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Upside-Down Accordion Noir Radio, April Fools Episode 2015

April 2, 2015

April Foolish episode of Accordion Noir Radio tonight playing music by artists I wrote about yesterday who played accordion upside down. Good fun.

Kimmo held upside down with his accordion. That's one way to do it.

Kimmo Pohjonen hard at work researching the history of Accordion Wrestling in Finland.

The standard Co-op  Radio archive feed seems not to have “fed” (April Fools on me) but here’s a Backup version of the show downloadable from Dropbox: Accordion Noir Wednesday Apr 1 22:00 2015

Playlist: Read more…

Upside Down Accordion: a Primer for Accordion-Fools Day

April 1, 2015

Last week this fine video by Kristofer Yffén made the rounds. Did you notice his curious accordion technique? (Spoiler, um the title of this post.)

Monkey Island 2 – Jojo the Monkey (Accordion version)

Many a novice accordionist has stumbled at this very first hurdle for learning the instrument, “How do you put this thing on?” A surprising number of now famous players made the same flip-a-coin mistake. Rowan, my own co-host on the Accordion Noir radio show is one of those who spent his entire first year playing the accordion upside down.

“Rowan, Scott Geiler and Zippy playing at a Living Closet show” (2007?)

Since then Rowan has shared several meaningful seconds with beginners and saved them years of effort.

As I study the history of the accordion I have stumbled on some well-known accordionists who either started out and played “lefty” for a while, or stuck with it even when people told them they were doing it wrong. Most famously perhaps, zydeco star Rockin’ Dopsie (“Doop-sie”) always played “Hendrix-style,” and while he didn’t claim virtuosity, he got the job done plenty well.

Helen Carter of the Carter Sisters played for a while that way too:

Helen was befuddled by the accordion.  ‘This thing is just totally backwards to the piano,’ she’d complain.  Still, under her father’s insistent gaze, Helen kept at the awkward, heavy instrument.  And it went a lot easier for her after a date the Carters played in Louisville, where she got some advice from the more studied eye of Pee Wee King.  ‘Hey,’ he asked Helen, ‘did you know you’ve got that on upside down?'” (Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?: the Carter Family and their legacy in American Music, Mark Zwonitzer and Charles Hirshberg.  (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2002) pg 269-270)

Not all leftist accordionists are to be trusted though. The vid for Gurus and Rockstars by Forest Sun with accordionist Ingrid Serban is either a twisted lie or maybe a selfie camera mix-up which I missed until she pointed it out to me. You can usually tell by looking at a full-size accordion since the (normally) left-hand buttons should slant down, but if they’re on the left they should slant up. Unless I’m confused.

Gurus and Rockstars – Forest Sun & Ingrid Serban

This one I found after I posted about the Russian garmon accordion a few weeks ago. It’s an old man looking very cold. Easy to imagine sad Russian accordion music, no? I had to do some research to figure out that, yes, his garmon is upside down (the photo isn’t simply reversed). Somehow that “self-taught” musician aspect makes it even more poignant.

Old Russian Man with (upside down) garmon

Other Upside-Squeezers? Sabin Jacques, from Beaumont, Quebec. I’d love to see him demonstrate in person.

sabin jacques


Alfredo Gonzalez from Los Tucanes de Tijuana (and before that Explosión Norteña). Marketers take note, these bands have hundreds of photos on their site posing with their fans after every show. That’s some face-to-face music of the people. And his neon accordion rocks.

Alfredo Gonzalez from Los Tucanes de Tijuana (very cool black-light accordion)

Historical mystery swaths “Bill (from Ohio)” who played upside-down piano accordion with Cajun/Western-Swinger Leo Soileau in the 1930s. He keeps showing up in books and photos, but nobody seems to know anything more about him? Where’d you go Bill? Back to Ohio?

Taken from Cajun Music, a Reflection of a People, Ann Savoy (1986) pg 140

Taken from Cajun Music, a Reflection of a People, Ann Savoy (1986) pg 140

Literary accordionists have had their sinister moments. In Annie Proulx’s book Accordion Crimes there’s a passing character who had an injured right hand but he notably did not die in the course of what is at times a gruesome novel. “He held the accordion upside down and played a religious number after announcing that music was the gift of God and that he regularly turned down lucrative offers to play to roadhouses, pledging his talent to a higher power.” (pg 173 in the 2003 paperback.) There you go, promise to stay out of bars and you might survive your literary debut.

