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Sounds of Buffalo: Black Rock Zydeco

Black Rock Zydeco is:
Ron Kowalewski (vocals, accordion) – Interviewee
Ron Kowalewski is a professional musician, educator, and songwriter whose modern zydeco anthem “Two Step Gorilla” has become a fan favorite (and was recently chosen as song of the day by Buffalo’s popular “Good Neighborhood” web site). Ron is well-known for his crowd-pleasing performances with the five-time ArtVoice Best of Buffalo award-winning Skiffle Minstrels. He also has performed with Mike and Ruthy, Drew Landry, Leon and the Forklifts, Flatbed, and Dick Whiskey. Ron was born and raised in Black Rock.
Kathryn Koch (saxophone)
Buffalo native Kathryn Koch is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist best known for her powerhouse vocals with acclaimed indie folk band Redheaded Stepchild. After spending many years in Nashville, TN, Kathryn recently returned to Buffalo where, in addition to playing sax and singing with BRZ, she continues to showcase her songwriting and re-interpretation of traditional folk music as a solo act. Kathryn also sings and plays harmonica with Alan “ADub” Whitney and the Healing Committee.
Tim Gettings (bass)
Although he claims to be “old as dirt” and “unable to remember his middle name,” Tim never fails to keep Black Rock Zydeco on the funky side. He’s been playing in pop and blues bands since the 1970s, worked as a session guitarist with Tommy Calandra, and sat in with Spoon and the House Rockers at The Buena Vista. Tim is also a member of Dawgs In The City, for whom he plays guitar and harmonica.
Thomas LaChiusa (drums)
When Tom isn’t sitting behind the BRZ bass drum, he’s usually to be found on one of Buffalo’s many stages. In addition to teaching theater at Buffalo State College and Niagara University, has appeared in productions by many of Buffalo’s leading companies, including the Irish Classical Theatre, Shakespeare in the Park, and Kavinoky Theatre. Tom has also produced and directed numerous films in and about Western New York.
Mark Booth (guitar)
Born in Newport, RI, as a child Mark sang in the church choir for ten years. Now, he writes folk songs, sings, and plays guitar with the popular Buffalo string band Birdie Cree. In 2012, he was invited by Ron to join BRZ as rhythm guitarist. Says Mark, “My life has been changed forever.”
Stan Whatley (scrub board)
Born in New Orleans of Cajun descent, Stan was immersed in a wide range of musical styles from an early age, growing up with cousins in Bourbon Street bands and uncles who performed in minstrel shows. His first exposure to zydeco music was seeing the king of zydeco himself, Clifton Chenier, playing at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. Relocating west to Houma, LA, (in the heart of Cajun country) Stan continued to explore Cajun and zydeco music. After moving to Buffalo, he began playing scrub board and has since performed regularly with Lee Ron Zydeco & the Hot Tamales as well as Mumbo Gumbo.
How did the name of the band come about? 
The name comes from the historic Buffalo neighborhood of Black Rock and the tradition of many South West Louisiana bands that include the name of their town in the band names–Mamou Playboys, Keith Frank and Soileau Zydeco band, etc.
Where are you from originally? 
As I say in one of my songs, “I ain’t from no cul-de-sac. Black Rock where my hood is at.”
What’s it like to perform in front of a crowd? Give me three words.
Honored, exhilarating, easy.

When and why did you start playing?
I stole my daddy’s accordion and wanted to play it better than he could–approximately 22 years ago.
What was the first tune that you remember “really” playing well, when you knew that you would be a musician?
Jambalya, by Hank Williams. Once I started singing and playing at the same time, I was off to the races.
Describe your voice/instrument. 
Gravel-filled soulful vocals, enhanced by an accordion style that evolves with new influences daily.
How would you describe your music style? 
Zydeco… It’s blues, it’s dance, pop, French, Creole, party/ dancing music for party people. My influences would be Clifton Chenier, John Delaphose, Preston Frank, Keith Frank, Chubby Carrier, Nathan Williams, Buckwheat Zydeco, and Buffalo’s own Ron Davis.

Did music come naturally to you?  
Not really. I spend at easy two hours a day practicing, learning, listening, mimicking. I am also trying to learn the one-row Cajun accordion button box.
Or were you driven to learn and play/sing? 
I wanted to learn the accordion and play like Bruce Hornsby when he was touring with The Grateful Dead. I ended up with a good foundation of music theory, thanks to my teacher Rich Nowocien..
What sparked the passion? 
A sexy little red accordion.
Do you come from a musical family? 

v>My dad played a little. I have a friend, Rick Martin, who plays the Hammond organ and he said he was self taught–and I could learn if I wanted it.

