By Doug Hill
“Our show’s energy level is so electrifying some people may leave feeling electrocuted,” Chubby Carrier said. “It will be swamp-funky zydeco music at its best.”
He’s the leader of the Bayou Swamp Band playing Norman’s Summer Breeze concert series Sunday evening.
“Some people say, ‘that zydeco music shocked me, I wasn’t ready for that,’” Carrier said. “They dance and dance and dance because it’s happy music with a flavor of blues, soul, r&b and rock which is a recipe for a good gumbo.”
The band is a quintet with Carrier on accordion and vocals fronting a guitarist, bassist, drummer and washboard player. Central Oklahoma is not known as a hotbed of zydeco music. Carrier wants to change that.
“I’m going to give y’all a taste of gumbo,” he promised.
Playing the genre that originated in southwest Louisiana is a family tradition for him. Both his father Roy Carrier and grandfather Warren Carrier were zydeco all-stars from Church Point, Acadia Parish, La.
“Those guys were innovators,” he said. “It was amazing because they were also sharecroppers and hard workers. When they played zydeco they went even harder.”
His mom sang in a gospel choir. Roy Carrier was a blues guitarist. Watching them in action as a child inspired Carrier to first learn drums and then the accordion. He played in his dad’s combo and with others before forming his own band in 1989.
Carrier won a 2011 Grammy Award for his record “Zydeco Junkie” in the Zydeco/ Cajun category.
“What a moment,” he said. “It was an experience and I’m still in awe even though it’s two years later.”
It’s a terrific recording with Carrier’s accordion strutting like a rooster on an early morning romp through the hen house. The various percussion create a massive beat extravaganza that’s irresistible. It’s soundtrack for what Carrier calls a Chubby Party, which is the kind of bash that never stops.
“It’s pure Louisiana fun,” he said, with a laugh. “And it’s coming to Norman, Okla., buddy.”
As a zydeco ambassador to the world part of Carrier’s responsibility is keeping people straight on the difference between his genre and Cajun music.
”Cajun music consists of bluegrass, country, two-step and waltz with lots of slow ballads,” he said. “Zydeco has blues, soul, rock 'n' roll, gospel and rhythm and blues. It’s played up-tempo, high energy and the beat just don’t stop.”
Carrier calls himself a live stage entertainment-oriented musician rather than one who does their best in a recording studio. People clapping their hands, stomping feet and singing along are what get him going.
“I feed off that energy,” he said. “The more of that I get the better I play.”
He’s band leader, song writer, composer and producer all rolled into one.
It’s not an easy job but he credits surrounding himself with a talented band for relieving some of the burden.
“I love what I’m doing because I’m carrying on an established tradition,” Carrier said. “I’m the third generation in my family playing this music and it’s exciting to know that.”
There’s a new generation coming up behind him that’s taken up the zydeco flag.
“My nephew plays accordion,” he said. “And I’ve got my son playing drums with me.”
Carrier has developed and presents a program for schools in Louisiana called “Zydeco from A to Z.” Its design is to inform kids where the music came from, how it got started, the instruments used and the impact on the state’s heritage and culture.
“It’s zydeco history for kindergarten through high school and a way to help preserve the culture,” Carrier said.
He doesn’t miss a chance to spread the zydeco gospel wherever it presents itself. Recently Carrier struck up a conversation with Canadian strangers in the check-out lane in Walmart and ended up bringing them home for a meal and a show.
“I feel a need to get back to Oklahoma with the things going on including the tragedy in Moore,” Carrier said. “We want to come and deliver some happiness.”
Last month he sent a box of Bayou Swamp Band CDs along in a truck of other supplies that a woman in his community organized for Oklahoma tornado victims.
“Hopefully that music will put a smile on someone’s face,” he said. “I want to cheer up the whole state of Oklahoma if I possibly can.”
If You Go:
What: Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band in concert as part of the Summer Breeze series.
Where: Lions Park, 450 S. Flood Ave.
When: 7:30 p.m. July 21
Chubby Carrier with his 2011 Grammy award.