Al Rapone’s Zydeco Express

Born into a musical family in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Al Rapone learned to play the accordion at an early age. His mother and his two uncles, Louis and Maurice Broussard, were innovative accordionists. After his family moved to San Francisco in search of greater job opportunities, Al began playing at Cajun/Creole social functions and nightclubs at age 15.

Unable to earn a living in the San Francisco Bay Area as an accordionist, he switched to guitar and began working with rhythm and blues bands. He played rhythm guitar for the legendary Willie Mae (Big Mama) Thornton and backed up other great blues artists such as Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Reed, and Gatemouth Brown.

While touring the United States with Bobby Freeman’s band, Al encountered the artistry of Sly Stone and Larry Graham (Graham Central Station). They persuaded Al to take college courses to further develop his musical skills and become more proficient in writing, arranging, recording, and producing. While attending college, Al formed a trio called the Barbary Coast Good Time Band.

His sister, Queen Ida, who was performing as a soloist at the time, proposed that they merge their musical talents. Al dubbed the new group “Queen Ida and the Bon Ton Zydeco Band” and assumed the responsibilities of music director, lead guitarist, lead vocalist, and arranger. He also wrote most of the material for the band and was the producer for their four albums for GNP Crescendo.

Rapone won a Grammy in 1982 for producing their last album together, Queen Ida & the Bon Ton Zydeco Band On Tour, becoming the first zydeco musician to win such an award.

Shortly thereafter, Al and Queen Ida parted ways to pursue their individual careers. Al reacquainted himself with the diatonic accordion and formed his own band, the Zydeco Express. He began touring extensively throughout Europe, where he released three albums. He was the first zydeco musician to bring Louisiana music behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany – by government invitation. Since then, he’s taken his special brand of zydeco across the U.S., including appearances at numerous festivals.

His Blind Pig recording, Zydeco To Go, was his first U.S. release. For Al, it represented a dream come true. He enlisted the best musicians he could find, including special guests violinist Allen Fontenot and vocalist Roy L. Chantier, and patiently cooked up a master’s brew of Cajun, zydeco, and soul music, even including some country, tex-mex, and bluegrass flavorings. Says the exemplary music chef, “I wanted to let all the musical ingredients simmer until I got the best album I could make. That’s why I feel so good about this album.”

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