Port Arthur-born Chenier, Antone get Gulf Coast Hall of Fame status
Two more Port Arthur-born music legends will join the ranks of such hometown luminaries as Janis Joplin when they are inducted into the Gulf Coast Music Legends Hall of Fame.
Renowned Zydeco musician C.J. Chenier and the late Clifford Antone, founder and namesake of Antone’s nightclub in Austin, on Thursday will be enshrined on the second floor of the city’s Museum of the Gulf Coast.
“We used to joke around, because he was C.J. Antone and I’m C.J. Chenier, and he saw me grow up in the music business,” Chenier said. “That’s where I turned 21, on Sixth Street.”
“When someone reaches the pinnacle — the high point of their career, no matter what it is, those are the people you see in here,” museum director Tom Neal said. “People always ask, ‘Is there something in the water down here?’ and I say, ‘Apparently.’”
The decision to induct these two music moguls on the same day was a deliberate one, Neal said. Antone and Chenier were close. Chenier’s father and fellow Hall of Famer, “King of Zydeco” Clifton Chenier, was the first act Antone booked when he opened his club.
Years later when C.J. Chenier joined his father’s band, his first show in 1978 was at Antone’s. Chenier will celebrate the 40th anniversary of that first show with a concert on Feb. 8.
Antone, who died in 2006, loved the blues — particularly the blues from Port Arthur.
“That’s the bar by which he measured all of the other acts,” Neal said. “He thought the blues in Southeast Texas was the best, and he wanted the world to see it. He was passionate about promoting and educating people on the blues — bringing it to the next generation.”
Antone is often credited with earning Austin its title as the live music capital of the world.
“He was bringing in huge acts, who were then going back and saying, ’You have to go play Austin,” Neal said. “Musicians would agree to play without knowing what their pay would be. They just wanted to be there.”
Musicians often played the Antone’s stage for a week or more at a time, and Antone went out of his way to make sure they had what they needed.
“He got into some trouble with the law,” Neal said. “But everyone said the only reason he was doing illegal things was to support his musicians, which no one was doing at the time. It was unheard of. All he cared about was the music.”
Neil said Antone often paid for things like medical expenses for musicians who where having a hard time, and provided them with food and loging, along with a place to play.
“I remember we spent a whole week playing Antone’s that first time,” Chenier said. “That’s a good place.”
Chenier has produced more than 10 albums since that first gig at Antone’s and, while he enjoys playing the accordion with his band, his first love was the saxophone.
He plays all over the world, bringing bayou flair to stages big an small. He has won awards like the 1997 Living Blues’ Critics’ Poll Award and the American Association for Independent Music Indie Award for best zydeco album.
“I’m thrilled — thrilled beyond belief — it’s just something I never thought would happen,” Chenier said of his induction. “I think me and my father will be the only father-son in there.”
Chenier said coming from Port Arthur and being able to do what he does for a living is a blessing.
“It’s just unbelievable,” he said.