Big Red (Josef Arline)
A brief history…
Josef Lynn “Big Red” Arline grew up in Hillister, Texas, about an hour north of Beaumont. Like many vocalists and performers, church was the place where Josef discovered how much music inspired him. As an older youth, he observed how music had a profound, often spiritual, impact on some and he realized how he gained satisfaction from seeing folks fulfilled by his music.
Josef attended school in nearby Woodville, Texas. He was an athlete, played high school football, and a student of the arts. Josef played trombone in the school band and experimented with other instruments, finding that he could learn just about anything he picked up. In his junior year in high school, part-time construction work became nearly a full-time job, which replaced his football and music participation. Josef chose the construction trade after high school and became a skilled and respected builder.
A few years later, Josef was offered a private construction project in Murray, Utah, in the Salt Lake City area. He was married by then and moved his wife and a daughter to Utah. After the initial project was complete, Josef stayed in the area as the demand for contractors and residential building market was hot. But, music was in his blood. In his spare time, Josef would sample the local music scene in Salt Lake City as well as the commercial music business. This led to part time studio work as a background vocalist and several voice-overs in commercials for radio, including major spots and promotion for the Kentucky Lottery and the Idaho Potato Commission.
In Salt Lake City, Josef worked and hung out with several framing carpenters who where Tonga drummers as well as an electrician from Trinidad who headed a reggae band. Josef learned and played Reggae, hung out with those guys, and performed on occasion with different groups at the Safari Reggae Club in Salt Lake City. Not long after, he became lead singer of a Reggae group and remained for a few years while working construction and living in Utah.
Josef discovered Blues after moving back to Southeast Texas to make their home. He hung out with “old-school” Blues musicians and enveloped himself in the Blues scene of the area. Josef performed vocals with a couple of different Blues groups. One in particular had a somewhat mixed format of Rock, Blues, & Zydeco. This mixed format gave Josef the opportunity he felt he needed, but, when the group would play Zydeco they would do so without the accordion. Josef knew this wasn’t going to work, so he picked up an accordion, learned it, and added it to the group.
Zydeco, from that moment, has been a part of Big Red. Zydeco, a close relative of Blues and Creole accordion and surely kin to Reggae, gave Red the unique space he needed to develop the Big Red Zydeco sound as a writer and performer. Part of his Creole heritage, Red’s accordion sounds of choice were influenced by Zydeco greats: John Delafose, Clifton Chenier, Boozoo Chavis, & Buckwheat Zydeco.
Big Red put together the Zydeco Playmakers and began playing trail rides and private parties as well as arranged their own private Zydeco bashes. A few performances at Pappeaux Deaux’s Seafood Kitchen in Beaumont, Texas created a whirlwind of bookings for the group. The group later nearly outgrew their local place of practice, which was essentially an old barn-like structure they referred to as the Hockless Place, when locals and others began gathering at their practice sessions.
In March of 2005, Big Red and the Zydeco Playmakers’ Secret Ingredients, their first official CD, was released on Maison de Soul Records.
P.O. Box 523
Hillister, TX 77624
Dirty Linen – February/March 2006
Big Red “Secret Ingredients”
Josef Lynn “Big Red” Arline has come up with the first official disc that is bound to get him noticed. His songs generally tell a story in the lyrics, as opposed to mindless repetition of a catch phrase to carry the song. Arline wrote 10 of the 13 songs on this disc, and the covers are of very good material by the likes of Clifton Chenier and Roy Orbison; the ensemble does a very good job on those. Arline has put together a very solid band that allows his zydeco to incorporate a bit of reggae and rock and even a bit of hip hop without sounding forced, but rather demonstrates other influences, different from the church and the blues. Take a good long listen to “Realization,” and get an idea of the range in his voice. No, he doesn’t have the vocal strength of Terrence Simien; however, he does have one of the best voices in zydeco.
by Bob Gottleib
Living Blues – September/October 2005
Big Red “Secret Ingredients”
Big Red, born Josef Arline, grew up in the tiny east Texas town of Hillister, where his first musical involvement was in the church. After moving to Salt Lake City he acquired a grounding in, of all things, reggae, which he picked up from fellow workers on a construction site. Upon his return to Texas, he caught on with a blues band that gigged around the Beaumont area and learned to play the accordion when the group realized that it needed to expand its repertoire to cater to local tastes. Before long, Red formed his own zydeco band, leading to a private label CD before graduating to Floyd Soileau’s venerable Maison de Soul imprint.
