Terrance Simien was my introduction to zydeco music. That would have been some time in the back half of the 1980s, when he and his band were closing a Little Rock street festival that my band had performed in hours earlier. I knew nothing about zydeco — I even wrongly pronounced the music as zy-DEC-oh instead of ZY-deh-coh — and I remember seeing him walk on stage with an accordion. Another band member wore what appeared to be a washboard on his chest. I was in my 20s at the time and I did not take these as good signs.
And then they ripped into it, and I looked down at my feet because they had apparently become disconnected from my central nervous system and started acting on their own. So did the feet of everyone around me, and I was swept away. Within a few months, I could tell you all about Buckwheat Zydeco and Clifton Chenier and Boozoo, that’s who. From there, I fell into all sorts of Louisiana music holes, which eventually led me to the first of several trips to my darlin’ New Orleans, where the music still flows.
But I never saw Simien in person again. I heard about him as the years went by, and I’m fairly sure he drifted up my way occasionally after I moved to the D.C. area, but I missed his shows for one reason or another.
That changed recently. We spent a weekend in and along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and I scored some tickets to see Simien at the Avalon Theatre in Easton. The theater is run by a nonprofit foundation and those folks have seriously good taste; Sonny Landreth, the Steel Wheels, Shemekia Copeland and Karla Bonoff are all showing up in upcoming weeks, along with some classical concerts, opera and even the Glenn Miller Orchestra (Miller has been dead for 68 years, FTR).
It’s always a crapshoot when you go to see the musicians you loved decades ago. Sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised; sometimes you feel kind of sorry for the poor husks performing on stage. In the worst cases, you feel like you’ve been conned.
But Simien and his band walked on stage, cut into their first song and my feet took off again. He’s never been a hyper-traditionalist and this night was no exception; the band did a couple of beautiful reggae songs, for example, and a memorable version of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”
Two hours of party, many thrown beads, a second-line march through the audience and the appearance of a Grammy Award (really) later, Simien wrapped up with “Iko Iko,” a New Orleans standard that I’ve personally performed dozens and dozens of times with multiple bands. Simien sang his last Jacamo Fi Na Nae, the band blew the roof off the joint one last time, the lights came up and we all went home (or in our case, to the hotel across the street). But I got a reminder of why I love the man’s music, nearly 40 years after I first heard it.