Are you schooled in music? From where? 
I took private lessons with Rich Nowocien.
Which famous musician(s) do you admire? 
Donna The Buffalo, Jeb Puryear, Keith Frank, Buckweat Zydeco, Chubby Carrier, Corey Ledet.
Where is your favorite place to play/sing in Buffalo? Where would you most like to play/sing in Buffalo? 
My first Buffalo show was at Sportsmens Tavern, and it will always be my favorite place to play. I would like to play at the Outer Harbor.
What’s your day job? 
Substitute teacher, urban farmer.
What was the last live music performance that you caught? 
Alan Whitney and the Healing Committee at the Rediscover Amherst Street Festival.
What was the best show you ever caught? 
Yes in the round at the Aud.
What was the show that got away – the one that you never got to see? 
Grateful Dead.
Do you play/sing covers or all originals? Or a combination of both? 
We play a combination of covers and originals. The Black Rock Zydeco original songs have references and shout-outs to our hood!
If you could play/sing for one famous person (alive or dead), who would that be? 
The person I most wish I’d been able to play for would be my dad. As far as famous people, my dreams have already come true. A few weeks ago, I played a bunch of my songs to Preston Frank, and we jammed till 4:00am!
If you could play/sing with one famous band (any time in history), what would that band be?
The Band.
What are your strengths? 
Enthusiasm, love.
What are your weaknesses? 
Editing, saying no.
Do you have a label? A recording studio? Have you recorded a CD?
We have a rehearsal space called The SKRRAM club. I have recorded an album there, with my previous band. I’ll be recording a CD with Black Rock Zydeco this summer.

Where and when is your next gig(s) in the city?
Friday, June 21, 2013 | 6:00pm | Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar | 253 Allen Street, Buffalo, New York 14201
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 | 6:00pm | Buffalo Yacht Club | 1 Porter Ave., Buffalo, NY 14201
Friday, July 12, 2013 | 5:30pm | Milkie’s on Elmwood | 522 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, NY
Sunday, July 14, 2013 | 3:00pm | Stockman’s Picnic Grove and Tiki Bar | 9870 Transit Rd., East Amherst, NY
Catch BRZ at one of Buffalo’s nicest summer venues! Behind Stockman’s tavern (set well back from the road) you can sit at picnic tables in a huge grassy grove, surrounded by trees–or enjoy the shade of a spacious pavilion. Order up drinks from the tiki bar and try the delicious pizzas and calzones fresh from their outdoor brick ovens. This is a FAMILY FRIENDLY afternoon event, with plenty of room for the kids to run around.
Friday, July 26, 2013 | 8:00pm | Gene McCarthy’s | 73 Hamburg Street, Buffalo, New York 14204
Photos: Michelle Perkins Kowalewski

See more Sounds of Buffalo: Free Henry!Mari McNeilDavey OTheresa QuinnJim BohmChae HawkNikki HicksFlatbedWhiskey ReverbDjambossaWhat would Mingus do?Prime
Will HoltonGenkin PhilharmonicThe Andrew J. Reimers Country Punk ExtravaganzaSuzanne FattaJanice MitchellPoindexterMichael CiviscaMichael Oliver & The Sacred Band
Skiffle MinstrelsThe Buffalo Tango OrkestraThe Melissa Kate Project, Folkfaces

If you play in a group/band (or solo) here in Buffalo, and have an upcoming gig at a venue(s) in the city, consider sending Buffalo Rising an email requesting to be emailed a Q&A interview that we can then post, along with concert dates. It’s a fun and easy way to get your name in front of another audience that is interested in learning about the local music scene. 

The requirements are:
-You must be living in the Greater Buffalo region… or you must be plotting your return
-You must have a public show coming up in the city of Buffalo, as our focus is the urban landscape
-You must have a photo of the band
-Solo acts are also welcome
-Video is a plus
-CD/Album/poster art is welcome
-Links to Social Media sites are a bonus
-Ability to take accept both praise and/or criticism is a must
It is up to the discretion of Buffalo Rising whether or not to publish the interviews depending on nature of content submitted, or lack thereof. 
Please send requests here. Include “Sounds of Buffalo” in the subject box of the email.

Written by WCPerspective


Buffalo and development junkie currently exiled in California.

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