“This couple carry the heart and soul of the Deep South where ever they go. From dusty barns on the plains of New Mexico to shacks in the swamplands of Louisiana, Bayou Seco are amongst the most authentic Southern American musicians you can find – not surprising when you consider they have been immersed in the music for over 60 years!” – Two For Joy
“I’m sure I hadn’t heard a better audience response the whole weekend. And deservedly so, as this was a joyful, life affirming, exhilarating set.” – Americana UK Jonathan Aird
Ken Keppeler and Jeanie McLerie, otherwise known as ‘Bayou Seco’, are lovers. That’s not an attempt to describe the way they feel about each other, although after a close relationship of thirty years standing it may be very apt, but rather the nature of their bond with the people’s music of Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona and the entire southwest of the United States, from the Mississippi River to the coast of California.
On first sight, the pair look like they might have stepped straight of the set of the Coen Brothers’ ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou?’ but those prairie threads, that venerable facial rug, are no prop department pretence. They’re outward symbols of a life lived in the service of roots Americana in its many guises. Their shows are a journey through time, an odyssey into the outback of the deep South West, with its shifting populations of Native American, French, Mexican, Polish, German, Irish migrant adventurers, each with their own particular flavour to add to the rich musical sauce.
Inspired by listening to The Carter Family on the radio in her native New Jersey, Jeanie spent her early adult life in Europe, busking, archiving, researching and performing traditional music. In the 1960s, she hung out with Bert Lloyd, The Watersons and Peggy and Ewan McColl during the salad days of the UK’s bourgeoning folk club scene. “It was a neat time to be there,” she remembers. “It was so alive.”
Ken grew up in California surround by Mexicans and other south westerners. His early love of traditional Hispanic music, country and blues survived a tour of duty in Vietnam, and solidified into an early mastery of the violin and the banjo. “I was never into the likes of Joan Baez,” Ken admits, “because I was so close to other traditions, living where I did. There’s a feeling about traditional musicians that comes from human experience. I’m very attached to that.”
Since then Jeanie and Ken have been singing, playing, researching and archiving the music they love, sticking to a simple unadorned line-up of diatonic accordions, fiddles, guitar, mandolin, banjo, harmonica and voices, spreading their knowledge of the rough-hewn musical expression of a continent in front of audiences all over the world, on concert stages, in schools, bars, folk clubs, community and old people’s centres.
Jeanie and Ken took their music from forgotten people and they’ve spent most of their professional lives giving it back, with added verve, warmth and style.