A.J. and The BadCats
(Z'affaire Records, 2014)
They promise us a dazzling musical odyssey! They call their music 'Louisiana Blues' - which I think is a great find, also honoring the hundreds of other very talented musicians from their home state. Some very famous, some better known in Europe than back home, some are certainly getting there...
Although The BadCats have been around in different forms with various members since the early nineties, I didn't hear about them until last year. Julian Primeaux made two quite successful European tours as a golden combination with Drew Landry and when I interviewed him, he told me about his father's band: The BadCats!
So, Louisiana Blues it is, with a spicy variety of influences from Swamp Pop, Cajun, Zydeco, Country and Rock. A.J. (the father) sings lead vocals, plays harmonica, accordion and percussion. Julian (the son) plays the guitars, electric and upright bass, piano and he sings backing vocals, then there's third man Jerry LeJeune, the drummer / percussionist. A.J. wrote all ten songs, seven of them together with Julian and Jerry or with Gary Graeff and Leander Champagne. The trio worked at the Evangeline Recording Studio in their hometown LaFayette - production, engineering and mixing were also done by Julian and Jerry.
Jerry is credited along with Julian for taking A.J.'s original songs and rewriting some of the arrangements and giving most of the songs a variety of world beat grooves. The result is an interesting rhythm section, which enhances A.J.'s unique style of writing, singing and harmonica playing. I see why they call themselves a 'band of brothers'!
They play often and wherever they can, in true South Louisiana style: clubs, dance halls, honky tonks, trail rides, barn dances, restaurants and festivals. Founding member A.J. is a second generation Louisiana musician, with his father having played piano for Larry Brasso and Al Terry. He was originally a drummer in Cajun, Rock and Country bands. Julian inherited the family talents, he is a quite successful singer-songwriter and guitarist in his own right, he made remarkable albums with The Howdies and with his own Royal Rowdy Company. He also played, recorded and produced with a variety of other artists.
Jerry LeJeune, last but not least, has performed and toured for 45 years already - with Sonny Landreth, Maria Muldaur and Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown, among many others. He was drummer for Bobby Charles Guidry (well-known from the hits 'See You Later Alligator' and 'Walking To New Orleans'). His 20 years as an engineer and producer won him two Grammy nominations with Junior Wells and James Cotton.
The album looks good too, with very nice pictures by Blaine Faul - of the smiling musicians and an abandoned railroad bridge.
So far the necessary information - now hurry up and get that disc spinning!
1. "Baby's Got To Go": Great kick-off with a drum solo, the effects on the microphone make A.J. sound like one of the old blues gods. Superb guitar and harmonica solos. On backing vocals we hear also Chase Dugas. Funny touch: a song about 'going' already as the first track!
2. "You Got The Blues": That's a cool rhythm! Very nice, how the piano joins in and the song builds up from there, while the harmonica cries out in pain.
3. "Texas Baby": A different sound now: traditional country with a wink at Hank Williams Sr. Jonno Frishberg on fiddle. As a vocalist, A.J. pulls this style off just as easy and confident as anything else he does.
4. "What Can I Do": This is a beautiful ballad, with Pat Breaux on sax. I love the sax... Something Charlie Rich could have done!
5. "Acadiana's Song": Perfect song to be pitched in Europe! Just like Jo-El Sonnier and Jimmy C. Newman did. The first Cajun songs I ever listened to sounded like this... A.J. plays a wonderful accordion here, on fiddle again Jonno Frishberg. Lovely and very loving description of the home and food of the BadCats!
6. "Get Used To It": A catchy zydeco sound, starting off with the drums, a growling rumble of the bass guitar and swinging layers of... keys? No, it turns out to be the harmonica with some effects, that A.J. used to sound like a B3 Hammond Organ! Quite incredible. I heard these awesome licks from Julian on tour too! Beautiful backing choir, including Chase Dugas again.
7. "Come Back To Me": Yes, slide guitar! It even duets with the harmonica in this uptempo rocking track.
8. "Blood On The Bayou": Is this a movie sound track? The sound of thunder, chanting, percussion... Slow at first, ominous and absolutely gorgeous! Good story too. A lot of guests on this cleverly crafted song: Bobby Broussard (slide guitar), Brandon Winmill (guitar), Chase Dugas (backing vocals). Native American Chants by Verdell Primeaux, who is a two-time Grammy winner and related to the Primeaux's 300 year old French-Canadian heritage.
9. "She Took Everything": Country blues! Slide resonator guitar talking with the harmonica, kick drum in the background and A.J. sings like he lived through it all. The real thing, instead of all these attempts by wanna-be's (not going to mention names...), who don't even know where to find LaFayette on the map.
10. "BadCat Boogie": The last song already? The BadCats signature song, for dancing the hot, sultry night away...
Only after I wrote all of the above notes regarding my first impressions, I contacted A.J. Primeaux for a few quotes on his background and the album. He was kind enough to give us some great exclusive information!
A.J. Primeaux in his own words:
"I was brought up in Southern Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun Country, about 15 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico. We owned a little country store where my father made boudin, cracklins and sausage... The shelves were freestanding in the middle of the store.. My father was a musician and they would move the shelve with the bread on it (it was the lightest one) and set up his Cajun/Country band in the store... (We lived in the back of the store). The women would be in the kitchen gossiping and drinking coffee with chicory... The men would be drinking beer and playing music... They kept a notebook on the counter with all the men's names and they would serve themselves beer from the big beer cooler in the store and just put an X next to their name for every beer they drank... and on Sundays sometimes we would kill a pig and have a Boucherie... (a big party involving the butchering of the pig and cooking dishes with every single part.)
I grew up around musicians and passed that spirit down to Julian... He grew up with my bands rehearsing in an old family farmhouse we had as a camp, with cows grazing in the yard and watching us play through the windows... Julian played with me on stage at about 8 years old and later all the time as he grew up...
This c.d. is songs I wrote over the last 25 years and we decided let's record them, so we organized them into 3 albums worth. This is the first; the next is gonna be kinda country folk rock... (We are planning it to have a theme style kinda like The Band).
The song 'Blood on the bayou' I wrote for a movie of the same name that I played music in... My family, like so many of the Cajuns, migrated from Canada... One of the Primeaux brothers that stayed in Canada married into the Sioux Indian tribe and 300 years later I found my distant cousin Verdell Primeaux who is a 2 time Grammy winner for Best Native American music... He is the one doing the Native American chanting on the 'Blood on the bayou' song.....
'Baby's got to go' vocals were recorded thru a green bullet harmonica in microphone, in the style of Slim Harpo, a Louisiana blues legend...
'Texas baby' was written with Hank Williams Sr in mind and I wrote that song when I met a woman and moved to Texas to live on a ranch and try cowboying for a while.. How’s that..."
What puzzles me most, is why these BadCats are not widely (at least nationally or even internationally) known - instead of being Southern Louisiana's best kept secret... Probably the remote location and the lack of funds for promotion in this rather poor area are the main reasons. That has to change, music lovers, I count on all of you! This is an EXCELLENT album, which will most certainly make my end-of-year list. It has literally everything: a variety of great songs in different music styles, authenticity, skilled hard working players with sincere love and devotion for what they do and respect for their (musical) heritage. This is fun & feel good music! It really doesn't get any better than this...
The BadCats claim to have a combined 165 years of experience playing music - and that number gets higher every successful year!
Written & compiled by Johanna J. Bodde - October 12th, 2014