In 1962, Church Point Cajun musician Bee Cormier sprung into action after reading the back of an album jacket. A lamenting DJ had written that Cajun music would practically be extinct by the end of the 20th century because very few young people played it. Cormier devised a plan to bring a young person into his Church Point Playboys band, let him get experience, then replace him if should he leave.
The plan paid off. Many of Cormier’s prodigies, such as Jimmy Venerable, Felton LeJeune, Reggie Matte, Terry Cormier and Jason Frey, all have gone on to lead bands of their own.
Today, Cajun music is in a much healthier situation. Whether it’s learning to play the instruments, participating in jams, or even fronting their own bands, more and more young people are taking interest in Cajun music than ever before.
While every decade seems to have its graduates, lately teenagers Luke and Phillip Huval and Zach Fuselier of the Huval-Fuselier Cajun Band and Cameron Dupuy of the New Orleans-based Cameron Dupuy & the Cajun Troubadours are among those carrying the cultural torch forward.
Early on, Zach’s father, Patrick Fuselier, must have suspected something was up with his precocious son. When the boy was four years old, his older sister gave him an mp3 player, which he programmed without any assistance. When his parents investigated what type of music their son was constantly bopping to, they discovered it was all Cajun. Then, at age seven, another premonition of sorts occurred: “[Zach] told me that he was going to play Cajun music, because that would be the best way he could help preserve his culture,” Patrick recalls, still in utter amazement. “And this was before he ever played any Cajun instrument.”
A few years later, when Patrick was taking private fiddle lessons with BeauSoleil’s Mitch Reed, Zach watched intently along the sideline. Eventually, the 11-year-old got a beginning child’s fiddle, joined in and soon surpassed his father. While Patrick was working methodically through the tablature, Zach had the uncanny ability to easily play whatever Reed had demonstrated.
When someone in his French Club asked Zach to play a benefit, Patrick, knowing that Luke Huval, son of Jambalaya Cajun Band’s Terry Huval, played guitar and sang, asked him if he would accompany Zach. Luke and Phillip already knew accordionist Cameron Dupuy from a 2011 Festival International de Louisiane gig, so it was just a matter of time before the group Huval, Dupuy & Fusilier Cajun Band would be born.
At the 2011 Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, Terry let the boys play three songs as part of Jambalaya’s set. The audience response was overwhelming and “things started happening quickly after that,” Terry recalls. Representatives from Canada Day in Memramcook, New Brunswick, Canada, and Sawdust Days in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, loved the band so much they booked the group for their respective events in 2012. Realizing there should be a CD to sell while on tour, Terry gathered the group, which now included Luke’s older brother Phillip, a strong rhythm guitarist, to record its eponymous debut at his home studio in Scott.
It was also just a matter of time before Luke would take the reins on accordion, having been fascinated by the loud little box his whole life. Being around an accordionist such as Cameron was also beneficial since he was already learning on his mother’s accordion. “Eventually I just kept doing that and doing that, picking up little things Cameron did. Cameron showed me a few things, maybe once or twice,” Luke says. “And I just picked it up on my own by ear, listening to CDs and trying to figure out what different people were doing. Eventually, I got to where I am now just by listening to CDs, learning by ear and coming up with my own ideas.”
Around the time Luke became proficient on the loud little box, all three families realized that the logistics of a 133-mile trip between Scott and Metairie, where the Dupuys lived, wasn’t going to work. So, out of Huval, Dupuy & Fuselier Cajun Band came the Huval-Fuselier Cajun Band, who performed on the main stage at the 2013 Festivals Acadiens et Créoles.
Since Luke and Zach are so immersed in their own activities at Lafayette High, and Phillip is a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, it isn’t always easy to find time to practice, especially with Zach’s marathon Saturday jam sessions and occasional gigs with Sheryl Cormier, Hubert Maitre and 95 year-old Milton Vanicor.
Luke estimates that by now the trio’s repertoire is relatively sizable, since he and Zach are exposed to a wide variety of traditional songs. “Half the time when we are onstage, we’re trying out new stuff,” Luke explains. “Sometimes Zach and I bring different songs to the stage and we’ll pick them right there in front of each other. Say I didn’t know this song, Zach will start it off. Then I’ll hum it in my head and know it on the accordion right after he sings the verse. And generally, it works. That’s the fun thing about it.”
