Heart of Louisiana: Zydeco Rubboards

Heart of Louisiana: Zydeco Rubboards
Updated: Jul. 18, 2017 at 6:15 PM CDT
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(WVUE) - In the early days of Zydeco music, a wooden washboard would keep the rhythm. But over the last half-century, stainless steel rub boards with over-the-shoulder straps give Zydeco its signature sound.

Today, one of the leading makers of this unique Louisiana musical instrument is carrying on a family tradition.

It's the clicking and scratching sound that gives Zydeco music its distinctive hard-driving rhythm.

TeeDon Landry with Key of Z Rubboards plays on a miniature version of a rubboard. His connection to this music goes back to his childhood, when he watched Zydeco legend Clifton Chenier on a local TV show.

"So I'd sit down in front of that TV because I was mesmerized, not so much by the accordion, but by the rubboard, because of the way Clifton would play it. "So you can do any kind of rhythm you want to do with it, you know?"

Landry played drums and the rubboard in Zydeco bands, ran a trucking business and then in 1995, he started making his own rubboards. What he didn't know at the time was that his dad, Willie Landry, a metal fabricator in Port Arthur, Texas, made the first over-the-shoulder rub-board for Clifton Chenier's band.

"And I went and talked to my mom about it, and she said, 'Well that was your dad.' So Clifton asked him, and he says, 'I've got something in mind.' He said, I'll see if you can make it,'" Landry said. So he drew a design in the dirt, and daddy said, 'Yeah, I can make anything you want.' So he made one and that's how it all started. So now they have the shoulder straps now."

Today, Teedon Landry works out of a 10-by-10-foot shop behind his home in the Cajun community of Sunset. He takes orders from his website, and hand crafts up to a hundred a month. It's monotonous work.

"It's guaranteed not to rust, bust, collect dust, rip, rattle or come apart at the seams," Landry said. "There you go."

With every rubboard he ships out, Landry pins the location on a map.

"It's all over the world, you know? It's amazing," he said. "And who would've thought, you know, years ago that it would've spread that far."

It's a roadmap to the growing popularity of this South Louisiana style of music, and to this home-grown instrument that scratches out the zydeco rhythms.

TeeDon Landry says several of his Zydeco rubboards are on display in museums around the country, including the Smithsonian and the National Museum of Musician Instruments in Phoenix.

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