Interview: Zydeco Grammy Winner Chubby Carrier

By Karen Redding

Chubby CarrierBorn in 1967 in Church Point, Louisiana, Chubby Carrier is one of only four artists to win the Grammy in the short-lived “Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album” category. He will be performing live on June 20 & 21, 2015 at the Long Beach Bayou Festival located at Long Beach’s Rainbow Lagoon.

A third-generation member of the legendary Carrier family, Chubby has spread his love of his music and his culture to thousands, possibly millions worldwide in his 30 year career that began when he started playing drums in his Father’s band at age 12. His mission in life is to ignite joy, love and passion in the hearts of all who hear him play. Most of all, he plays to spread the gospel of Zydeco.

Listen!

KR: What was it like growing up in the famous Carrier family?

CC: Wow. The love of my family and the music, the gatherings… I wish we had video camcorders on our phones back in the day to record this, because I would love to share with people what I experienced sitting there watching my Daddy and my Granddaddy, and my cousins Calvin and Bebe (Estrate) Carrier playing the Zydeco music from their heart. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was a great experience to see something like that growing up as a kid. What an honor and a privilege, you know?

When I was sitting there looking at my Daddy and my Granddaddy playing this music-I mean, for a kid growing up in that family? (chuckles) It was like, “Oh, my God.” The chills I got from it each and every day watching them performing, making music from their heart and soul was phenomenal. I was able to be part of that. I was so blessed to be surrounded by the great family I had and to grow up in the Zydeco community and with the Zydeco in my roots and my heritage. Now I’m the third generation that’s out there still promoting our family heritage.

KR: You started playing drums with your Dad…then moved on to accordion by 15 and by age 17 you were playing with Terrance Simien and touring the world. What was your favorite memory of that tour?

CC: When we did a North African tour for the State Department. We went to Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan. That was the most amazing time that I have ever, ever, ever witnessed. I have never in my life in a million years thought I would be in North Africa playing Zydeco music.

KR: What it was about that experience that made it so amazing for you?

CC: Well, because my grandfather couldn’t do it. My daddy couldn’t do it. My cousins Calvin and Bebe couldn’t do it, and they paved the way for us to go spread the Zydeco gospel. I was determined. I told my Daddy: I said, “Daddy, Zydeco music needs to be heard around the world. Not just in Louisiana. It needs to be heard all over the world because this music is so unique and so family oriented. It brings people together. I want to be one of those guys out there spreading the Zydeco gospel.” And for me to take Zydeco music to that level to North Africa? What an honor and a privilege.

KR: Who did you play for?

CC: We played for the public. We played for Egyptians. We played for the Sudanese. The State Department wanted to bring our music to North Africa. These were free concerts. And they chose a Zydeco band.

KR: What was the response?

CC: Awesome. I felt like I was a rock star (laughs). When people hear that music, Zydeco, it just gets them dancing. And they say, “Oh my God! Your music is so unique! It’s so crazy! It makes me want to dance! It just makes me want to dance!” It’s dance music. They felt that in their bones.

They looked at us in shock because we were playing an accordion and a washboard. They weren’t used to seeing that type of instruments. They’ve seen the guitar, the bass, keyboard, drums, horns and all that stuff, but they never seen an accordion and a washboard played that way.

KR (laughing): So are you traveling around the world giving lessons now?

CC: That’s funny! I mean when they hear that stuff man, they go and buy our CDs. Not just to listen to anymore, but to learn how to play it! It’s amazing!

KR: This next question has four parts: 1. Are you married or in a relationship? 2. Do you have kids? 3. Are they playing your music? 4. You’re touring half the year. If you are in a relationship, how does touring affect your life?

Zydeco JunkieCC: I’m married for 13 years now. After touring 275 dates a year, I lost my first wife because I was on the road ALL the time. It was just a little bit too much for her. From my first wife I had two boys and with me traveling so much it was hard to have a family life and a musician life. So I broke away from the wife and we are best friends today as we speak.

My son followed in my footsteps and became a drummer just like me. He joined my band for about two years and he and I won a Grammy award together. I have a son that played the drums with me in my band, and him and I are Grammy winners from my CD, The Zydeco Junkie. We became father and son Grammy winners. That’s amazing. You see all these football players and their sons playin’ on the baseball or the football team they’re playing on, and I had the privilege and the honor to have a son that played on the album I won my Grammy on-so I have a kid that followed in my footsteps.

Today I’m not touring as much and I have another wife, and we have an 11 year old. I’m planning on keepin’ this wife because I love her that much!

KR: Your son who played with you on the album, what is his name?

CC: We call him AJ. AJ Bellow.

KR: What does it mean to you to have won a Grammy, and what does it mean to you regarding promoting Cajun and Zydeco and Louisiana music?

CC: Un-believable! I never thought in a million years I’d be sittin’ here talking to you, and I’m a Grammy award winner. We all, as musicians, have our little bucket list. Everybody wants to get signed with a big major record company. Everybody wants to tour with a big major band. You want to take Zydeco to the next level, and you’ve got your list of the places you would like to introduce Zydeco music.

