For Randy Schultz, there’s no getting away from Zydeco.
While he’s remained a fan, the Semiahmoo Peninsula guitarist, squeeze-box builder and bandleader took a step back from the style after the passing of his late wife, Jane, in October of 2012; experimenting with other kinds of music and promoting concerts.
In Mojo Zydeco, the band he started in 2006, Jane had played a key role as ‘Queen of the Rub-Board.’ And while the band carried on for a while after she passed, fulfilling some remaining contracts, it was clear Schultz’ heart just wasn’t in it, and he eventually disbanded the group.
But the high-energy, accordion-driven rhythm sound of rural Louisiana that swept the Canadian-born musician off his feet during visits to the South years ago, was still waiting for him – like a faithful friend – until the time was right for a reunion.
That time has arrived, with Schultz’ brand new band, Nuvo Zydeco, set to scorch the rafters with a debut Mardi Gras Zydeco Dance Party, Saturday, March 2, 8 p.m. at a reliable local venue – Club 240 (Crescent Legion), 2643 128 St.
“It’s taken me a while to get here, although I’ve always loved the music,” Schultz told Peace Arch News.
“In search of better weather last November, I caught a cheap flight back to Louisiana, visiting old friends there. And being that a lot of these friends are musicians, I wound up playing on stage with them, and they said ‘you haven’t forgotten anything Randy.’”
Inevitably, it led to thoughts of starting a new zydeco outfit, Schultz said, noting that he was well aware, from the first time, the challenges of building an authentic group from the ground up, 2,800 miles north of Louisiana, in a musical latitude much more acclimated to blues, rock and country.
“But I do love this music so much, and as I always said, it had to be done, because nobody else was doing it.”
In his mind, too, he still heard Jane’s words of advice to him, not too long before she succumbed to cancer, about continuing with zydeco in the future.
“She told me, ‘do it if it feels right,’” he said.
Back home, he crossed his fingers and put an ad on Craigslist for a ‘zydeco accordion player’ – knowing from recent forays into the Vancouver ‘accordion noir’ scene that while he might encounter enthusiasm, finding a player with a solid feel for the distinctive sound of the idiom would be a long-shot.
“Then, into my life comes Dan Kahela, who’s 26 and originally from Israel, doing a Ph.D at UBC in some kind of microbiology,” he said.
While Kahela had never played zydeco before, he clearly had potential, Schultz added.
“The kid is good – he’s all over the accordion and he plays both sides of the thing, which is good – most people are focused on the melodic side of it.”
With that good start Schultz could look at “the next hardest thing” – finding a rub-board (washboard) player. Brent Loewen, a professional percussionist since the ’90s under the stage ‘handle’ of Rusty Beals, fit the bill attitude and skill-wise, even if he was a newcomer to both the washboard and zydeco.
“For drums, Kevin Jones was the best drummer we ever had – and when I texted him to see if he’d be interested in doing another zydeco project, he was back in heartbeat to tell me he was in.
“Then it was finding a bass player who had the energy and was fun to be around, and that was (well-known local musician) Rob Harvey, who’s been at so many of our old shows he’d know the tunes almost by osmosis.”
He sent the members YouTube links for “different bands doing different things” and gave them three weeks to prepare for a rehearsal.
“Then I got the guys together and it was, one, two, three, go – and you know what, we were doing it, we were playing zydeco,” he marvelled.
Not that there wasn’t some fine tuning to do, he added.
“They’re all looking to me for guidance – they know I know what I’m talking about.”
Kahela, for instance, who was more used to playing French style music, came to the first rehearsal with a huge accordion – and soon realized there was something not quite right about the sound.
“He said, ‘I think I’ve got the wrong accordion.’ I told him, ‘I know you’ve got the wrong accordion.’”
Kahela came to the next rehearsal with a smaller version – what Schultz termed “the perfect instrument” – which he teamed with his own late ’80s cabinet bass amplifier.
“We plugged him into that thing, because that’s what it’s all about – playing the bass side of the accordion.”
In zydeco, instruments tend to fill a different function than most Canadian musicians are accustomed to, Schultz noted.
“I told the guys, ‘Everybody here is playing rhythm, and it would be really good if we’re all playing the same one – I’ll direct traffic.’”
That process has gone so well, he said, that now, only a few months later, Nuvo Zydeco has amassed a play-list of some 50 tunes and counting.
It’s time to play for an audience – and Schultz said the band members are all champing at the bit to play for dancers at the Club 240 date.
“We’re hoping to rock the house,” he said.
Tickets are $15 ($10 for students). For more information, or to reserve, call 604-721-0872 or visit Facebook: NUVOZYDECO.