Finally, despite his ongoing educational efforts, my co-host Rowan’s band The Creaking Planks just released millions of t-shirt-like polyps into the sea with a talented octopus accordionist begging the question of whether “upside down” applies to underwater.

Get your own Creaking Planks Upside-Down Accordion Shirts before they're all eaten by larger predators.

And, I don’t think we’ll get around to another post so then there’s this guy, playing his synth-accordion flat on his lap like a typewriter – no bellows required. I’ve actually thought about something like this for my “author’s photo” if I get my book done. Maybe I’ll be typing “Moscow Nights” too.

Take home lesson from all this? Do what you like and whatever works. But I gather the reason people play accordions right way around is because the chord buttons are arranged so they’re easier to finger with your left hand. There, we’re educational, job done.



March 6, 2015

Going to see Daniel Kahn tonight at the Electric Eye on Main tonight?

Got to play a little Russian garmon last night at the I thought “garmon” was Russian for “little diatonic accordion,” but it is more complicated than that!

I didn’t realize how different they were from our diatonics. Wikipedia is actually pretty helpful right now.

Have you seen one? They look like small two-row accordions with a lot of bass buttons. But the buttons are all unisonoric (same note played pumping in and out). The treble is laid out in a diatonic do-re-me scale, with three accidentals added on top. So it’s diatonic but unisonoric (and maybe chromatic with the accidentals, I haven’t counted). Fun to play! Holding three notes next to each other gives a major chord, but the pattern changes as you move around. I gather they come in different keys. I’d love to have one of these to mess with. Pretty nice sound on the master with LMH (low, middle, high reeds).

The bass side is weird too with the inside (of three) row all individual basses in a do-re-mi scale, and the outside two rows are bass-chord combos (like more familiar diatonics I think, but still all unisonoric.)

Russian accordion history has sort of a parallel development with the West through the long distance and separation. I assume they think our slew of diatonic systems are weird too. (I gather they have some bisonoric in-out systems as well, but this one is really popular.) All the world’s people should solve their differences by inventing the widest variety of accordions they can. Keep people too busy to fight.

I know there’s some folks in the Azeri community in town who play what Wikipedia calls the “oriental” garmon. My favourite unique design with piano key layouts on both hands. Right side is a tiny piano keyboard, while the left side is buttons, but laid out like piano keys! Totally unique in the world as far as I know. Somehow the design made its way from some experiment in a factory in Russia and caught on in Azerbaijan and Iran.

Bruce Triggs, Accordion Noir Radio (the radio show) (the book I’m working on)
twitter: @AccordionBruce

Johnny Grande: Rock ‘n’ Roll Accordion Celestial Object #1 + Accordion Noir Squeezetones!

January 14, 2015

Johnny Grande

I just realized it’s Johnny Grande’s Birthday! Every week when it’s time to do Accordion Noir radio, (listen Wednesday 10-11 PM PST) my phone reminds me with this song. Now you can have it to prepare for Accordion Noir too!

Download ringtone thing: Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rocking Little Tune,” featuring Johnny Grande on accordion.

Someone  suggested we share ringtones to remind folks to support Accordion Noir and help us make our fundraising goals to keep our home Co-op Radio on the air. So let this be Accordion Noir ringtone #1.That’s fitting since Johnny with Bill Haley and the Comets had basically the first Rock ‘n’ Roll hit records back in the 1950s. If we get just a fraction of the 20 million listeners that single had, we’d be doing pretty much all right.

“Rockin’ Little Tune” is a cool number. It has that familiar “Rock Around the Clock” beat. But with accordion. Grande only played piano on the Comets’ big hits but usually live he played accordion so he could move around on stage.

