From a Louisiana jam session to festivals all over the world, Yvette Landry is a Cajun musical sensation.
Yvette Landry’s career started in Breaux Bridge and has taken her all over the world. A teacher, author, and acclaimed musician, she’s now a member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Yvette talks about her beginnings, her sound, and the advice that took her to where she is now.
Yvette Landry epitomises the lesson that you can learn something new at any age. Yvette was 40 years old when she first picked up the bass guitar. Now she’s been inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, an astonishing and well-deserved achievement. Yvette has played all over the world, bringing her uniquely Cajun-inspired style to millions. Of her style, Yvette says: “I think my sound is unique because I bring a blend of several genres together. Influenced by Cajun, Creole, blues, swamp pop, soul and honky-tonk, the blending of these make for a good recipe. Much like the gumbo we have here.”
A musical heritage
The home of good, hearty gumbo is where Yvette grew up. She was born in the sixties in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. The nearby swamplands have been an inspiration for all kinds of stories and songs. Growing up here gave her an appreciation for the creativity and the language of her Cajun culture. Despite not picking up an instrument until later in life, her family has a musical heritage going back several generations.
“I come from a long line of musicians,” says Yvette, “seven generations on my father’s side to be exact. My son, Trevor, is a drummer in one of my bands. My brother, Mike, plays drums, guitar and bass. My nephew, Justin, is an incredible guitar player. My aunt was a music teacher for over 35 years, my father sang in a barbershop quartet, my grandparents (before they were married) had family bands. My grandfather Lucien, played drums, and my grandmother, Viola, played guitar and banjo. Each had 13 brothers and sisters who either played instruments or sang. They actually had one of the premier bands in Louisiana during the 1920s-40s.”
Yvette first picked up a bass guitar to distract herself from the unfortunate tragedy in her life. She was having trouble with her marriage, and her father had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a difficult time. Playing the bass gave her something else to focus on, and eventually, she attended a Cajun jam session someone told her about.
“Now, I’m Cajun. I’m from Breaux Bridge, but we didn’t really listen to Cajun music per se. You’d hear it on the radio on Saturday morning, but my family didn’t actively seek it out. And I remember that day that I went to the jam and I opened the door, and there was 50, 60 people in there, from eight years old to 80 years old, and they were all playing music, and it was all Cajun tunes. And I just had this feeling like, “I belong here, I need to be here.”
This feeling of belonging led to Yvette bringing her bass and an amp to the next session and joining in. Three months later, at a similar jam session, Yvette was surprised to be asked to play bass with a band. The drummer from the esteemed Lafayette Rhythm Devils heard her play and wanted her to come and join them at a gig not far from where she lived. Despite initial doubts, Yvette agreed.
“You know what? If those guys are crazy enough, knowing that I’ve only had this thing for three months to ask me to go play, I’m just going to go. I mean, what harm can it do?”
She went along, played bass guitar for them and the very next day they hired her as their official bass player. After this first taste of life as a musician, Yvette found that she needed more. She continued attending the jam sessions, and discovered a love for the accordion, the guitar, and even the fiddle. She wanted to do it all, and ended up learning four instruments all at the same time.
This led to her starting the all-female band, Bonsoir, Catin, which translates as “Goodnight, Sweetheart”. Today she plays with the Yvette Landry Band plus Yvette Landry and the Jukes. She describes the former as “American Louisiana honky-tonk” while she feels that The Jukes play more old-school style swamp pop.
Meeting the godfather
Swamp pop has come to the forefront of Yvette’s career lately, particularly in her work with the godfather of the genre, Warren Storm. Yvette has done a dual project, writing “Taking the World by Storm”. It’s a life story of Warren Storm Schexnider and his inspiring music career which spans over 70 years. She also created a musical companion, backing up Storm with a collection of stellar musicians including John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Marc Broussard and Sonny Landreth.
The special thing about the album was that it was all done the way it used to be: recorded live, straight to two-track with no digital overdubbing. All proceeds from the book go to help Mr. Storm, and Yvette donates plenty of her time to help out non-profits for ageing musicians, and other great causes.
Yvette has picked up plenty of wisdom on her musical journey. She had dropped out of college when she was younger, tried the working world, gone back to school, become a teacher, then started her musical career. She’s now a teacher of American Sign Language, music and songwriting, as well as an accomplished author. She doesn’t regret dropping out of school. Yvette says, “All those things you’ve failed at or didn’t like, they’re not failure; they’re knowledge.”
Her advice for up and coming musicians is to just say ‘yes’.
“It’s advice that was given to me,” says Yvette. “I was told, when I first started, ‘Don’t be afraid to play with people better than you. You’ll learn what to do from them. And don’t ever turn down a gig because you think the people may not be as good as you. Perhaps you’ll learn what “not” to do from them… and, they may learn something from you!’”
This advice has led from community jam sessions to a place in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Who knows where it will take Yvette Landry next?