A Photo Journey of Atchafalaya the Band and the Stories of What Brought Them Back Together
Lafayette, LA (KPEL News) - South Louisiana people of a certain age remember the name Atchafalaya, and not in reference to the basin or the river. Atchafalaya the band played their first gig on Halloween night in 1978 and became a local favorite. They are sharing their journey through photos and stories as they celebrate their 45th anniversary as a group.
Between now and then, they have played in nostalgic venues along Lafayette's Strip, including the rooftop at what was once the place to be, The Keg. They recall playing at Grant Street and Mother's Mantle, which would become Sugar's and then Mako's.
The band, currently performing with the original five members, was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2013 during a ceremony at the Scott Boudin Festival. The induction ceremony that took place at the festival was a complete surprise to all of them.
The road from that first show to their 45th anniversary was fun, but bumpy. Each member says they always enjoyed playing together but, now that they aren't playing for a living, they are enjoying themselves even more.
IN THE BEGINNING
The five guys who would became Atchafalaya came together rather accidentally. Larry Menard and Chris Foreman were going to play at the Red Dog Saloon one night, and they invited fellow vocalist Charlie Rees to join them. They loved the harmonizing and would perform as The Triad.
A few months later, David Varisco auditioned. He went to the audition and quipped:
Y'all would be a real band if you had a drummer.
They hired him and became a band. The four would realize that a bass player would benefit the group, so they hired Lance Lafargue.
And so it began.
Lance played with the band from 1979 to 1981, and California "Cal" Arnold stepped in as bass player from 1981 to 1992.
WHO ARE THEY?
All of them sing vocals, whether fronting particular tunes or singing backup.
Charlie Rees plays guitar and keyboards.
Chris Foreman plays a few instruments, including acoustic guitar.
Larry Menard plays the guitar and fiddle.
Lance Lafargue is the bassist.
California "Cal" Arnold stepped in as bassist when Lance took a break.
WHY DID THEY CHOOSE THE NAME "ATCHAFALAYA?"
Vocalist Charlie Rees who played guitar and keyboards admitted that they had a list of names they batted around. They considered Cypress, Magnolia, and The Second Coming before landing on Atchafalaya.
SHARING THE STAGE WITH FAMILIAR NAMES
The band was popular in Lafayette and the surrounding area, and they got recognized beyond Acadiana's borders. They were part of the line up for the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans and played Jazz Fest in 1986 and 1987. They were featured on the local television morning and noon shows, and were invited to "Nashville Now with Ralph Emery" and "New Country," where they met Amy Grant.
Between 1979 and 1991, Atchafalaya opened for such acts as Three Dog Night, David Allen Coe, Heart, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Jeff Walker, Bonnie Raitt, and Pam Tillis. They warmed up the audience several times for Louisiana's LeRoux. Michael Murphy brings back memories for the group. They opened for him and even got to play an impromptu set with him.
Atchafalaya became the house band at the annual Washington Mardi Gras after an invitation by former US Representative and Senator John Breaux in the mid '80s. That tradition continued until 1991.
ATCHAFALAYA GOES INTERNATIONAL
Someone liked what they heard when Atchafalaya performed at the World's Fair in 1984. In 1985, the United States Information Agency (USIA) hired them to go on a nearly six week tour. The band's sound guy, Larry's brother-in-law Reed Trahan, traveled with them to Turkey, Morraco, Czechoslovakia, and Portugal.
ALBUMS AND SONGS
Atchafalaya released four albums between 1982 and 1989:
- "One in a Row"-- 1982
- "Defined"-- 1984
- "Live at the Boudin Festival"-- 1986
- "Hills and Bayous"-- 1989
The song "Watch Out, Armadillos" became a favorite of local music fans. As a matter of fact, it was the most requested song on three Lafayette radio stations for two weeks!
The song was, essentially, a parody of the then-popular song "Rock Me, Amadeus," and they recorded it on April Fool's Day in 1986.
Charlie remembers his DJ friend Scott Seagraves asking him to give his radio station the exclusive rights to play it. He told him he couldn't do that, but would give a three day head start while Charlie and the band were away. Somehow, the song got "leaked" and Atchafalaya came back to find the song had become a local sensation.
By 1991, everyone but Charlie Rees had decided to leave the band. Charlie was able to keep the Atchafalaya name going, but with other band members, until 1996.
From 1996 until 2007, Atchafalaya was in each member's rear-view mirror.
Then, someone made a request.
Charlie, Chris, David, Larry, and Cal were asked to be part of a benefit concert called the Tommy Comeaux Medicine Show. The band Atchafalaya took the stage together again.
Less than a year after the benefit concert, the band's beloved bass player Cal passed away suddenly.
The guys can keep anyone laughing as they regale you with story after story of the fun and mischief they had. Cal stories abound!
They tell the story of a night they all went to a club and were asked for their IDs. Cal didn't have his. When they woman at the entrance told him he needed one, he spit out his false teeth and put them in her hand.
She let him in.
THE ATCHAFALAYA VERSION OF THE NATIONAL ANTHEM
One of the group's favorite thing to do is sing the National Anthem. Of course, the guys put their south Louisiana spin on it by singing the final two lines in French. They would often open sporting events by being the featured singers of our nation's official song.
They are all Ragin' Cajun fans, so it's appropriate that they have sung at various games to start tip off, kick off, or the throwing of the first ball for the vermilion and white.
THE TALE OF TWO MENARDS
In case you didn't know, Larry Menard comes by his musical talent genetically. He is the son of the late D.L. Menard, artist of the Cajun favorite "The Back Door."
The guys recollect one show that D.L. attended and performed his legendary song with them.
D.L., a Louisiana Music Hall of Fame member himself, was there for Larry's induction. I'm sure it was a special moment for father and son.
AND SO IT CONTINUES
Larry recalls the time Chris contacted him and asked that they resurrect Atchafalaya.
I had just been thinking about them! I thought, these guys are like brothers to me. I'd like to get together with them.
Not long after that, Chris called.
So, the band Atchafalaya is back, covering popular tunes and singing their own. Sitting and visiting with them, you can feel the energy, warmth, and excitement. Once upon a time, they played because they were passionate and singing for their supper.
Now, they play just because the want to.
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Gallery Credit: Philip Trapp
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Gallery Credit: Philip Trapp