Beginnings - Imagine a one-room house in southwest Louisiana with Mom, Dad, and nine barefoot children. "We grew up in the country," Jesse Lége recalls, "and since we didn't have the option of going to the soda shop or the baseball field, we entertained ourselves. Life wasn't dull. No one had a problem with depression. We'd go ride the cows at night through the fields, make sling shots, bows, arrows, and spears for play, ultimately leading to the art of hunting when, finally, we were old enough and allowed to handle the guns and bring home food. That was certainly a day to anticipate."
Jesse's family kept their perishables in his nearby grandfather's refrigerator before the new house (with all its modern features) came to exist. "In the winters (colder back then)," Jesse remembers, "we did make use of the outside temperatures at night for some food stuff, protected from animals foraging for a free meal."
Early Influences - A simple battery radio brought Jesse some of his greatest early influences in Cajun music: Améde Ardoin, Lawrence Walker, Améde Breaux, and Austin Pitre. The family saved their batteries for Friday and Saturday nights, for Louisiana Hayride, Grand Ole Opry, and boxing events. Jesse didn't do homework under an electric light bulb until he was fourteen. "About a week before we moved into the new house (with our own private room-even an indoor bathroom with a bathtub and all)," Jesse relates, "an electric line was run to the old house. Hung right smack in the center of that one-room house was a single light bulb. We had made it to the modern world. So much changed from that very night, but so much stayed the same and still is with me today."
Jesse Lége didn't start out on accordion; he picked up guitar and harmonica first. Like many families in southern Louisiana, the Léges had frequent gatherings with home-cooked Cajun fare and home-cooked Cajun music.
When a distant cousin of his father's, Elson Mier, passed fourteen-year-old Jesse his guitar one night and taught him to play two chords (G and D), Jesse played the entire evening, accompanying Elson on accordion and a double first-cousin, Robert Paul Lége, on fiddle. It was Elson who loaned Jesse an old guitar and, a year or so later, a new accordion with the understanding that if, indeed, the music progressed and Jesse could afford a good, handmade accordion, the loaner would go back to Elson. Jesse notes, "Not much in the way of tutoring was available for me. Seems Elson didn't have the knack for instruction-nor were there options for regular visits for lessons, either. All that I learned came from that black-and-white molded plastic radio and a musical soul full of yearning for this Cajun sound."
His greatest living idol—for his reservoir of Cajun music and tradition, his ideas, his handcrafted accordions, and his simplified ”Don’t need anything more than what I absolutely need” is Marc Savoy. Perhaps the central mentor in his life, Marc Savoy, like Jesse’s paternal grandfather Dema, was uncorrupted, uninspired by the hustle and bustle of a modern world, yet not dragging behind in the dark ages, either. Jesse has always loved the sound of old Cajun music, although he enjoys and respects a variety of progressive interpretations and styles, as well.
Early Bands - The first place Jesse Lége performed, outside of house dances, was Henry’s Café in Midland, about a half hour from his home. That was his first paying gig.
Then he was picked up by various bands: The Moonlight Serenaders, The Cajun Kings, The Hicks Wagon Wheel Ramblers, The Orange Playboys (where he took Joe Bonsal’s place when he was out sick for a year or two). When Jesse was working off shore on supply boats in the oil field industry, he played with different bands. When he went back to work on land, he returned to performing full-time with The Jeff Davis Ramblers (formerly The Orange Playboys, with Jesse on accordion after Joe Bonsal’s retirement). From there he went to The Lake Charles Ramblers, which later became The Southern Ramblers, his long-standing Cajun band, playing dance halls in Louisiana and Texas for decades.
Awards and Venues - Jesse has been nominee and winner of numerous CFMA (Cajun French Music Association) awards, often referred to as the Cajun Grammys: Traditional Band of the Year, Accordion Player of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Band of the Year, Song of the Year (for "Memoires Dans Mon Coeur"). In 1998 he was inducted into the Cajun Music Hall of Fame. His performances include Festival Acadiens, the prestigious University of Chicago Folk Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, major festivals in California and Florida, and the Bury, England Cajun Festival. Recently, Jesse toured France and England with Joel Savoy and Bobby Michot, with their new CD. Jesse also recently played the Strawberry Park Cajun Festival in Connecticut; the Cajun festival in Wakefield, Canada; the Dance Flurry in Saratoga Springs, New York; the Mardi Gras Ball, in Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet, Rhode Island; the Grey Fox Festival, in New York; and the Newport Folk Festival, in Newport, Rhode Island.
Jesse Lége & Friends TodayOn staff many times at Augusta Heritage Center in West Virginia, Louisiana Folkroots (Balfa) Camp, and Fiddletunes in Seattle, Washington, Jesse has been passing along the tradition he values as teacher of Cajun accordion. In New England, Jesse plays with several bands and heads BAYOU BREW, whose fiddler is Darren Wallace, formerly of Filé. He greatly enjoys the opportunity of catching gigs with the likes of The Red Stick Ramblers and with Joel Savoy, master fiddler and producer of Valcour Records. Jesse relishes “the chance to sit in with the score of great Cajun musicians who, being scattered from one side of the world to the other, hardly ever get to connect in such a way. So many great artists left to play with.Heritage
One still finds a Lége Lane and a road named after his grandfather “Dema” in Gueydan, Louisiana, along with a large and ever-growing Lége-Trahan family, the Cypress Swamp of his youth, and the Lége Cemetery. Ask the Gueydan-born accordionist about his music and he will tell you simply, “I love to play.” And play he does.....
Bringing foot-stompin' Cajun music to the world; one dance hall at a time.