The Pappion Louisiana Band is bringing the sound of the bayou to La Jolla with their accordion- and rub board-infused Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music.
Pannikin Cafe on Girard Street hosted a concert on Dec. 14 that drew out Villagers of all ages and had them two-stepping to the upbeat rhythm of classic Cajun songs and new pieces written by band members.
“When the music is clicking and the dancers are dancing, it’s like the dancers are part of the band,” said La Jolla resident and Pappion Louisiana Band guitarist Sean Henahan. “We’re taking it back to the roots, when people used to get together at a house or social club. People hunger for that kind of communal experience.”
That interactive energy and “feel-good” exuberance is what makes Louisiana bayou music so appealing.
A genuine piece of Americana, Cajun music was born in the rural Creole community of Louisiana. Household items such as washboards, spoons and triangles joined with fiddles, with most lyrics sung in Acadian, an antique French dialect. The rhythm lends itself to waltzes and two-steps.
“To anyone outside the bayou, it all sounds the same,” Henahan said.
But there are distinct differences between the genres. Cajun music uses a triangle and has a lighter bass beat, while Creole music carries a heavy bass and rub board rhythm. Zydeco has a more electric sound to it.
Henahan, a rock ‘n’ roll musician who joined the band about a year ago, said the music forms are straightforward, but it takes time to pick up the nuances of each sound.
“Just playing along wasn’t hard, but learning the subtleties was more challenging,” he said. “It’s not the blues; you don’t play sevenths. It plays the scales of country music, but in a different mode.”
Although Cajun music has been around for decades, it is a living, evolving tradition.
Band founder and accordionist Dempsey Pappion and La Jollan Michael DeClouet, who plays the rub board, grew up together near Lake Charles, La., near the birthplace of Zydeco. Years later, the friends reconnected when both moved to the West Coast. It was then that they joined up to perform together.
Although DeClouet currently lives in La Jolla, his Cajun roots run deep. He recently purchased and refurbished what he calls the “Grand Ole Opry of Zyedeco,” Richard’s Club and Teddy’s Lounge in Lawtell, La.
The band is a way for the men to share their roots and history.
“It’s something we both treasure,” DeClouet said, “and we’d like to see it go on forever.”
The band includes Henahan on guitar,Tom Dillon on fiddle, Carol Jergenson of La Jolla on bass guitar, Steve Guillory on drums and Julian “J-Dawg” Schroeder on harmonica.
By day, the band members hold down professional jobs. DeClouet is a developer. Pappion works for Conoco Phillips. Henahan is the editor of a European medical magazine, and Dillion is an engineer. Jergenson is a medical technician. The man who goes by “J-Dawg” onstage is Professor Schroeder by day; he’s a biology professor at UCSD. William Linnik, the band’s back-up drummer, is an emergency room physician.
“It’s an amazing assortment of individuals,” Henahan said. “We’re unified by our interest in this great music and wanting people to enjoy it. It gives us the opportunity to shed the tensions of our day jobs and do something completely different.”
With the community’s enthusiastic response and the band’s cohesiveness tightening, there are plans to make a studio recording of classic and original songs. At many of their live performances, fans ask to purchase CDs.
“The music really has huge crossover appeal,” Henahan said. “You don’t have to be of any particular mindset to enjoy and participate.”
The band has performed at St. James By-the-Sea Church, a Kiwanis Club brunch and other San Diego Venues.
The Pappion Louisiana Band is the only Cajun band in La Jolla, but San Diego has a thriving Zydeco subculture.
The Bons Temps Social Club coordinates dances and performances by local and national Cajun performers, and the club meets each Thursday evening at Tio Leo’s (5302 Napa St. at Morena Boulevard).
The Pappion Louisiana Band performance dates can be found by visiting the Bons Temps Social Club Web site at dances.com/casd/bonstemps/index.html. Watch for upcoming appearances at Pannikin Cafe at 7467 Girard Ave.