Born September 8, 1950, in Lafayette, LA. Education: Tulane University, B.A., 1972. Addresses: Record company-- A&M, 1416 North La Brea Ave., Hollywood, CA 90028.

Cajun accordionist and singer Zachary Richard commented in a 1990 A&M press biography that it is important for him "to express a depth of feeling that transcends the typical Cajun rave-up, bon temps, boogie-woogie, wanna dance?" And though he is proud of his family's 200 years in Louisiana and the 200 years his ancestors spent in Canada before they were exiled by the British in 1763, he considers himself a creator rather than an archivist. Louisiana and--since 1974--Canada and France serve more as the meeting places for the gumbo of musical styles that go into what Richard calls Cajun, or Swamp Rock.

Steeped in rock and roll and rhythm and blues, Richard played the harmonica while he was in college in New Orleans. He moved to New York City after graduating and was signed by Elektra Records to produce an album of his own country-rock tunes. Elektra soon merged with Warner Bros., though, and the record was never released. Richard used the money he received in the deal with the record company to buy a Gibson 335 guitar and a French accordion.

Returning to Louisiana, Richard resumed his intense practicing schedule: four hours on piano, two hours on guitar, and two hours on accordion every day. He learned to play the accordion by listening to recordings of Cajun greats Aldus Roger and Ira LeJeune as well as by his acquaintance with his one-time neighbor Clifton Chenier. It soon replaced the guitar as his primary instrument.

In 1974 Richard got together with Kenneth Richard and Michael Doucet, who would later go on to form the band Beausoleil. Calling themselves the Bayou Drifter Band, the three musicians combined the sounds of traditional Cajun instruments like the accordion and fiddle with rock and roll. Their music failed to win popularity with local audiences, but in Canada the band was an enormous success. As Barry Ancelet pointed out in The Makers of Cajun Music, Richard's choice to sing in French created "a viable market in Quebec, which, in the early 1970s, was gearing for a drive for independence."

Richard's earnest militancy in promoting awareness of the plight of the Cajun people, who were forced out of Canada by Great Britain, further alienated him from Louisiana audiences. At the Tribute to Cajun Music Festival in 1975, the band performed before a flag with a "green live oak on a field of bayou blue upon which was written 'Solidarite et Fierte' [Solidarity and Pride]. There was even a drop of blood somewhere on there, for one reason or another," Richard recalled in The Makers of Cajun Music. "Everyone sitting in the bleachers looked at us and wondered why I was so angry."

Richard has traced his anger back to his experience as a rebellious student in 1968 and 1969 in New Orleans, but there may be a more personal reason for his feelings. According to Tom Moon in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Richard, who was raised by parents who no longer spoke French, was unaware of what it meant to be Cajun. "It was considered ignorant. The Cajun music had no credibility. It wasn't anything anybody was proud of."

Richard was part of the vanguard of young people in Louisiana in the late 1970s who sought to rediscover the heritage of Cajun music. In that light, the lyrics to his early song "Reveille!," set in the eighteenth century, served as a wake up call to his generation: "Awaken! The English are coming to burn the fields/ Awaken, men of Acadia, to save the village." But, in trying to bring Cajun music to the young, Richard added contemporary elements that alienated him from older Cajun traditionalists. Not yet completely accepted by newer Cajun music fans and not quite conservative enough for Cajun old-timers, Richard found his musical opportunities in the United States severely limited. He set out on his own in 1976 and played before Canadian audiences until 1980.

By the time he returned to Louisiana, it was not only hip to be Cajun, but the rest of the country was catching on to Louisiana culture as well, from the dinner table to the dance floor. Musicians of all kinds were in demand. Richard was thus afforded the freedom to keep his eclectic mix of styles--not quite Cajun, not quite Zydeco, with a dash of New Orleans blues.

That mix has been reflected and influenced by the varied musicians that have backed Richard over the years, from his earlier work with traditional musicians to his work in the mid-1980s with trumpeter Warren Caesar, keyboardist Craig Lege, and drummer Dudley Fruge. He later added bassist Leon Medica and guitarist Marcus Elizondo. According to the San Francisco Examiner, Richard called his 1987 tour a "Mardi gras carnival," and "in keeping with the carnival mood, he and his four colleagues arrived on stage bedecked as birds, with headpieces, colorful satin 'body feather' strips, and so forth." The rest of the group's costume, reported the San Francisco Chronicle, "consisted of black tights, a gold, green and purple skirt and a lavish mask complete with veil."

Richard's move from Rounder to A&M in 1991 signaled that he was once again on the verge of major recognition. But unlike his experience in New York City in 1972, this time he was assured that his records would be widely promoted and distributed. His 1991 album, Women in the Room, brought together well-known musicians: Brian Stoltz of the Neville Brothers band on guitar, Sonny Landreth from John Hiatt's Goners on slide, Joe Hammer on drums, and numerous other musicians, including Jimmy Buffet doing background vocals on "Who Stole My Monkey." Richard's powerful voice was characterized by Tom Moon in the Miami Herald as "a mixture of Van Morrison sass, Honky Cat-era Elton John and Sting that becomes more eloquent--even romantic--when he sings in Creole."

