Heart attack claims life of zydeco star
Beau Jocque opened genre to new generation of fans
By Keith Spera Music writer -
Beau Jocque, the hulking zydeco bandleader who helped revitalize a
southwest Louisiana music tradition and build an audience for it in New
Orleans, died Friday morning at his home in Kinder of an apparent heart
attack. He was 45.
"He was one of the most exciting artists I had ever seen," said Rounder
Records' Scott Billington, who produced five of Jocque's albums. "The first
time I saw him reminded me of hearing James Brown or (blues legend)
Howlin' Wolf for the first time. He took zydeco and transformed it into
music that was thoroughly contemporary. He energized the whole scene in
Jocque gave what turned out to be his final performance Thursday night
the Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n Bowl on South Carrollton Avenue. Following
the show, he drove home to Kinder. His wife reportedly found him
collapsed in the shower Friday morning.
Jocque's first New Orleans appearance was at the Mid-City Lanes in
1993, when he already was a star in southwest Louisiana but relatively
unknown locally. Soon, he became one of the top-drawing zydeco acts in
New Orleans. Mid-City Lanes owner John Blancher eventually had to
reinforce the dance floor of his second-story club to accommodate the
dancers who turned out to hear Jocque's propulsive brand of zydeco. "I
put support beams underneath the dance floor for Beau Jocque," Blancher
said. "People danced harder when he played. It was almost hypnotic; he
just grabbed (dancers)."
Jocque, whose real name was Andrus Espre, did not set out to be a
musician. After a stint in the military, he worked as a welder. While
recovering from injuries suffered on the job in 1986, he began to toy
around with his father's accordion. Soon he was making forays to zydeco
dance halls, studying other performers.
Contemporary zydeco musicians follow one of two traditions: the older,
percussive style of Boozoo Chavis, who uses a button-key accordion, or
the more rhythm-and-blues-influenced style of Clifton Chenier, who
employed a piano-key accordion. Jocque was of the Chavis tradition, but
he updated it by incorporating stuttering hip-hop beats and riffs from
funk band War and the Texas blues-rock trio ZZ Top.
"When people would ask him about his influences, he'd be just as quick
say Carlos Santana or War as he would Boozoo Chavis or Clifton
Chenier," Billington said. "He came up in the '60s and '70s. Seventies
was just as much a part of his sound as the traditional zydeco sound."
Given his unique approach, the popularity of Jocque and his band, the
Zydeco Hi-Rollers, soared. By the early 1990s, he was filling Richard's
Club in Lawtell, Hamilton's Club in Lafayette, and other zydeco halls with
hundreds of dancers, many of whom had previously dismissed zydeco as
the music of their parents and grandparents.
"He brought younger people to the dance hall, and helped make the
tradition relevant for the next generation," said Michael Tisserand, author
of "The Kingdom of Zydeco."
Jocque's 1993 debut for Rounder Records, "Beau Jocque Boogie," is
considered a classic of the genre. It features the anthem "Give Him
Cornbread," which became a massive hit in southwest Louisiana and
Jocque's signature song. Radio stations were flooded with requests, and
audiences would pelt Jocque with cornbread when he performed the song
"When that record hit, you couldn't go anywhere in southwest Louisiana
without hearing it coming out of somebody's window or car," Billington
said. "It was the kind of record they played twice in a row on the radio.
When he played Richard's Club, there would be cars up and down the
highway for a half mile in either direction."
Standing more than 6 feet 6 inches tall, Jocque cut a striking figure onstage;
an accordion seemed like a toy in his hands. He was not inclined to tour
extensively as Geno Delafose, Buckwheat Zydeco and other artists, but he
performed in Turkey and England and appeared on the David Letterman
and Conan O'Brien shows. When the Rolling Stones were in New Orleans
to perform in October 1994, vocalist Mick Jagger and drummer Charlie
Watts made it a point to catch Jocque's show at the Mid-City Lanes.
During the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Mid-City would play
host to good-natured zydeco "battles" pitting Jocque against Chavis. The
events would draw more than 1,000 people, including many who were not
typical zydeco fans. "He definitely introduced new people to zydeco,"
Blancher said. "To me, he was the genius of the genre. As long as I've
been around, he had the most impact on the music, with more musicians
copying his songs and trying to do his stuff."
