Heart of Louisiana: Accordion Maker
IOTA, La. (WAFB) - Cajun musicians will tell you that the best sounding accordions are the ones that are handcrafted in south Louisiana and one of those Cajun accordion makers is Larry Miller.
For most of his 85 years, he has lived on the Cajun prairie. His home in the small town of Iota is surrounded by rice fields and crawfish farms and Cajun music.
“My dad was, uh, was an accordion player and he would play house dances,” said Miller.
And so, you go grow up hearing Cajun music and the accordion. So, it was, I guess, natural for you to wanna play it.
“I was just an infant when he was playing his house dances. So, I went to some real fais-do-do where, where I went to sleep to the music,” added Miller.
He taught science and math and then became a school principal. He also owned an oil business. Then, he decided it was time to learn to play the accordion. He went to an accordion maker in nearby Crowley.
“He, I said, uh, ‘I’d like to learn how to do this.’ Well, it takes a lot of time that, uh, you know, I said, ‘Can I borrow some of these parts and duplicate it?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘just bring ‘em back.’ In no time, uh, I was into it and I’d visit other different builders and pick up what I could,” explained Miller.
For the first 10 years, making accordions was a hobby. And for the last 31 years, it’s been a full-time job. His brand is Bon Cajun Accordions.
So, you made a lot of accordions?
“Yeah. I think I’ve made, uh, in the neighborhood of 1,250, give or take,” noted Miller.
He’s copied some of his designs from old German accordions.
“The first accordion ever built was in 1822 in, uh, in Klingleton, Germany,” pointed out Miller.
Even the wood in this new accordion has some history behind it.
“This one I’m building from, from a old general store that was built in 1915 in Iota,” said Miller.
After his backyard shop was destroyed by fire a few years ago, he built a bigger shop because his grandsons would use it to continue building accordions. And Miller has had other apprentices.
“I’ve always enjoyed teaching. Currently, I’m on number 18 apprentice,” added Miller.
Inside the new shop, even the walls have a history. The wood was the dance floor of the Iota town pavilion. The etched names are the donors who paid 50 bucks to build the old dance floor.
“If I know that they used to come, I’d say, you know what? You dance on my walls. At one time, this pushes, uh, is a “G” and that one an “A,” said Miller.
He only plans to build 14 more accordions for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It’s another way of carrying on a Cajun family tradition.
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