Until Zydeco Jump came along, rock audiences had never heard Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” and Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” played so naturally and with credibility on the squeeze box.
The North Melbourne Town Hall show was a benefit for Friends Of The Earth.
George Butrumlis, accordion player and band founder: “It was an early evening show, about 6 because we had a second gig, at the Prince Patrick, at 9.30.
“But we started an hour late, and I thought we were anxious as a result and played a bit rough.
“But when I heard Simon’s tape from 33 years back, I realised we had played really well!”
Simon Glozier: “I just remember bits and pieces of the show.
“In those days I was so busy – doing sound for everything from rock bands to nightclub cover types to mariachi bands with horns at folk festivals, to Celtic acts which sounded magical.
“I can’t remember if there were any other bands at the benefit or how big the audience was.
“But there would have been a lot of people, Zydeco Jump were a popular band.
“But I loved zydeco and all things Creole, and I liked them as a band.
“As soon as they went on, I had a spare cassette handy and I slipped it on.”
From The American South
Zydeco came from southwest Louisiana in the American Deep South which was played by French Creole speakers and Native Americans.
It is an upbeat syncopated rhythmic music which often incorporates elements of blues, ‘50s rock and roll, soul music, R&B, Afro-Caribbean, Cajun and early Creole music.
Its main instrument was the piano accordion.
George Butrumlis had been playing accordion from a young age.
But the idea of playing zydeco came years later when he ran into Joe Camilleri at Armstrong Studios in 1983 and Joe introduced himself.
“I hear you’re a really good accordion player. I’m putting together a zydeco band, I’m calling it the Black Sorrows, are you interested?”
“Oh yeah, sure, sure,” George replied happily, waiting to rush home so he could ask someone what on earth “zydeco” was.
One thing stands out about LIVE At The North Melbourne Town Hall: it shows how Zydeco Jump not only brought Australianness into the zydeco sound but a variety of sounds.
George was as much obsessed over Jimi Hendrix as zydeco master Clifton Chenier.
The son of a Greek father and Aussie mother, he was six years old when they came home with a red accordion player.
He was packed off to study at “Uncle” John Robinson’s Music Centre in Box Hill.
Forty or fifty students would crowd in a room that he built in the back of his house.
Butrumlis learned all the academic, classical and European aspects of the accordion.
“It was a technically demanding instrument and you had to practice hard.
“I entered a lot of competitions and exams – not at the Conservatorium because the accordion was not recognised there.
“Accordion players were outsiders, we had to find our own audiences and chart our own course.”
But as the ‘60s moved on, the likes of Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, George Harrison and Brian Jones made the guitar the uber-sexy musical instrument…and the accordion started to look distinctly uncool.
At age 16, when Butrumlis discovered Jimi Hendrix his life turned upside down.
He dropped the accordion and picked up the guitar, playing the instrument in bands.
“I rate Hendrix as a true genius, which is not a term I use lightly. I still listen to him avidly.”
His break from the accordion didn’t last long.
Guitarist Ed Bates (Pelaco Bros, Sports), a friend of a friend, rang to say he was starting a country and western band called Thunderbox with former members of Saltbush, and they needed an accordion player.
Many gigs with them, and some years later, came the Black Sorrows invitation.
George remembers looking around at their first rehearsal and seeing a crack group of musicians – all of whom his musical heroes as a teenager.
His approach to the accordion had “completely changed” when he returned to it.
“When I played with Thunderbox, Black Sorrows and Zydeco Jump, one of the driving things for me, the half Greek boy from the eastern suburbs, was to play it in a way that would somehow make the accordion cool.
“It would fit into more contemporary music, rather than just the stuff people expected from the accordion.”
Butrumlis’ first choice of name for the new band was Zydeco Bums.
But the rest of the band wasn’t having that, and suggested something that indicated how they never stopped leaping about whether onstage or during rehearsals.
Zydeco Jump quickly built up an audience and residencies at venues like the Esplanade Hotel in St. Kilda turned into whirring dance parties.
George: “In those days, we were in our 30s and full of energy, and it used to astound me how fast we played.”
Simon: “Live, they were a genuine band, that’s what I liked about them. They were quite authentic.”
Zydeco Jump were low maintenance: they had no road crew because their gear was simple.
They arrived early before a gig, and got focussed enough so that when they hit the stage, it was with all barrels blazing.
As LIVE At The North Melbourne Town Hall 1990 shows, by drawing on many sources for their material, they captured more rhythms than zydeco’s like the Double Clutch.
Paul Simon’s “That Was Your Mother” was given a two-step, “Alligator Waltz” was obvious, Ray Charles’ What’d I Say” was transported to New Orleans, and the voodoo/ Stones rhythms of Buddy Holly’s elegant Texas pop “Not Fade Away” led them to stretch it out for 10 minutes.
“Walking Up The Creek” is a stand-out, one of their originals co-penned by George and bassist Alan Wright who died of lung cancer in 2015.
“Alan came from the country, and when his day job became stressful, he’d go for a walk in the bush.
“I love that track because it not only had a ‘straight 5 ahead’ tempo but lines like ‘goanna in the grass’ meant we were trying to create an Australian zydeco.”
The accordion still does have its detractors, he chuckles.
He recalls the time City of Melbourne hired him to play a set in a laneway as part of its Lunchtime Serenades music program.
A man from a nearby office block came out, “How much are they paying you? I’ll pay you more if you stop.”
George snapped back, “Forget it, I’m here for another 45 minutes, so just suck it up!”