The 2016 Festivals Acadiens et Créoles (FAeC) proved fruitful for Walter Mouton. Festival organizers released his first ever full-length album, Walter Mouton and the Scott Playboys: Live at Festivals Acadiens et Créoles (17 live tracks culled from FAeC performances 1992-2014). A New Orleans Jazz Fest representative just happened to inquire why he no longer played Jazz Fest. Mouton replied that he had for years but whoever had booked him had moved on. ‘You will have an invitation next year,’ Mouton remembers the rep saying.
Mouton received his 2017 invitation all right, but inclement weather prevented him from performing the scheduled day. So Mouton collected his check and headed home in the worst storm he had ever driven through, including his years as a truck driver.
Though last year’s Jazz Fest was not meant to be for Mouton, what was meant to be was his destiny to become one of the best Cajun accordionists and bandleaders, a career that began nearly 70 years ago. His father played an accordion and on Thursday nights, the family would go see the legendary Iry LeJeune. “I would sit on that two-by-four railing going around the bandstand and listen to everything that was going on,” Mouton says.
That was enough to spark his interest and before too long, he began tinkering with accordions. “Eventually I figured out how that contraption worked,” Mouton says. “You have to learn those ten buttons on the melody side and those buttons on the bass side; they are not there for parade either. My daddy said ‘If you are ever going to be something, you are going to have to work it all or you just as soon give up.’ It was a big challenge but it kept me out of mischief.”
Mouton formed his first band the Scott Playboys, a four-piece, at age thirteen-and-a-half. Mouton played accordion, Rodney Miller played fiddle and Johnnie Allan and future brother-in-law Leeman Prejean were on guitars. From the outset, Mouton was blessed with a good sense of timing and an impeccable ear.
“I learned how to tune a fiddle and a guitar and I couldn’t play either one of them. Rodney Miller played fiddle and he couldn’t tune his fiddle. Johnnie Allan was on guitar and couldn’t tune his guitar. So I would tune both instruments. After years of fooling around with them, I learned how to play the fiddle, guitar, bass and steel.”
Mouton once sat in for his idol Lawrence Walker at the OST Club in Rayne. “He got on the microphone and started saying ‘People, see that boy?’” Mouton recalls Walker saying. “‘He is the one that’s going to replace me when I go.’ That surprised the shit out of me.”
In 1964, Mouton began his 44-year association with the La Poussiere Club in Breaux Bridge. For a dozen years, Mouton estimates, his band played every other Saturday night before playing the next 32 years every Saturday night. Mouton’s crackerjack band included fiddler Dick Richard for 26 years and steel guitarist Randall Foreman for 22 years. Mamou Playboys drummer Kevin Dugas, then a teenager, also passed through his ranks.
Though Mouton is known for his encyclopedic repertoire, he’s most famous for his rousing composition “Scott Playboy Special.” Interestingly he doesn’t claim to have written the crowd-pleasing instrumental but adapted it from Doc Guidry and Happy Fats’ fiddle-guitar version of the “Crowley Two Step.” What made Mouton’s version different is that he played it on accordion.
With Mouton packing in wall-to-wall crowds, La Poussiere became known as a musician’s hangout on Saturday nights for those who didn’t have a gig. “Every musician that wanted to be a musician, this was one of their stops,” says owner Lawrence Patin. “There were a lot of young musicians coming up at the same time like Steve Riley and they wanted to learn. So they would come listen and incorporate some of that into what they wanted to do.”
One such up-and-comer was Wayne Toups, who can relate to how Mouton must have felt when Walker bestowed praise on him since he felt the same way from his idol’s encouragement. When Richard had to take time off, Mouton moved over to fiddle and gave the accordion reins to Toups for the entire night. “It showed me that he believed that I had what it took to be an accomplished accordion player at a very young age,” Toups says. “I’m talking about when I was 16–17 years old. That’s how I gained a lot of knowledge by playing in that band.”
“It wasn’t just about his style but it was about his knowledge and the ways he interpreted those songs,” Toups continues. “His passages, embellishments and the way he approached those songs, he was, as far as I’m concerned, the total package.”
Though Mouton still plays on special occasions, he retired from his longstanding La Poussiere gig on New Year’s Eve, 2008. “You see being that I started playing when I was thirteen-and-a-half, my following of people were 18–20,30, 40, up to 50 and 60,” Mouton says. “As I started getting older, the people older than me started dying. You can’t get them to come to the dance when they are six feet under.”
“You know I never made a whole lot of money,” Mouton continues. “But I was never broke once I started playing music.”
WALTER MOUTON & THE SCOTT PLAYBOYS: SATURDAY, MAY 5—FAIS DO-DO STAGE, 11:15 A.M.