Don’t expect Richard LeBouef to use his latest accordion when he performs on stage.
The rare, vintage Sterling accordion LeBouef purchased several months ago will occupy a special place and treated as somewhat of a monument among the various musical instruments he now owns.
In fact it might never get played again, at least not extensively.
“I played it once and then I put it back in the box. It’s that special,” LeBouef said.
Just locating a Sterling accordion was difficult enough, says LeBouef, a lifelong musician who plays the accordion and sings in French and English along with his band Two-Step, at festivals and clubs.
“I was looking for (a Sterling) for about 35 years. My idol, Aldus Roger, played with one along with his band (Lafayette Playboys) and I had been looking for one of these accordions for years. The one that I found and bought was in pretty bad shape,” LeBouef said.
LeBouef’s Sterling accordion, located at a pawn shop, seemed to have all its original parts, but there was still work to be done. It had to be taken apart and it seems as though it had never been tuned, according to LeBouef, who also serves as the executive director of the St. Landry Parish Solid Waste Commission.
“If you listen to the accordion, you can tell the difference between the Sterling and other models. The (Sterling) reeds are made from blued steel. That gives it an altogether difference tone that is noticeable right away,” added LeBouef.
Several different websites that explain function of reed operation within the accordion indicate that the vibration of the reeds within the accordion is primarily responsible for creating the sound the instrument creates.
So what has made Sterling accordions so rare?
“Well, mainly the people who have them don’t want to let them go. They are collectibles now. That might seem strange, because years ago, you could probably buy a Sterling at any Western Auto store,” LeBouef pointed out.
Most of the Sterling’s like the one LeBouef owns, are solid black with gold keys. They are also small, lightweight and are played in the key of C, which is preferred by most Cajun musicians, who used them extensively in Louisiana during the early 20th century, explained LeBouef.
The early Sterling and similar Monarch accordions which were first imported to Louisiana in the 1890’s were assembled in a German factory that over the years was owned by several families.
In the 1920’s the Wikipedia website noted that the Sterling family bought the German accordion factory operation and began mass producing the instruments.
“That changed during World War II. The (German) government closed down the accordion factory and it started manufacturing other products in the factories that once made the accordions. During the war, the factories were bombed and no accordions were made there again,” LeBouef said.