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Boozoo Chavis at the 2000 Original Southwest Zydeco Festival.
|Birth name||Wilson Anthony Chavis|
October 23, 1930|
Church Point, Louisiana, U.S.
|Died||May 5, 2001
Austin, Texas, U.S.
|Occupation(s)||Musician, accordionist, singer|
Wilson Anthony "Boozoo" Chavis (October 23, 1930 – May 5, 2001) was an American accordion player, singer, songwriter and bandleader. He was one of the pioneers of zydeco, the fusion of Cajun and blues music developed in southwest Louisiana.
Life and career
Born near Church Point, Louisiana, the son of tenant farmers, Chavis acquired the nickname "Boozoo" in his childhood. He bought a button accordion, taught himself to play, and began performing at a dance club that his mother opened, often sitting in on performances with Clifton Chenier, his father Morris Chenier and brother Cleveland Chenier. As well as developing the playing style that came to be known as zydeco, Chavis worked as a farmer and horse trainer.
He made his first recording, of his own song "Paper in My Shoe," in 1954, and it was released on the Folk-Star label, a subsidiary of Goldband, before being reissued by Imperial Records. The record was a regional hit, subsequently acknowledged as a zydeco standard, but Chavis was convinced that it was more successful than the record companies claimed, later saying: "I got gypped out of my record. I get frustrated, sometimes. I love to play, but, when I get to thinking about 1955... They stole my record. They said that it only sold 150,000 copies. But, my cousin, who used to live in Boston, checked it out. It sold over a million copies. I was supposed to have a gold record."
Chavis lost trust in the music business, and over the next thirty years only released three more singles: "Forty-One Days" (Folk-Star, 1955), "Hamburgers & Popcorn" (Goldband, 1965), and "Mama! Can I Come Home" (credited to the Dog Hill Playhouse Band, Crazy Cajun, 1974). He also rarely performed during the 1960s and 1970s, devoting most of his time to raising racehorses in Louisiana and Texas.
He returned to performing music regularly in 1984 after hearing that another performer was impersonating him. He signed with the Maison de Soul label, and released a locally successful single, "Dog Hill", and four albums: Louisiana Zydeco Music (1986), Boozoo Zydeco! (1987), Zydeco Homebrew (1989), and Zydeco Trail Ride (1990). In addition, Rounder Records released his live album Zydeco Live! in 1988, and a compilation of his 1950s recordings, The Lake Charles Atom Bomb, in 1990. He also recorded two albums for Sonet Records in the early 1990s.
Chavis was a prolific writer of zydeco songs, some including references to his friends and acquaintances and others too raunchy to be sold openly. Many of his songs have become standards of the zydeco repertoire, in spite of, or perhaps because of, their generally idiosyncratic and quirky construction and subject matter. "If it's wrong, do it wrong, with me," he would tell his band. "If I'm wrong, you wrong, too!"
During the 1990s, Chavis performed widely with his band, the Majic Sounds, and was crowned "The King of Zydeco" in New Orleans in 1993, after Clifton Chenier's death. His style, using a button rather than piano accordion, was more traditional than that of Chenier. According to the New York Times, "with his rough-hewn voice and hefty accordion riffs, his band's one-chord grooves had a mesmerizing intensity that kept dance floors packed." He appeared at the Newport Folk Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and in a 1994 documentary, The Kingdom of Zydeco. He was inducted into the Zydeco Hall of Fame in 1998.
His wife's name was Leona and they had six children, Wilson Jr., Margret, Louanna, Charles, Licia, and Rellis Chavis and had over 20 grandchildren. His son Charles was a member of his band at the time of his death.
- Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 382. ISBN 978-0313344237.
- Biography by Craig Harris, Allmusic.com. Retrieved 25 November 2016
- Jon Pareles, "Boozoo Chavis, 70, Accordionist Who Spread the Zydeco Sound", New York Times, May 7, 2001. Retrieved 25 November 2016
- Boozoo Chavis discography, WangDangDula.com. Retrieved 25 November 2016