The Party starts with Recipe, a catchy rocker that should be a dancehall favorite, but there’s more to Big Red than good time music. To be sure, he and his Playmakers rock the house on most of the set’s 13 tracks, including covers of the zydeco staple Hot Tamale Baby, Wilson Pickett’s Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You, and Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, but he also turns reflective on the waltz-time From the Other Side (Thinking About My Daddy) and Realization, a soulful ballad that easily trumps the garden variety cheating songs that are prevalent in the soul-blues marketplace. Red’s reggae days serve him well both in the rhythms of Zydeco Play Maker and I Can See You Dancing and in a vocal debt to Bob Marley.
by Jim Dekoster
Big Red “Secret Ingredients”
Josef Arline is a big Texan who claims that the music he heard in church had a profound influence on him. Music clearly filled him spiritually and in the 1990s having sung the blues and gospel, Josef “Big Red” Arline decided to apply his big voice and big talent for playing the accordion to Zydeco. And why it took years for a respected record label like Maison de Soul to record him is beyond me. But thankfully, my friend Chris Soileau saw the promise in Arline and now the band’s first official CD “Secret Ingredients” is available for everyone to dance and groove to.
What is it about big Creole men from southwest Louisiana and eastern Texas when you put a button accordion in their hands? Not since I first heard the late Beau Jocque have I been hit with the unbelievable energy that comes from Zydeco music. Josef “Big Red” Arline is standing in the shadow of the late Zydeco Giant. And he’s poised to create excitement on the worldwide Zydeco Road.
“Secret Ingredients” is an incredible CD. It is filled with every vocal and musical element that makes Zydeco music so unique. Arline has a beautiful tenor voice that’s clear, sweet and soulful. His push-pull quick style on the accordion is crisp and effective. The original material penned by Arline is simply terrific and doesn’t smack from stealing chords from other artists. His covers of “Hot Tamale Baby” and Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” are flawless.
Arline is also supported by a very talented group of musicians that comprise his band, The Zydeco Playmakers. The musicians are: Billy McQueen (drums); Jeramy Hawkins (rubboard, background vocals); Troy Eaglin (rubboard); Wilbert Miller (saxophone); Jared Hamilton (organ); Cornelius Guidry (guitar, background vocals); Pat Williams (quitar); Mark Robertson (guitar); and Ken Turner (background vocals).
Every track on this CD is a standout. And I haven’t said that in six years of reviewing Zydeco music. The Zydeco Road is about to make room for a new trailblazer. Big Red and the Zydeco Playmakers have arrived. It doesn’t get any better than “Secret Ingredients,” which earns five peppers.
by Paule Pachter
The Town Talk – Alexandria, Louisiana
Big Red “Secret Ingredients”
With a background in gospel, reggae and blues music, Josef “Big Red” Arline, based in Hillister, Texas, has just released his first Zydeco record called “Secret Ingredients.” Big Red, an accordion player, has the right recipe for fun on these songs which incorporate a stew of sounds, including elements of soul and swamp pop. Songs like the up-tempo “Slip Away” could easily do well on the radio as could the tender soul ballad “Realization,” where he sounds a bit like Al Green. If you like your Zydeco spicy and flavorful, check out “Secret Ingredients.”
by Andrew Griffin
The Blues Rag – Baltimore, Maryland
Big Red “Secret Ingredients”
Big Red’s sung blues. Big Red’s sung commercials. Big Red’s sung reggae. And, by the looks of Big Red, Big Red gets to sing just about what Big Red wants. Now, it’s time to zydeco. And the Texan goes the extra mile to pump his own happy accordion to back it up. But, for the mountain of a man that Josef Arline presents, his voice is disproportionately lighter, brighter, and smoother than might be predicted. The same goes for his riff-driven playing. Together, they make fine partners for his ‘playmaker’ brand of contemporary zydeco. One that illuminates the shakes of rhythm and blues in his limber delivery. One that’s sung in English, rather than French. One that keeps with the current trend to take a ballad over a blues to cool the set’s hot pace. And one whose songs are just plain danceable, without relying on the two-step/waltz cycle. In turn, it’s not every day that you hear an accordion sweet talk its way through the Roy Orbison standard, “Pretty Woman”. Or, for that matter, skip to the chop of a reggae beat, making “Zydeco Play Maker” come off like Steel Pulse vacationing in Opelousas. By promoting the lyrical side over the percussive, “Zydeco Lady” and “Come On Over” attain a certain pop sensibility in their flyaway breeziness. You see, Big Red’s not rural rustic; he’s urban hip. And he’s not particularly one for glancing back. Charging through Clifton Chenier’s “Hot Tamale Baby” is about it from the department of Creole recycling. Instead, Red stoked the band with, predominantly, his own homemade songs. So straight-up shakedowns like “Recipe” and “Slip Away” top this list of Secret Ingredients. One that debuts a new reason to laissez les bons temps rouler.
