After a sexy photo shoot with her accordion, Renee de la Prade got the idea of starting a calendar filled with photos of gals and their accordions. Now in its third year, the Accordion Babes pin-up calendar features a dozen sultry women and their squeezeboxes as well as an accompanying CD that includes tracks by each of them. De la Prade and fellow Accordion Babe Amber Lee Baker are currently on tour promoting the calendar and stop at the Lions Lair on Sunday, July 10. We spoke with de la Prade about how she started playing accordion, the origins of the Accordion Babes and what to expect at Sunday's show.
Westword: What was the initial attraction to the accordion? Renee de la Prade: My dad plays accordion, so when I was a kid that was dorkiest thing. I was a guitar player for ten years and then I played piano. Then I started working at a guitar shop fixing instruments and everyone else who worked at the guitar shop was into Irish music and so they started bringing me along to Irish music sessions. Then I realized that guitar doesn't have the rock star roll in Irish music. It's similar to how in Mexican music the accordion is the lead instrument and the guitar is sort of the filler instrument, that's how it is in Irish music too. And I didn't want to just play fiddle because everywhere you look, there's a beautiful fiddle player and I didn't want to compete with all those beautiful fiddle players.
Then I thought, if I have a button accordion I won't have any competition. I'll be like the one chick who knows who to do this. It worked out just like I thought. I have bands asking me to play with them all the time. I would not be in that position if I was a guitar player.
How did the Accordion Babes collective start? Is it mainly Bay Area gals?
It's mostly Bay Area gals but anyone can do it. The reason I started it was that about four or five years ago I had a really sexy photo shoot and I thought, "I wish there was a place to publish the photo with my accordion. There should be an accordion pin-up calendar or something." I didn't want to make a calendar that just had me in it because that's not interesting, but I thought it would be better if there were twelve different accordion ladies. At that time I got a job at an accordion shop and every time we had a woman customer who played accordion I would just ask her if she would be interested in being the an accordion pin-up calendar. After a couple of years of asking that question, I got enough people to just do it.
Are there a lot of women playing accordion these days?
I'd say there's more and more. Maybe it's just my perspective as the editor of an accordion-based calendar and meeting all these women... I don't know, but it seems like there's a lot more people who want to pick it up. It's so much fun. If you're a piano player and like acoustic instruments, you're more likely to enjoy playing accordion than you are going to enjoy playing a synthesizer.
Would you say there's still a bit of a stigma attached to playing accordion?
It's a generational thing. People my parents' age think the accordion is dorky and they kind of laugh about it. To me, that just shows you're a little old, because the young generation doesn't give a damn about that. They never saw Lawrence Welk. They're exposure to the accordion is like Tom Waits and Gogol Bordello. Young people don't have a prejudice against the accordion. Actually, you're more likely to run into people who don't know what it is.
It definitely seems like it's a lot hipper these days for the younger set.
It is cool. When somebody is playing an open mic they'll be ten people playing guitar, and maybe one person playing keyboard, and I'll be the one accordion player. Just because of the novelty of it, it blows people away.
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What can people expect at your show?
Me and Amber are both solo artists but we have really different styles. She has well-crafted, well-sung poignant songs, which is really great for a listening audience. And I'm kind of rocking, hillbilly hellcat. I like Zydeco and rock and roll. I stomp and I howl and my singing is not as beautiful as Amber's. I'm more of like getting the party going. So when we trade off, it's really nice. We'll go from really sweet and well put together to like this little demon with a squeezebox.