Nathan Williams only pretends he’s a millionaire accordion hero


By Steve Newton

For Louisiana accordionist-vocalist Nathan Williams—leader of Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas—music is a family affair. He grew up admiring his uncle, Harry Hypolite, who played guitar for the godfather of zydeco, Clifton Chenier. Williams was heavily influenced by Chenier, whom he regularly watched perform at the noted El Sido’s Lounge in Lafayette, Louisiana, which is run by his big brother, Sid Williams, who’s also Nathan’s manager.

When he’s on the road, Nathan enjoys the company of another brother, Dennis Paul Williams, who plays guitar in the band. And that guy flailing away at the washboard is Mark Anthony Williams, Nathan’s cousin. So pity the fool who stands in front of the stage at a Cha Chas show and shouts, “You suck, Williams!”

Not that anyone would be inclined to do so in the first place, as the music Williams and kin pump out is a relentlessly upbeat, R&B-inflected blend of zydeco and traditional Louisiana Creole styles that’s cause for celebration, not confrontation. So far, the 40-year-old recording artist has released seven albums’ worth of this infectious gumbo, and he must be doing something right, because judging by the cover of his latest disc, Let’s Go, he’s swimming in cash. It sports a photo of the smiling, shades-wearing musician joyfully swinging his instrument while stepping onto a private jet.

Ya gotta like those millionaire accordion heroes.

“Oh, that’s not my jet,” explains Williams from his Lafayette home. “I just got my picture taken at the airport, gettin’ on it. But I been in the business about 18 years, and we got a pretty good following. I’m big on the East Coast and the Midwest—all over, man. I mean, we go on tour on Tuesday, and we’re gonna be gone for a month, and then we’ll come back and go to Belgium to do a coupla festivals.”

Before he heads over to Europe, Williams’s North American jaunt will include a stop at the Yale next Thursday (May 15), where his band will be followed by Vancouver zydeco stalwart Gary Comeau. The two should have no trouble giving locals a genuine taste of the bayou.

“I want the people to come out and have a good time ’cause we gonna be rollin’ it,” stresses Williams. “You tell them people to come on out and support the band. I just ordered a big batch of CDs, and I want ’em to come buy them CDs and stuff.”

With such an enterprising outlook, Williams may just get that jet yet.

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