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Jocque, Beau

Beau Jocque

Accordion player, singer

Beau Jocque is credited with bringing new vitality to zydeco music through his bold and energetic rise on the Creole dancehall scene in the 1990s. With his band the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, Jocque's live performances on the "crawfish circuit," the area from southwest Louisiana to east Texas, attracted a large and enthusiastic following. It was reported that the dance floor at one of his shows rose eight inches as dancers matched the driving rhythms of Jocque's accordion. A newcomer to zydeco music late in life, Jocque drew on his interests in rock, soul, funk, blues, reggae, and hip-hop, to become one the biggest names in zydeco in the 1990s, as well as one of genre's finest innovators of "noveau zydeco." When Jocque died suddenly of a heart attack in 1999, he had established a legacy and changed zydeco music during the course of his short musical career.

Jocque, who was born Andrus Espre in Duralde, Louisiana, had no thoughts of becoming a musician in his younger years. His father, Sandrus Espre, played the accordion, but Jocque had little to do with zydeco music, as his interests leaned more toward rock and funk. He was more likely to listen to Santana, ZZ Top, and James Brown than to black Creole dance music.

As a young man Jocque joined the Air Force, and spent nine years abroad working as a security guard. At one point he was assigned to escort former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Jocque, however, was not satisfied with his life in the military, and following his service he returned to his home in Louisiana and began working as an electrician and welder.

In 1987 Jocque was working at an oil refinery in Basile, Louisiana, when he was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down after a work-related accident. For ten months Jocque recovered at his parents' home. On a dare from his father, who teased him that he could never play the accordion, Jocque took up his father's instrument, a traditional button-key accordion, to prove he could play it. And play he did.

Soon Jocque and his wife, Shelly, who would later play rubboard in the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, were regularly checking out the local clubs to get a feeling for what kind of zydeco groups got the crowds hopping. Jocque told Washington Post correspondent Geoffrey Himes, "When [the crowd] got real excited, I'd try to feel what was happening at that point. Was it the rhythm guitar? The drums? The accordion style? I realized that when you get the whole thing just right, it's going to move the crowd." Among the acts Jocque studied were such prominent performers as C.J. Chenier, the crown prince of zydeco and son of undisputed zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier, Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural, John Delafose, and Boozoo Chavis, a zydeco legend who made a highly successful comeback in the mid-1980s. Jocque was most inspired by Chavis's high-octane style, as well as his use of the button-key accordion instead of the piano-key accordion favored by Chenier and Buckwheat Zydeco.

Chavis played a more traditional style, whereas Jocque brought in contemporary influences—funk, hip-hop, rap, reggae, blues-rock—that infused a burst of new life into the zydeco genre. His performances attracted young fans but at times repelled the older generation, who felt Jocque had not paid his proper dues. Detractors also bristled at his use of rap, both because they felt it detracted from the pure form of zydeco and because it introduced elements of drugs and violence. A rivalry that pitted newcomer Jocque against Chavis, which was highlighted in the 1994 Robert Mugge documentary The Kingdom of Zydeco, was ongoing throughout Jocque's career. Although the men traded insults and often battled for the title of "King of Zydeco," they remained friends, and Jocque performed covers of Chavis's songs in concert and on his albums.

A large man, at six-foot six inches tall and weighing 270 pounds, Jocque, whose name translates as "really big guy" in Cajun patois, seemed to do everything in a big way. When he began to tour the local clubs, his steam-rolling accordion riffs and deep, growling vocals quickly became a huge draw. In 1993 Jocque began playing with the Zydeco Hi-Rollers at the Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl in New Orleans. Club owner John Blancher recalled in the New Orleans Times-Picayune that "I put support beams underneath the dance floor for Beau Jocque. People danced harder when he played. It was almost hypnotic; he just grabbed [dancers]." In 1994, only two years after taking up music full-time, Jocque was considered the hottest zydeco act in south Louisiana. Jocque scored his first and most enduring hit with "Give Him Cornbread," which infused traditional two-step zydeco with hip-hop and funk into a rousing crowd-pleasing anthem that prompted fans to gleefully pelt the stage with bits of cornbread.

Jocque's legendary live performances attracted the attention of producer Scott Billington of Rounder Records, who recognized Jocque's ability to revitalize the zydeco genre. Jocque's first album for Rounder, Beau Jocque Boogie, garnered immediate acclaim and became the highest-selling zydeco record ever. On this debut disc, Jocque included a mix of his own originals, including "Richard's Club," "Give Him Cornbread," and "Beau Jocque Boogie," along with his own arrangements of traditional Creole songs. He quickly followed up Boogie with Rounder's Pick Up on This!. Called a "first-rate party album" by All Music Guide reviewer Thom Owens, the album cemented Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers as the zydeco band.

