Recently transplanted to the Lowcountry, Johnny Ace & Sidewalk Zydeco have been playing together since September 2006. The band has repeatedly received “Highly Recommended” ratings from TIME OUT NEW YORK magazine for its NYC Let’s Zydeco shows, and has also been highlighted in THE NEW YORKER.
“Johnny Ace and Sidewalk Zydeco are one of the hottest up and coming groups in Zydeco music outside of south LA! These guys have been listening to and studying Cajun and Zydeco music for years and truly capture the essence of what Zydeco music is about. Great energy, very danceable, solid rhythm, and the laissez les bon temps roulez attitude that makes audiences feel good and want to get up and get down! . . . These guys love Zydeco music and that comes across in their live performances and ‘joie de vivre’ attitude! NE Zydeco at its finest!”
Johnny began playing the piano accordion at age 5 and continued studying at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music until his teens. It was then that he first saw Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan show. Rock and Roll took him and most of America’s young people over. Johnny was front row at most of Alan Freed’s shows at the Brooklyn Paramount and began singing in vocal groups beginning in Junior High School and through high school.
Johnny first heard Cajun and Zydeco music on New York’s WBAI/FM radio and was imprinted with the sound of diatonic accordions that remained within, waiting to be reawakened at the right time. Years later, Johnny, who had become an accomplished five-string banjo player and was heavily into Bluegrass, was attending the Delaware Bluegrass Festival, which had Balfa Toujours booked. Hearing the soulful vocals of Christine Balfa and Courtney Granger along with the accordion playing of Dirk Powell ignited in Johnny the same passion that he had for Bluegrass banjo. He became determined to learn how to play the single row accordion. In that quest, Johnny and his wife Mary attended a Zydeco show. The dance lesson was taught by Jeremy and Laura Rice of Somebody Scream Productions. It was thus that these longtime Salsa dancers became completely hooked on Zydeco. They took advantage of every opportunity to see live bands. Attending a performance of Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners at Havana in New Hope, Pennsylvania, they serendipitously met up with the Allons Danser crew from Philly and learned about the TK Club, a mecca of live Zydeco and Cajun music that has continued to host Louisiana Bands for years. Johnny and Mary have rarely missed an opportunity to see a Louisiana Band there and learn close up what this music is all about.
Johnny first saw Li’l Anne and Hot Cayenne at a Zydeco Laura production at the now defunct La Belle Epoque in NYC. Li’l Anne had just burst on the Zydeco scene with her signature sound. That summer, they attended the Memorial Day Zydeco Festival at Clinton Corners and Johnny got to jam a little with Li’l Anne in the parking lot. She invited Johnny to come up on stage with her at her next show at the TK Club that year.
Johnny will never forget playing “Richard’s Club” with her Hot Cayenne Band that night. It was then that he knew that he had to play in a Zydeco band himself someday. He continued to watch, listen and learn by attending every workshop and festival that he could. His determination paid off as he was able to study with Zydeco masters Sean Ardoin, Brian Jack, Jeffrey Broussard, Step Rideau, and Cajun star Sean Vidrine. The breakthrough came when Mary surprised Johnny with a surprise birthday party and present consisting of a private lesson with the incomparable Steve Riley. After that lesson, Johnny was on his way to developing is own sound and was determined to play in a Zydeco band.
There is a long tradition in this music of giving new players the opportunity to get up on stage and Johnny has been incredibly lucky to have been given that privilege, first from Li’l Anne and then from Dexter Ardoin, T-Broussard, Big Red, Curley Taylor and Li’l Malcolm. Incredibly, Johnny also got the opportunity to rock the house at Mr. A’s club in Houston with J. Paul Jr. (Thanks,Donna!)
Now that Johnny is playing with the fabulous musicians of the Sidewalk Band, he is eager to keep the tradition going by giving new players that attend their shows the opportunity to be backed by the incredible groove of Sidewalk Zydeco and get up on stage with them for a few tunes. This is the way to keep it going and pass on this wonderful music to future generations.
Mary from Tokyo
As a teenager, Mary found herself in Tokyo, being exposed to all things Japanese. Her stage name was bestowed on her by her bandmates and just seemed to flow naturally one night and has remained ever since.
Mary has always been a dancer. She met her husband at a dance and they have been dancing ever since. A chance encounter with Zydeco hooked her, and she has never looked back.
Sidewalk Zydeco needed a scrubber to fill in at their weekly rehearsals at Play Studios in Midtown Manhattan. Finding themselves between drummers the band desperately needed percussion, and Mary eventually became a permanent member of the band. She has attended Harold Guillory’s Rubboard University on the Zydeco Cruise on a number of occasions, earning post-doctoral honors. She has also studied with John Paul Gautier, Step Rideau’s drummer, as well as Martin Chavis of Li’l Malcolm and the House Rockers. Mary has more beats than Louisiana has Bayous, and she plays them all on an authentic Key of Z Rubboard. Mary from Tokyo always has an extra board at her shows and is only too happy to give any potential scrubber a lesson and invite the successful student onstage to jam with the band!