By Bill Chaisson
Courtesy of Hibernian Weather Channel Productions
the 19th century a burger living in a provincial city of, say,
Bohemia, would have known through the newspapers and through gossip
in the music-appreciating community about the enormous talent
of Franz Liszt, but he would quite likely have never heard the
master actually play. Even in this age of recorded media I find
myself, in advance of Kevin Naquin's first appearance in Ithaca,
in a position similar to that of a 19th century Bohemian; I have
never heard him play, but his reputation proceeds him. And, as
we say in the 21st century: the guy is hot.
Naquin learned to play the accordion at 14, which is somewhat
late to pick up a music instrument. But he apparently had innate
talent; two years later he put together the first incarnation
of his band, the Ossun Playboys, and began to play out around
Lafayette, LA, where he lives. Music is apparently in the blood.
Naquin is the great-grandson of Hadley Fontenot, the accordionist
on the first Balfa Brothers album. His great-grandfather on his
father's side was a ballad singer, who accompanied himself on
fiddle. He has always been surrounded by Cajun music; even his
babysitter played a mean accordion.
grew up in a French-speaking household, but it was singing the
Cajun ballads on stage that has made him focus on becoming fluent
in his ancestral language. He is aware that some younger Cajun
singers have little or no French and sing the songs phonetically,
which makes it difficult to project the meaning. Both he and his
wife are working on their French so that they can pass it on to
of the Cajun culture is important to Naquin. He and the other
members of the band all have other jobs (Naquin is a salesman
for the Insurance Australia Group) and the Ossun Playboys are
essentially a vehicle for spreading the good word about things
Cajun rather than a livelihood that they depend on. Naquin feels
that this arrangement allows him to hew more closely to the tradition.
When asked if he ever feels drawn to integrate more pop or rock
elements into his music, his answer is a emphatic, but polite,
"No. Iíve watched other people, like Steve Riley, do it, and that's
shown me that you just donít have to do it. Just when you're hot
and the crowded is all heated up, you do a rock or pop thing and
you lose them." He hastens to add that he has nothing against
cross-over music, but he simply doesn't feel the need to "chase
audiences", because he's not playing music for a living.
current line-up of the Ossun Playboys has been together for about
two years, since earlier bass and guitar players were replaced
by Chevy and Wyatt Foreman. Drummer Dwayne Lavergne and fiddler
Louis Dronet have been playing with Naquin for six years now.
In 2000 and 2002 the Ossun Playboys swept the Cajun French Music
Association awards, walking away with "Band of the Year", "Album
of the Year", and "Accordionist of the Year". Dronet was nominated
to the "Fiddler of the Year" category in both years. In 2000 Naquin
was only 21 years old.
presence of the electric guitar, bass and drums distinguishes
the Ossun Playboys music from that of earlier generations of Cajun
players. Naquin asserts that for him "Itís all about dancing"
and he plays in a honky-tonk style that shares more with Walter
Mouton than with the Balfa Brothers. Although he avoids rock elements
in the strict sense, he admits that his music is "more aggressive"
than the music of his grandparents' generation. He says that people
are delighted to find out that they can do either zydeco or Cajun
steps to the his music, which he says "has a 'zyde-Cajun' feel
thatís hard to describe".
week the Ossun Playboys released their fifth CD, Never Satisfied,
while they were on tour in Colorado. It includes five of their
own compositions in addition to traditional tunes. Naquin says
that it has been well reviewed so far, but, as I said, I haven't
heard it yet. You probably haven't either. So, like the 19th century
Bohemians, I guess we'll have to hear him when we see him. I bet
Liszt would have loved to have been able to sell CDs at his shows.