"He was a one-of-a-kind person and musician," Billington said. "He came
from humble beginnings, but he had the vision and belief in himself to
transform himself into this character that he imagined, 'Beau Jocque.'
was an intensity to Beau Jocque's music that made it transcend genre.
People would see him, and whether they knew zydeco or not, it made an
impact on them. I don't see anyone who really can fill his shoes, who has
that authenticity and emotional substance."
"His talent, warmth and humor made him truly an embodiment of the best
of zydeco and Creole culture," Tisserand said. His death "is like a big
fell, and suddenly the forest is real quiet."
Jocque is survived by his wife, Shelly Espre, and two sons. A wake will
held at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church Hall of Kinder on Tuesday from
p.m. until midnight. A funeral will be Wednesday at 8 a.m. at St. Philip
Neri. Ardoin Funeral Home of Kinder is in charge of arrangements.
New Orleans and Louisiana Music News
Giant Beau Jocque Passed Away Unexpectedly!
Zydeco giant Beau Jocque passed away early this morning, Friday, September
10th, from an apparent heart attack at his Kinder Louisiana home. He had
completed a gig at Rock and Bowl Thursday night & owner John Blanchar
he looked and sounded great. Beau Jocque left for home at 2:30 in the morning,
and wove goodbye to Blanchar as he left. Beau's wife called Blancher this
morning to tell him the sad news. Louisiana and the world will miss Beau,
great artist and star.
KINDER, La. (AP)
- Beau Jocque, an accordian player who helped revitalize
Louisiana's zydeco music, is dead of an
apparent heart attack. He was 45.
Jocque, whose given name was Andrus Espre,
performed Thursday night in New
Orleans, then drove 177 miles home to
Kinder. His wife found him collapsed in
the shower Friday morning.
Jocque worked as a welder before picking
up his father's piano-key accordion.
In his version of zydeco, he combined
rhythm-and-blues, hip-hop beats, funk
and Texas blues-rock.
He was credited with bringing zydeco, a
mix of old-time cajun music and
rhythm-and-blues, to contemporary audiences,
filling halls in Lafayette,
Lawtell, New Orleans and other cities
where he often played with his band,
the Zydeco Hi-Rollers. He also played
overseas, and on the David Letterman
and Conan O'Brien shows.
When the 6-foot-6 Jocque played one of
his big hits, ``Give Him Cornbread,''
audiences would pelt him with pieces of
Jocque is survived by his wife, Shelly
Espre, and two sons.
Jocque, 45, Musician Whose Band Updated Zydeco
By JON PARELES
Beau Jocque, whose deep, bluesy voice and muscular zydeco band
made him the top draw in the zydeco dance halls of the Louisiana
bayou, died on Friday at his home in Kinder, La. He was 45.
The cause was apparently a heart attack, reported The Daily Advertiser
of Lafayette, La.
Beau Jocque was the stage name of Andrus Espre, who was born in
Duralde, La. He was 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 270 pounds, an
imposing presence made even stronger by his hefty growl of a voice. He
played a traditional three-row Cajun button accordion, but his repertory
moved beyond Acadian waltzes and two-steps to embrace blues, funk,
reggae and rapping, and he sang primarily in English, not Creole. His
music kept a young audience coming to the zydeco dance halls of
Louisiana and East Texas and quickly earned him a national reputation.
Early in his life he dabbled in music, playing guitar and tuba, but he
behind when he enlisted in the Air Force as a teen-ager. In 1987, while
working as an electrician and welder, he was attaching a monitor to a
chemical container when his pipe wrench slipped and he fell 20 feet to
concrete floor. He was partly paralyzed, and during his 10 months of
recuperation he began to play his father's button accordion and decided
to change careers.
With his wife, Michelle, he studied the mainstays of the zydeco circuit,
particularly the stark, propulsive playing of Boozoo Chavis. "We
checked out C. J. Chenier, Buckwheat Zydeco, Boozoo Chavis, John
Delafose, and I'd watch the crowd," he told an interviewer. "When they
got real excited, I'd try to feel what was happening. I realized that when
you get the whole thing just right, it's going to move the crowd."