The make-up of Richard's band may keep changing, but throughout his career he has maintained the rhythmic elements at the heart of his music, never straying too far from traditional Cajun and Zydeco accordion riffs. He continued in this vein on his 1992 release, Snake Bite Love. Calling the album "pure country magic," Stewart Francke declared in the Detroit Metro Times, " Snake Bite Love evokes the Acadian pathos of Louisiana more precisely than any recording since Dr. John's Gumbo. " The reviewer also noted Richard's unique musical style on the album and concluded, "Naming the genre that Richard works in is ultimately unimportant; emotive transference this true should never be ignored."

by John Morrow

Zachary Richard's Career

Cajun singer and accordionist. Sang in Bishop's Boys Choir, c. 1957-63; played in Louisiana blues bands; signed by Elektra Records, 1972; with Michael Doucet and Kenneth Richard, formed Bayou Drifter Band; toured Canada and France, 1974; left band and released debut album, Bayou des Mysteres, Kebec Disc, 1976; performed primarily in Canada until 1980; performed in U.S. clubs, early 1980s--.

Zachary Richard's Awards

Prix de la Jeune Chanson, France, 1980.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Books

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 8 years ago

My name is kerry boutte the founder of mulates cajun restaurant. Zachary's comments about the beginning of mulates were totally acurate. Zachary richard can be credited for the resurection of our wonderful cajun culture. He is the iry lejune of our time. The emergence and popularity of cajun music today can be traced directly to him. Take it form someone who knows. kerry boutte

almost 9 years ago

The article states that Zachary played in Canada until 1980. WRONG I played with him from 1979 through 1984 and we played CanadaALL THE TIME! At least 7 tours during that time. ALSO SEE THE 9TH PARAGRAPH.What you missed out printing ,probably because you didn't know is that ZACHARY WAS THE BAND RESPONSIBLE FOR THE REST OF THE COUNTRY CATCHING ON TO CAJUN MUSIC. IT'S A FACT THAT CANNOT BE DISPUTED. I WAS THERE, I SAW IT UNFOLD, I WAS PART OF IT. THERE IS A BOOK IN THE WORKS THAT DOCUMENTS THIS FACT. WE WERE THE FIRST CAJUN BAND TO PLAY AT MULATTES RESTAURANT(THE FIRST OF THE NEW RESTAURANTS TO HAVE CAJUN MUSIC. THE FIRST GIG THERE WERE ONLY 4 TABLES FULL THE WHOLE NIGHT. WE DIDN'T THINK WE'D BE ASKED BACK. WE WERE. IN THE NEXT WEEKS, THE CROUD BEGAN TO INCREASE IN SIZE. WHEN WE LEFT TO TOUR CANADA AGAIN THERE WAS A VOID OF YOUNGER CAJUN BANDS LIKE US TO PLAY MULATTES. THIS IS WHEN YOUNGER MUSICIANS SAW $ TO BE MADE PLAYING CAJUN. THEY STARTED PUTTING TOGETHER LITTLE BANDS AND FILLING OUR GIGS AT MULATTES WHILE WE WERE GONE. THIS STARTED THE CAJUN MUSIC CRAZE AROUND THE COUNTRY. BECAUSE SOON OTHER RESTAURANTS STARTED HAVING CAJUN BANDS. WITHIN A YEAR OF THAT FIRST MULATTES GIG, WE CAME HOME FROM A TOUR AND WERE SUBSEQUENTLY BOOKED TO PLAY MULATTES. WHEN WE GOT THERE, THE OWNER KERRY BOUTTE HAD BOUGHT THE BUILDING ATTACHED TO CURRENT MUALTTES (THEN-CURRENT). AND THERE WERE TOUR BUSSES IN THE PARKING LOT AND W LINE WAITING TO GET IN THE BUILDING THAT STRETCHED ALLTHE WAY AROUND TOTHE BACK OF IT. THE REASON CAJUN TOOK OFF IS THAT THOSE TOUR BUSSES WERE FILLED WITH PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY. IT WAS OUR BAND WHO WON THEM OVER AND FUELED THIS NEW MUSIC ( I SAY NEW BECAUSE ALTHOUGH WE WERE PLAYING CAJUN- WE WERE ROCK MUSICIANS BRINGING OUR ROCK SENSIBILITIES TO THE FOLD.THE NEW CAJUN BNDS COMING IN TO FILL OUR GIGS WHILE WE WERE GONE EMULATED THIS STYLE.IE WAYNE TOUPS. HIS DRUMMER USED TO LAY ON THE FLOOR BEHIND MY DRUMKIT WHEN WE PLAYED, WATCHING ME. HE WAS THE NEXT CAJUN-ROCK DRUMMER AFTER ME (MIKE BINET-SEE ME ON MYSPACE).ANYWAY THESE TOUR BUSSES WHICH HAD HAPPENED OVER THIS WAY AS A WAY TO EXTEND THE NEW ORLEANS TOURS OF MOSTLY SENIOR CITIZENS, THEY TOOK THEIR TOURISTS BACK HOME. WHADDYA THINK THEY TALK ABOUT? CAJUN MUSIC AND CAJUN FOOD. THAT IS WHAT STARTED THE CRAZE.

about 9 years ago

You never mentioned Zack's live album on CBS records. Many consider this band line-up to be the best he ever had. LOTS of people consider this to be one of the best (sounding) recorded live albums they've heard.

over 9 years ago

Dear Zachary, I appreciate your music and have many of your records. My favorite is LIVE in Montreal. Years ago I heard you in Lafayette @ GRANT STREET. THE band members were ;Sonny Landreth on slide guitar, Mike Binet on Drums, Dave Ransom on Bass and ofcourse the great Zachary Richard . I have never seen that place so packed. All these years later still remember the great sounds you guys made. GOD BLESS.