In preparation for the upcoming show “A Special Night of Blues & More,” I had a phone conversation with the accomplished Professor Louie from the Crowmatix. Along with the band, The Crowmatix, he will be on stage with Guy Davis, Greg Dayton and the Green Room Show Choir on Feb 28th at the Orpheum Film and Performing Arts Center. Get your tickets here. Professor Louie is a down to earth musician that gives everyone a feeling of having a genuine connection after being around him. It’s like Guy Davis says, “They don’t come better than him,” and I can truly say I agree with that statement! Enjoy. ~Vicki
Lets talk about the Accordion for a minute, Can you explain your relationship with the accordion and how it originated?
Well, I’ve always had one around for years and years but I didn’t start playing it seriously until I met Garth Hudson, around 1985, the accordionist in The Band. I saw how he utilized it in rock and roll so I started to research it. I realized that a lot of early rock and roll bands, blues bands and bluegrass bands, for that matter, used the accordion because it is such a great portable instrument. Also, with the invention of synthesizers and different kinds of instruments you could play portably it was more of a real kind of instrument acoustically, there’s a lot to play. Then I met a lot of different great accordionists like Buckwheat Zydeco and C.J. Chenier. I started to utilize it for blues and rock and roll although a lot of people don’t know that Bill Haley, who had one of the first rock and roll big hits, had an accordionist in his group. So, it’s been around for a long time. It’s one of the only instruments that is used in folk music throughout every country in the world. It’s a great instrument to play and you can play a lot of different styles on it, it’s a challenge and it looks really nice. It was used in America originally, in theaters in Vaudeville early in the 1900’s a lot because of the way it looked and its’ powerful sounds. To this day when they build them, and they still do build accordions, they look really nice and sound great, of course.
It’s looks heavy to me…it’s not?
There are different types. The one I have is not the heaviest out there. They do make ladies models. There are keys on the right side on the piano accordion and buttons on the left side. Some have more than others, the one I used the other night had 98 buttons. The one I have is medium weight, like if you wanted to play, we’d have to outfit you with a nice light ladies accordion. There’s heavier ones if you have to get powerful with a polka band or if you have to play with an orchestra, you’ll need something more powerful. You do get a workout when you play it and it does have some weight to it. The thing that’s nice about that is you can really feel the instrument when you’re playing it, so that really helps.
What keeps you in the area of Hurley near Woodstock, NY?
Hurley, NY, is right next to Kingston, maybe 5 miles south of Woodstock, N.Y.. We all (The Crowmatix) live close near by to Woodstock. I’ve been here for many years and it’s a really beautiful area, like Tannersville, there are beautiful mountains, lakes and streams. Also, in the Woodstock area there’s a very large recording community. I originally came up here to work on recordings and got a job producing bands and playing on records. It’s probably one of the largest recording communities in the country. So that’s one reason I’m here. The other reason is that it’s very close to the main thruway because we’re on the road a lot of time. It’s a good location for us, we can be in NYC in an hour and half or we can be anywhere we want without too much struggle. It’s an exceptionally creative area. There are a lot of artists, painters and writers, just having the Catskill Mountain Foundation and all the people up your way, 23arts, all the people up your way supporting visions in artists.
It’s really great and I think it’s going to keep growing as America keeps changing the landscape of business and different things. Certain areas like the mountains and little towns, I think the artists are going to move in, find a little peace and have a chance to create more. I think where you’re located is really great and every time I go up there now, there seems like something new is happening.
In what ways has playing with The Crowmatix worked for you more so than working on the road and being a part of other groups?
Well, first of all, The Crowmatix are on the road all the time, so we’re always traveling together and playing on the road. The thing about being on the road and playing with other groups is it’s always nice to have a tight knit group that knows all your music and has been together a long time. There’s no way to replace that by other musicians. You grow together and you perform every night for different audiences and various experiences occur and the group intuitively knows what’s going to go on before it happens.
I’ve played many years with different people on the road, one of the problems with being a side musician, although it has its advantages, is that you’re not as personally involved with the music itself and you’re attitude can go astray. You’re just not as involved when you jump around from group to group. This way when people come to see us, the Crowmatix, Miss Marie, Frank Campbell, Gary Burke, John Platania or Josh Colow on guitar, I know they’re getting something special that no other group has because you can’t get it other than playing over and over together. Fortunately, there are a lot of groups like us that keep the same musicians and try to stay dedicated to each player and make sure each player is doing its best and try to read their mind before things happen. With Guy Davis, for the show coming up, I have played with Guy now for many years before and we are very much connected; he knows what I am going to do and I know what he is going to do. And drummer, Gary Burke, played on all of Guys records. John Platania, on the guitar, produced Guys records and Miss Marie has sung with Guy throughout the years. It’s a nice family and it’s nice to be traveling and playing shows together.
How did you get introduced to Greg Dayton?