Bill Haley Johnny Grande Comets

The song’s from one of their later records, and it’s a treat if you can find it. Rock and Roll Stage Show gave the rest of the Comets (not just Haley) a chance to shine. What a treat! We played it on Accordion Noir Radio back when we did a “Rock ‘n’ Accordion History of Rock and Roll” episode a few years back. Worth taking a listen.

And get back to us later if you want more squeeze-tones.

Link to the "Then Play Long" webpage about the album, and every other #1 record in British history!

Celtic Accordion: Raw Notes for a Chapter of My Book

January 11, 2015

I’m not sure this is a useful idea, but I have a hankering to share the long list of quotes and annotations I gathered by reading many fantastic articles, theses, and dissertations on Irish accordions and concertina (I also have Scottish ones). I think I’m just procrastinating to put off the task of incorporating them into the “Celtic Accordion” chapter of my history of the accordion book project. Oh well.

A bunch of books I read to learn about Irish and Scottish music, included here for colour.

I don’t know if anybody will find them interesting but I thought a look at the raw material I’m working with might appeal to a few, if only to critique my amateur print-out of the information. It’s long and does not have complete academic annotations of the sources. In my original they link to the full texts or at least full documentation. The book’s bibliography is going to be an epic separate job.

This is just a little look into what I’m trying to get my head around coming in as almost totally ignorant of Irish music. I will never be an expert here and hope for guidance and compassion from readers. I’m not much of a hoarder as far as sources. If somebody else wrote a book on Irish and Scottish accordion then I wouldn’t have to. (Maybe wait until I’m done this since I’ve started?)

So here’s a very long, boring-looking, stack of commentary and quotes I really liked about Irish Traditional squeezebox. It’s in vaguely chronological order starting in 1829 or so when the accordion was patented. Together I feel like they tell the story of how the accordion (and concertina) came into this music. Some of them I found profoundly insightful and moving. Let me know if any of this makes sense. My dream for he whole accordion history book is to inspire more work on neglected culture and artists. Maybe a pile of disorganized sources like this is just the thing to get somebody started? There, no more procrastinating. Read more…

Soprani Midget Grand: Tiny Titan from the Golden Age of Accordions

December 5, 2014

Midget Grand in Case!

Read more…

Favorite Accordion Noir Radio episodes? (Biased Opinion)

November 20, 2014

On the UK-based Accordionists Forum, Joe from Chicago asked about my favourite episodes of the Accordion Noir radio show. The program is actually turning eight years old on December 1st, 2014, so that’s a lot of episodes to think back on.  I’d love to hear from any listeners about their favourite Accordion Noir Radio moments (or least favourite, I don’t pretend we can’t improve or that we always meet all tastes). It is fun to look back at the titles we made up for our old podcast (2006-2012). We continue today of course and you can listen on the new Co-op podcast site.

Leadbelly (from Wikipedia)A favourite of mine was when Jared Snyder joined us to talk about the lost African American accordion tradition. (Lead Belly’s first instrument.) One listener didn’t like it because we talked too much. It’s true I could talk about this stuff all night; consider yourself lucky it’s radio and you can turn me down. AccNoir-2011-11-09, African Americans played Accordion before they played the Blues, with Jared Snyder

An unbeatable high.Another show had the distinction of us totally trashing our playlist and spontaneously coming up with a new themed show when another DJ rushed in to the station and told us that there was a riot in downtown Vancouver after a hockey game. So as the show ran we came up with an hour of “riot themed” accordion music on the spot. That was good radio. AccNoir-2011-06-15, Accordion Riot in Canada

Space, where no one can hear you squeeze.I appreciate any episode where my co-host Rowan was gone and out of loneliness I improvise explanations as to where he was (investigating accordion-playing penguins in Antarctica, cleaning the streets of Vancouver with a leaf-blower attached to his accordion, and my favourite, when he actually arrived just in time to join me from the International Space Station in a live broadcast while they deployed their “accordion folded solar panels.” Awesome. AccNoir-2009-03-27, Mix Up, and up, and up…I’d always rather have him there in person of course. (Ironically at this very moment I’m out of town and Rowan is holding down the show without me. I hope he had me travel somewhere interesting.)

I look back favourably on some of our theme episodes.

