A handcrafted Cajun accordion is a must for anyone serious about playing the popular south Louisiana music. When Larry Miller decided to get his first accordion more than four decades ago, he also learned how to make his own.
Miller lives only a few miles from where he grew up, deep in south Louisiana’s Cajun prairie in the small town of Iota. Rice fields and crawfish farms surround his home and workshop. He grew up listening to Cajun music. His father played the accordion and performed at neighborhood house dances. “I was just an infant when he was playing his house dances,” Miller explains. “I went to some real fais do dos where I went to sleep to the music.”
from educator to cajun accordions
Miller was in his 40’s when he decided to start playing the accordion. He felt he needed to keep the music in his family. While shopping for his first accordion, he asked an accordion maker if he could borrow a few parts and try building one on his own. “He said just bring ’em back,” Miller said. He added, “In no time, I was into it and I’d visit other different builders and picked up what I could.”
For the next ten years, Miller built accordions as a hobby. He had been working as a teacher and school principal, and was also part-owner of an oilfield business. Then he gave up his other jobs and started working full time building his “Bon Tee Cajun Accordions” (Cajun for “good little accordion”). He now calls his instruments “Bon Cajun Accordions“. Miller estimates that he has built 1,250 accordions over the last 40 years.
gutted by fire and a new shop
A fire destroyed Miller’s Cajun accordion shop a few years ago. But instead of calling it quits, he built an even bigger workshop behind his rural home. He did that because two of his grandsons are interested in continuing to build accordions. Miller wants to preserve his accordion making craft and pass it on to another generation. Eighteen people have already taken a lengthy apprenticeship with Miller. The workshop has preserved something else – the old plywood dance floor from the Iota town pavilion. The dance floor, which contains names of the original pavilion sponsors, is now on the walls of the workshop.
Miller still making cajun accordions
At age 85, Miller still works in his shop about four hours a day. He wants to make sure that all of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have one of his Bon Cajun Accordions. You can add 14 more accordions to his 1,250 total.