Legendary Creole Musician Terrance Simien to Play the Big Top

Paul Whyte

While there are touring artists in the area year round, the summer months in particular bring in a wide array of music acts who play at venues ranging from small bar gigs to larger shows such as the Bayfront and Big Top Chautauqua which is nestled in the Wisconsin woods and overlooks the lake just outside of Bayfield, WI.

There will be some fantastic shows coming up this weekend with acts such as Toad the Wet Sprocket on Thursday and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Friday. Saturday, July 26, will feature perhaps a lesser known artist, but this depends on how familiar one might be with the genre of Zydeco music.

Terrance Simien has been playing forms of traditional Creole music most of his life and when he started he was among a select few playing the genre. He went on to tour consistently for the last three decades and has enjoyed highlights in his music career such as winning two Grammys. We had a chance to talk with Terrance Simien about his experiences as a musician who has breathed new life into a genre of music that may have been forgotten. Simien is laid back, has an undeniable Creole accent and seems to be excited to share his passion for music with any and everyone.

Reader: I understand that you’re coming up to play at the Big Top Chautauqua on the 26th.

TS: Yeah man, have you ever been to that?

Reader: Yes, I come from that area, I was born and raised on the South Shore. One of the first questions I was going to ask is if you’ve been up here before.

TS: You got it. Let me ask you a question. What is that venue like?

Reader: The Big Top? Well, it is a big tent if you didn’t know and it lies overlooking Lake Superior. Besides the Bayfront, it’s probably one of the premier venues as far as a larger venue would go and it features all sorts of legendary artists.

TS: Beautiful. Looking forward to doing it. We’ve been in Wisconsin a few times. We’ve played in Stevens Point and Summer Fest in Milwaukee several times and all the way up through Minnesota. We’ve been traveling and I’ve had my band out on the road since 1985. It’s like that Johnny Cash song, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” It’s been a beautiful experience. Going to places where people haven’t heard the music and are hearing it for the first time and seeing their reaction to it.

Reader: That was going to lead me to my next question. To my understanding, you’re kind of a pioneer of Zydeco music.

TS: That’s right, Zydeco music. The music of the Creole people of Louisiana.

Reader: Explain a little about you history with that style of music.

TS: I started my own band in 1981. I was a teenager back then. Back then there were only two teenage bands playing Zydeco music in the world. My band and another band called The Sam Brothers Five. All the other guys were probably 20 years older than we were. So that’s how close the music came to extinction. Of course there were the older guys going all over the world playing the music but locally, the youth had not gotten into the music like they are into it now. It’s a big difference now compared to then because now you have teenage bands coming up almost once a month. It wasn’t like that when I started, it was considered the music of the older generation. Now it’s thriving and still growing with some of the young people putting in different influences into the traditional sound.

Reader: I’ve found that’s kind of been a trend with traditional styles of music. Specifically things like Americana, they’ve been resurfacing a lot and have been getting quite popular again.

TS: It’s a beautiful thing to see. The old style music, the traditional music, it has its own medicine. It has its own way of healing. Kids are starting to get into that vibe and be open minded. I think a lot of that has a bit to do with the internet. You have the freedom to listen, where when I was growing up you heard what was playing on the radio and that was it.

Reader: Yeah, I was just watching one of your performances a few minutes ago on Youtube.

TS: When I first started playing the music, it was pretty much confined to South Louisiana and Southeast Texas and you had some Creoles that lived on the West Coast, they kind of brought that culture with them. You had a little bit of being played in San Francisco area and Los Angeles but on a very small scale. Now, there’s bands all over the world. We’ve been to Australia and there’s like eleven guys playing Zydeco music.

Reader: To my understanding one of the highlights of your career was winning a Grammy and they had a specific category for Cajun music.

TS: Well, actually we won two Grammys. One was for the category of Zydeco and Cajun music in 2007 and just this past January, the last album we put out, I won my second Grammy in a category called “best regional roots music.”

Reader: In the end, where does your music take people?

TS: I always tell people that this music is true world music. There’s something for everybody because of the DNA of the music. My last name is Simien. My family has been in Louisiana since 1758 and we’re documented as one of the oldest Creole families in Louisiana and my ancestors come from everywhere. French, African, Spanish, Native American and German. Jambalaya DNA. The music has that same DNA. The music is influenced by all of those cultures. Everywhere we go in the world, the sound of it stirs up something inside. People of different cultures and backgrounds that connect with the music and don’t know why. It’s a world music, it’s a positive music, it’s meant to make you dance, make you smile and have a good time. I think when you have music like that you can go anywhere.

