Dan Willging talks with Cajun accordionist|
For some time now, accordionist Eddie LeJeune has been a quiet fixture
on the prairie Cajun music scene. He never pursued the bright lights or
followed current trends but has always offered an honest soul-searching
examination of his traditional Cajun music. The son of the legendary Iry
LeJeune, the 47-year-old LeJeune has endured unjust comparisons with his
fatherís legacy that could have been damaging to his musical
development. As evidenced by his latest album on Rounder Records, Cajun
Spirit, LeJeuneís rich, generationally removed, older style of playing
is uniquely his own. Dan Willging caught up with LeJeune to learn
more about his technique and philosophy.
Eddie LeJeune: Right, itís a real hard and pure style. Itís completely original what Iím doing. It comes from the heart, I changed the style a little bit to fit the purpose I was trying to accomplish. And thatís the traditional aspect of the accordion. It is giving it a real traditional sound. Itís almost when you listen to it, and you didnít know any better, it would sound like it was a tune that would have been played back in the forties and the fifties. Do you get that feeling on that?
Yeah, and it seems earlier than that. I was wondering if it was like Cajun music in the twenties. When I think of a trio like yours, I think of the twenties with Joe Falcon.
Basically, based on that same aspect of traditional music, the only
real difference is that we have so much more technology today that they
can really bring the sound out bigger and cleaner than what they did in
the past. It brings it way forward, but the presence still sounds like
itís in the thirties and forties.
Because weíre a three piece, I am doing everything that I can to
fill all spots.
Yes I am; I do it all. Thatís the way I learned and thatís the way I
grew up playing. Depending upon your ability, you can change your style
a little bit and do whatever fits you.
Thatís identification. Itís a marker, a strong point, itís a sign
that youíre totally in control. You can do literally whatever you want.
Itís a sense of control, itís also a sense of timing and coordination.
Lot of songs that I play, there is a lot of coordination involved. You
also want to take the coordination and blend it in with technique and
lot of the notes that you hear are drive notes. Itís to let everybody
know that hey, Iím secure, just hop in and come along.
Right, and itís going. Iím ready, Iím there and Iím fully aware of
everything thatís going. All they have to do is hop in and join the
Yes, well, I was fortunate enough that my grandma played the
accordion. She would take the accordion out and we would sit down and
watch her. Even at a young age, we knew exactly how that instrument was
supposed to perform. And we just it picked up, started playing here and
there, and first thing you knew, I was playing a tune. I started that
out about six years old and by the time I was seven, I was playing. It
wasnít as rich as Iím doing now but you have to start somewhere. I made
my start, and I come up a long ways, I come up following a big legacy of
musicians especially my father. There was a lot of times when I was
growing up, I didnít find myself competing for him, I was always used as
an example - youíll never be your father. Well, I never tried to be my
father. I always tried to do was play my instrument to the best of my
ability and play his music. And today, people are starting to recognize
that Iím my own man now. I have my own style. Iíve paid my dues and to
live up to somebody as well known as my father was, you have to
understand that Iíve earned my rights in the field of music.
I listen to my fatherís music and I play his music, but I donít try
to copy his music note for note.
I play his songs and I develop my own style through my own
technique to his music which gives me identification. Thatís the sign of
identification, in other words, Iím my own man even though Iím playing
my fatherís music. And that is what a lot of the high notes are, those
shrills that I do and itís all coordination and control when youíre
playing music and rhythm as well. Guitar and fiddle players, they give
you the rhythm but they have to have a rhythm to follow. You carry a
good rhythm on the accordion, it makes it so much easier for the guitar
and fiddle player. You just have to join in.
I play his songs and I develop my own style through my own technique to his music which gives me identification. Thatís the sign of identification, in other words, Iím my own man even though Iím playing my fatherís music. And that is what a lot of the high notes are, those shrills that I do and itís all coordination and control when youíre playing music and rhythm as well. Guitar and fiddle players, they give you the rhythm but they have to have a rhythm to follow. You carry a good rhythm on the accordion, it makes it so much easier for the guitar and fiddle player. You just have to join in.
