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POP MUSIC REVIEW : A Crowning Success for Zydeco's Queen

February 15, 1988|DUNCAN STRAUSS

Forget Bruce, Madonna and Michael. Forget Bono and Sting. On Friday, the most inspired and inspiring pop purveyor around--well, in Yorba Linda anyway--was named Ida .

As in Queen Ida, who led her smokin' sextet, the Bon Temps Zydeco Band, through a royal jam in two wonderful, wild and woolly sets at Yorba Linda's Forum Theatre.

Midway through the first set, Ida polled the audience about their exposure to zydeco--the infectious, rollicking musical gumbo that blends Louisiana's Cajun and blues traditions, with dashes of assorted other influences.

After asking how many "people have never been to a zydeco function of any kind," and seeing most attendees raise their hands, she smiled. "I promise you will not be the same after tonight."

Making good on that pledge, Queen Ida turned in a show that most members of the capacity crowd--consisting of baby boomers and a large number of post-boomers--probably won't quickly forget.

And who'd have thunk it? You don't find accordion and rubboard--two key instruments of zydeco--in a lot of the New Age/BMW Pop stuff so popular among yupscale listeners.

But then, Queen Ida seems to specialize in defying expectations. If you didn't know better, Ida Guillory might be the last person you'd guess would preside over Friday's spirited, grin-inspiring extravaganza. Gold lame dress and black mask notwithstanding, she looked more like a sprightly, endearing grandmother (which she is) than a leading force in zydeco (which she also is).

Indeed, with the passing last year of Clifton Chenier--the great pioneer and longtime undisputed main man of zydeco--she is now probably the leading force. Along with Rockin' Dopsie, Buckwheat Zydeco and a fistful of lesser-known acts, Queen Ida and the Bon Temps crew have been toiling to move zydeco a step or three from the shadowy fringe of pop music into a wider spotlight.

She's released seven albums, appeared on "Saturday Night Live" and in the film "Rumblefish," won a Grammy and picked up two more nominations. Not bad.

But the best way to appreciate her is to see her live.

With Queen Ida on lead vocals and accordion and her brother Wilbert Lewis doing virtuoso work on rubboard, the band stitched together a splendid 29-song sampler of zydeco. Well, it wasn't all zydeco. By the time the show ended, they had covered a lot of musical ground, from Cajun two-steps and rootsy rockers to polkas and slow blues. It all fit together superbly.

And it was probably less foreign than first-timers might have expected, what with the Bayou strains that ran through much of Creedence Clearwater Revival's music to the Cajun anthem "Jole Blon," which was exposed to the rock audience when Gary (U.S.) Bonds recorded it on his 1981 comeback album, "Dedication."

Even if none of those influences or connections rang a bell with some audience members, great music is great music. Although she'll never need to clear space on her mantle for any singing awards, Ida certainly provided great music from start to finish. It's simple (on an accordion you can play, what, maybe two chords?), direct, rhythmic, catchy, propulsive.

In a word: danceable. But in a theater with permanent seats, dancing wasn't an option Friday--though a few people in the very back row and an usher in the aisle made do quite nicely, thank you.

The no-bopping limitation certainly didn't prevent most audience members from moving in their seats and engaging in all manner of clapping and hollering.

Given the way Queen Ida and Co. were playing the music--and obviously recruiting a slew of new zydeco fans--one couldn't help thinking that somewhere, Clifton Chenier was smiling.

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