Three years ago, Leon Chavis asked the same question plaguing the rest of the zydeco world -- who's Leon Chavis? Few knew this young accordionist from Lawtell and former trumpet player in the world-famous Southern University Jaguar Marching Band.
This upstart even dared to play music full time, a luxury seldom considered by veterans in south Louisiana's deep and wide talent pool.
Three years and three CDs later, Chavis has fans stretching from Evangeline Parish to Europe. He's a top attraction on the Creole trail ride scene, where thousands of young African-Americans with French surnames and western wear sing along to every word of his hit, Holla @ Me.
Those same fans and trail riders tune into his weekly program on Opelousas community radio station KOCZ 107.7 FM. Like a champion wrestler in the WWE, Chavis proudly proclaims the title of this CD -- Zydeco Soul Child.
And he's not ashamed to talk of his journey from a frightened wanna-be to a rising zydeco star.
“I always worried that I wanted people to like me," said Chavis. "I even wondered what was my style? Who was I? I didn't love myself.”
"Right now, I'm real comfortable as an artist. I can pull out whatever's in my heart.”
"I guess what built that is now I have fans. I'm enjoying it now and feeling good about what I'm doing. I'm confident what's inside of me is good because it's been working.”
Chavis' confidence shines through on this 15-song disc, which features all originals except an up-tempo reworking of a Motown classic that'll even have Smokey Robinson saying, Ooh Baby Baby. Throughout the disc, Chavis professes loves and gratitude for zydeco, himself, a girlfriend, and his father and fellow band member, Joseph "Chopper" Chavis.
The music world is overflowing with male odes to girlfriends and mothers. But rare is the male praising the male who brought him into this world.
Chavis said that challenging and trumpet-spiced tune, Thank You Daddy, reflects his growth as a musician, writer, and human being.
"When I was writing, it felt funny. I was wondering if I should say all that. I came back and listened to it. I was really able to tell my story. I was able to say some things about my daddy that I was almost shamed to say.”
"It also made me focus on the good things about my daddy. That song is about all the positive things about him."
"Men always write Papa was a Rolling Stone or it's Mama, Mama," continued Chavis, a father of three. "And I had a song about my mom.”
"I appreciate my daddy and he and I came a long way in our relationship. I get to perform and he's in my band. That's special to me."
Dad, family, band, and fans all get props from Chavis. All have nourished his growth, which Chavis says is by no means finished.
"I'm always searching for the next thing. I want to be a better singer. I want to be a better writer.”
"I also want to step out and start doing some different styles of music. I want to do some swing out, some R&B. I also want to do a traditional album, to show the range that I have as an artist.
"Some people say, 'Aw, you doing a lot of that boom, boom. You got to watch the tradition.' I love traditional zydeco.”
"I want to do some more writing. I want to get my dad more involved in recording. I want to do bigger shows, be a better father, a role model in the community."
You can bet the now-confident Zydeco Soul Child will accomplish those goals and more. Stay tuned.
(Herman Fuselier is a music writer and broadcaster living in Opelousas, La. He hosts Zydeco Stomp from noon to 3 p.m. Central on KRVS 88.7 FM, which is online at www.krvs.org.)