Never in my lifetime did I sit and write down, “I would like to win a Grammy award.” I never, ever wrote that down! I watched the Grammys and I said, “Man, I don’t think I’m never, ever gonna get up to that level.” You know? But I guess, never say never! (Laughs) So here it is on the day when I got there, looking at Los Angeles’ Staples Center and I’m goin’, “Wow! I am part of this phenomenal event because this is the most prestigious trophy you can win in music! And I have an opportunity to win it!” So not only did I get nominated for the Grammy. I won the Grammy award. What an honor! What a privilege! Wow!

KR: And of course, thanks to Terrance and Cynthia Simien for fighting all those years to get the Cajun/Zydeco category.

CC: I thank him every time I see him. I say, “You know what guys? You petitioned for seven long years. You fought your battles for seven years to get our own category-to get us recognized to the Grammy committee, to let them know how important Zydeco and Cajun music is. You guys are awesome.” She (Cynthia Simien) said, “We’re a team. We’ve got to stick together.” But it’s sad to say that they dropped the Cajun/Zydeco category. It was very disappointing, and now they have this Best Regional Roots category, which consists of Native American, African, Cajun/Zydeco and Hawaiian, but Louisiana artists have been dominating that category. Hopefully they are going to have to go back and separate out the Cajun/Zydeco category again and get that back, yeah!

KR: You’ve won a Grammy. What’s your secret for your success?

CC: It’s not a secret. It’s a recipe. My recipe always has this in common because I think of it as taking my music, and inviting people to my home and saying, “come on over Karen because we’re gonna cook a good gumbo for you. We goin’ take you dancin’ to the late night Zydeco.” Whenever I write a song, or whenever I’m going to perform for the people, I interact with my music, with my culture, with my heritage. Of course, we include some food too because this is how I grew up.

People ask me all the time: how’d you get your album? I say, “Man, you listen to that album, that’s a big pot of gumbo. And the main thing is you’re invited!” (laughs)

KR: What kind of an experience do you want people to take away after dancing and listening to your music? What do you want people to get from hearing you?

CC: I want them to get that Chubby was a true artist. Chubby was not just a Zydeco musician. I’m a writer. I’m a composer and I’m a producer. It’s like a food item: if you don’t take the Zydeco and mix it up really well, then it’s not gonna have a good flavor. So when you listen to what Chubby Carrier has written, it’s because everything I sit down and write-it’s not because of what I like, it’s what I think the people would like. I want people to know: when Chubby Carrier decides to pass on, he served up a good gumbo. (I want them to say,) “He served up some good food, some good music, and he had my toes tappin.’” I want them to remember me as that, you know?

A guy came up to me and said, “Man, you are the father of fun.” And there you go. I wrote a song called The Father of Fun because of my fans. When they tell me I’m the father of fun-that inspires me to write a song about that.

They come to me with that a lot of times, especially the wives with their husbands. The husbands don’t like to dance, and they come to me and tell me, “Oh my God! You just created a monster! My husband never, ever dances. I invited him to come to your show, and suddenly he wants to buy your CD, Geno’s CD and everybody’s CD they can think of in Zydeco music.” What an impact. What an impact!

I’m just doin’ what I love. And people happen to fall in love with us. I’m so honored.

KR: What is your favorite song you’ve written?

CC: It’s gotta be The Father of Fun because a fan came to me and said I was the father of fun.

KR: What would you say about why people should come to the Bayou Festival?

CC: I know somebody out there is saying to their friends, “Oh my God. You got to go to the Bayou festival. They got this Zydeco band.” Somebody might say, “A what? A Zydeco band? What is a Zydeco band?”

I want people to say “Wow! I just saw this Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band-Unbelievable! He was like a Jimi Hendrix of the accordion!” I want them to really have a great time when I’m playing my music and I’m sharing my heritage and my culture with them. I want to make sure you walk out of that festival with a smile on your face.

KR: If you could send a message out to the world with your music and your life, what would that message be?

CC: Just be genuine. I like to surround myself with real people. When I’m spreading my love, my music, my culture and my heritage, I’m being real. For people who don’t know me, I want to send the message that Chubby is true to the heart. He is genuine. He means what he says. His music says a lot. I want people to know that about me.

KR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

CC: Yes. I want to add that I am working on a current CD as we speak. It’s called, I Can’t Get Enough Of That Zydeco Stuff. (laughs) I’m working on a new CD and it should be out by mid-July. Hopefully I’ll send it over to California and be nominated for another Grammy.

KR: One last question: Your CD Rockin’ It With Roy is featured on your website. Is that a tribute to your Dad?

CC: That was a tribute to Daddy. I did put a lot of his songs in the album and named the album Rockin’ With Roy because I was rockin to Roy’s tunes.

KR: Thank you for your time, Chubby and drive safely!

CC: You’re welcome. We’re off to Omaha, Nebraska and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!

Chubby Carrier is appearing at the Long Beach Bayou Festival June 20 and 21, 2015 at Rainbow Lagoon Park, 400 E Shoreline Drive, Long Beach, CA Info and tickets: www.longbeachbayou.com, 562-912-4451