Being fluent in Cajun French doesn’t hurt, either, when learning Cajun songs. All three have been through their school’s French Immersion programs, where the majority of classes are conducted in French. Zach learned the Cajun dialect from conversing with his grandmother and great-grandparents, in addition to visiting older musicians such as Vanicor. Since Cajun French was spoken around the house, Luke and Phillip are no strangers to the dialect either.
Last August, another circle was completed. The Huval-Fuselier Cajun Band shared the stage at the Liberty Theater with four of its idols, Vanicor, Don Montoucet, Freddie Hanks and DL Mennard on the weekly Rendez-vous des Cajuns show. The episode was fittingly billed as “Transcending the Generations.” Each of the elder statesmen played with a Huval-Fuselier member and told stories about his life. At the end, all, including Luke and Phillip’s father Terry, who also emceed the show, played a couple of numbers, “La valse d’heritage” and “Home Sweet Home” that capped the evening perfectly. “It was quite a show,” Zach says modestly but proudly.
Though nothing is set in stone yet, this summer once school’s out the trio hopes to record a traditional album. Since his voice has changed and he’s blossomed as an accordionist, Luke is looking forward to the prospect. “We’re obviously a completely different group from two years ago,” Luke explains. Obviously.
Like the Huval brothers, Cameron Dupuy has been around Cajun music all his life. His father, Mike, has been a fixture on the New Orleans Cajun music scene for practically forever and currently plays with several groups like the Cajun Drifters and the Cajun Way, besides with Cameron in the aptly named Cameron Dupuy & the Cajun Troubadours.
Hurricane Katrina represented a turning point in their then seven-year-old life. The Dupuys had evacuated to Lafayette and were staying with a good friend of BeauSoleil accordionist Jimmy Breaux. Though Cameron didn’t take any accordion lessons from Breaux, just being around him and hanging in the heart of Cajun country was enough to plant the seed. That Christmas, Cameron received a guitar, which was instrumental in his learning basic chord structure. Three years later, when Cameron began playing his father Marc Savoy’s Acadian model, knowing his chords was helpful in positioning his fingers across the keys. When Cameron implored his father for lessons, the advice he got was to learn it on his own.
So he did. “No one has ever sat down to teach him,” says Mike. “He learned everything from records and watching different people play. A lot of people think that Bruce [first cousin Bruce Daigrepont] has taught him but he’s actually self-taught.”
Around the time Cameron was 12, Mike revived his old band, the Cajun Troubadours, and landed a four-hour Sunday brunch gig at the Ritz Carlton. Cameron was still playing acoustic rhythm guitar but was coming up to speed fast on accordion with the intent of eventually closing the revolving door of guest accordionists. “One Sunday, I decided I was going to play accordion at the gig and everything worked out perfectly,” he recalls. “And since then, I’ve been nonstop.”
Nonstop? That’s a bit of an understatement. On March 1, Cameron won his seventh accordion contest—this time in the Professional Division, beating out veterans Jesse Lége and Wilson Savoy of the Pine Leaf Boys at the Squeezebox Shootout in Jennings. Both Lége and Savoy congratulated him afterwards. “They are great guys,” Cameron says. “I’ve met them before and they’ve always been nice. They are really great players and they know how to joke around.”
Yet, this wasn’t his first contest championship. In October 2012, he won the Professional Division at the Blackpot Accordion contest against such feared contestants as Savoy and Lége among a slew of others.
Cameron has also won the youth division twice and the adult division thrice at various contests.
Like his former ’mates in the Huval-Fuselier Cajun Band, Cameron loves the Aldus Roger/Belton Richard Lafayette dancehall style. Also, like his contemporaries, the Cajun Troubadours are planning on recording a CD soon after they’ve figured out the composition of the trio and full dance-band tunes.
Sometimes on a gig, Cameron will play drums instead of accordion, which his dad describes as powerhouse. “He’s a beast,” Mike says of his son’s musical abilities in general. “He kicks my ass.”