According to local lore, booth No. 2 at Judice Inn, Lafayette’s most venerated burger joint, once cradled the buns that ran Lafayette. Plaques hanging on the wall above it honor the memories of those who dined back by the kitchen throughout decades past. If there’s room for one more, it could read: “In this booth, Gulfstream was created.”
Nine years ago, Roddie Romero and Eric Adcock — the songwriting team behind the Hub City All-Stars — had just released The La Louisianne Sessions, when they slid into booth No. 2 and started building the groundwork for Gulfstream, released in April. To say Gulfstream is a highly anticipated album is not hyperbole. After all, they are one of the most popular local bands, a main stage mainstay and a touring act that has shared gigs with Jimmy Buffet and Lionel Richie. Not to mention that it has been almost a decade since The La Louisianne Sessions, a Grammy-nominated double disc that featured recreations of tracks by Aldus Roger, John Delafose and Clifton Chenier using the exact equipment with which the legends recorded.
Though nearly a decade later, the Hub City All- Stars haven’t missed a step or slowed down. While they might move in a slightly different direction from La Lousianne, it is close to what piano and Hammond B3 player Adcock says they are as a live band. Here, they step out of their heroes’ shadows they cast on themselves when they paid tribute to them and shine with their inclusive sound that stems from multiple South Louisiana influences. While they are no longer measured against their heroes, there are definitely expectations placed on a record that took so long to create (La Louisianne took a decade to finish as well).
“The approach was to not cut any corners and to take our time to ensure that we were accomplishing what we set out to do,” says Adcock.
For Romero, not only was the process one that needed to be perfect, but it was also one that ran through a difficult time in his life.
“I’d like to think that good things take time, but honestly sometimes inspiration is hard to come by. We [started recording] almost four years ago for the making of Gulfstream. We camped out at Dockside Studio for six days recording the bulk of the material, leaving there with about 60 percent complete,” says Romero. “I have to say, my life wasn’t in the best of conditions at that time. I was going through a divorce, drinking heavily, just a real mess. Thankfully, and a testament to our soul brother relationship, Eric was the glue binding this project. We pushed through and every day did the best that we could.”
To help ensure the All-Stars met the bar raised on La Louisianne, they enlisted British producer John Porter, whose credits include BB King, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, Santana, The Smiths, Bonnie Raitt and Jon Cleary (whose record took this years’ regional Grammy).
“He is a perfect English gentleman with tremendous taste in music and an expert on how to make recordings sound big and fat,” says Adcock. “I’ve never worked with anyone who focused so intensely on helping the band and songs be great. I rarely saw him even eat over the six days of recording despite the easy access to numerous pounds of boudin, cold beer and delicious catering provided by Dupuy’s Oyster Bar in Abbeville. It was a master class in watching a master do his job. We were just fortunate to be the subjects of his work.”
As with their live show and their past records, Gulfstream is a breezy tour of South Louisiana musical landscapes, from the leanings of zydeco à la St. Landry Parish to the Cajun and swamp pop of Vermilion Parish across to the piano sounds of New Orleans clubs. Instead of conforming to these genres and the lines they imply, the All-Stars make them bend to Hub City sounds.
The band continues to modernize swamp pop, moving with a Cajun street dance feel via Adcock’s piano, Romero’s accordion and Derek Huston’s saxophone. Although they are often paying homage, they are always forging their own way.
“Roddie and I have always been clear and understood the capabilities of this band. The trick was to capture it,” says Adcock. “The goal of this record was to capture the magic that makes this band us — as a portrait of the Hub City All-Stars diving into and doing justice to every song.”
Whereas a big chunk of the last record was a loving tribute to the various artists who recorded at La Louisianne Studios, this one is a mixed bag pulled from the band’s other influences and memorable vignettes from both Romero and Adcock.
“These snapshots of our lives are just that,” says Romero. “They are brief moments in time that last forever.”
“Donne-Moi, Donc,” co-written by Romero and Zachary Richard, finds Cajun accordion meeting with the classic sounds of swamp pop via its piano, backing beat and horns. Yet, the accordion styling gives it a sound that is a bit like Clifton Chenier might be doing if he were around today. If Stevie Ray Vaughan cut a zydeco crossover, it would have sounded like “One Trick Pony,” a double entendre-laden romper. “Ma Jolie” features delta guitar and a slight under current of roots rock, while on “Windmill in a Hurricane” there is a slight but noticeable funk rock edge.
Gulfstream is dedicated to the recently departed David Egan, but it also lovingly remembers Allen Toussaint and Bobby Charles via song. Charles’ “I Hope” has the great swamp pop feel of the original and should be playing at a low volume in a dark room as couples sway. “I Must be in a Good Place Now” likewise stays true to the sound of the late Abbeville legend.
Gulfstream also honors living legend Buckwheat Zydeco through the original track “No Need for a Crown,” a zydecotinged track that strays from the typical zydeco lyrics that are more garnish to honor Romero’s mentor.
“Through the years, Buck has been a mentor and inspiration to Eric and me, always encouraging and supporting us,” says Romero. “We’ve borrowed so much from the ‘Buckwheat songbook,’ this is our nod to our hero.”
“All of my favorite records are about a band creating a unique vibe to match each song,” adds Adcock. “We tried to go in and create sounds that met the inherent expectations of each song. I think we accomplished that.”
The record’s two most poignant and standout cuts are originals “The Creole Nightingale Sings” and the title track.
“The Creole Nightingale Sings” does for New Orleans what Lou Reed’s “Walk on The Wild Side” did for New York City, albeit more family friendly and with a laid back, Dr. John feel.
“The story line is of a lone outsider looking in at what was going down as the moon got higher and the characters made their play,” says Adcock. “All kinds of interesting things go down in a historic bar in the 1940s in New Orleans. I’ll leave it at that.”
An ode to Abbeville that was also inspired by Black’s Oyster Bar, where a middle school-aged Adcock landed his first paying gig, “Gulfstream” packs a sense of place like no other song on the album. Though an original penned by Romero and Adcock, “Gulfstream” has the melancholy of Charles’ “Tennessee Blues” and is shaded with Southern roots rock through the slow movements of Adcock’s organ. It’s an incredible song of South Louisiana that surveys the hard yet unbeatable lifestyles on the coast.
“I’ve always felt that Black’s was an inspiring place — like somehow it was the epicenter of some powerful spiritual vortex in Vermilion Parish of all things: some good, some not so good,” says Adcock.
For now the band is not looking to start work on another release, instead focusing on Gulfstream and giving it — a labor of nearly a decade — the promotional attention it deserves. While some of the precedents set by La Louisianne, itself spawned over burgers in booth No. 2, would be welcome on this one, others aren’t. Hopefully, there will not be a nine-year span between Gulfstream and the record that follows it. But, like La Louisianne, Gulfstream is very possibly a Grammy contender. With that considered and the amount of work that went into Gulfstream, it would seem like Romero and Adcock would feel that they were under tremendous scrutiny. Instead, their attitude is as laid back and breezy as some of its tracks.
“If songs like ‘Rock ’n’ Roll & Soul Radio’ get people smiling and dancing or ‘I Hope’ eases the pain, that’s it. That’s enough for me,” says Romero.
“Nine years ago we tried our best to make a good record and were fortunate enough that the Grammy Academy recognized it with a nomination,” says Adcock. “With Gulfstream, we simply went in to create great art. Let the chips fall where they may.”