Inside Main Squeeze NYC

As we learned while building our directory, accordion shops — particularly ones that only sell and repair accordions — are few and far between. So we were excited to run across this video promoting Main Squeeze, the colorful accordion shop on New York City’s Lower East Side.

Run by Walter Kuhr, the store offers new/used accordions, repairs and lessons, and is home base for the all-female Main Squeeze Accordion Orchestra. Main Squeeze even has its own line of accordions, most notably the Model 911 — a compact 72 bass accordion made from walnut wood. Seems to a popular model as I’ve seen photos of a few artists using it recently, including John Linnell of They Might Be Giants.

Blair Kilpatrick Answers More Questions

Accordion DreamsToday we’re closing the book, so to speak, on our Q&A series with Blair Kilpatrick, author of Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music. In her last set of responses, Blair discusses her accordion collection, the SF Bay Area Cajun/Zydeco scene, and her dream “accordion lunch.”

If you could have lunch with the accordion player of your choice, who would it be and why?

That’s a difficult one. There are two Louisiana legends from the past I’d love to meet: Creole accordionist Amédée Ardoin (1896-1941) and Cajun accordionist Iry LeJeune (1928-1955). Iry, who recorded much of the core Cajun repertoire, was heavily influenced by Amedée, so I imagine they’d enjoy getting together. That would be a wonderful fantasy lunch—even though I’d have a hard time keeping up, since the conversation would be all in French.

But if I had to choose, I’d share one more meal with Creole accordionist Danny Poullard, my friend and teacher, who died in April of 2001. He was the guiding spirit of the Bay Area’s Cajun-zydeco scene. He gave away his music so freely—he had weekly jam sessions at his house, and he was so proud of his many protégé’s who went on to play in bands of their own. He also taught at music camps all over the country. My band was the final one to be shaped by his garage jam sessions. He even suggested our name, Sauce Piquante. He heard us perform as a full band just once, five days before he died.

So I’d love to bring him back to let him know how things are going—and to tell him he’s not forgotten. I hope he’d like my book. So much of Accordion Dreams is about my time with Danny. He was a tough but loving mentor—so I’m sure he’d offer a few tips about my accordion playing—and maybe even about the book, too!

Blair Kilpatrick Answers Your Questions

Blair KilpatrickRecently, we asked readers to send in their questions for Blair Kilpatrick, author of Accordion Dreams: A Journey into Cajun and Creole Music. Thanks to everyone who responded — and congratulations to Mister Anchovy, who won our drawing for a free copy of the book. Today, in her first set of responses, Blair describes how she was drawn to the accordion and the musical life that she and her husband share.

What inspired you to choose the accordion, as opposed to another Cajun instrument?

Good question. But I never did choose the accordion. It chose me.

It came to me in a dream. Literally. A series of recurring dreams, strange and vivid. I was at one with the instrument, almost dancing with it. It felt like the accordion was playing me. I’d wake up in the morning with the sensation still lingering in my hands. This was peculiar, since I wasn’t a musician and had no memory of ever laying my hands on an accordion.

My unlikely passion for Cajun music had begun on a birthday trip to New Orleans, when I heard some recorded music — it was a Beausoleil tape — on a swamp tour. After that, I became consumed with the sound: buying up cassette tapes, listening constantly, going to monthly dances put on by Chicago’s one and only homegrown Cajun band. After nine months of listening, dancing, and dreaming music, I finally gave in: I had to find an accordion.

So it didn’t feel like a choice or decision — it was more like succumbing to a consuming passion. A sensible person would have stuck to Cajun dancing, or maybe picked up the guitar or triangle as a first instrument. (Later on, I did learn to play them both, along with some very basic fiddle.)

After the fact, I’ve tried to analyze what it is about the particular sound of the Cajun accordion that appeals so strongly to me. My first teacher at music camp, a very young Steve Riley, described it this way: loud and crude. It is, in some ways. Cajun accordion also has a very percussive quality, because of the inherent nature of a single row diatonic instrument. It’s like the wild skirl of the bagpipes or the wail of a blues harmonica — it moves you. Or it doesn’t.

More recently, I’ve begun to suspect the accordion resonated so strongly for me because of my Slovenian roots, which were mostly discounted when I was growing up. But that’s another story.

Five Questions: Bradley Jaye Williams

Bradley Jaye WilliamsHang on tight — it’s another edition of “Five Questions”, our interview series with noteworthy accordion personalities from around the globe.

Few accordionists can cross genres as comfortably as Bradley Jaye Williams. Born in Michigan, Williams moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and then to Austin, where his music career really took off, playing with the likes of Flaco Jimenez and Mingo Saldivar. He currently plays in three bands: an authentic Texas-style conjunto called Conjunto Los Pinkys, a Cajun/Zydeco dance band known as The Gulf Coast Playboys, and The Fabulous Polkasonics, a combo that plays Polish-American “honky style” polkas, waltzes, and obereks.

When and why did you first start playing the accordion?

In 1986, I started playing the 2-row button accordion while living in a tiny studio apartment in Berkeley, California. My neighbors listened to me struggle with “La Cucaracha” and “La Nopalera” for a few months! Why did I start playing? I love accordion music! It was the natural thing to do. It felt right. To me, the accordion was always cool and it’s at the heart of many styles of dance music I love. I grew up in Saginaw, Michigan around all kinds of music… Motown, country, Dixieland, jazz, rock n’ roll and polka music… mainly the Polish-American and German music of Marv Herzog and Lawrence Welk (of course).

