Lettin’ it go

ZydeFunk takes Charlie Wooton home again

Bands that attempt to play traditional music — be it blues, jazz, country or other forms — face a common problem. They often haven’t lived the culture they hope to represent, and are challenged to capture the essence of that culture through the music. In lieu of real experience, bands often do little more than recreate what they’ve learned through recordings, books and TV.

Such is not the case with ZydeFunk, a local five-piece performing Oct. 19 at Front Page News in Midtown, and Oct. 20 at Comeaux’s in Alpharetta. ZydeFunk blends zydeco, Cajun (the black and white folk music of South Louisiana, respectively), funk, blues and the music of New Orleans. A typical ZydeFunk show might include the Louisiana standards “Ya Ya,” “Iko Iko” or “Jambalaya,” Funky Meters tunes like “Cissy Strut” and “Mardi Gras Mambo,” many lesser-known cover tunes, and about a dozen originals.

Bassist/bandleader Charlie Wooton’s zydeco crash course came while touring for a year with Chubby Carrier and the Back Bayou Band.

“That’s where I learned about putting on a show and getting the true, authentic style of zydeco,” recalls the 31-year-old Lafayette, La., native. “We’d play dances back home for five or six hours straight with no break, way out in the sticks where white people weren’t even allowed.”

Wooton moved from Los Angeles to Atlanta several years ago. He formed ZydeFunk three years ago. The current lineup includes Jody Davis (guitar), Mark Keuffner (accordion, keyboards), Jason LaMarca (drums) and Jeff Hunt (washboard, percussion). Until recently, the band’s name was La Chez-Les (pronounced “la-zhah-LAY”), a French Cajun phrase meaning, “let it go.” “It’s a saying [Louisiana bands use] right before they play a good dance song,” Wooton says. “It means: Whatever’s bothering you, let it go, forget your troubles, come out on the dance floor and boogie.”

Unfortunately, few Atlanta fans recognized the phrase or could even pronounce it, prompting the name change. The band now plans to use La Chez-Les as the title of its first CD, which is due by year’s end.

Wooton, who teaches bass at Mars Music in Marietta, also is fluent in jazz, thanks largely to older brother John, a drummer who introduced him to contemporary and classic jazz artists. Bassist Kim Stone of the Rippingtons (and previously with Spyro Gyra) is also a friend and major influence.

But Wooton doesn’t mix jazz and zydeco on the bandstand. Instead, he feeds his jazz habit playing with a local Brazilian group, Tropicus 22, which recently played the Atlanta Jazz Festival.

“I don’t want to play jazz on the ZydeFunk gig, or zydeco on the jazz gig, so I go do my jazz thing, where I can solo and get crazy. Then, with ZydeFunk, I can concentrate on the show, and on groovin’.”

Still, he admits, “It’s definitely not your typical zydeco show. There’s a lot of jamming, and there are some bass solos. I do some finger-tapping, where the whole band stops and we go into this Latin thing.”

Any given evening might feature other musical twists: For example, the band might segue from a New Orleans groove into march time, whereupon Wooton will pick up his trumpet and break into “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

It’s all a musical homecoming of sorts for Wooton, who left Louisiana at age 20.

“I took six or eight years off from playing Louisiana music,” he says. “I just wanted to get away. When I came back to it, it felt like I was home again — and home is a great place to be. When I hear the accordion, I want to drink a beer and smell some barbecue. It helps me keep in touch with home.”

ZydeFunk performs Fri., Oct. 19, at Front Page News, 1104 Crescent Ave. Show time is 9:45 p.m. Free. 404-897-3500. The band also performs Sat., Oct. 20, at Comeaux’s Louisiana Bar & Grill, 9925 Haynes Bridge Road, Alpharetta. Show time is 8:30 p.m. Free. 770-442-2524.

This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail “outside” music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.