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NIGHT LIFE / BOWLFUL OF BLUES

Zydeco Brewing : Lynn August & His Hot August Knights are part of an all-star cast appearing at Ojai's Bluesapalooza.

October 01, 1992|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Here's why you should always be a pessimist: When things work out crummy, as they often do, you knew it already. No big deal, who's excited? But then again, sometimes fun happens, like this Saturday when it's time again for the Ojai Bowlful of Blues, featuring a cast worthy of Cecil B. De Mille, except with a better beat. It's sort of a Bluesapalooza.

This year's tenth-edition lineup is highlighted by Lynn August & His Hot August Knights, about the coolest zydeco band to ever squeeze an accordion hard enough to make you forget how to spell Lawrence Welk.

August, a tough guy to find, has been hitting the road hard the last month or so. The band is doing the tour in a van, although they'd be considerably more stylish if they used August's bad-to-the-bone pink '58 Cadillac, a ride well-known to the locals in his hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana. But the Caddy is home in the driveway.

"I like old music and old cars," August said in a phone interview from a Nevada road stop. "Right now, I'm looking for a '56 T-Bird.

"I remember when my parents bought a '57 Ford Fairlane, which would carry all the equipment plus a six-piece band, which shows you how small the equipment used to be. The only thing I don't like is, nobody will let me drive my own car."

August, blind since birth, began his career before he was a teen-ager, earning a living playing six nights a week in a variety of local bands. One of the bands included Stanley Dural, who later became Buckwheat Zydeco.

August met Sam Cooke when the legendary crooner was touring Louisiana and Cooke invited August to Los Angeles. Right before the teen-ager was to leave, Cooke ended up at the wrong motel at the wrong end of a gun.

Another of August's early influences was a flamboyant artist named Esquerita, who went on to invent Little Richard.

"I was a drummer for Esquerita. All that hoppin' and hollarin' came from Esquerita. He was before Little Richard and started him on piano. I gradually lost track of him; I think he died around 1988. Later, when I was doing some recording, it blew my mind how much influence Esquerita had on me."

August is a relative newcomer to the zydeco business, having only been at it since 1988. He's been making records since the '60s, but his latest on Black Top Records, "Creole Cruiser," is his big label debut.

"I guess I got into zydeco because I think I did everything else," he said. "I used to play this Hammond B3 organ on this small club circuit throughout the southern states, doing Holiday Inns and Travel Lodges. I used to play everything--Top 40, country, jazz. I made a bunch of records in the '60s, but they wanted me to be some sort of soul-pop singer.

"I also did gospel music and directed a church choir. After a while, I got burned out on the club circuit and retired a couple of times to just write and produce."

August's music also incorporates heavy doses of soul, R&B and blues, and has been compared to the zydeco style of Clifton Chenier.

"I guess my music is more of a traditional, bluesy style," August said. "It's a lot like Clifton Chenier, which isn't really what I want to do--not copy him, but more preserve what he was trying to do.

"He really was the 'King of Zydeco.' But, you know, originally, he wanted to be a blues singer. I didn't just jump on the wagon just to make money. I could always afford a Cadillac."

But an accordion too? They cost about as much as a T-Bird. Then again, you can't take your girl to the drive-in on an accordion.

"You know, an accordion costs around $4,000, but you can spend up to $14,000," August said. "Maybe you can get a T-Bird for that price, but a T- Bird won't make you any money."

August will be the next-to-last performer at the Ojai show, but if you need more, he'll be doing the Blue Monday gig at Alexander's in Ventura as well.

Besides August in October, it's going to be another swell lineup at this year's festival with New Orleans blues belter Marva Wright, Mississippi Delta bluesman Honeyboy Edwards, Chicago harp player Billy Boy Arnold, Roosevelt (Booba) Barnes and the Playboys, the Lloyd Jones Struggle from Portland, John Marx & the Blues Patrol, plus local heroes Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan, Randy Norris and Buddy Smith.

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