|Accordion hand-made by Clarence "Junior" Martin of Lafayette, Louisiana. It bears his signature imprint on the bellows...a crawdad.|
By Chris Segura, Staff Writer. Acadiana Life Section, The Advertiser, Lafayette, LA, Sun., May 19, 1991
Adapted For This Site By Jim Meloche
Clarence "Junior" Martin slipped the strap of the accordion over his left shoulder and inclined his left ear critically.
But as soon as the organ sounds began to emit from his own creation, his brown-white beard broke into a smile. He loves his work. He makes accordions in his spare time in his woodworking shop when he isnt snowed under by construction work or working out on the golf course.
His wife Patsy, a tallish lady with black hair and eyes that always seem to be smiling, says of her husband, "He does nothing half-way. Anybody will tell you that who knows him."
In the meantime, the smile in the salt-and-pepper beard was broadening. Junior Martin was happy. He says he works to stay that way.
But he got started making accordions after his wife bought him one, which he promptly dismantled in search of the sound. He had been playing music since he was 13. He is now 50.
His wife, although a beautiful woman dressed elegantly in a green blouse with gold trim, refused to be photographed.
"This is all his show," she said. Martins smile broadened sweetly.
After he realized he needed to build accordions, he went to the master, Marc Savoy of Eunice.
"I asked him what it took to make an accordion," he relates, letting the accordion rest on his lap like a loving child. "He told me you got to make a lot of them.
"And he told me one thing else. He said if anybody ever asked me how I got started, I should say that Marc Savoy told me how to begin."
This was an important thing to Martin. Many musicians and makers of musical instruments are secretive, jealous, downright hostile at times. Martin is proud of his mentor.
Now hear what Savoy had to say:
"I told him more than that," Savoy said in a telephone interview. "I said anytime anybody wants to know something about making accordions, you help him all you can.
"Thats the only way to keep this thing (culture) going. What would have happened if everybody kept their secrets? Thered be no libraries, no books, no songs. Wed be lost in the dark ages. Sharing is the only way.
"Teach the other person. Dont guard the secret."
One secret that Savoy did not hold was how he managed the brilliant colors on the panels of his accordions.
"I asked him, Howd you do that?, He winked at me and said food coloring."
The brilliant greens, blues, even purples are simply lacquered food coloring. This is a family operation. His daughter, Penny Huval, 26, does the food-color dying. Wife Patsy claims her function is to complain, like a good Cajun wife.
The wood that Martin uses for the panels comes from all over the world. Some of it is so exotic a Cajun palate cant pronounce it.
But he uses it and the sound from that diatonic (called here the French accordion as opposed to the piano accordion in less learned circles) is beautiful. And he doesnt consider himself a great accordionist, certainly not in the category of a Cedric Benoit, for instance.
By the way, Cedric owns four of Martins inventions and has him clean them whenever hes in town.
Martin is a busy man. He has an agent in Connecticut who sells his $900 accordions (a bit cheaper than most) all over the world. [Note: In 1998, a 10-button Martin accordion sells for about $1100 - ed.]
Often, the Martins will get telephone calls from such places as Haiti, Jamaica and Europe.
It takes 10 months to make an accordion, but he works on literally hundreds at a time.
"When I start cutting wood, I cut. I dont fool around."
One of the popular items on his instruments is a crawfish in the bellows, growing and shrinking as the music blares.
Bruce Daigrepont plays one in a famous food commercial. Johnny Sonnier has another and so does Jay Cormier.
Basically, Martin is a technician. But he is not unmindful of the magic of music. When asked if he believed music was magic he replied:
"You saw that smile on my face when I was playing? Man, when I cranked up that first one I made, you should have seen my smile then!"