I have to say, I’ve known Greg for many years. Greg is a great supporter of the music up in Tannersville. We started off playing a few shows that were put together by a fellow who used to, and still does, put shows together and called them BLUES BUFFET, a chef by the name of Johnny CIAO. He would have these shows where he would combine maybe 4 or 5 acts together so that people would have a whole afternoon of music and that’s how I met Greg. Greg called me up maybe 5 or 6 years ago, he lives in NY, and had this theater that he was putting shows on about once a month and he had asked me and Marie to come down and be guests. We became pretty close friends. He said to me that the Orpheum Theater started having entertainment and he asked me if I would be interested putting a show on. I think we might have been one of the first groups to play music there. Since then, we’ve been part of Greg’s shows up in Tannersville area and we always like playing with him and he comes up to play with us also. That’s how our relationship has been growing, so this show coming up might be the 5th or 6th show we have been involved with him. The show coming up is really nice because everyone knows each other and we’ve performed together a few times, so we have a very strong relationship. Besides being a good acoustic guitar player and singer of course, he’s also very smart knows the business and helps out a lot of the business around.
How did you link up with the Green Room Show Choir?
One thing I really like doing is wherever we go play, whether it be Chicago, Arizona, Tucson, it’s nice to always try and get involved with the community there. At one point, I asked Greg if there were any musicians, choirs or orchestras in the area that would be interested in being a part of a show with us and get the community involved. Greg was the one who introduced me to Linda Nichols and we’ve gotten along great over the past few years. They’re very good, they do their homework and they know our material. So whenever we come into Tannersville it’s always nice to have them involved in our shows. It’s like when we go to Buffalo, maybe we’ll use a horn section from there or if we go to Phoenix I could use some musicians who live out there. It’s always gives a nice community spirit doing this, to come in once and play. We come back to areas usually once a year to play or every couple years, so we get to be friends with everybody. One of the most valued parts of being a traveling musician, is learning and meeting all the new people, becoming friends with them and gathering nice relationships.
I’m sure you’ve played at the Ramble before, right?
I produced and played with the different individual players in The Band from 1985 to the year 2000. That room, off of Levon Helms house, was our recording studio, one of the main studios we used. I probably produced maybe 100 songs by The Band and played on, or sang on, or engineered them. That room was The Bands’ main place to hang out and play, so we used to go there every single day maybe from about noon until about 2 or 3 in the morning, 12-14 hours a day and just work out songs constantly. That’s what we used that room for more than anything, that’s when I was involved. Levon Helm and I traveled the world together. We traveled across the US maybe 3 or 4 times and often we would split rooms together, there’s always safety in numbers. Levon, myself and Miss Marie went to Nashville together a few times to do some shows. He was also in The Crowmatix. We made a record together with The Crowmatix, so we were good friends. He had a really nice room there, great sounding. Besides The Band records, I made other recordings there and tried to use the room as much as possible.
And how did you take care of yourself on the road when you were traveling with The Band?
Well that’s a good question Vicki, maybe you should start coming with us to find out! I’ll tell you one thing you really should do when you’re on the road. You should treat yourself even better than when you’re at home. Go to better restaurants, stay in better hotels, even if it costs a few more dollars, and always try to take care of yourself as much as possible. Whenever you have the opportunity to eat well, always do it because there will come a point where that won’t exist. You may have to skip a few meals or the hours of sleeping can get strange, especially if you’re jumping time zones a lot. Sleep as much as you can. Try not to party too hard, that can be a temptation out there. Every once and a while it’s good to join in with the local parties, but remember to still get the best meal you can and stop at the better restaurant … that’s the real trick. If you’re in Europe for instance, the times zones can change a lot. It becomes very strange and you can become sleep deprived. Or, say if we’re flying to CA and we have to play a show that night, all of a sudden there’s 3 hour difference. You have to try and catch as much sleep when you can and don’t get too stressed out. You have to be flexible because people have different ways of doing things, certain promoters might change how you think things should go. Just relax. If I know anything, I know that.
I asked Maggie Landis from Maggies Krooked Café if she’d like to ask you anything and her question for you is: How do friends like Owen, Lucy and Eldad play a part in your life on the mountain top?
Oh wow, that’s really something. Owen and Lucy are old friends. They live and work at the base of the mountain in Palenville. They are talented and artistic people. Years ago, they used to help with posters or whatever kind of graphics we needed when there weren’t a lot of people doing graphic artwork and before computers took over. They were always very fair in trying to make things happen. Owen had a recording studio attached to their graphic studio and we used to do a little bit of recording up there too. I still see Owen once in a while on Sunday mornings where he works at Radio Woodstock, WDST, Doug Grunther’s show. Owen is his engineer. I see him once or twice a year when we do a show on WDST. Lucy still helps us out. We are getting ready to put out a new CD out and she helps get together some information for us. And Eldad, he always repaired equipment for us. So when we first moved up here back in ’85, these were some of the first people we’d go to for help. Tell Maggie thanks for the question!
Would you like to add anything about the show?
The nice thing about the show coming up is that everybody knows each other, has worked and traveled extensively together, with Guy Davis, I’ve performed many places around the world with him. There’s a great feeling of community spirit with Greg Dayton and the Green Room Show Choir playing with the Crowmatix. This will be one of the best musical shows around.