Dan Willging talks with Cajun accordionist
Eddie LeJeune

Eddie 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.

Dan Willging: The thing that interested me was your accordion style. I listen to a lot of Cajun music but I donít hear lot of people playing like you.

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.

About a week ago, we were playing your album and the Karlo Broussard album, and we were comparing the difference in styles. He goes fairly fast, you go a littler slower but play more notes and thereís just a lot of technique with your playing.

Because weíre a three piece, I am doing everything that I can to fill all spots.

Youíre playing rhythm and bass notes too.

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.

Your playing is very rich. Thereís just a lot of subtle technique going on. The one thing that I wanted to understand is that I hear some squeally high notes every once in awhile.

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.

So the drive notes just tell everybody that youíre leading the melody...

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 ride.

How did you learn to play the accordion? Werenít you a baby when youíre dad died?

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.

So your style is what you want to make of it. You never tried to copy your dadís style off his records?

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.

Accordion players donít set the rhythm as much these days, do they?

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 for them.

Which takes away your artistic expression...

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.

If I could go back to the forties, would I hear more people playing the style you play today?

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.

Do you guys play a lot of dances with a three-piece or is it limited?

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.

Thatís what I hear in the record. Sometimes you hear one player overshadowing another, so you wonder is one part weaker than the other? Is this guy an ego-maniac but I donít hear that in your record.

The only thing you hear overshadowing everything is my weak vocals.

No, I like your 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 room.

Is that why the Cajuns sing that way, the crying vocal? Itís very distinct.

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 push.

So, you donít use a microphone?

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.

I was thinking about you the other day when I was listening to a track of yours on the Rough Guide to Cajun Music. I remember in 1995 you were saying you were going to have a record out soon but I guess these things take a while to get going?

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.

Right, it doesnít sound like anybody elseís record. It sounds like your record. Everybody thinks Cajun music has to have a big dancehall sound and it doesnít.

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 see, the focus is more on you. You are probably pretty tired when you finish playing.

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.

see also: Cajun music, Free Reeds

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