around 4:30 PM he’s front and center with a positively stellar group, singing a set of zydeco classics and a some sultry awesome Swamp Pop…with energy, class, and a huge smile as he gives a nod to Lynn August (keyboard), Lee Allen Zeno (bass), Paul “Lil Buck” Sinegal (guitar), Shane Bernard (drums), Gabriel Perrodin, Jr. (Horace's newest guitar player), and Doug Garb (saxophone), take their solos to the roof.
This is stunning. When Rodney sings or Lynn August sings and jams mightily on his electric piano, I don’t know whether to dance to the lights out music pouring from the stage or stand still and witness history.
August and Bernard have traveled the world together playing their music. During a presentation (VIDEO) in the program, August (who is blind) thanks Bernard for his friendship, recalled that he idolized Mr. Bernard's playing when he was ten years old, notes their mutual musical heritage, and recalls how they bonded as they toured Europe promoting zydeco.
Nattily dressed in black hat, jacket and slacks, physically fit Rodney Bernard doesn’t look like any 80 year old I’ve ever seen. For a precious half hour, he powers joyfully through a set of music that by now is buried deep in his DNA. Rodney is in his element, fully in the moment, and he’s carrying us along on his shoulders for the historic ride.
Rodney’s sister Rose, and his daughter Cheryl LeMelle from TN, sit with spouses and close friends at a big table at the edge of the dance floor the size of a small skating rink. It's packed with friends and admirers. Daughters Sheila and Chantelle, who’ve been planning this for months, are outside greeting well-wishers, friends and dozens of musicians.
Every time Mr. Rodney walks off stage or meanders through the crowd, cell phones are hoisted, cameras flash, selfies are taken, group photos with Rodney front and center are guaranteed to happen.
His son-in-law Horace Trahan senses that today belongs to his father-in-law. After The Ossun Express’s first set at 3 PM, he’s relaxing out the side door where the food is being served and his fellow musicians arrive and hang out.
Horace greeted me by name, remembered that I volunteered with Our Savior’s Church to muck out homes ruined by the flood of August 2016. He enthusiastically tells me that his father in law picked out 20 hens for the gumbo, informing this Yankee that hens would not fall apart as fryers would as the gumbo was cooking!
The bond between musicians around here is deep. They’re united by their craft, their respect for the music, whether traditional or evolving, and the hard work it takes to succeed.
An outsider like me sees only the stagecraft part. I don’t see the fact that most, including Horace (Cajun and Creole Lawn Service), need a second job/income to make ends meet. This story by Herman Fusilier about veteran sidemen like Lee Allen Zeno and younger musicians like Chris Segura opened my eyes to the less glorious aspect of a musician's life.
A terrific story by Daily Advertiser Music and Entertainment editor Herman Fusilier recounts Mr. Rodney’s career arc and the times a young Rodney would drive back from a gig in Houston to return an hour or two before his full-time, day job at Schoeffler Cadillac. Popular as he was, his music earnings would not support a growing family.
If there weren’t masters of ceremonies, with this many bands showing up, the party could go on for a week. Herman Fusilier and Todd Ortego, local radio personalities who have their own loyal followings, keep the show on the rails.
They’ve known each other for decades and know the music and the musicians. As a duo they’re like the buddy act of NFL’s high profile announcers Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. They have great chemistry as they introduce each band with patter that connects the band and its musicians to the occasion and about 20 minutes later give them the ‘one more song’ signal.
Hundreds showed up at Cowboy’s to celebrate Rodney Bernard's 72 year career and listen to some of the best zydeco musicians on the planet honor him by playing today. For $10, you’re never going to get a better bang for your buck and a bowl of homemade gumbo to boot.
I first met Rodney Bernard at Mardi Gras 2012 where Horace Trahan and The Ossun Express was playing a late morning gig in a parking lot in front of Meche’s Donuts (yes, I said a donut store) in New Iberia.
“Have you met my other daughter?” he says that day and introduces me to his daughter Sheila and her husband Peter, who introduces me to his father.
I’ve witnessed this kind of southwest Louisiana hospitality since my first visit in 2009. Today was a celebration of a man who has been part of the fabric of music for nearly 8 decades.
The lovely glass engraved plaque presented to Mr. Bernard reads, "Celebrating 72 Years of Playing Music....presented to Rodney Bernard......In Grateful Recognition of Dedicated Contributions to Louisiana Music and Culture......November 12, 2017."
Mr. Rodney Bernard: Musician, Legend, Father, Grandfather, Mentor, Role Model… who picked cotton as a youngster in Carencro. LA, has traveled the world as an emissary of Louisiana’s cultural and musical heritage, and can still command a stage at 80 years young.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.