Living in the Bay Area in my 20’s, I experienced the music of Flaco Jimenez and it really struck a chord with me. Here was good old polka music being chopped and customized in a new and different way. I loved it. Ultimately, I think I was drawn to the international and cross-cultural appeal of accordion music and polka… the songs, customs, dance, food and pure FUN we all share. Of course, there is also something very compelling about the accordion itself: a magnificent machine…beautifully designed…and a challenge to play.

Weird Al and the Roland V-Accordions

Weird Al YankovicIt’s probably no surprise that Weird Al Yankovic is on the cutting edge of accordion technology and, indeed, Roland has a fun little interview with him about their V-Accordion line of digital accordions. Apparently Al has been an FR-7 user for quite some time and just picked up the smaller, lighter FR-2. In the interview, Al talks about the appeal of a digital accordion versus an acoustic one:

“I really like the idea that it is a direct connection. The accordion is a hard instrument to mic, because if you put an acoustic microphone next to an accordion — especially the left hand — the bellows are always moving. So it’s kind of hard to get an even sound, because the mic is always going to be closer and then further away from the sound source. Internal microphones are also always a problem, because you still get the sound of the bellows. So just the simple fact that there’s a digital solution out there where you get a clean accordion sound is very appealing to me.”

Weird Al will be on tour this summer supporting his latest album, Straight Outta Lynwood; keep an eye on our calendar for dates. (Interview found via Wired).

Need more accordion? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Big Lou in Keyboard Magazine

This month’s issue of Keyboard Magazine has an excellent profile of one of our favorite polka artists: Big Lou, the Accordion Princess. The piece covers her double life as a geophysicist/accordionist, her squeezebox arsenal, and how she made the transition from Texas honky-tonk piano player to polka princess:

“The only thing that a piano player has to pay attention to is phrasing, or breathing [compressing and expanding the bellows]. That’s kind of a sure giveaway when accordion players listen to piano players who don’t really learn how to play the accordion.”

To learn more about Big Lou, be sure to check out our interview with her (conducted in late 2006). You can also catch her weekly radio show online at 247PolkaHeaven.

Five Questions: Skyler Fell

Skyler FellIt’s time for another installment of “Five Questions” — our occasional interview series with notable personalities in the accordion world.

Today, we’re talking to Skyler Fell, owner of the Accordion Apocalypse Repair Shop in San Francisco. A professionally trained accordion repairwoman, Skyler offers repairs, parts, lessons, and free advice out of her humble shop in Hunter’s Point. Accordion Apocalypse has become a Bay Area accordion hub, hosting bi-weekly jams and shows by touring bands and wild circuses. She also plays in a couple bands herself: the Hobo Gobbelins and the Accordion Apocalypse Circus Sideshow.

When and why did you start playing the accordion?

I started playing accordion when I was around 20 years old, after walking into Boaz Accordions in Berkeley. Feeling inspired by live circus bands featuring fierce and independent women with a hardcore edge in Europe and the Bay Area, I decided to have a go at the accordion. What has happened since has been a truly magical and eye-opening journey.

La India Canela on NPR

La India Canela - Merengue Tipico From the Dominican RepublicThere was a great interview on NPR today with Dominican accordionist La India Canela. She has twice won the Cassandra award for her hit songs and is now releasing an album in the United States, Merengue Tipico from the Dominican Republic.

She had a tough start; her father didn’t want her to play the accordion, so she had to hide to practice. Then, after she was discovered, she had to convince him to let her play in the city. Overcoming the social stigma of the accordion being a man’s instrument was a challenge, but her love for the music was deep and she was determined to stick with it.

“Accordion is very profound, and you feel it probably from the moment you are in your mother’s womb.”

Now she’s one of The Dominican Republic’s most famous musicians. You can listen to the NPR interview as well as some clips of her playing here.

Keeping the “Happy Music” Alive

Chicago Public Radio had a great story today on the local Chicago bands and fans who are working hard to keep polka alive. The piece starts out at the weekly “Therapy Tuesday” dances held at Major Hall and goes on to include interviews with Eddie Blazonczyk Jr. of the Versatones, as well as “Dandy” Don and “Jolly” James of the Polkaholics. James talks about how playing in the punk-rock Polkaholics changed his mind about polka:

“I thought polka was kind of square. I thought old blue-haired ladies listen to it, and they do, and they rock, and they can dance my butt off, which I’ve learned.”

You can listen to the story — or read a full transcript — on the Chicago Public Radio website. There’s also an accompanying photo slideshow.

Five Questions: Tom Torriglia

Tom TorrigliaWe’re launching a new feature today called “Five Questions” — a series of brief interviews with notable personalities in the accordion world.

Our first subject is San Francisco accordionist Tom Torriglia. Tom has been in the music business since the late 1960s and has been an incredible accordion promoter over the years. He was an original member of Those Darn Accordions, is responsible for making June “National Accordion Awareness Month,” and campaigned to make the accordion San Francisco’s official instrument. Today, you can catch him playing a variety of gigs around the Bay Area, often with his retro-Italiano band, Bella Ciao.

When and why did you start playing the accordion?

I started taking lessons in 1962 at Theodore’s (Pezzolo) House of Music on Union St. in San Francisco. This was at the famous “accordion house.” My teacher was Theodore Pezzolo and I was his last student. I studied there for about eight years. When I left, he gave me all his original hand-written sheets of music, which I still have.

Before starting with the accordion, I had taken a year of piano but that didn’t work out and then one day, an accordion player came to the house to rehearse with my father who played sax and clarinet, and I was very taken with the instrument — with all the buttons and bellows and such — and I asked my parents if I could give it a try. Also, I think I was fated to play the accordion because, as everyone knows, there has to be one accordion player in each Italian-American household. And since I was the youngest child…

Older posts »