Yvette Landry inducted into Louisiana Music Hall of Fame
LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — Like any good Cajun story, this one starts at a zydeco jam.
Grammy-nominated musician Yvette Landry bought a bass guitar on a whim, hoping to find some peace in a failing marriage and with her father battling brain cancer. Days after buying the guitar, Landry was invited to a jam on Gloria Switch Road.
"I never thought I would do anything with that guitar except maintaining my sanity," she said. "It was something to think about other than what was going on in my life."
An old, north Lafayette home had been converted into a gift shop of sorts. Behind the counter sat an elderly, inquisitive man who hesitated when Landry name dropped a local musician. When she disclosed she was there to jam, he lead her through French doors to the back of the house.
In a glass enclosed porch, over 60 musicians, aged eight to 80, sat jamming simultaneously. Landry just sat and watched everyone play. At the end, she asked to come again next week and was welcomed with open arms.
What started as a hobby almost 15 years ago now has Landry being inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. During Festivals Acadiens et Creoles, the Breaux Bridge native was inducted live on stage during her set at Salle de Danse on Oct. 12.
After that first jam, Landry went back every Saturday, quickly adding a fiddle, guitar, and accordion to her repertoire.
"I was determined," she said. "I was like 'I'm gonna learn how to do all of this.' And I did it."
After three months, Landry was invited to a jam in Rayne. However, things at the Rayne jam were run a little different. Bands were created from whoever showed up, rotating instruments through different groups. All would go on stage, play three songs and if there was someone else waiting to play, they would switch on stage.
Landry was the last bass player to show up. After playing for over an hour, she had impressed a few people. Randy Vidrine, drummer for the Lafayette Rhythm Devils, asked if she was interested in playing with the band. To her own surprise, she said yes.
"If you guys are crazy enough to ask me to go, I'm kinda just crazy enough to go and do it," she said.
With an amp the size of a coffee cup, Landry played her first gig at Randol's, a Cajun restaurant, with only three months of experience under her belt. As she was leaving the venue, Vidrine paid her, and she was shocked. For the first time, she realized she could make money playing music.
The next day, he asked her to join the Lafayette Rhythm Devils. She's been with the band ever since.
She has also played with bands such as Yvette Landry & the Jukes and Bonsoir, Catin.
"I can't even tell you what it felt like," she said. "It was just the rush of playing music with some company."
Even to this day she gets the same, indescribable feeling.
Music is far from Landry's only interest. The educator, musician, producer, author, songwriter, and cultural ambassador likes to stays busy.
"I have to be busy, I don't know what to do if I'm not," she said. "I've always been like that."
Before she stumbled into the music scene, Landry had been a teacher for over 20 years, though she took the path less traveled.
When she first started college she followed in her father's footsteps and studied education. However, after he convinced her to switch degrees, two months in she dropped out to get a job and a car.
Her parents were horrified. She didn't want to waste their money but they told her no one ever goes back to college after dropping out. But she was different. Seven years later, she quit her oil field job and went back in school.
"All those things you've failed at or didn't like, they're not failure they're knowledge," she said.
She is currently still teaching, with homeschooling during the day and American Sign Language classes at University of Louisiana Lafayette in the evening. After 10 years in Lafayette Parish School district and 13 years at Episcopal School of Acadiana she switched gears again.
"Same thing with being a musician, if you were to ask me if I was ever going to be an author, I'd look at you and tell you 'Are you out of your mind? No I can't do that'," she said.
But here she is, working on her third book with swamp pop pioneer Warren Storm.
Her first book, "The Ghost Tree," nominated for Louisiana's Young Reader's Choice Award, came about in a moment of desperation as a friends kid begged for a story.
Her second novel, "Madame Grand Doigt," was pulled from her childhood. She had recently moved into her grandmother's house and was reminiscing on stories she was told as a kid, especially the scary ones used to convince her to go to bed on time.
When she first moved into her grandmother's house, she hung up pictures of the family bands.
"I was just starting out in music and I had a party there," she said. "And all these musicians came and they were jamming on the porch, and jamming in the front room, and jamming in the bathroom, and just jamming everywhere.
And I remember at one point just stepping back and thinking I bet that this happened in this house before with them. And I know that they're here with me, watching this. It just feels good."
Most of the songs Landry has written were done on the front porch of that home. In 2009, she wrote her first song. After she wrote the first song, 17 more came to her in a month. Her dad, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2004, was huge fan, listed to every song she wrote, and encouraged her to make a record.
She would tell him she wasn't truly a songwriter but once he passed away in 2009 she knew she had to make a record. Those songs won her "Best Country/Folk Artist" and the album won "Best Country/Folk Album". Her secret to writing songs now is simple.
"You just pay attention," she said. "You have to be accepting and open."
Music didn't play a large part in Landry's life growing up. She preferred sports and didn't like classical music or wind instruments. After high school, she immediately quit band.
But she comes from a long lineage of music. Both of her dad's parents come from families of musicians. In fact, each family had its own band.
"At some point in the 1920s, those two bands merged and my grandfather met my grandmother and they played music together till they got married and started having babies."
Her father's grandmother's family can be traced back seven or eight generations to the first Hebert to come from Nova Scotia who played the violin.
Despite all the recognition over the years, Landry was still shocked when musician and music promoter Mike Shepherd called to ask if she would accept being inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
"Yvette is really a great talent," Shepherd says. "And she plays a little bit of bass, accordion and guitar. She writes, she sings and she writes books now. We don't have enough female artists in this state, and Yvette is a good one."
She had to call him the next day to accept, and serendipity took hold after that. Shepherd suggested they induct her at Festival Acadiens, one of the first festivals she played, and this year the festival is commemorating the role of women in Cajun and Creole music. She is also coming up on a decade since her debut album, "Should Have Known", was released in 2010.
"This whole journey has not been scripted by me," she said. "No matter how crazy it was . . . I've always said yes."
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