Last week we saw the inside of a 1960s era concertina factory; this week we get a glimpse inside a modern-day accordion factory. Flickr user otrocalpe took this photo, which shows a workstation inside the accordion factory where he works in Castelfidardo, Italy. (Castelfidardo is the legendary center of the Italian accordion industry and home to an accordion museum.) Apparently, this factory was built by his grandfather sixty years ago!
A favorite of disgruntled English majors, indie rock critics, and chimney sweeps everywhere, the Decemberists just put out their fourth album, The Crane Wife. It’s a big milestone for the band as it marks their major-label debut on Capitol Records. Fortunately, they haven’t forsaken their unique musical landscapes and erudite storytelling for drum machines and songs about “My Humps.”
If anything, The Crane Wife is even more ambitious than previous Decemberists albums. Inspired by a Japanese folk tale, it runs the gamut from four-minute pop songs (“O Valencia!”) to twelve-minute prog rock epics exploring murder, abduction, and rape (“The Island”). And, of course, Jenny Conlee’s accordion makes a few appearances, most notably on “Summersong” and “Sons and Daughters”. It took a couple listens to win me over, but I’m really loving this album.
The Decemberists kick off their Fall tour — The Rout of the Patagons Tour 2006 — tomorrow night in Portland and will be in San Francisco and Los Angeles later this week. We saw them a couple years ago (with one of our favorite, non-accordion bands, the Long Winters) and they were fantastic, so grab tickets if you can.
I’ve covered my Guitar Hero addiction here before, but I had to post this. I just picked up the Guitar Hero 2 demo and my jaw dropped as this flashed across one of the loading screens:
Is it a nod to the Accordion Hero parody from earlier this year? Or have the makers of Guitar Hero finally realized there’s a vast, untapped market for accordion-related video games? After all, if they’ve made a Godfather game, can Accordion Hero really be that far behind?
Legendary Tex-Mex singer/songwriter Freddy Fender died of lung cancer yesterday at the age of 69. Freddy wasn’t an accordionist, but he certainly played with a few — most notably Flaco Jimenez when they were part of the Texas Tornados. In fact, last night at the International Accordion Festival in San Antonio, Flaco had the crowd observe a moment of silence in Freddy’s honor.
Born as Baldemar Huerta in San Benito, Texas, he played honky-tonks throughout the South and had some early success with a Spanish version of “Don’t Be Cruel”. It wasn’t until 1974, though, that he broke through with “Before The Next Teardrop Falls”, which topped both the country and pop charts. In 1989, Freddy joined with Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers, and Flaco Jimenez to form the Texas Tornados, who fused rock, country, and Mexican sounds with alternately serious and silly lyrics; this video for “Who Were You Thinking Of?” shows the sillier side:
If you want to explore Freddy’s music, this greatest hits collection (featuring hits like “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and “Secret Love”) is a good place to start. There’s also the Best of the Texas Tornados, which I’ve been listening to all morning. And if you’re already a longtime fan, stop by his website and pay your respects in the guestbook.
Vaya con Dios, Freddy.
Sometimes I feel like California just isn’t cutting it; all the accordion excitement seems to be in Texas. Case in point: the sixth annual International Accordion Festival starts Friday night in San Antonio with a cajun and conjunto kick-off party featuring the Gulf Coast Playboys and Mingo Saldivar.
And that’s just the beginning. The festival continues throughout the weekend with an incredible lineup of performances, workshops, and jam sessions featuring accordionists from all over the world. There’s the Renato Borghetti Quartet from Brazil, Les Primitifs du Futur from Paris, the Marian Pelka Trio from Poland, Helen Xu & Zongti Lin from China, and many more.
Texas, of course, will be well represented, too. A trio of conjunto legends — Flaco Jimenez, Joel Guzman, and Sunny Sauceda — will perform together on Saturday night. Texas bands Los Desperadoz, the Gourds, and Brian Marshall and his Tex-Slavic Playboys will also be playing. Check the festival site or the San Antonio Express for a full schedule.
If you’re like me and you’re stuck somewhere besides San Antonio this weekend, you can still sample the sounds of the festival by listening to the clips below:
(If anyone knows the title of that Primitifs du Futur tune, let me know!)
