Born, raised, and currently residing in Lafayette, Roddie Romero lives and breathes South Louisiana culture. His passion for authenticity shows in multiple aspects of his life, from his music with The Hub City All Stars to what’s cooking in his cast-iron black pot. But before the celebrated frontman had a Grammy nomination and multiple world tours under his belt, he was witnessing the magic of Cajun and zydeco music in his own backyard.
Romero grew up in the Southside, which at the time was a rural part of Lafayette. His family had 30 chicken coops in the backyard, while other parts of the city continued to develop around them. He was the youngest of four siblings by ten years, and feels his brothers and sisters played a large part in shaping who he is today. “It was an interesting way to be influenced by what was going on their lives in terms of music,” Romero says. In between bourré games and dance parties, he would observe the way they embraced music, and began to develop an interest in experiencing it for himself.
In a tradition that still lives on in the Romero family today, every Sunday they would visit their grandparents in the country. While the adults cooked and socialized, the children would climb fig trees and pick pecans until lunch was ready. After everyone’s bellies were sufficiently stuffed with rice and gravy, they would gleefully gather around to watch Romero’s grandfather play the accordion. When he was finished, he would pass off the accordion to Romero, who would spend the rest of day teaching himself how to play the sounds he had previously heard.
“Accordion is my first and only instrument,” Romero says. “I just mess around on other things.”
Soon after, his father purchased an accordion for Romero and his brother. Besides taking a natural interest in the instrument, the accordion has a sentimentality to it. “To me it’s an instrument that is one foot in the past,” Romero explains. “It’s a direct connection to my ancestors because it’s a simple instrument. There are simple melodies that are played on that kind of a box. The things that I’m able to express bring me back to my childhood.”
Although he was underage, Romero sought out Cajun and zydeco performances at clubs and was enamored with local legends like Buckwheat Zydeco. His dedication paid off and Romero quickly became a local legend himself as a professional touring musician while still attending high school.
Romero’s success was generating buzz among the local bar and club circuit, while simultaneously causing controversy because of his underage status. With the help of his mother, Lena, Romero created the “Roddie Romero Bill”, which allowed minors the right to perform in adult venues if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. The bill was passed in 1992, and was even used by future members of the his band, The Hub City All Stars.
While he considers the accordion his primary instrument, Romero recalls a defining moment where he first discovered the slide guitar. In his late teens, he was in Canada for the Montreal Jazz Festival and heard an unfamiliar sound coming from a guitar. Following the sound, he found himself at the sound check for renowned Lafayette slide guitarist, Sonny Landreth. Hearing what Landreth could produce inspired Romero to embrace Cajun and zydeco music in a new way. “All my influences are within a 20 mile radius and they still influence me,” Romero says. Discovering a different take on style of the music he grew up with inspired him to develop his own spin on the genre. The timing was impeccable, as Romero was beginning to feel burnt out by his touring schedule and needed his own creative outlet.
The Hub City All Stars was formed over 28 years ago by Romero in Lafayette. As a teenager, Romero had built up a name for himself as an internationally touring musician and other young musicians had taken notice. He was introduced to keyboardist Eric Adcock through his brother, and the two quickly bonded over musical influences like Clifton Chenier, Fats Domino and Otis Redding.
Adcock was building up a reputation himself, playing professionally with blues guitarist Lil’ Buck Senegal and other well-known local musicians. Adcock was a natural choice for a replacement and has been with the band for over 20 years.
“When Roddie really digs into a song vocally, it makes it very believable for the band, which hopefully transfers to the audience,” Adcock explains. “We’re all trying to play from a very soulful place. When you have a frontman like Roddie, who can not only play soulfully but also sings his tail off, it really makes making music that much more enjoyable.”
Bass player Chad Viator, guitarist Chris French, and drummer Jermaine Prejean were all introduced to the band through current members and a similar musical vision. “Even if we’re not playing traditional Cajun or zydeco, but we’re in Canada (or anywhere north of Ville Platte for that matter), the way we play and the way it sounds hopefully really feels like Acadiana and ultimately Lafayette, Louisiana,” Adcock says. “And that’s why we’re the Hub City All Stars.”
Aside from producing a unique take on traditional Louisiana roots music, the band has an unconventional approach to live performances. Romero tailors each performance to energy of the crowd—and nothing is off limits. There are no set lists. There are no guarantees that songs will be played in their original form. The possibilities are endless and it creates a truly memorable experience for both the audience and the band itself.
“He might take a song that we’ve been playing for ten years and play it twice as fast as he normally would,” French explains. “Or take that same song the next night and play it as slow blues instead. He keeps us on our toes. It’s a little bit like I think it would be like playing with James Brown.”
Adcock describes performing with Romero as an organically creative experience. “He lights the match when he starts the song and then he lets it burn.”
The band approaches recording in the same vein. They are set to soon release their first album since 2007’s La Louisianne Sessions in the fall of 2015. Recorded at Louisiana’s own Dockside Studio, the album was written by Romero and Adcock, produced by legend, John Porter, and recorded through a holistic approach that lets the songs come together through their own natural process. Viator explains, “Some of the ideas they had brought in completely did a 180 from what maybe they thought they would be to what they are actually are going to be.” The band plays through each song and experiments with every aspect until the right sound is produced.
Their upcoming release is a bit of a departure from their previous music, focusing more on individual songs than a specific genre. “Evolution is an appropriate term,” Adcock says. “It’s no holds barred, no apologies. This is what we’ve been writing.”
He continues, “The most common theme throughout all of our original material is “sense of place”. And that’s Lafayette, Louisiana.”