The late bluesman Roscoe Chenier was born in the tiny town of Notleyville, LA. And although his sharecropper family were extremely poor, Chenier grew up within a deeply musical family. Although he was related to zydeco legend Clifton Chewier and bluesman Morris “Big” Chenier, his father, Arthur “Bud” Chenier, a cajun accordionist, who was frequently accompanied by his first cousin, fiddler John Stevens (the father of Duke Stevens) was the Roscoe Chenier’s bigger influence; in fact, Bud Chenier and John Stevens were best known for playing at popular weekend house parties, where Roscoe would soak up the music.
In 1958, Roscoe Chenier was invited to join one of the region’s hottest traveling bands in the region — CD and the Blue Runners, which featured Lonesome Sundown on lead guitar and three of the Gradnier brothers on harmonica, drums and bass. Chenier played with CD and the Blue Runners until 1970, finding enough work to survive as a bluesman despite the popularity of the British Invasion acts of the 1960s. However, as tastes changed, Chenier like a lot of the great old bluesman discovered, it was difficult to eke out a living — especially when some gigs paid maybe $6 per man per night. And throughout the better part of the 70s, Chenier began a succession of jobs as a truck driver while picking up the occasional hired gun gig, playing in the backing bands of Good Rockin’ Thomas, Good Rockin’ Bob, his old bandmate Lonesome Sundown, Clarence Randle and Duke Stevens.
By 1980, Chenier was leading his own band and through a combination of reputation, luck and skill, he was able to recruit a number of talented musicians while desperately trying to remain as financial independent as possible, which by the late 90s became increasingly difficult. And yet, Chenier and his band managed to play several of Europe’s most prestigious festivals including Blues Estafette (in 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2001), North Sea Jazz Festival, toured across Europe several times and released a few albums before his death in February 2013 including 1998’s Roscoe Style and 2006’s Waiting For My Tomorrow. Roscoe Chenier’s last record, featured a haunting and folksy, acapella rendition of the old gospel standby “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” that immediately brings the early Delta Blues to mind — in particular, Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins, early Muddy Waters and the like.
Interestingly, ElectroBluesSociety, a Dutch blues act, comprised of Japser Mortier (drums, bass) and Jan Mittendorp (guitar, production), who worked with Roscoe Grenier on several releases and several European tours decided to pay tribute to their late friend by adding a spectral and moody arrangement Chenier’s vocal that’s appropriately bluesy yet subtly modern, while retaining the timeless vibe of the original vocal take.