My laptop is in the shop, so I’ve had a tough time staying on top of accordion news lately. Fortunately, some friends of the site have been kind enough to keep us up to date on the latest squeezebox happenings:
- Tom Torriglia just got back from the 25th annual Reno Italian Festival, which was crawling with accordionists, including Michael Maffei, Ray Massa of Eurorythms, US accordion champion Anthony Rolando, Tom Serafini with Oro Puro, the accordionists from TDA, and Tom himself with Bella Ciao.
- Skyler Fell’s San Francisco repair shop, Accordion Apocalypse, is hosting an eclectic, circus-themed show this Saturday night. Experience the gypsy/klezmer sound of Portland’s Vagabond Opera, acrobatics and juggling from Circus Finelli, the foot-stomping energy of One Man Banjo, and an appearance by the Accordion Apocalypse Circus Sideshow.
- East Bay accordion guru Henri Ducharme pointed us to a “musical epistle” about a recording session he recently did for composer, Jorge Liderman. It’s a fascinating look at how a professional accordionist attacks a difficult piece. You can listen to a clip, and view a page from the (daunting) score, on Henri’s site.
Thanks to Henri, Tom, and Skyler, for sharing their news. Remember, if you have any accordion-themed news to share (an event, a new album, etc.), just let us know and we’ll spread the word.
Ever wonder how a concertina is made? Wonder no more after watching this old newsreel (circa 1961) chronicling the work of craftsmen at the Wheatstone concertina factory in Islington, London.
See how workers fit valves, prepare bellows, and file reeds for tuning; all while following in the footsteps of Sir Charles Wheatstone, who invented the English concertina in 1844. The narrator notes that the concertina is the “only musical instrument ever invented by an Englishman; but then, music is the food of love, and Englishmen are reputedly bad lovers.” Ouch.
If you’re interested in concertina history or instruction, be sure to visit concertina.com. They have a great library of articles ranging from fingering charts to discussions of serial numbers in early Wheatstone ledgers. There are also some lively discussion forums at concertina.net.
Admittedly, when most people think of John Lennon (who would have been 66 today), they don’t think of him playing the accordion. But he actually picked up the accordion long before he ever touched a guitar. In the excellent companion book to the Beatles Anthology, John remembers his early accordion playing:
“I also had a little accordion which I used to play — only the right hand — and I played the same things on this that I played on mouth organ, things like ‘Swedish Rhapsody’, ‘Moulin Rouge’, and ‘Greensleeves’.”
The photo above was taken in June 1967 during rehearsals for the first live international satellite broadcast, Our World, where the Beatles debuted “All You Need is Love”. (He was probably just messing around — he didn’t play it during the show.)
Beatlefans should check out accordionist Harry Doktorski’s article in The Free-Reed Journal about the Beatles’ use of harmonicas, accordions, harmoniums, and other free-reeds. And if you’re curious to hear how some Beatles classics translate to accordion, don’t miss Domenic Amatucci’s Accordion Beatles; he’s covered everything from “A Day in the Life” to “Yesterday” on solo accordion.
What were you doing when you were two years old? Making mud pies? Eating crayons? Tormenting your parents? Guyton Leday of Opelousas, LA, was like a lot of kids his age, with one exception: he was learning to play accordion, zydeco-style.
Six years later (at the ripe old age of eight), Guyton is featured on an HBO documentary premiering tonight called The Music in Me: Children’s Recitals from Classical to Latin, Jazz to Zydeco. The show focuses on six inspiring musical prodigies, each from a different musical and cultural tradition.
As the great, great grandson of the late Delton Broussard, Guyland clearly has the zydeco spirit in his blood. By the time he was four, he was already onstage playing with Zydeco Force, which features his great uncle Jeffrey Broussard on accordion. Last night, Guyland played Carnegie Hall in New York with an all-star zydeco band of friends and family (including Terrance Simien) to promote the documentary.
The show premieres tonight on HBO at 7pm, but will air a number of times there (and on HBO Family) this month. So set your Tivo now!