Rodney Bernard, flanked by daughters Chantelle Trahan and Sheila Nelson, had the kind of party that musicians (and fathers) dream of. Family from near and far, friends of a lifetime, fans and music lovers, gathered for a "throwdown" that delivered all it promised.
family friend Carolyn Hurst...
and Peter Nelson, Sheila Nelson, and Louise Begnaud (married to Doug Garb on saxophone and flute in Horace's band). Mike and Carolyn Hurst got the gumbo going at 9 AM in a vat the size of a small bathtub, enough to serve hundreds. Rodney Bernard and Mike chose 20 hens from Breaux's Mart in Lafayette, LA (because hens wont fall apart in the long cooking process, Horace tells me). This event has as many details to plan for as a half time performance at a Super Bowl and, thanks to Chantelle, her family and friends, it ran just about as perfectly.
Highlight of the day, Rodney Bernard is the man, singing classic zydeco and swamp pop songs with a cast of all-stars.
and Gabriel Perrodin, Jr. (Horace's newest guitar player) on the right side.
Rodney can still bring it...his swamp pop rendition of "Irene" rocked the house. I've said this before but forget 'Six Degrees of Separation'...in the southwest Louisiana scene it's more like two or three degrees of separation. Band member Gabriel Perrodin, Jr.'s dad, Gabriel Perrodin, Sr., known as Guitar Gable, recorded "Irene" with songwriter King Karl this Swamp Pop classic song!
He enjoys every minute playing with this fabulous band...I have to wonder if memories of his performances as a band leader and drummer over the years flash through his mind as he feels the energy of the crowd.
Swamp Pop: Cajun and Creole Rhythm and Blues, by historian Shane K. Bernard, describes the history of Cajun and Creole Swamp Pop music and lyrics of songs like "Irene," (VIDEO) that Rodney sang today for the how many hundreds of times he's probably sung it.
including Paul "Lil Buck" Sinegal. He toured internationally with Clifton Chenier, Buckwheat Zydeco and is known as a consummate blues player. He was one of the musicians featured in the film "I Am The Blues", a film that took years to make as it traveled the Deep South to spotlight rural blues musicians in places you've never heard of but were petrie dishes for what we now know as The Blues. The unanswered question is what becomes of the blues tradition when these men and women pass on. Lil Buck Sinegal was inducted into the Louisiana Blues Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Louisiana Hall of Fame in 2012.
Everybody was lovin' the show including John and Bunny Broussard of Lafayette, LA (good friends of Horace).
Lee Allen Zeno with pt, who first met the bass player at the Café des Amis in 2010.
Rodney Bernard's sister Rose, Peter and Sheila Nelson and Carolyn Hurst
Teamwork. Sunday was a sunny, gorgeous shirt sleeve day in Scott, LA.
Radio host Todd Ortego, sales director at KBON-FM, escorts Lynn August to the stage. August began playing music at 12 years old, has played drums, piano, accordion, led his own band, played with the late Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural and tonight kills it when he plays the Hammond B-3 on swamp pop and blues when he sings with Rodney Bernard.
A student of music, he studied the field recordings made by Alan Lomax in 1934. The result: two songs done in the Creole 'juré" style (rhythmic singing, hand clapping, foot stomping) on each of two albums released in the early 1990s.
Cowboy's Nightclub was packed for this extravaganza.
Herman Fusilier, music and entertainment editor of The Daily Advertiser and host of The KLRZ Zydeco Stomp, and Todd Ortego, sales director at KBON-FM and host of Swamp and Roll program, are the perfect choice to MC the long line up of top bands today. They know the music and the culture heritages of southwest Louisiana. Their easy camaraderie and personal connections to the musicians keep the long list of bands on track. The best 10 minute summary of Zydeco and Cajun music you'll ever hear is captured as David Dye interviews Herman Fusilier.
Another legend around these parts, Paul Edwards, 51, is a native and lifelong resident of Eunice. Fusilier wrote this profile of "Bird" https://www.theadvertiser.com/story/news/local/2017/04/12/birds-beats-inspire-balfa-week/100347148/ Bird sat in with several bands today.
Swamp and Roll on KBON and Zydeco Stomp on KRVS are the two best ways for a newcomers and long time listeners to learn about the life blood of southwest Louisiana, its music and the culture that produces it.
pt, Lynn August, Rodney Bernard
Highlight of the day: presentation of this award to Rodney Bernard, presented by Herman Fusilier and Todd Ortego, A big hall filled with hundreds paid rapt attention as Lynn August paid a heartfelt tribute to his longtime friend and touring companion from America to Europe.
A smile of accomplishment for recognition of seven decades and counting for spreading the joy of zydeco music on at least two continents.
Rodney Bernard, Gerald Gruenig, Lee Allen Zeno
A big table filled with Bernard family members and friends.
Jamie Bergeron keeps the pedal to the metal...
Rodney and Jeffery Broussard after Jeffery's performance.
Horace enjoys moment with James "Jim" Sepulveda. Jim hosts a "Horace Trahan and the Ossun Express" fan page on Facebook.
and of course a photo opp!
By the time the crowd had left Cowboys late in the night, everyone had "passed a good time."
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.