It was a tremendous pleasure to be able to sit and chat with Ed Poullard and Preston Frank, two Zydeco icons, at the Rhythm and Roots Festival in Charlestown, RI. We sat together at the picnic table near the food court in a very relaxed atmosphere. Both these gents were open and real in their opinions of Zydeco music as they have lived it.
Both Ed and Preston are born of the Creole heritage of Southwest Louisiana. Each of them have been instrumental in perpetuating this joyful "traditional French" music. It wasn't so long ago that the only place this music was heard was in the homes, front porches, church dance halls, and at family gatherings in southwest Louisiana.
The need to support the family is what kept the music in the home for many years. Both of these gents play as much as they want, but don't play frequently outside of the home in Louisiana, although the opportunity is there. Ed makes his living by doing electrical work and he also builds a fine accordion. While Preston is a Lathe operator at a plywood mill.
We spoke of how the music has grown over time. Preston stated that he is a 4th generation Zydeco musician. He learned in the home where the music had been played just as his kids have learned at his knee, in the home. He lamented that his grandfather's music had not been recorded and how he wished he could hear some of it today; how he wishes that it had been preserved. Each generation has grown in the music, it's in the blood. Each generation of musicians keep stepping down and stepping down again.
Ed also commented that his roots began in the home as well. He learned from his dad, who began playing at 12 years of age. Before his father had passed on, Ed's son had the opportunity to sit and watch his grandfather and that is how he learned, from watching and doing.
Creole and Zydeco music dates back to the early 1900's. Most of the time, it was played simply with a fiddle and rhythm guitar. Ed describes the roots of the music as being "crooked". "Most of the songs have been around for a long time but there may be syncopation differences depending on how the artists may have learned the piece." Ed explained. Furthermore, "a song may not have had any rhyme or reason to it depending on how crooked the tune might have been."
In Preston and Ed's youth, "the song may have had a straight signature of 1-5-4 or 1-4-5 and that never has changed"; but "the songs were short and highly syncopated with real crooked melodies" said Ed. As the music became commercialized and the touring bands began to form, it was recognized that many of the Creole tunes would not work for the dancers. To bring the music to the public at large, the songs were changed to structure them in a way that the instrumentation could be played in unison and in one rhythmatic type structure.
They may play the same traditional waltz melody but the time signature and rhythm has been modified to fit the dancing style of the younger generation who have moved the zydeco sound to a new generation. The music continues to move away from the traditions as many of the younger artists don't have the French language on which the music has its foundation. Plus, the younger generation has to be reached for the music to survive. Ed and Preston are "purists at heart but won't interfere in what those young people are doing because they are the ones carrying the music into the future and keeping it alive." The young ones are coming out for the music in Louisiana that is now being dubbed "Nouveau Zydeco" with a blend of rap, rock and rhythm and blues mixed into the magic pot. Both agreed, the music has to grow if it is to live.