Daily Egyptian

Creole Stomp talks Cajun music, SIU and park shows

By Chase Myers, @chasemyers_DE

Cajun powerhouse Creole Stomp, with their Louisiana influenced rock and southern Illinois roots, will be performing at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Turley Park for this week’s installment of the Sunset Concert Series.

The group consists of Dennis Stroughmatt on vocals and fiddle, Robert Russell on vocals and lead guitar, Greg Bigler on vocals and bass, Jimmy Willis on vocals and drums and occasionally CW Riley on scrub board.

Composed of alumni, some with master’s degrees, Creole Stomp is informally known as “The Grateful Dead of Creole Music,” and utilizes their knowledge of music culture into their sound.

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The Daily Egyptian had the opportunity to speak with founding member Dennis Stroughmatt about what makes the band tick.

How did you guys get started?

We actually started in Carbondale back in 2002. I had worked with other groups, but the band was all SIU graduates actually. Basically, we were showing you what you could do with a master’s degree or a Ph.D. from SIU: you can go form a band. Most people don’t know that we were based out of Carbondale, but we were. I had been doing a lot of French music actually. I had worked and lived in Louisiana. I was kind of back and forth between Carbondale and Lafayette, La., I lived in Louisiana and am French speaking … but essentially, there was a lot of demand because I had been working in different groups with Cajun music and really wanted to put a group together that could really do it well. I was fortunate that a good friend of mine who had left Carbondale, SIU grad John Watson, put the band together with Robert Russell.

Is your band’s dynamic smooth because most of you have master’s degrees?

Everybody in the group is very knowledgeable and we all approach what we do from a professional perspective. We’ve all worked with other groups. Music is not just about getting up there and partying all night long. For us, the music we do is representative of a certain culture in Louisiana. Knowing about that culture, understanding it and being able to exhibit that in our music for the crowd is a big deal for us. Being able to play traditionally is a big deal. The fact that we are all fairly educated helps out, but there are different people in the band now too. Actually, Robert and I are the only original members left, so there have been a lot of different people that have gone through the band through the years. It’s weird, somehow, there always ends up being an SIU connection with new people who come through the band.

Does that SIU connection allow the band to mesh well?

That experience really helps make the band cohesive. No matter who comes into the band, having had some kind of relationship with SIU means that any of us have sort of walked the same ground.

What makes Louisiana music so unique?

If you were to go see a rock band … [almost] everything you are going to hear is going to be in English. Most of what we do is in French. There are still over half a million people who speak French in Louisiana in the Cajun country and the music prevalent from that area is done in French. Not only that, something that’s kind of cultural about the music in Louisiana is the fact that it has so many different infusions of African Creole music. You have a lot of Caribbean style music and also a lot of blues coming into the music. The instrumentation doesn’t necessarily suggest the same thing as a blues band or a Caribbean band, I mean, we use an accordion, but at the same time we use a lead guitar, bass and drums.

You performed at a Sunset Concert in 2011. Do you feel like it is a good environment for live music?

Absolutely. We really like that. The Carbondale Sunset concerts are very similar, in some ways, to a lot of other park shows … we like to do concerts like that, because people are relaxed. They’re there to hear a band play, but they are not so much just sitting and watching the band every minute. They are also there to hang out, just have a good time and relax and we’re a part of that experience. We are somewhat the focal point, but not necessarily. We do all kinds of different park concerts like that. We just got back from a 10-day run in Colorado on tour and we played several park concerts out there. Just this past weekend we were out in Ohio playing a festival, doing an outdoor, evening concert kind of thing. We get to play for different groups of people and coming back and playing Carbondale, especially like the Turley Park concert, is really fun. We get to see some old friends, and you know, just have a good time. 

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