Feb 9, 2010, 5:00 PM EDT
We can begin by saying that Johnny Chauvin’s story is New Orleans’ story. Five years ago he was wiped out when his home was washed away by Hurricane Katrina; but he had his wife and two sons and he had his music, and so like many touched by the disaster, he set to rebuilding his life.
A welder by trade, the Franklin, La., native had struggled for years in small clubs, casinos and parish fairs in the New Orleans area doing what he believes he was born to do; play his songs. Johnny Chauvin and the Mojo Band became somewhat of a local legend over the past decade, with his raucous Zydeco Cajun style and smooth, infectious singing voice winning over all who had the opportunity to hear him play. But at age 50, he never expected to climb much higher. Then, a funny thing happened.
The Saints began their mercurial run to glory, and Chauvin was swept along; and like the city itself, reborn. Two of his songs have become anthems for the team’s march to success, with the first, Watching Them Play, becoming a local radio, and then national, sensation last month. Then, with the Saints poised to meet the Colts in the Super Bowl, Chauvin released We Believe, another Saints’ song which is taking the state by storm.
“I’m just blown away by all of this, it’s still kind of hard to believe,” said Chauvin, who was born and raised in Franklin, population 9,000.
The song has become ubiquitous on Louisiana radio stations, and has gone viral on the Internet, making waves as far away as Texas, California and New York. All of a sudden, Johnny Chauvin is big.
Chauvin talked to Out of Bounds by phone on Monday, sounding a bit overwhelmed by all of the attention.
“Everything has been so crazy,” said Chauvin, who has done four radio and three TV shows this week alone. “I’m getting a lot of support. This is a very small town and everyone has gathered around me. I can’t go anywhere without being congratulated. I’m very grateful.”
Chauvin and his band were playing a club in Lafayette, La., when Kip Bacque, a local producer who has worked with the likes of John Fogerty and Dr, John, happened to hear him.
“I really liked him, and said ‘I have a Saints song, do you want to record it?,’ ” Bacque said. “That was Watching Them Play. I thought he would be perfect for it.”
Chauvin said he would give it a try, and the two went to Bacque’s studio the next day and laid down some tracks. The result was a winner. Bacque emailed the song to several radio stations, and they began playing it. Soon it became one of the team’s unofficial anthems, and if you live in Louisiana, you heard it everywhere.
“It went viral,” Bacque said of the song, which they recorded on Jan. 18. “We were doing TV shows on ABC, CBS and NBC; getting comments from as far away as France and Australia. It was kind of dumbfounding really.”
Last week the band hit the studio again to record We Believe, a slower anthem about the Saints and the city of New Orleans co-written by Bacque and Shawna Harrington. (You can hear the song here).
Chauvin plays accordion and handles lead vocals, with Paul Guidry (guitar/vocals), Mike LeJeune (guitar/vocals), Damon Troy (bass) and Gary Usie (drums). The group has recorded two CDs; With a Little Help From My Friends (2007), and Only Fools Rush In (May, 2009). They are working on a third.
The Saints’ win is a tonic to people like Chauvin, who still feel the effects of Katrina to this day.
“People in other parts of the world don’t know what Katrina was like,” he said. “After it happened, the insurance companies came in, but they didn’t help everyone. We lost our home, and we had no insurance, they wouldn’t cover it. We had absolutely nothing. No help from anyone. It was a day to day struggle.
“When the Saints started to win, it was something for people here to hang onto,” he said. “And when Drew Brees came out and said that they were doing it for us, that meant a lot. We were suddenly united.”
Chauvin has two sons, ages 21 and 7, and both are very proud of their dad.
“Dalen, the youngest, is really into it,” Chauvin said. “He sits in the bed of the truck and sings the Saints songs word for word.”
It has, indeed, been a wild ride.
“The other day a guy called and said that we were the No. 1 Saints song in Texas,” Bacque said. “I’m not even sure how a thing like that happens, but we’ll take it.”
Watching Them Play (MP3 download) [Filestube.com]
Johnny Chauvin and the Mojo Band [Facebook]
Johnny Chauvin and the Mojo Band [MySpace]
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