Q. Where were you born and when? Tell us a little about where you live now.
A. I was born in Lafayette, LA on March 3rd, 1979, and lived there until I was 18 years old. The youngest of eight children, I am the son of the late Alton Joseph Rubin Senior and Elvina Rubin. My brothers and sisters include Audrey, Joyce, Alice, Louella, Alton Rubin Jnr., David and Anthony. (Dwayne adopted the stage name of Dwayne Dopsie after his fathers stage name Rockin' Dopsie.)
Lafayette is a city of approximately 350,000 people, rich in Creole and Cajun culture. I spent my childhood there and left when I was 18 to move to Metairie. On September 5, 1997, at the invitation of Kerry Boutie, I started performing five nights a week at Zydeco Joe's, under the name of Dwayne Dopsie and The Zydeco Sont Pas Sale, which included drummer Michael Alexander.
Metairie is the first suburb of New Orleans, Louisiana, located on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain between two of Louisiana's largest cities, New Orleans and Kenner. Like New Orleans, Metairie is located below sea level and has large annual Mardi Gras celebrations. The world's longest bridge, the twin span, 24-mile long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway connects Metairie to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, where many of Metairie and New Orleans' former residents have moved. Metairie forms a part of the Greater New Orleans metropolitan area and is technically an unincorporated part of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Unlike the other 49 states, Louisiana, due to its French heritage, has parishes rather than counties. With a population of about 160,000 the word Metairie comes from the French word which means farm.
Q. Tell us a little about the other musicians in your family.
A. My father, Alton Joseph Rubin Snr. was a Zydeco legend, with a stage name of Rockin' Dopsie. (pronounced Doopsy) Of my brothers and sisters, Anthony plays accordion, David the washboard, and Alton the drums. They perform under the name of Rockin' Dopsie Junior and the Zydeco Twisters.
Q. You grew up in a family where your father, the late Rockin' Dopsie was as you mentioned, a Zydeco legend. What is your earliest memory of the accordion?
A. One morning, at the age of 4, while my parents were still sleeping, after Dad had been out late playing, I got up to find that my Dad had left his accordion out on the table. I was fascinated with the accordion, so I slid the straps on, however, when I moved away from the table, the accordion was too heavy, and the weight pulled me forward, and I fell face first on the floor, with the accordion on, making a huge crash.
Waking my parents, my Dad came running out while exclaiming in a deep voice, "Boy, what the hell are you doing?" After this, my father started me on the washboard when I was 6, as it was lighter and easier to manage than the accordion. When I was seven, my father gave me a smaller accordion that he rarely played. I began learning by listening to him play and watching his fingers.
Q. Did you see/hear your father perform (or practice) a lot when you were very young?
A. I heard him more in concert than I ever heard him at home. When he was home, he was either eating or sleeping. Usually the only time he would bring out his accordion was to clean it. You can see from this picture of Rockin' Dopsie, that he played the accordion differently from everyone else.
He always wore it, what would be upside down, to us, therefore playing the keyboard with his left hand, and pulling the bellows with his right.
Q. Why did you choose the accordion rather than another instrument?
A. I chose the accordion because I loved the sound. In addition, the accordionist was always the leader of the band, and after my dad, I always wanted to have my very own band.
Q. Was your first accordion the same type of instrument that you play now?
A. My first accordion was a red pearl one with 12 bass buttons and 31 treble keys. This accordion had been my fathers for over 20 years. Currently I play a pearl red accordion which was my fathers last instrument. It has 80 basses and 37 treble buttons.
Q. You were playing the accordion alongside your father at the age of 7. Can you remember your very first performance?
A. My first performance was at Mardi Gras in Lafayette. Each year my father would play downtown at the Underpass. I would always go, even before I started playing the accordion. At age seven, my first performance was here, when I played "Lucile" with my fathers band backing me.
Q. Did your father give you any money for this performance?
A. I was too short to stand with the accordion, so my father sat me on the edge of the accordion case. After my performance, my father ran up and threw a couple of dollars in the case. This began a chain reaction with the crowd, and soon everyone was throwing money in the case. Before I knew it, I had over $50.00! You can imagine the excitement for me, a little 7 year old boy, who all of a sudden had this much money!