Accordion is supposed to set the rhythm and the timing. And the
instruments are supposed to fall behind the accordion. Itís just like
whenever youíre doing drums, thatís was one of the biggest things I
found with drummers, that it was always hard to get a good drummer
because when the drummer sets the timing, he could speed you up or slow
you down. And if he did that, he was taking away from your ability; he
was taking away from your technique. And thatís why for fifteen,
eighteen years now that I havenít used a drummer. I struck out and went
with a three piece. Because the only thing that the drums were doing for
me that it allowed me to play in the nightclubs and dancehalls and there
were places around here telling you what you had to have in the band to
play for them. And a lot of times, I was called after I quit using a
drummer to go and play a dancehall, and I would say sure, and we would
make the arrangements. They would ask me how many we had in the band. I
would tell them three pieces and they would say, you have to have this
and you have that, and I would hang up. And thatís the way to do it. If
thatís what he wanted, he should have respected me for being honest with
him - I have a three-piece band and this is my repertoire. But they went
beyond that. They were telling me what I had to have in the band to play
Exactly. I have sat in with bands with the whole nine yards and
people come up and tell me, boy you sound good behind all of that. But
Iím not happy with all of that. Iím just happy as can be with my little
three-piece band, accordion, fiddle and guitar. From time to time, I may
add a triangle. Thatís the music I want.
Yeah you would, because you have less instruments in the band. Mind
you not everybody can do a three-piece band because you really have to
be on your toes. You have to drive, coordinate your rhythm yourself,
coordinate your timing through yourself. Fiddle players and guitar
players are really keen of following behind on what youíre doing. And
they just keep up the tempo that you set. And thatís the way the drummer
should do also. A really good drummer will do that. Just fall behind
the accordion and keep the timing for the rest of the instruments.
No, it is limited. No, I donít do dances at all anymore. The only
dances I do are private parties. And thatís because they can hire a
three-piece band cheaper that they can hire a full band. The amazing
thing about it is that everybody is so satisfied at the end of the night
because they can actually hear and understand all of the instruments in
the band. Nothing is louder than anything else. Everything is set at the
same level. And everybody can distinctly hear each instrument. Itís so
much purer and cleaner and more original.
The only thing you hear overshadowing everything is my weak vocals.
Itís pretty strong. Itís always been a factor when we always played
house dances, and I grew up playing house dances, parties, we didnít
have all of this amplification and everything was played strictly
acoustic. And for people to hear and keep the beat going, well, when you
had to sing pretty loud so everybody could hear you. And the instruments
were loud enough, depending on where you were playing and how big the
room was but normally everything was set to serve the purpose of the
I kinda have my own style in singing as well.
I kinda of roll my voice, itís kinda of a yodel while Iím singing
some of the songs. I am really pushing from the heart when I sing. There
is a lot of feelings in my singing. That draws the dividing line from
somebody going up to the microphone and raising the microphone loud
enough so they can be loud where he doesnít have to push or nothing. I
I do when we are touring. You play big assembly halls and theaters,
things where you really have to have them. I never set my microphone as
high as anybody else for the fact that I want to drive where you can
hear my vocals. Thatís my style and thatís one of the reasons why my
fatherís vocals were different than anybody elseís and that why mine are
different than anybody elseís. Iím proud of what Iím doing because when
I do it, I feel good. And anytime you feel good about something youíre
doing, youíre giving it one hundred percent.
Yeah they do. I am especially proud of the new one that come out -
Cajun Spirit. It stands alone. When you put it against any of these
other musicians that are playing, and Iím not saying mine is any better
than anybody elseís, it stands alone. It has its special techniques, it
has its own identification.
Itís really not where it is at. Itís really our music and our music
has to be delivered from the heart. And the only good thing I got going
for me is that Iím doing it in its natural state with the original trio.
And Iím always so much more comfortable with a trio than I am with a
bigger band. It seems to me that you got this bigger band, you can be
lazier and Iím not saying that you canít play the music but you donít
have to play as hard. You can lazy around in a lot of areas because
youíve got all these instruments pushing you. And I find that today,
itís one of the things that takes from musicians is that they have all
these instruments behind them to make them sound good. Put these
musicians in a three-piece band, they canít do what theyíre doing on the
album that they cut.
I am exhausted. I do two forty-five minute shows. When I get done
with my second show, my shirt is soaking wet. I just put out 110
percent. I put my whole heart and soul in it.