Rockin' Sidney Simien
(April 9, 1938–February 25, 1998)
an American R&B, Zydeco, and soul musician who began recording in the late 1950s and continued performing until his death.
Simien was born into a sharecropper's family in the tiny farming community of Lebeau, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. Sidney took up the guitar at an early age. He started his musical career at age 14 or 15 playing harmonica and guitar. His first gig was as backup for his uncle Frank Simien.
By Sidney's late teens, he was leading his own band as Sidney Simien and His All Stars, which included several members of his family. By the age of 18, he recorded the first of many records.
Rockin’ Sidney was a veteran Creole-Zydeco musician who played almost every style of music, from the Caribbean beat to blues. His credits include “No Good Woman”, a small hit in Louisiana in 1962. However, it was the flip side, “You Ain’t Nothing But Fine” that brought him his first national attention as a songwriter. (The song was covered later by the The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Rockpile, and Geraint Watkins.)
Although his success is based upon his identity within the Zydeco music community, Sidney did not start out playing the accordion or seeking fame as a Zydeco artist. He sort of stumbled into it in the mid 1970s, having tried his hand at swamp pop and the blues.
Heavily influenced by local legends like Slim Harpo and Cookie & The Cupcakes, Sidney made his first R&B-styled recordings on the Louisiana record labels Fame and Jin during the late 1950s. He was often backed by George Lewis on harmonica and Katie Webster on piano. Rockin’ Sidney also recorded on Rod Records.
Since Zydeco was a part of his Creole heritage, Sidney quickly learned the accordion and added it to his long list of other instruments. Simien began playing zydeco, a traditional folk music of Louisiana. Soon he was playing dances.
One of the highlights of a Rockin' Sidney performance was his Clifton Chenier and Buckwheat Zydeco parodies. For Chenier, Sidney dressed up as the Zydeco monarch, complete with a crown, cape and gold tooth. While the Buckwheat bit was done with a ventriloquist dummy. His first Zydeco album, Give Me a Good Time Woman was released in 1982 on the Maison de Soul label.
Simien, became an internationally known figure as the originator of the much-covered, Cajun-feeling song, “My Toot Toot.” Simien wrote the song, and in October 1984, included the tune in his third album, “My Zydeco Shoes Got the Zydeco Blues.” The entire album was recorded in his home studio in Lake Charles, where Simien played all the instruments.
In January 1985, “My Toot Toot” was released as a single in Louisiana and Texas, and became the first true regional hit.Many have considered Rockin' Sidney Simien to be a Zydeco legend. One of only a small handful of Zydeco artists to achieve significant commercial success, Rockin' Sidney scored big time in 1984 when his single "My Toot Toot" was certified a platinum record and won a coveted Grammy Award. "My Toot Toot" that became a national and international million-selling phenomenon in 1984. "My Toot Toot" became the first Zydeco record to get major airplay on pop, rock and country radio stations.It has been recorded in many a foreign countries.
A Spanish version, "Mi Cu Cu," sold over a million copies in Mexico, Central America, and South America. Today it is very rare to find a Zydeco band or artist that doesn't have a rendition of the song somewhere in their catalog. Yet, Rockin’ Sidney was never been a one-hit wonder but rather a South Louisiana mainstay since 1957 when he cut his first side, "Make Me Understand," on the short-lived Carl label.It was recorded in many foreign languages.
The song probably became more popular in Germany than it ever was in America. A beer company in Germany licensed it to use in their radio and TV commercials. They renewed the license in 1996 for $100,000 and the probably have renewed again since then. Over 20 years after "My Toot Toot" debuted, it's still making money. It will probably make money for his estate long after his death. The song is still drawing royalties from commercial use in Europe and cover versions done in several languages by dozens musicians.
After the success of "My Toot Toot," Sidney toured the United States and Europe heavily. He continued to record prolifically, characteristically playing all parts himself. Although nothing before or after has ever matched the career-defining success of "My Toot Toot," several of his songs such as "If It's Good For The Gander," "My Zydeco Shoes," "Jalapeño Lena", and "Ann Cayenne" have become Zydeco staples and are played regularly by other bands.
After a long bout with cancer, Rockin’ Sidney Simien succumbed to the disease in 1998, leaving his legacy to his wife, three sons, and four grandchildren. He remains one of the most influential, beloved, and imitated performers in Zydeco music history