Author: Bruce Triggs
Publisher: Demian and Sons
Publication Date: 2019
“I’m an accordion fan.” It sounds like the first step in a 12-step program, but I’m not only an accordion fan, I’m quite happy with the claim. In my “real” life some of my work includes presenting artists in a cultural arts series, and thanks to a few groups that snuck in with accordions, I became a fan. Perhaps I was tainted by watching the Lawrence Welk show too often when my grandmother was babysitting me, so for years I had a limited version of what the accordion can do. In the years since, I’ve heard Russian, French, Canadian, Eastern European, U.S., and Irish accordion players live and my world has opened to the range of ways the accordion can add to the musical landscape.
I’ve also discovered and enjoyed Rowan Lipkovits and Bruce Triggs’ Accordion Noir radioshow to keep expanding my knowledge. It is no surprise that Triggs’ Accordion Revolution: A People’s History of the Accordion From the Industrial Revolution to Rock and Roll is packed full of history, stories, and enough accordion information to keep you returning to the book over and over. While it is a history, it will also serve as a great encyclopedia of the instrument that will be a valuable source for music historians and accordion fans.
Personally, I land firmly in the “fan” area as I do not even own an accordion nor do I know how to play one. I mean, I would like to get one and learn, but in the meantime, I’m the non-musician following one of his favorite instruments. Triggs writes in a way that is easy for the non-musician to follow, but those who want to get into details of the instruments or some subtleties of the music that only musicians can appreciate, will not be disappointed. He even gets into the areas of how different genres are defined, what instruments are truly traditional, and how racism and nationalism have played a part in keeping some traditions out of the mainstream.
As a blues fan, his explanation of why the accordion has had a hard time breaking into the genre since it cannot bend notes or play a blues scale was helpful. Meanwhile, the accordion’s historical counterpart, the harmonica, has flourished in the blues. Folk fans will find an extended section and one that is insightful and at times harsh on how accordion players were treated or ignored. As he hits the rock era we find little for Triggs’ to talk about as the instrument has not been able to sustain a presence in that genre, although he does give a strong nod to one of my favorite musicians, Garth Hudson of The Band. But the overall history extends far back in time and Triggs takes us from a general time period into specific stories, often highlighting performers who were never recorded.
Triggs’ loves the accordion, but retains the ability to look at it objectively. And, yes, he does see the presence of the accordion increasing, which is something I certainly see in my world of presenting performers. It may not change overnight, but we can see the world in which the accordion once dominated (mid-20th century) to where it almost disappeared (late-20th century) finally finding its rightful place in a variety of musical genres. If you don’t believe me, just listen to the Accordion Noir show to see the range of this fascinating instrument.