Hand made in Louisiana

Hand made in Louisiana

This old Cajun accordion got some good workouts this summer. Since early spring, the neighborhood got serenaded from the Happy Place late in the day most evenings, and we had some rousing jam sessions on first Fridays at Le Cafe Cajun on campus.

This instrument was hand-built by the late accordion maker Lawrence “Shine” Mouton in Crowley, Louisiana. I paid Shine $525 for that box in 1978 or 79. Today, I could sell it for almost twice that amount. A brand new one would cost over $2000. Turned out to be not so bad an investment, as much as I remember how much of a sacrifice that seemed withdrawing those five 100 dollar bills that I handed over to Shine the day I bought this gem.

For the first time in all these years, I had to take it in for a repair last month to Shine’s nephew who has perpetuated the family accordion-making craft and business. I thought that was pretty awesome for an instrument with so many working parts to hold up for so long without need for “fixing.” Shine evidently knew what he was doing when he put that instrument together.

It’s really not a Cajun instrument–the original diatonic accordions that this one is patterned after were German-made, the pre-World War II brand names Sterling and Monarch. German immigrants introduced them to South Louisiana sometime in the early 1900’s, but the Cajuns adapted these musical boxes creatively to their own brand of folk music.

After the Allies bombed the German factories out of existence in World War II, the German brands went out of production. As the original Sterlings and Monarchs aged and broke down, Cajun craftsmen started taking the instruments apart to see how they could replicate them. And so they did, and so we have these antique-looking, charming reed instruments with really potent sound.