02 03 Nerd Lunch: Welcome to Nerd Heaven. Here's your accordion. 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Welcome to Nerd Heaven. Here's your accordion.


Many of my music-related posts have little connection to the nerdery which is our prime directive here at Nerd Lunch, but this one’s different, because if you go down to the crossroads where Music meets Nerd . . . there, you shall find an accordion.

Yeah, I’m thinking about buying a button accordion. Awhile back, I visited an accordion museum in Superior, Wisconsin. It used to be a church, and now it’s home to over 1000 accordions . . . quite literally a shrine to all things squeezebox. We caught a performance, and the curator introduced the performers like it was Carnegie Hall. I was impressed.

On further research, I have learned that every different style of music which involves the button box has its own preferred (or sometimes prerequisite) style of box. Cajuns play a one-row, four-reed key of C. Irish music uses a two-row, two-reed B/C, while English folk uses a D/G. Tex-Mex favors a three-row two-reed G/C/F, zydeco often goes F/Bb/Eb (more of a horn-friendly key). So there’s no one-size-fits-all option here.

So I’m leaning towards a three-row, two-reed A/D/G . . . in this case, the Hohner Compadre, purportedly a good starter’s box and available in a number of nice colors. It plays comfortably in the keys of G, D, and A, which are all very popular keys in old-time fiddle music. While it’s an unusual choice for Irish, it’ll work. Seems to be a good jack-of-all-trades box.

Part of this is an exercise in alternative history. German settled in Texas and Louisiana in the 1800s, and they brought their accordions with them. Mexicans and Cajuns both adopted the button box, as did Louisiana Creoles, and some unique forms of American roots music evolved. Now what if more Germans had ended up in Kentucky and West Virginia, and the button box had made its way into the Appalachians, where there was an incredibly rich tradition of English, Scots, and Scots-Irish music? What if some of the early black blues and string band players had gotten a hold of an accordion? [Leadbelly played some concertina, as a matter of fact.] I have a notion that some of these other raw forms of American roots music could’ve made for interesting hybridization with a squeezebox.

And there are contemporary players like the Texas Tornadoes and Great Big Sea who use the button accordion in essentially a rock context, and I like the idea of playing some box on a John Hiatt or Steve Earle or Lucinda Williams tune...

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