In 1995 Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers were a headliner act for the Louisiana Red Hot Music tour sponsored by Rounder. That same year Jocque underwent surgery to open a blocked artery to his heart, which he dismissed as minor at the time. He released his next highly touted CD, Gonna Take You Downtown, in 1996. Known for playing a wide and often surprising selection of cover tunes at his live performances, Jocque included several non-Zydeco covers on Downtown. War's "Cisco Kid" and Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" stood alongside Jocque's own "Gonna Take You Downtown" and "Allé Parti Pour Voi Beau Jocque" ("Going to See Beau Jocque"), as well as his rendition of classics from Chavis ("Boogie Woogie All Nite Long") and Chenier ("I'm on the Wonder"). Two years later, Jocque released his fifth rounder CD, Check It Out, Lock It In, Crank It Up!, which was described by a CMJ correspondent as "yet another gale-force blast from the guy who revitales [sic] the zydeco genre every time he lifts an accordion with his burly paws."

For the Record …

Born Andrus Espre on November 1, 1953, in Duralde, LA; died on September 10, 1999, in Kinder, LA; son of Sandrus Espre (an accordion player); married Michelle (Shelly); children: Andrus Adrian and Justin Travis.

Played zydeco dancehall clubs in south Louisiana, late 1980s, and in New Orleans and east Texas, early 1990s; formed band Beau Jocque and the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, 1991; released debut album, Beau Jocque Boogie, on Rounder Records, which included his signature song "Give Him Cornbread," 1993; released My Name IsBeau Jocque on Paula Records label, and Pick Up onThis! on Rounder, both 1994; appeared as Boozoo Chavis's rival in documentary film The Kingdom ofZydeco, 1994; formed his own label, Beau Jocque Music, released single Nursery Rhyme, 1995; headlined Rounder's Louisiana Red Hot Music tour, 1995; released Gonna Take You Downtown, 1996; released Check ItOut, Lock It In, Crank It Up, 1998; performed final live show at Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n' Bowl in New Orleans, September 9, 1999; Give Him Cornbread, Live! released a year after his death, 2000.

Awards: Big Easy Entertainment Awards, Best Zydeco Artist, 2000.

On September 9, 1999, Jocque played at Mid-City Lanes for what proved to be his final performance. He collapsed the following morning and died from a heart attack at the age of 45. Upon the news of his death, Michael Tisserand, author Kingdom of Zydeco, lamented that "a big tree fell, and suddenly the forest is real quiet." Several Beau Jocque albums were released posthumously, including Rounder's Give Him Cornbread, Live! in 2000.

Selected discography

With the Zydeco Hi-Rollers

Beau Jocque Boogie, Rounder, 1993.

My Name Is Beau Jocque, Paula, 1994.

Pick Up on This!, Rounder, 1994.

Git It, Beau Jocque!, Rounder, 1995.

Nursery Rhyme, Beau Jocque Music, 1995.

Gonna Take You Downtown, Rounder, 1996.

Check It Out, Lock It In, Crank It Up, Rounder, 1998.

Zydeco Giant, Mardi Gras, 1999.

Give Him Cornbread, Live!, Rounder, 2000.

I'm Coming Home, Mardi Gras, 2000.

This Is Beau Jocque!, Mardi Gras, 2001.

The Best of Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, Rounder, 2001.

Classics, Rounder, 2003.

With others

The Lanor Records Story 1960-1992, Zane, 1995.

Louisiana Spice: 25 Years of Louisiana Music, Rounder, 1995.

The Real Music Box: 25 Years of Rounder, Rounder, 1995.

Zydeco's Greatest Hits, Easydisc, 1996.

Roots Music: An American Journey, Rounder, 2001.

Ultimate Zydeco Party, Mardi Gras, 2001.

Boozoo Hoodoo! The Songs of Boozoo Chavis, Fuel 2000, 2003.

Sources

Books

Sandmel, Ben, Zydeco!, University Press of Mississippi, 1999.

Tisserand, Michael, Kingdom of Zydeco!, Little, Brown, 1998.

Periodicals

Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), September 12, 1999, p. 7B.

Austin American Statesman, October 9, 1998, p. F1.

Boston Herald, July 28, 1995, p. S13.

Houston Chronicle, June 8, 1995, p. 3; September 14, 1999, p. 3.

New York Times, June 26, 1995, p. C13; September 13, 1997, p. A17.

Sensible Sound, April 1999, p. 83.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), September 2, 1993, p. E1; April 4, 1996, p. 14.H2; June 29, 1997, p. A28; September 11, 1999, p. A1; April 26, 2000, p. A13.

Washington Post, June 22, 1994, p. D7.

Online

"Beau Jocque," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (August 18, 2004).

"Beau Jocque," CMJ,http://www.cmj.com (August 18, 2004).

"Beau Jocque," RollingStone.com,http://www.rollingstone.com (August 18, 2004).

—Elizabeth Henry

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