Q. Do you have any humorous memories of your early performances?
A. It sounds funny now, however until about the age of 10 years old, every time I would perform on stage, I would start to cry. My brothers would always make fun of me, calling me a crybaby. I don't know why, but every time I would start playing, the tears would start streaming down my face!
Q. Did you have any musical hero's as a child?
A. The only hero for me musically, is my Dad. From the moment I heard him, till this day, I have been influenced by his music. I feel my Dad played the traditional Zydeco music, which is the style I prefer. The artists that play Cajun music today have stayed within the limits of what I consider to be Cajun style, however, I think the Zydeco players have gone overboard to a more 90's or even Hip-Hop style. I feel Zydeco is more 'blues', so I don't really have anyone to look up to, that plays within the limits of the Zydeco style. My Dad was the greatest, and everything I do points towards his influence.
Q. You mentioned that the Zydeco style is more "blues". Can you tell me a little more about this.
A. Zydeco means "Snap Bean". (In French, "Les Haricots", means green beans, and when pronounced in French Creole, the "s" is pronounced like a "z", it misses the silent "H" then is joined to the "a", rolled 'r' and finishes with a silent "t" so "Les Haricots" sounded like "Lez-arico" or with the French Creole accent, "Zydeco".)
Around the turn of the century while the farmers were out working in the fields, (picking the beans) they would hum melodies to help pass the time. The workers would come in from the fields, and while cooking, would wonder about the salt content of the beans. It is said that the favorite melody was called "Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales" which translates as "The snap beans are not salty." This 'blues' melody, was the beginning of the Zydeco music.
This is how I came up with the name of my first band which I mentioned earlier: "The Zydeco Sont Pas Sales".
Q. Even while only 9 years of age, you performed on the Dolly Parton Show. How did this performance come about? What did you do on the show?
A. I went along with my father to the Dolly Parton Show, which had been arranged by Dad's manager. My father was being interviewed and did some performing. For one of the performance numbers, he realized that there was room to squeeze one more person on stage, so I was brought on, and played the washboard, standing right next to him for the performance.
Q. You performed during a Super Bowl half-time show when only 10 years of age. How did this performance come about?
A.Dad was invited to do a live TV Broadcast, which was inserted as the half-time show during the television coverage. We were playing at the Riverwalk, in New Orleans, live for this. It was very exciting, and there was just three of us. My father played accordion, and my brother David and I played washboard.
Q. Were you doing a lot of performing at that time?
A. I was doing quite a bit of performing with my Dad, and this included the ones we just talked about, as well as a TV commercial for the Louisiana Community Coffee. I was also playing at all the non-club performances my father did, since I was not old enough to get into the clubs back then.
Q. Tell us a little about where you went to school and your studies.
A. I went to Acadian High School, in Lafayette, LA. I didn't study any music classes at school. The only thing you could do was play in the marching band, which didn't interest me, since I couldn't use the accordion. Since I didn't study music formally, I still don't read music.
My father died while I was in 9th grade, and I continued on until the 12th grade when I finally left school without graduating. Looking back, I still don't really regret this, as graduation and even a college degree (which is extremely expensive) doesn't guarantee you a job.
I am currently making a very good, full time living out of music, and feel happy about that.
Q. Did all this performing effect your work while attending school?
A. My performances took me out of school a lot when I was younger. Of course for me (a typical young student) that was great. I loved being able to miss school. When I turned 11 years old, the performances that took me out of school, tapered off gradually. Even though I was missing school, I feel my father educated me well in all areas of my life such as music, values and common sense.
Q. When and why, did you decide to make music your career?
A. My teachers would advise me that I couldn't just depend on music, that I needed an education too. This made me even more determined to make career out of music! I didn't want a day time job as I hated getting up in the mornings and I didn't want to work for anyone else, I wanted to be my own boss.
I felt like I had been blessed with a musical skill given from God, through my father. I knew if I didn't take advantage of it, it would be taken away. I really believe the Lord had given me this talent, so I wanted to use it.
Q. How much of an influence was your father on your choice of a career with the accordion?
A. About 98% from my Dad, the other 2% came from me saying yes!
Q. Can you fill in what has been happening with your professional career over the last few years?
A. I have been very active performing, and some of my bigger performances include playing at the New Orleans Casino in Las Vegas, performing with Lou Ross, in Mobile, AL, Alfred's Beale Street in Memphis, and winning the "Battle of the Bands" at the AAA convention in New Orleans.