He had grown up listening to rock, soul and blues, and when he started
his band, the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, in 1991, it used brawny bass lines and
brash rock lead guitar solos. One of the band's theme songs was a
rewritten version of War's "Low Rider." Beau Jocque's song "Give Him
Cornbread," a revved-up two-step with a rap section, became a 1990's
zydeco standard. Onstage the band was single-mindedly geared toward
dancers, with Beau Jocque shouting "K-k-k-kick it!" and "Pump it up!"
Beau Jocque, with the Zydeco Hi-Rollers, released six albums nationally
on Rounder Records and others on Louisiana labels including his own
label, Beau Jocque Music. He and Chavis performed in occasional
showdowns, trading insults onstage while remaining friends. One battle
was captured in Robert Mugge's 1994 documentary "The Kingdom of
Zydeco." In recent years Beau Jocque toured the United States regularly,
but he never left behind the bayou dance-hall circuit where he reigned;
was scheduled to perform in Lafayette last weekend.
He is survived by his wife and their sons, Andrus Adrian and Justin
Travis, of Kinder.
By Michael Tisserand
The problem was size. When writing about Beau Jocque, describing his
enormity was the main challenge. He "straddles
center stage like a
Colossus, spreading his long legs so his
6-foot-6 frame can fit under
Richards Club's low ceiling," I attempted
in the 1993 liner notes to
Beau Jocque Boogie, the first of Beau
Jocque¹s five albums for Rounder.
"He bellows in the kind of voice you might
find at the top of a
beanstalk," went a later effort.
Beau Jocque was big. Once, on a drive in south Louisiana, he stopped to
look for a leather jacket. Most of what
was on the rack barely fit around
his arm. Another time, I joined him in
Canal Place, looking for shoes. We
visited store after store until finally
finding a single pair that fit.
On stage, the accordion seemed like a tiny sponge in his massive hands.
When he opened his mouth to sing, he evoked
the equally sizable Howlin
Wolf as a blues influence, and he married
his vocal style with rap, funk
and classic rock styles from War and ZZ
Top, achieving a big sound with
loud volume and long solos that led to
Starting in the early 90s, his impact in south Louisiana eclipsed
everything that had come before. Trucks
parked for miles up and down the
highway outside Richard's Club. Hamilton's
Place in Lafayette had to move
the cows from a nearby field to make more
room for cars. His biggest
song, Give Him Cornbread, was everywhere;
people used to drive past his
house in Kinder, car windows open, radio
blaring, bass thumping,
Beau Jocque never truly made it big in the world of popular music, but
he did appear on David Letterman's and
Conan O'Brien's shows, and his
records outsold most zydeco releases.
These indicators of success,
however, seem like small change now, as
does the fact that I have never
experienced music and dancing like I did
with Beau Jocque's music, and
that if I wanted to turn someone on to
zydeco, I always just gave them
Beau Jocque Boogie and it blew their mind.
Now, the biggest thing in south Louisiana is that Beau Jocque is gone.
"You're going to look in there," promises
Gabriel "Pandy" Perrodin Jr.,
"and you're going to miss that big man
in the middle."
TV camera lights glance off Perrodin's yellow sunglasses. It's Thursday
morning, Sept. 16, and beside him, three
of the remaining Zydeco
Hi-Rollers ‹ guitarist Perrodin, bass
player Chuck Bush and rubboard
player Wilfred "Caveman" Pierre
are standing on the walk to St.
Phillip Neri Catholic Church in Kinder,
answering questions for
television reporters from Lafayette and
Perrodin is describing the first show the band did without their leader,
Beau Jocque. It was just this Sunday in
Lake Charles. Chris Ardoin and
J.J. Caillier sat in on accordion. They
turned Beau Jocque's scheduled
dance into a tribute. But you still just
couldn't get over, Perrodin is
explaining, that big hole in the stage.
The previous night at this church in Kinder, the zydeco world had
arrived to pay its last respects to one
of their own. There was Roy
Carrier, owner of the Offshore Lounge
in Lawtell. The Sam Brothers, who
were zydeco stars in the 1970s, came with
their aged father, Herbert Sam,
who once had rocked the walls of Houston
zydeco clubs in the 1950s.
