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MUSIC MECCA: Marc Savoy’s Cajun Music Store

June 13, 1990

EUNICE, La. (AP) _ Marc Savoy’s music store outside Eunice - a town so small the mayor notices an outsider - is a Mecca for anyone interested in Cajun music.

His Saturday morning jam sessions are legendary. People from all over the world want his accordions. He’s played for President Bush.

But the first major collection of Cajun music hardly mentions him.

″I wouldn’t have felt comfortable being in my wife’s book,″ said Savoy, who plays and makes the little accordions made popular by the resurgence of Cajun music. ″I produced the book. It doesn’t mean as much if a disc jockey has to play his own records.″

His name is sixth from the end in an alphabetical list of the 27 people who were making accordions in 1984, when Ann Allen Savoy’s ″Cajun Music, Volume I″ was published. His photograph is on the title page of the section about Cajun instruments.

But Savoy (pronounced ″sah-vWAH″) doesn’t advertise the accordions he carves from maple and exotic woods. He doesn’t need to: Orders from as far as Germany and Australia keep him busy.

Other accordion makers acknowledge Savoy as one of four artisans responsible for the renaissance of the German style accordion popular among Cajun musicians since the 1890s, and as the one who taught most of them.

He, Lawrence ″Shine″ Mouton, Charlie Ortego and Sidney Brown all began making accordions in the late 1950s and early ’60s. As Cajun music and Louisiana in general became culturally ″in,″ the number swelled to 50 or more.

Savoy, whose accordions cost $1,000 and up, isn’t concerned about competition. ″I give away the patterns,″ he said. ″I don’t care about business, money. All I want to do is pass it on intact.″

He’s delighted that people around the world listen to Cajun music. What upsets him, though, is that many of the songs most popular outside south Louisiana aren’t Cajun but rock or country with just enough Cajun flavor to make them sound new and exciting.

″If I get a picture of the Mona Lisa, I don’t want to frizz her hair and put sunglasses on her,″ said Savoy.

Savoy says that those playing the mixed styles probably couldn’t do anything else. ″They grew up hearing rock ‘n’ roll, so that’s the way they hear it,″ he said. ″That is so popular - a rock ‘n’ roll band playing a little bit Cajun. If you take the real thing, people go ‘yecch.’ it doesn’t appeal. It’s too esoteric.″

He’s also vehement about what he calls ″born-again Cajun wonders″ - musicians who looked down on Cajun music when it was considered declasse - and younger musicians’ lack of respect for the generation that taught them.

″It’s almost like a vanity trip, to see how much they can get the spotlight on them, on them, on them. ... Why don’t they have the honor to say, ’I learned a very small part of this and I’m trying to play like so-and-so plays it, but I can’t because it’s a very hard style?‴

Savoy learned accordion and fiddle from his father, his grandfather and anyone else who would play for him. As a child, he pestered anyone who owned a fiddle or accordion to play a tune for him.

″I was so keeled over by that music it didn’t leave a place for anything else. ... I guess it’s like dope, a drug. It just tasted so sweet to my ears, it just stole my heart,″ he said.

Savoy bought his first accordion in 1952, when he was 12, and inherited his grandfather’s fiddle two years later. In 1958, he brought his accordion to a spur-of-the-moment raccoon sauce piquante cookout in a park. It started raining, and the man who ran the park invited the group into his shelter to cook. Savoy played while the raccoon cooked.

″He said, ‘Young man, you really play well. My son plays steel guitar in a band ... he plays with Sidney Brown in Lake Charles. Sidney Brown just built him an accordion.’

″I said, ‘Say that again?’

″He said, ‘Sidney Brown just built him an accordion.’

″I said, ‘Made an accordion?’

″He said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Made the whole thing. Made from scratch.’

″That was like saying, ‘The house can take off and fly to the moon and come back in two seconds.’

″I’m sure if I’d never gone to that raccoon sauce piquante ... it would never have dawned on me that this was something that could be duplicated - by mortal Cajuns.″

Savoy didn’t even consider asking Brown to teach him. ″Lake Charles was 70 miles away - it could have been 700 miles,″ he said. Besides, he figured that Brown would probably say, ″I figured it out, now you figure it out.″

So he did.

″Three months later I had something that kind of looked like an accordion. I say ‘looked like.’ It didn’t sound like it should. ... But I was so proud, I put it in the little country store. I would make excuses to go and look in the showcase. The more I looked ... the more I began fine-tuning my vision. It wasn’t very good after all.″

He worked for a bit in a cousin’s woodworking shop, then bought himself a small table saw for $80 and set up shop in the backyard kitchen his father had built for neighborhood cookouts. More and more people asked him to fix their accordions in between his gigs at honky-tonks and dances around the state.

In 1966, his father offered to help Savoy build a shop so he could take back his kitchen.

Two or three music stores had failed in Eunice. But they all were geared to country or rock ‘n’ roll, even though there were only a handful of such bands in the area. Savoy had done a survey for a priest who was interested in folklore, and discovered that 200 people within the city limits of Eunice owned and played accordions.

He decided his store would sell his Cajun accordions and other Cajun instruments, music and records.

″I opened the doors in 1966, just trying to hang on for dear life. I made a good living. I made a lot of wonderful contacts, had a lot of wonderful experiences, had wonderful opportunities. ... They just fell in my lap. I was in the right place at the right time.″

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