Two EP Albums Out of the Northland

It should go without saying that not everything that lands on my desk is a full length album. The EP is typically an album that has around four to six tracks and lands somewhere around 30 minutes in length. If I were to speculate, I’d say it gives something for music fans to listen to while larger things continue to formulate with an artist. In the case of the Minneapolis based band, BNLX, they released multiple EPs and then made an album of the favorite tracks from the EPs. When it comes to putting out albums, there aren’t and shouldn’t be any rules. Releasing an album every two years actually might create complacency within a fan base. Even very good albums can end up getting a little old, unless if it’s Beach Boys “Pet Sounds,” that album will never get old. Regardless of the intension of an EP, I listen to everything that comes across my desk and in most cases, I’ll write something up on it. Here we go.

Breanne Marie: Timothy John EP

Breanne Marie is a musician I’ve had the pleasure to see develop over the past few years. Musically speaking, she was a late bloomer; most find music in their teens for various reasons. At face value, one would not really expect for her to hold on to the past pain that brought her to where she is with music now. This new EP titled “,Timothy John,” continues where the full length“,Six Stings of Peace & Sanity,” left off. The first track “,March 16th,” is actually on the full length album, but it is a great and somewhat haunting song that features Marie’s vocals marvelously. Breanne Marie’s brother, Timothy John, died in a car crash that was caused by another driver and it’s pretty obvious that this is what the album is about.
Overall, I think that Breanne has progressed after playing regularly for awhile and this album has some pretty cool surprises. The track “Victim’s Warning” breaks away from the traditional country feel into what could be considered almost psychobilly (a mix of country and punk) in genre, yet still stays somehow refined.
Instrumentally, the EP is fantastic. John Peterson from the Iron Range Outlaw Brigade lays down absolutely mesmerizing work on the peddle steel. Breanne’s backing band, “The Front Porch Sinners,” also consists of her partner, Evan Tepler on lead guitar, Glenn Maloney on bass and John LaMar on drums.
It’s hard to say why musicians get into playing the music they play. In the case of Breanne Marie, she found music because she wished to tell a story of something in her life. I’m not saying that an artist needs to have something fairly traumatic to happen to make a convincing and good album, but it certainly creates a drive to make something that is meaningful. In the end, there is something real behind this album and it brings out Breanne at her best.  
Breanne Marie will by playing at Canal Park Brewery on Sunday, July 27 and will be officially releasing the new EP at The Underground on Thursday, July 31 with Silverback Colony.

Rob Nelson: Four Scores

It was a while back when I reviewed Rob Nelson’s EP, “My Avatar.” It seems like almost an understatement to say that Nelson is an experimental electronic artist. The new EP titled “Four Scores” is actually more out there than the previous album. The new album still carries that feel of an 80s b-movie action flick sound track. I’m not going to call this necessarily a bad thing. The synth work and use of modulation is quite interesting and pushing sounds that haven’t really been considered for decades.
I’ve tried to stay in the loop with electronic music in this area and have been on a Crystal Castles and The Knife kick for the last month. Nelson’s music is not like anything you’ll likely hear in any kind of widely known genre. It comes down to the question of if you want to hear something that you would expect or listen to something that is unique in how experimental it is. This album is a little out there but is fun to listen to because of that fact. The guitar leads and arrangements are weird but it creates an experience that I can’t really put my finger on from any other artist. There is a lot of intricate things happening in the jumble of electronic mayhem and each part flows in and out of each other. The album is mostly all instrumental except for on the track “The Princess” where there is an abstract spoken word part about space, dreams and an “ivory skinned girl.”
I’d imagine for the regular listener that this is going to be an album where someone will appreciate it for what it is or be turned off. All I can say is that it’s a fascinating listening journey that sets itself apart from more pop applications of electronic music. It is truly a thing of it’s own and those into electronic styles of music should give it a listen. If your music vocabulary consists merely of country and rock, it’s quite possible you’ll find this album too much. Facebook Rob Nelson (musician) to get this and other albums.