by Dennis Rozanski
Bad Dog Blues – Rochester, New York
Big Red “Secret Ingredients” and
Thomas ‘Big Hat’ Fields “Big Hat Zydeco Mix”
Floyd Soileau’s contributions to Cajun music have been enormous and fans of the music owe him a huge debt. After a stint as a DJ he formed Floyd’s Record Shop and went on to form labels dedicated to Cajun music and Zydeco such as Swallow, Jin and in the early 70’s, Maison de Soul. Arguably the first label devoted to Zydeco, the label has issued classic records by Clifton Chenier, Boozoo Chavis, Rockin’ Sidney and more recently artists like Keith Frank and Rosie Ledet. The label continues to issue great records and this time out have released top drawer records by newcomer Big Red and the more established Thomas “Big Hat Fields.”
Josef “Big Red” Arline grew up in Hillster, Texas and eventually became interested in blues which eventually led him to Zydeco. He spent most of the 90’s as a studio singer and performing as a lead singer in a Reggae band. He eventually formed his current band, the Zydeco Playmakers, and after struggling for a while finally issued his debut, “Secret Ingredients.” Big Red plays southwest Louisiana/southeast Texas Zydeco which is strongly rooted in the blues and has a mostly traditional feel. “Secret Ingredients” is one of the hottest Zydeco records I’ve heard in some time as Big Red is a wonderfully soulful singer and energetic accordion player backed by a tight band that lay down an infectious groove. “Recipe” has a great hook and should be hit if there was any justice, “I Can Still Remember” is a chugging R&B number, the classic “Hot Tamale Baby (big red style)” is given a fine workout and “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” finds Big Red at his soulful best. A fantastic debut that should put Big Red in the front ranks of the newer Zydeco performers.
Thomas “Big Hat” Fields got a late start on the Zydeco scene. In 1991, he bought a club he renamed the Big Hat Club which soon had all the top zydeco acts performing there. It was then that he decided to learn to play accordion and was taught to play by Paul Harris, a contemporary of Clifton Chenier, and soon after starting performing with the house band at his club. He formed his own band, which included his wife, Geneva, who had to learn bass guitar from scratch, and started composing new songs. After issuing records for the Lanor label he moved over to Maison de Soul and issued the excellent “Louisiana Zydeco Man” in 1999. Fields’ and his appropriately named Foot Stompin’ Zydeco Band play a brand of traditional Zydeco laced with a strong blues and swamp pop vibe. Fields, who speaks Creole French, wrote most of the songs on “Big Hat Zydeco Mix with the majority in English, but several also in French. Fields’ and the band stomp through good time Zydeco numbers like a blazing cover of Clifton Chenier’s “Tout Les Temps En Temps”, bluesy swamp numbers like “Hey Hey Therese” and “Country Woman” and the throbbing R&B groove of “Build Me A Man” based on Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back” and featuring fine vocals by Geneva. Other highlights include the rocking instrumental “Big Hat Stomp” and a wailing cover of “Talk To Your Daughter” sung by Marty Christian. These guys cook!
Maison de Soul has done it again with two terrific Zydeco records. You may not hear much about the Zydeco scene if you’re outside of Louisiana and Texas but judging from these records the scene is thriving and the tradition is certainly in good hands with these two gentleman.
by Jeff Harris
OffBeat Magazine – June 2005
Big Red “Secret Ingredients”
If ya think zydeco never changes its stripes, check again. Big Red doesn’t have 17 generations of Creole ancestry behind him (just a spouse and a few in-laws) but oddly enough was drawn into its seducing vibe after stints in reggae and blues. The Texas-bred-and-fed Red, now residing in Lake Charles, then learned the accordion and surrounded himself with the crackerjack Zydeco Playmakers, a crew which includes such dubious characters as “Meat Hook” (guitar), “ Scratchet” (frottoir), “Beat It Up” (drums) and “B-Flat” (bass). Given Red’s super-sized, linebacker frame, ya’d expect him to unleash a rumbly Beau Jocque earth-quaking growl. Instead, his charismatic showmanship and smooth silky pipes are the real show here, a skyscraper-touching voice recalling the best from Stax, Fame and Motown’s soul patrol heyday. The other thing working in Red’s favor is his dice-tossing ingenuity as evidenced on originals “Zydeco Play Maker,” a reggae-thruster that fits perfectly into the proceedings, and “Recipe,” that’s based on sexy food metaphoric wordplays. Eight more selections are also originals, which the Playmakers put the bounce, bam and slam in all the right places. When it comes to this breed of zydeco, code Red is just as good as a green light anywhere else.
by Dan Willging