Q. When was "Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers" started? How did the name come about? How did you select the players and types of instruments?
A. My band started January 26th, 1999. For the name I took "Dopsie" from my fathers stage name, and the "Hellraisers" from my wife, who said, with our music, we were going to be out raising hell!
Our band consists of the traditional Zydeco band format of guitar, bass, drums and washboard, led by accordion. The guitar player is Jamil Williams, drummer Keith Sonnier who grew up next door to me. We did school shows together, and I always promised that when I had my own band, I would invite him to join it, which he did. My bass player Michael Alexander, comes from my band I started when I first moved to New Orleans. While playing one night after we first started, our washboard player, known only as "Crab", walked in and asked if he could play with us. We knew immediately after the first piece, that he was the one, and is now full time with the band.
Q. Is there any place where people can hear you performing regularly?
A. I perform five nights a week at La Strada's, located right in the heart of the French Quarter, in New Orleans. It is right on the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Louis. I perform from Tuesday through Saturday nights from 9.00 PM -1.30 AM. (There is a one drink minimum to get in.)
Q. How did you learn about the "Search for the Hottest" competition sponsored by the American Accordionists' Association, the Lawrence Welk Resorts and Accordions Worldwide?
A. I was contacted by a lady by the name of Carrie Leum, who knew of me after winning the "Battle of the Bands" at the AAA Festival in New Orleans last year. I originally wasn't going to enter, as I was so busy with my performances, and didn't know if I had time to make a tape etc... Finally my wife convinced me to do it.
Q. How did you go about making a home video to send in?
A. I managed to get a video camera, and went along to where I perform at La Stradas during off hours to make the tape. We recorded six of our songs and I submitted the video to the Welk Resort to be considered as a finalist.
Q. What was your reaction (and the bands) to being selected for the Hottest Finals?
A. I was very happy, however a little surprised. The one reason I thought I would have been accepted though, was that I was sure I was the only Zydeco performer entering the contest, and therefore it would be something different. My fellow band members were extremely excited for me as well.
Q. At the competition, were you surprised to be met at the airport by the media?
A. I wasn't too surprised, considering this was a nation wide search. I imagined the media would jump on this, since it was something different. I had thought they may have tried to use this as an opportunity to poke fun at the accordion, however have been very happy about the positive coverage they have given.
Q. How did it feel being part of a competition? Was this a first time in competition?
A. I found this to be a friendly atmosphere, even though it was a competition. I was the only Zydeco accordionist, which I liked, since this was really my thing, I was also the only button accordionist, as the others all played the piano accordion. I was happy to be doing something different than the others. Overall, I was very excited.
The only other competition I had entered was the "Battle of the Bands" which I won last year at the AAA convention in New Orleans.
Q. Did you feel good after your performance at the competition?
A. In honesty, I didn't do as well as I wanted to. I really wanted to go crazy and show off my talent, but I didn't want to overdo it, not knowing how the audience at the Welk Resort would react. I did OK, but it certainly was not my best. I did do a good 'split' though!
If I did it over again though, I would just be me, and do what I had really wanted to do, and that was "really just go nuts!!!"
Q. Do you think the concept of the "Search for the Hottest" event should be repeated, maybe in a few years?
A. Yes. I think the accordion needs something like this. I would certainly compete again! In a few years, my skills will have improved too, so I would love to win again!
Q. Since the event, you have been featured on a number of TV shows. Was it fun being on shows that few accordionists (if any) had been featured on before?
A. After the contest, I was flown to New York to appear on Good Morning America. This was very exciting for me, as I had always wanted to meet Charles Gibson. He was very down to earth, and I really felt comfortable being around him. I didn't have my band with me, so it was a big thrill to appear as a soloist on national TV. I was so proud to be the "Hottest" accordionist in the nation, and felt that I was treated with a lot of respect. (Peter Soave was also a guest of Charles Gibson on Good Morning America, after winning an International competition.)
So far, I haven't done any other TV appearances (apart from Sunday Morning, which was part of a documentary filmed about the Search for the Hottest Accordionist.) However, they are working on appearances with the Late Show, with David Letterman, Regis and Kathy Lee, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno plus a few others. I really hope they work out.
