Jazz Fest Minutes: C.J. Chenier Keeps It Red Hot

Apr 9, 2013

C.J. Chenier at the 2011 Rawa Blues Festival in Poland.
Credit Małgorzata Miłaszewska-Duda

C.J. Chenier is the son of Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier.

"I didn't know to what magnitude my dad's popularity was, but I knew he played music and because he played music I wanted to play music," Chenier said.

C.J. took a few piano lessons, messed around with guitar a little bit, and by the fourth grade was ready to try a horn.

"The only instrument I knew about was a trombone because I saw this movie 76 Trombones," he said. "So that's really the only instrument I knew about. And I told my mom, I said I want to play the trombone, and she's like, no, you've got to play saxophone because your daddy's got a saxophone in his band. And I didn't know what a saxophone was."

It turned out to be a very good choice.

"My mom must have had a foresight, because me and the saxophone became one real quick, you know, it was like I adapted to it real fast."

C.J. wanted to play music full time, but couldn't make a living doing that in his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas. So, after finishing high school, he worked a string of day jobs and played music on the weekends.

"I did hydroblasting, I did sandblasting, I worked on a mudboat, I worked as a longshoreman, I worked on the railroad... You know, I did a lot of things that I really don't want to do again."

Then, just before C.J. turned 21, came the call to join his dad's band.

"So I went home and got my bag, which was really a bag then, I didn't have no suitcases, it was a brown paper bag, there you go. So I got my little brown paper sack and the few hip clothes I had, and I was off, and that was it. That was the beginning."

When Clifton Chenier passed away, C.J. took over the Red Hot Louisiana Band, and they continue to tour the world playing great Zydeco.

C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band play Jazz Fest Sunday, April 28.