Elvis was assigned to accordion-duty in the army.The Rock and Roll history of Accordion was really fun. AccNoir-2008-04-18, Rock ‘n’ Accordion Show though I notice the level of my voice is too low, sorry.

AccNoir-2010-07-28, Cylinder Recordings from the Future! All recordings at least 80 years old! Much of this old-school show was based on work I did annotating a selection of the old squeezebox cylinders at UC Santa Cruz’s Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project

AccNoir-2009-01-16, Lars Hollmer TributeLars Hollmer, I wish I could invite him as a guest to our little show. A commemoration of the founding member of the Accordion Tribe Lars Hollmer. I so wish we could have had him and the whole Tribe play here. He is missed.

AccNoir-2010-11-24, Grand ol’ Accordion Opry I started uncovering just how much early (pre-1960) country music had accordion and had to do a special.

A somewhat bizarre combo: (first the promo ad) Accordion Noir, Brasil-Finland Fundraiser Promo!
AccNoir-2008-10-24, Brasil-Finland International Friendship Episode! The full show: (We went back and forth with one track from Brazil and then one from Finland for the whole program. Silly fun.)

Johanna Juhola is one woman worth celebrating, among billions.Holidays are always great themes:
AccNoir-2008-10-31, Halloween Fundraiser
AccNoir-2011-03-09, International Women’s Day 100 year anniversary
Accordion Noir 2013-12-25, Jingle Bell Rocks rocks (3 hour not-all-accordion Christmas show!) This monster 3-hour Christmas show was darn jolly.

AccNoir-2009-02-06, Rowan at the Movies Rowan’s film-music nights are great.

And I have a soft-spot for the wacky “other instrument”-Noir shows we’ve done during Vancouver Co-op Radio’s fund-drives:
You dog you!
AccNoir-2010-04-09, Jaw Harp Noir PRA (Pre-Recorded Announcement)
AccNoir-2011-09-23, Accordion Resistance Special Ukulele Gudge-show with Barbara Adler
AccNoir-2011-10-19, Hurdy Gurdy Noir (fund-raiser, part I) with Bev Dobrinsky of Zeelia
AccNoir-2011-10-26, Hurdy Gurdy Noir (Fund-raiser part II) with David Burda!

AccNoir-2011-04-20, Banjo Noir, the announcement!
AccNoir-2011-04-20 (pt 2 of 3), Banjo Noir First Hour, with Linda Bull and Sue Malcolm
AccNoir-2011-04-20 (pt 2 of 3), Banjo Noir Second Hour, with a little bit of Linda Bull and Sue Malcolm

Weirdest show we ever did?Marlène Dietrich playing musical saw!
Theremin, Musical-Saw, Glass Harmonica! (Announcement)
AccNoir-2010-10-27, Theremin, Musical-Saw, Glass-Harmonica Noir. (full, long show)

In some ways I might be most proud of the little promo announcements I make for the show, various specials, and our Festival and events. Those take a lot of editing and are really fun. I’m working on a new one now. (Note, “PRA”=”Pre Recorded Announcement,” in radio-speak.)
Accordion Noir Historical PRA (perhaps my favourite promo for the show. Silly.)

Accordion Rock ‘n’ Noir PRA by Accordion Noir
Accordion Noir Electronica (dub) (the wordless base for a promo. Samples from ten different accordion artists.)
AccNoir-2010-05-12, Electronica/New Time PRA (the announcement as broadcast with me talking. I’m proud of this one.)
Accordion Noir, Brasil-Finland Fundraiser Promo!
Accordion Noir: Halloween Fundraiser PRA Announcement: Oct 31, 2008
Ukulele Noir! April 24th takeover show, promo ad!

That's a Pigini And if you doubt the power of radio: My daughter wanted a teacher, and found one!
Harriet’s plea for a girl piano-accordion teacher in Vancouver!

I’d love to hear if you had favourite Accordion Noir moments over the years. I don’t know if I can trust the numbers at all, but the old podcast claims to have had tens of thousands of downloads of most of the shows. I don’t know what to make of those, but we’ve definitely had many thousands of real listeners, and it is a humbling privilege to do the show if folks appreciate the music we share.


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