Nathan and Sid Williams came, and Sid¹s
Lafayette club, El Sid O's,
contributed the largest flowers on the
altar. Buckwheat Zydeco drove with
them. Sean Ardoin arrived from Baton Rouge.
Lawrence and Chris Ardoin
came in from Lake Charles. So did the
Boozoo Chavis family. There was the
Dopsie family, Willis Prudhomme, Jeffery
Broussard. Geno and Tony
Delafose, whose father, John, died from
a heart attack after playing a
show, just like Beau Jocque. Even Keith
Frank, who for years engaged in
the most bitter and mean-spirited of rivalries
with Beau Jocque, came to
Kinder to sign his band into the guest
This morning, Beau Jocque is receiving his funeral mass. He is taking
one last drive down Highway 190 to St.
Matilda Cemetery in Eunice to be
buried near his boyhood home in Duralde,
and near his father, who died
just two weeks earlier.
Depending on reports Beau Jocque liked to fudge about his age the
musician was between 43 and 45 when he
died. Born Andrus Espre, he grew
up in a traditional Creole household,
headed by a musician father, Sandrus
Espre, whose talents were celebrated among
neighbors, but who had
curtailed his music playing to please
his wife. Sandrus was known as "Tee
Toe," a joke about his small size, but
Andrus was an oversized child
whose own nickname was originally a taunt
about his great heft. He was
also called Juke Jake because he could
learn songs so quickly; he played
tuba in school, among other instruments.
Andrus Espre's life was marked by incredible near-death experiences. He
didn't like to talk about it, but he once
said that while serving in the
military, he suffered from a near-fatal
explosion and lost consciousness
for a lengthy period of time. But the
accident that changed his life
and the future of zydeco happened in 1987,
when he was working as an
electrician. He fell about 20 feet and
landed in a sitting position on a
slab of concrete. "My lower back just
got real hot," he recalled. "I knew
something wrong had happened."
His back was shattered; it would plague him for the rest of his life.
But after extensive operations and considerable
depression, Andrus Espre
got up again. He taught himself how to
play his father¹s old accordion,
and he and his wife, Michelle, began visiting
local dance clubs, studying
the players and dancers. Andrus Espre
was reinventing himself as Beau
Jocque. As his longtime Rounder producer,
Scott Billington, has marveled,
it was as if he had devised a fictitious
character and now was completely
I first met Beau Jocque during the recording of "Cornbread." Billington
had hired me to write liner notes, and
as I walked into Ultrasonic
Studios, the song was blasting from the
speakers, and drummer Steve
"Skeeta" Charlot was at the microphone,
adding more high-pitched,
stuttering vocal shouts. Around the waiting
room, various friends
sleepily milled about, clutching thin
"Cornbread" became zydeco's first modern hit, in no small way launching
the phenomenally popular contemporary
zydeco scene. For the next few
years, I would devote a portion of my
life to spinning tales in print of
the exploits of Beau Jocque.
"You know, a psychic once told me this
would happen," Beau Jocque was
saying as I struggled to keep our rental
van in line with the 90 m.p.h.
traffic hurtling into the city of London.
"It was when I was over here in
the military. She told me all about this,
and that I would return here
some day, and I'd be with a rich white
He paused, then let out a hearty laugh. For one week in July 1994, I had
decided to quit playing journalist and
become a Hi-Roller altogether. A
friend had booked Beau Jocque on a short
series of shows through England,
and asked if I wanted to go along to manage
the tour. No money. Free
ticket. My duties: collect payments, rent
the van, trouble-shoot,
coordinate any media. And, though he didn¹t
tell me at the time, be
prepared to catch flak and take shit from
I decided that I wanted to go and not write about it at all. Experience
something for itself, for once. Beau Jocque
never believed I wasn't
The shows were great. From night to night, Beau Jocque was working up a
version of the soul standard "Don't Let
the Green Grass Fool You" that
kept getting better and better. He and
drummer Charlot continually
bounced jokes and rhymes off each other.
