Be sure to visit Terrance Simien's Official Site for the latest information, tour dates, more pictures, and contact addresses. Teachers: be sure to click on the link titled "Creole for Kids!"
Born in 1965, Terrance Simien grew up in Mallet, about 10 miles east of Eunice. While still a boy, he began singing in St. Ann's Catholic Church in Mallet, finding in music a powerful way to express the many dimensions of the spirituality that runs deep and wide in the Creole culture of Southwest Louisiana.
Simien also came to idolize the soulful singing of Aaron Neville and the late Sam Cooke, whose own career began in gospel music. As a teenager, Simien's musical interests broadened to include the Zydeco music that was performed at church dances and also at Richard's Club, located just down the road a little east of Lawtell. While Zydeco has a strong sensual appeal, it is certainly also soul-stirring music that from its beginning has found a home a dances sponsored by Creole Catholic churches.
While still a teenager, Simien learned to play the accordion, formed his own band, and, with his brother Greg, who is now a Catholic priest, began to write songs. In 1984, he gained attention with an appearance at the World's Fair in New Orleans.
In 1986, Paul Simon considered using him on his Graceland album. Although Simien wasn't included on the album, a recording of the two performing Clifton Chenier's "You Used to Call Me" was released as a single.
Then, in 1987, Terrance Simien and his band, the Mallet Playboys, appeared in the hit movie The Big Easy: they are the house band playing at Tipitina's, the New Orleans club where Dennis Quaid takes Ellen Barken. Simien and Quaid co-wrote one of the movie's songs, "Closer to You."
As he matured as a musician, Simien was open to a variety of musical influences: soul, funk, reggae, and rock. Simien's first album, Zydeco on the Bayou, which was released in 1990, offers this eclectic mix. His deeply moving version of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," sung as a tribute to Clifton Chenier, is still played frequently on Zydeco radio programs in Southwest Louisiana in memory of musicians who have passed on.
In 1993, Semien released There's Room for Us All, which includes a guest appearance by a New Orleans funk band, several reggae-influenced numbers with guest appearances by former members of the Neville Brothers' band, and traditional Zydeco with "Uncle Bud," "Dog Hill," "Zydeco Boogaloo," and "A ma maison."
His 1999 release, Positively Beadhead, is on the Tone-Cool label, part of Rounder Records. A "Beadhead," according to the liner notes, is a dedicated Simien fan who especially anticipates that moment in his performance when he tosses beads to the crowd in the style of the New Orleans Mardi Gras. The name is also a Louisiana version of "Deadhead," the title given to fans of Jerry Garcia and his band, The Grateful Dead. "Grandma's House," one of the songs on the CD, describes a paradise where the recently departed Jerry Garcia is singing with Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix, and Sunnyland Slim.
Most of the other songs, including "All Her Lovin'," "The Old Road," "Paradise," and "Same Dog," were written by Simien, whose sweet, smooth voice glides along through lyrics that tell stories of love and desire or deliver images that flow along with the melody. He also includes two instrumentals, "La Neuville Danse" and "Macque Choux" (the name refers to the Creole/Cajun version of stewed fresh corn).
To develop the Mardi Gras theme, Semien includes his own "Mardi Gras in the Country" and a New Orleans Mardi Gras song, "Shake Your Tambourine."
The CD offers a six-minute soulful version of "Jolie Blonde" and covers of "500 Miles" and "Keep on Smilin'."
Musicians on the CD include Danny Williams on keyboard and vocals; Dowell Davis on drums and vocals; Ralph Fontenot on frottoir; Wayne Dalcourt on guitar; Nick Lewis on bass; and Nicole Yarling on fiddle.
Jam the Jazzfest, an EP disk, was released on the Tone-Cool label in 1998 with five cuts, including "May Your Music Live On," a tribute to Eunice's John Delafose.
In summer 2001, Tribute Sessions was released by AIM Records of Australia. Semien offers his own interpretations of the music of Canray Fontenot ("Les Barres de la Prison") and of Zydeco legends Rockin' Sidney Simien ("My Toot Toot," "If It's Good for the Gander"), Clifton Chenier (a 5-minute version of "I'm Coming Home," "Zydeco Cha Cha"), John Delafose ("Joe Pete Got Two Women," "Ma Negresse"), Rockin' Doopsie ("That Was Your Mother" from Paul Simon's Graceland album), and Beau Jocque ("Yesterday"). He also sings "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" by Sam Cooke, one of Simien's main musical idols, by Rick Danko and The Band, and by Bob Marley ("Waiting in Vain," an example of Simien's fusion of Zydeco and reggae). Interspersed between the cuts are Simien's own engaging stories about his relationships with the musicians to whom he pays tribute and about the development of Zydeco.
In 2002, Simien released Creole for Kids, designed to present the history and culture of the Creole people of Southwest Louisiana in a format accessible to children. State Senator Donald Cravins, a native of Mallet (and long-time Zydeco promoter), provides the narration as Poppee, the oldest living Bald Cypress tree who has seen the development of Creole culture over the centuries, from slave times to the present. Simien performs music to illustrate the narrative: "Creole Mardi Gras Run" (there's also some of the old Creole Mardi Gras chant on the CD); Amédé Ardoin's "Midland Two-Step" as an example of music from the house dances; "Zydeco Extravaganza" (Zydeco Force's tribute to the club scene); Simien's own "Take Me to the Trail Ride"; "Oh My Lucille," a tribute to Clifton Chenier, the King of Zydeco; and Simien's songs about crawfishing and Creole cooking. Simien has given live performances "Creole for Kids" around the country. The CD is further evidence of his strong commitment to supporting the preservation of the culture in which he was raised and in which all of his music has its roots. His web site includes more information about the CD and related educational activities.
Most of the photographs on this page were taken in May 2001 at Downtown Alive! in Lafayette: Terrance Simien with his wild hippie hair and Hard Rock t-shirt singing soulful Zydeco, a moving tribute to Boozoo Chavis, beautiful Creole waltzes, and traditional two-steps. The two photos in the bottom left column were taken in Lawtell in 2003. Click here for a few more photos taken in Lawtell.
All photographs and text by David Simpson.
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