Q. Earlier, you told us a little about your accordion. Can you tell us about the tuning and any other special features?
A. I have three accordions at the moment, and number four is on the way. The tuning on all of them is "G-C-F." This is normal for zydeco music. Most of the others, play much smaller accordions though. My accordion is made in Italy, and is a little unique for Zydeco accordionists, in that the right hand is diatonic (same key produces a different note depending on the direction of the bellows) and the left hand is not, meaning it has the standard bass configuration of a traditional accordion. Most of the accordions used in this kind of music, are diatonic on both sides.
I only use one G-C-F accordion (as opposed to having two accordions) and this is enough to do an entire show. I have a new accordion on order, a black one with Rhinestones, with the name "MERCY" down the front, because when they hear me play, they are going to be saying exactly that: "MERCY"!
Q. For readers outside the USA who have not heard you perform on TV, do you sing as well as perform? Do you dance? How would you best describe what you do?
A. Yes, I sing and dance during my show. It is very high energy, however it is something you really can't describe, you must see it for yourself!
Q. Describe how you try to integrate the sound of your accordion into the group and your music?
A. The group really must try to integrate the sound of their instruments with the accordion.
Q. How much of your music is your own composition/s? How much is your own arrangements?
A. I play about 70% of my own arrangements, and I use a lot of my fathers material too. I don't play key for key, the same each time, but it always is within the same style.
I play strictly Zydeco music of which 95% is my own music and about 5 percent traditional Zydeco. (Within the Zydeco style theme I can also play blues, boogie, 2 step and waltzes.)
Q. Do you have any recordings for sale. If so. where can the be purchased.
A. I have a CD coming out now, due to be released next month called "Doing the Zydeco", by Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers. My current CD called "Rough and Uncut" is available at La Stradas during my shows. Both CD's will be available on my web site, which will be found at Accordions Worldwide, very soon.
Q. Describe your most "interesting" performance situation?
A. While playing hard one night, my bass strap broke, and my left arm went flying! Also, during another performance, my shoulder strap broke, sending my accordion flying. As far as the audience goes, one night, we asked for a volunteer to come up from the audience to play the washboard, to promote a little fun. The lady came running up the stairs, tripped on the very top one, and fell face first at our feet!
Q. How many performances do you estimate to have made during your career?
A. I think I have made at least 1200 performances!
Q. Do you make the arrangements for the band, are they written arrangements or worked out by ear? How do you go about learning a piece?
A. We have never practiced as a band! The accordion leads the band, and the others fill in.
We don't want to give ourselves limitations, or ever appear on stage as having been rehearsed. The crowd can and must feel the spontinatey. We don't want to rehearse something, then when it doesn't happen that way on stage, be disappointed. For us it must come naturally. Everything is done on stage, and whatever happens, happens.
Q. What advice do you have for aspiring accordionists wanting to form bands and be professional performers?
A. You must follow your dreams, find someone you really look up to and keep the Lord in your life, as without him, nothing would be possible. Don't ever let anyone discourage you, believe in yourself and most of all believe that one day you WILL be someone or somebody.
Today there are lots of expectations on kids, the pressure that if you don't make it then and there, its over. There is time to learn about yourself, time to focus on what you want to accomplish, and want you want to do.
Q. Do you have any musical heroes today?
A. Only one, Dad!
Q. What non accordion music do you most like to listen to?
A. I love Blues with a guitar, Johnny Lee Hooker, B B King and Muddy Waters to name a few.
Q. What other interests and hobbies besides music do you have?
A. Like my father, I absolutely love to eat. Food is a passion. I also like to watch wrestling, and my favorite wrestler is Sting. I always buy tickets to wrestling matches. I would be interested in Basketball, however since the great Michael Jordan has left, I have no reason to watch anymore.
Q. What do you regard as your greatest achievement? What musical achievement are you most proud of?
A. My greatest achievement for me is having own band. As far as musical achievement, being crowned the "Hottest Accordionist" in the USA is my greatest moment.
Q. What are your more immediate career objectives and where do you see your career progressing in the future?
A. Four to five months from now, I hope to be known nation wide. I think the TV and Internet have a very great reach, and I hope to be known all over TV for my music and my accordion skills. I hope I can stay on top for as long as my fingers work!
I would love to have an "Accordion Theater," which I could have accordionists coming from around the world to play in. A good place would be in New Orleans or maybe even Branson.
I feel blessed that I can make my living with the accordion, and will do so for as long as I can. I want to know that I have made a difference, and there is never going to be anyone else like me.