The band was in high spirits,
despite the fact that I was constantly
getting us lost. In London, we
usually circumnavigated the fast-paced
"round-abouts" three or four times
before spinning our way onto the desired
This helplessness behind the wheel made me a favorite band target for
jokes, along with drummer Charlot, who
was being convinced that if you
look closely, your watch hands will start
spinning when you cross time
Things had gone great in the town of Derby, where Beau Jocque played a
place called the Swamp Club and was treated
like a visiting king. We all
stayed at the home of a local musician
who fed us scones and even gave
Charlot an accordion, but Beau Jocque
grew suspicious when he was asked
to join an informal jam session. "They
get us over here because they want
to take our songs," he quietly muttered
to me on the house's staircase.
In London, the band was booked for an event called the American South
Festival at the prestigious South Bank
Centre. It was a posh gig in a
theater called the Queen Elizabeth Hall;
the concert featured a number of
players from south Louisiana, including
the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band and
Creole fiddler Canray Fontenot.
But as soon as we reached the Centre, things really did start to go
south, especially for the Hi-Rollers tour
The problems started because, in true zydeco style, the Hi-Rollers had
been staying up night after night, scraping
up gigs throughout the area,
making the trip pay. Zydeco rules dictate
that one rests only when and
where one can. So, shortly after reaching
South Bank, most of the band
fell sound asleep in the dressing room.
When nobody responded for the first call to sound check, the show
promoter became alarmed. She lit into
the show manager, a proper Brit
woman named Janet. And Janet lit into
me. I was ordered to gather "my
boys." A couple of band members were in
earshot, and they got up and
left; they later told me they were offended
by the expression, and by the
fact that I didn't correct her.
The British-zydeco culture clash kept worsening. The band still wasn't
ready for sound check, and I found myself
standing in a cavernous
concrete hallway, being glared at by Janet.
"I won't have it," she
hissed. "They seem to be mad at you, maybe
it's a racial thing. Whatever
it is, I won't have it."
Inside, Beau Jocque was still snoring heavily, and Michelle was sleeping
near him. The band was now scattered throughout
the arts complex. Then,
with no help from me, everyone started
to congregate. Sound check
proceeded with no incident, but the South
Bank people remained miffed
about how the band had showed up for the
important show completely
exhausted. For the rest of the night,
they blamed me.
There were other tensions. After the performance, I noticed Beau Jocque
and Michelle looking at a program from
the previous week. It had been a
blues show, with B.B. King as the headliner.
Ticket prices were higher
than those for the Louisiana show, which
probably meant that B.B. King
was making more money, and Beau Jocque
and Michelle weren't pleased.
"Yeah, but that's B.B. King," I offered.
Michelle looked at me firmly. "This is Beau Jocque," she reprimanded. I
never broke ranks again.
That week, the band had one day off, but only Beau Jocque, Michelle,
rubboard player Wilfred "Caveman" Pierre
and I wanted to go exploring. We
all took off to see the real Sherwood
Forest, the site of Robin Hood¹s
legendary exploits. When we got there,
it wasn¹t much different from the
woods near Kinder, except there was a
gift shop. But the day proved to be
one of those relaxing, low-key times you
remember forever, filled with
breezes and constant jokes.
Beau Jocque's favorite brand of humor was the kind that forces you to
let down your guard. I learned this again
as we walked through Sherwood
Forest at twilight. Beau Jocque solemnly
told me about the forests near
home, the site of mass graves of Indians,
a place where old Creole men
told him he could never stay past midnight.
"When we get back, I want you to come out there with me and bring your
tape recorder," he promised. "I want you
to prove to those old men that I
stayed until midnight."
Beau Jocque pointed to a hollowed tree next to the path.
"Why don¹t you go look and see who's in there?" he dared. I peered
a dark hole. A bird fluttered and swooped
out, and I let out a high-pitched shriek.
Beau Jocque doubled over, and his laughter echoed through Sherwood
At Beau Jocque's wake, Michelle was sitting
in the first pew, receiving
mourners. Her young sons, Andrus Adrian
and Justin Travis, ten and eight
years old, were playing around their father's
open casket. As they
climbed over the kneelers, they accidentally
pulled on the white lace
sheet that extended above the chest and
face of their father's body, and
it lightly fluttered off the casket lid.
Michelle shook her head, went up
and adjusted the fabric, and sat down.
