As he's the son of the late Clifton Chenier - the Grammy Award-winning accordion legend commonly known as "The King of Zydeco" - it makes sense that C.J. Chenier would have a parent to thank for his initial entry into the world of professional music. And he does: his mom.
"I was, like, 20 years old," says the native of Port Arthur, Texas, "and I was playing piano in this funk band I put up in my hometown, and one day we were playing a bazaar at a Catholic Church. And my mother sent one of my friends to tell me I needed to come home, because my daddy called and said he wanted me to go on the road with him. And I was hesitant, because I had never been to too many places, and I knew that everybody in my daddy's band was way older than I was.
"But I got home and my mother told me, 'I tell you what: You're not working. You don't have nothin' to do. You'd better pack your bags and get on out of here!'" Laughing, Chenier adds, "And I just said, 'Yes, ma'am!' I mean, I was hesitant, but I was happy."
Mom's directive, as it turns out, has made a lot of people happy, because 25 years after taking over his late father's Red Hot Louisiana Band, C.J. Chenier performances continue to thrill zydeco and blues fans worldwide. Called "the heir to the zydeco throne" by Billboard magazine and "the crown prince of zydeco" by the Boston Globe, the singer/songwriter/accordionist is an undeniable master of his genre - though the man readily admits that, in the early stages of his career, he didn't fully understand what that genre was.