The musical greats all have their stories about how music took root in their lives. For Keith Frank, his induction into the world of Zydeco happened right at home as he was trying to get out of chores for his father by practicing drums or guitar–hoping that showing an interest in music might get him out of mowing on a hot Louisiana afternoon.
According to Keith, the work avoidance scheme worked for a little bit, however, the rural life of Louisiana, the farm, and a hard-working father got into Keith Frank too and blossomed in the style of music he would eventually be celebrated for: Zydeco. While he acknowledges that he’s no Britney Spears, that his music isn’t likely to make the radio as today’s big hits do, he’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a long career doing what he loves; playing music in a style that feels just like home.
Zydeco and Frank’s Early Days
Perhaps music was inevitable for a boy like Keith Frank who grew up with drums lying around and instruments within reach of his young hands. As Frank recently stated in an interview with Kreol Magazine, “I started playing drums with my dad when I was 3.” As time progressed, he’d move from instrument to instrument, from drums to cowbell, from cowbell to keyboards. Eventually he added guitar and accordion, the latter being the telltale instrument of the Zydeco genre. Though he learned a bit of music reading as a teen, he never had formal music training and is considered self-taught as well as influenced by his father’s instruction.
Frank talks about his father being a great influence and more than just musically. His father had a strong work ethic. He worked at the nearby plant and then the farm. Sometimes he worked two jobs to make ends meet. His work rate was relentless and knowing the alternatives out there for him, he gravitated to music even more and pushed himself to learn, to make it work. By 1986 he had started his own group and chose to stay on that musical path with few deviations.
Music vs Education
For Frank, music has been the main path and other aspects of his life have necessarily had to flow from or into it. Attending college and receiving a degree was, in some ways, a support in his musical development. It was not considered a competitor or an aspect of life that would pull him from music. In fact, his chosen field of electronics and engineering only served to solidify his music-making. He was able to construct himself a studio and obtain work in sound. His college education enabled him to work within the field of music across many disciplines over several decades. His work in the music industry has allowed him to create his own music as well as produce the music of other musicians. Knowing so many instruments and then learning the electronic side of music in a formal way has ensured his place within the industry he loves.
Zydeco by Blood
While Keith picked up music as a young child, he also notes that Zydeco, the music of the Creoles, is in his blood. His ancestors were noted players since the mid nineteenth century. Hailing from a family of talented Creole musicians, it might even seemed inevitable that he would gravitate to the sound of his homeland–Soileau, Louisiana. He performed regularly with his father’s band, the Swallow Family Band, until he had begun to write and master his own playing, his own signature style.
Changing the Face of Zydeco
True, very true, Frank is no Britney Spears. Yet his folk music is also seen as an antidote to generated superstardom, to a hit-making formula. With his grass roots upbringing and sheer desire to play in this style, Frank has helped transform it, to give it a modern face. He has taken this historic style and made it fresh and new again for fans and even for other Zydeco musicians like himself. Playing to sold-out shows and influencing new generations of musicians, not just Zydeco musicians, but a wider musical community too–Frank is also promoting the Creole community in the arts and demonstrating its continued viability in both the state and beyond.
Staving Off Retirement
Back in 2010, Frank was seriously considering retiring. His twenty-five years as the premier Zydeco act, however, was not something he could shrug off to simply travel or do something else. In addition, he also promised his mother he’d continue after she asked him to keep going, to keep carrying on the family musical tradition. So, in spite of new promoters, new fast acts hoping to ride on his coattails or knock the king off his perch, Frank is sticking around to move Zydeco ever forward.
Frank now presides over this genre much like a king but not a king that sits back and relaxes. This king works; this king gets out in front of a grateful audience and plays the music that’s somewhere deep in their blood. When he plays, they feel that connection to the Creole community of the past and the present. It’s beyond hit songs on radios. Frank’s music is a way of life and just as Zydeco inspires his fans, it inspires him to keep playing, to keep this musical connection going strong. Fans and would-be fans can visit his website (http://www.keithfrank.com) to see where he’s playing next.
Whatever the venue, whatever the town, it’s guaranteed to be a memorable event. Frank gives the audience a Zydeco extravaganza that doesn’t stop until the last cord hangs in the air and the applause comes and comes for this Zydeco king who entertains every town like it’s his hometown.