She was visibly shaken. The oldest son, Andrus Adrian, who looks
startlingly like a young Beau Jocque,
and who was just starting to learn
accordion from his dad, put his arm around
Michelle looked up when I came over. The first thing she asked was if I
remembered the time in Sherwood Forest
when the bird flew out of the
tree. The Hi-Rollers came over, and our
conversation turned to Beau
Jocque's last night. The consensus was
that Beau Jocque knew he was going
In Seattle two weeks ago, the band recalled, he told them, "Here's my
money. If anything happens to me, make
sure this gets to Michelle and the
Looking back, Michelle wonders if Beau Jocque had been teaching her
accordion over the past summer because
he wanted to pass on what he knew
before he died. "That was very unusual
for him to be doing that," she
Beau Jocque's last show was Thursday, Sept. 9, at Mid City Lanes Rock
'n' Bowl. Michelle called her husband
constantly that night, much more
than usual. She played an accordion lick
he'd been showing her. The first
time she called, he said she would have
to cook him a pork chop before
he'd reveal more secrets. Then, she called
back, having mastered the lick
on her own.
"Pretty soon, you're going to be on the stage, and I'll be working at
the door," he told her.
"Just make sure you give me all the money," she shot back.
Michelle turned to Wilfred "Caveman" Pierre. "What did he say when I
said that?" she asked. "He laughed, like
he always does," he replied.
The show was somewhat subdued. At one point, Rock 'n' Bowl owner John
Blancher got up on stage to address rumors
that Beau Jocque wasn't going
to show up to play, and that he had canceled
a recent zydeco festival
appearance. "He's a pro to work with,"
Blancher said, and Beau Jocque
launched into "Blue Christmas."
On the drive back to Kinder, the Hi-Rollers were shocked to see their
leader with his shirt fully unbuttoned,
washing his bare chest in the
frigid air conditioning. Beau Jocque slept
heavily as the players took
the highway to Kinder. He awoke only to
get a glass of milk. He slept
At home, he didn't have his usual piece of cake, which was waiting in
the microwave. He crawled into bed, enveloping
his wife in his arms. "You
know I love you," he said.
The next morning, Michelle awoke to take the boys to school. Outside,
men were working on a new swimming pool.
Beau Jocque had gotten up to
take a shower. When she found him, he
was curled over, a victim of a
heart attack, and was turning colors.
The pool men attempted CPR while
she called the ambulance. Beau Jocque
couldn't be revived.
The TV reporters are circulating through
the Thursday morning funeral
crowd, requesting people to recall their
most memorable time with Beau
Perrodin remembers a time in Colorado when the TV stations were all
warning about bear attacks. Perrodin was
drunk and sleepwalking, and Beau
Jocque got scared because he thought he
was seeing a bear.
"I saw the world with Beau Jocque," bassist Chuck Bush says. "He was
like Uncle Beau. We were all planning
to go to his house last night for a
barbecue around the pool."
In front of the church, two posters are decorated with photographs of
Beau Jocque, including a large photo taken
with Conan O¹Brien. The priest
leads the full church through a mass,
stopping the homily to speak
quietly in French to Beau Jocque's mother.
1987, Andrus Espre turned adversity into triumph," the priest says.
"He didn¹t give up on himself."
The mass proceeds towards its climax of the transmogrification of bread
to body. This is a church that tries to
understand the possibility of quick change:
bread to body, Andrus Espre to Beau Jocque,
a broken back into a zydeco
warrior, animated life to sudden, unexpected
Sitting in the back, I think about the first extended trip I'd taken
with Beau Jocque. I was writing a road
journal, riding with him on
Highway 190 following a show at House
of Blues. Everyone was nodding off.
"Everybody is waiting for me to be quiet
so they can go to sleep!" Beau
Jocque thundered. "But I won't do it!"
Following the mass, the Hi-Rollers roll the casket down the center
aisle. An American flag is draped over
it, to honor Andrus Espre¹s
military record. A line of cars winds
its way back down Highway 190 to
Eunice, away from the realm of Beau Jocque
and back to the birthplace of
As the cars proceed, the surrounding prairie is quiet. Too quiet. When
we reach Eunice, I steer away from the
funeral motorcade and slip in a
Beau Jocque tape and crank it up.
"Did you have a good time?" Beau Jocque used to sing to close his
dances. "I know I had mine."