When Major Handy was just 15, Otis Redding tried to talk Major’s mother into letting him join his band. But Mom wouldn’t let him go. Not many years later, zydeco legends Rockin’ Dopsie and Stanley ‘Buckwheat’ Dural both asked Major to play guitar in their bands. He ended up working with Rockin’ Dopsie for 12 years and with Buckwheat for about a year.
Over his 40 years in music, Major has toured much of the world and fronted a number of his own bands, including seven years working as a bandleader in northern Canada. He is not sure how many 45s were released under his name and, until recently, he had recorded only one LP, back in 1985. Even with his big reputation among musicians, his road experience, and recordings, Major has remained an obscure figure for most blues and zydeco fans. This has begun to change with his late 2009 release Zydeco Feeling. Now, with his first, full-length record-ing in 25 years, he’s gaining international attention.
Despite the long recording drought Major plays most week-ends around his home in Lafayette, Louisiana. And he has contin-ued to hone his skills, becoming a master of the piano accordion and developing a warm, evocative vocal style. He maintains an incredible energy, on stage and off, but says he finds the busi-ness of music too confining. He prefers to play where and when he wants to and operates his Handy’s Auto Sales and Body Shop during the day.
It took fellow Louisiana native and APO Records chief Chad Kassem to get Major back out on the road and into a studio. Major has performed for the past few years at Kassem’s two-day concert in Salina, Kansas, called Blues Masters at the Crossroads. While in Salina that weekend, Major takes over the kitchen. Even after the long drive from Lafayette, he cooks up gumbo, crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice, ribs, and anything else he chooses to prepare for the large family of performers and press.
At the concert in 2009 Major fronted Buckwheat’s band with Buckwheat sitting in at the Hammond B-3: that is also the way Major’s new CD was cut at the end of a Blues Masters’ weekend.
With his deep Creole accent, boundless energy, and enough talent to play just about any instrument he can get his hands on, Major’s music is always fun, and full of surprises. His guitar playing is clean and bluesy. He uses the accordion to punch up his sound. And his voice reflects his South Louisiana heritage, with Creole liberally present. His songs are a blend of originals that have an authentic feel and powerful renditions of songs by Clifton Chenier and other zydeco masters.
If you stop by his auto body and paint shop you will likely find this 63-year-old, compact, powerfully built man working on a car. It’s possible that his wife, Frances, will be there too. She’s a charming redhead, who has taught zydeco dancing for years and plays rub-board with Major whenever possible.
In any case, you can be sure Major will be wearing a beret and a wicked smile. It’s best to arrive hungry. Chances are he’ll offer you something to eat.