French Zydeco musician Horace Trahan stays true to his roots, family
Standing on stage in his short-sleeved button-down shirt and beige baseball cap, accordion player and singer Horace Trahan does not look the part of the French zydeco superstar. Trahan saves his self-expression for the music he creates.
“We play some old traditional standards, but mainly we play original music,” says Trahan, an Ossun native. “All the way back from when we did the “Butt Thing” CD.”
One of Trahan’s biggest hit songs, “That Butt Thing,” wasn’t initially meant to even grace the 2003 CD that would go on to bear its name.
“We was just cutting up in the studio, it was just a joke that wasn’t gonna be on the record,” says Trahan. “But my friend who had the Maison De Soul record label out of Eunice, Louisiana, he convinced us to keep it. It’s become one of our most popular songs.”
Trahan’s lyrical depth is also apparent in “Same Knife Cut the Sheep Cut the Goat,” a title he says derives from, “an ancient proverb talking about how what you put out, is what you get back.” Trahan’s most prescient tune these days is “The Government’s Been Dirty Since Day One.”
“That’s an old song I wrote 15 years ago.” Trahan says. “I wrote it at the same time as “Legalize It,” “Keep Walking,” “Guilty,” “King of Sand.” That was a more rebellious time in my life. But that song isn’t about this election. People were asking me if it’s about the election since the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Fest in 2004. What it’s about is like, Christopher Columbus didn’t really discover the USA, he was greeted by people who’d been living here for hundreds of thousands of years, but then you moved here, now you live here and you take over. That’s day one. My song is not about one administration or another; it’s just about a fact.”
Nonetheless, Trahan recently re-released “The Government’s Been Dirty Since Day One” as a single on iTunes.
Trahan tapped into music early during his childhood in Ossun.
“I remember when I was too short to reach the record player myself, I loved when mommy and daddy spun “Splish Splash” or Hank Williams’ “A Country Boy Can Survive.” I started playing saxophone in fifth grade, guitar at 12 years old, then accordion when I was 15 … Six months after picking up the accordion I had my first paying gig at Prejean’s restaurant in Carencro, with the Branch Playboys. I got a little money and all the Cokes I wanted to drink.”
Trahan went on to travel with famed Cajun artist D.L. Menard.
“He took me all over the world,” Trahan says. “Then I started the Original Ossun Express around ‘96 or ‘97”
In 2010, Trahan would more-or-less marry into his new band.
“I knew Shane Bernard, he plays the drums,” Trahan says. “… It just so happened we’d been playing together for four or five years, when I asked him one day, ‘What’s your sister doing?’ And that’s how she and I met.”
Trahan’s wife, Chantell Trahan, now handles marketing for the band.
“I film them, do write-ups and bios,” she says. “When we started dating in 2008, Horace wasn’t playing with his own band, and I asked him why — cause I remember, he grabbed that guitar and did some acoustic stuff for me, then he grabbed his accordion and played. After I saw that, I been helping…”
Trahan also inherited Chantell’s father, Mr. Rodney Bernard.
“He sits in and sings old-time rock ‘n’ roll songs with us, like “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” but with the rubboard,” says Trahan. “Mr. Bernard been playing for years, longer than I’ve been alive. It’s a great honor to play with him.”
Today, along with his relatives Shane and Rodney, Trahan employs Doug Garb on sax, flute and harmonica, James Prejean on the bass guitar, and Cook Morvant on the guitar.
“This band started with me and Prejean and it has been mostly the same people playing together for 15 years,” says Trahan.
Chantell sees the particular makeup of this band as the key to its success.
“They are all very talented, but more than that very versatile and diverse,” she says. “Horace is 40 and can speak French fluently, whereas I am 5 years older and never learned the language. So the fact that they can sing in French and English, that’s diversity. And the background of the band members are Cajun and Creole, and even the saxophone player has German in his background, and Irish, so they have that cultural versatility.”
Trahan and Chantell currently run the Redemptive Process record label as well as their Cajun Creole Lawn Service.
“You can definitely feel the family in everything we do, you know?” says Chantell. “Even our kids play music, my son plays drums and sings, my girl like to dance a sing and plays a little accordion. When you keep it about the family, it makes it easier for you to do what you’re inherently meant to do.
“It was always in Horace,” she makes sure to add, “but family helps make it more real, and more comfortable, in a way that lets you be who you are.”