R.I.P. Belton Richard

There’s a Boudreaux and Thibodeaux joke I’ve heard my dad tell many times: Old man Boudreaux passes away and one day he comes back as an angel to visit his pal Thibodeaux. He says to Thibodeaux, “Thib, I got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that heaven is just great- they got the best dancehalls with all the best old Cajun musicians playing every night- Iry, Lawrence Walker, Aldus- they play all the time.” Thibodeaux says “That’s awesome man! What’s the bad news?” and Boudreaux replies, “The bad news is, you’re scheduled to play the dance tomorrow night.” 

The bad news for us is that our friend Mr. Belton Richard is now on that rotating schedule at the big dancehall in the sky with all the other Cajun greats that we’ve lost. He became a legend in his own time and he’ll live on forever through his iconic songs and recordings which have influenced so many of us immensely.

A lot of you know that we recently produced a record called “Cajun Accordion Kings (and the Queen)” and we tried really hard to get Belton to be a part of it. I’ve known Belton for years but hadn’t been in touch with him recently when we were recording this project so my co-producer Steve Riley and I tracked down his current phone number and left him a few messages to try to set up a session with him at his house. Understandably, he never got back to us – there were two recent deaths in his family and we knew it just wasn’t a good time.

So I had all but given up hope when Jo Vidrine and I were recording/shooting the last session at Dirk Powell’s place back in February. I was telling Dirk that he was the last one we had left to do for the project and how we were so disappointed that we weren’t able to get Belton involved. Dirk suggested that we try one more time – he said, “Man just go get a six pack of beer and some boudin and show up at his house and I bet he’ll do it! But bring an accordion because last time I saw him at the festival he had to borrow my accordion because he hadn’t brought one!”

Thus encouraged, I called my buddy Todd Ortego at KBON to see if he knew where Belton’s house was. He said “I’ve only been there once but go like you’re going to Cankton and before you get into town take a right on a blacktop road and go down about a mile and his house is on the right.” So Jo and I took off in my car with one of Dirk’s accordions and we headed towards Cankton, stopping to pick up what I knew to be Belton’s beer of choice, Michelob Ultra, and a couple pounds of boudin from Billy’s along the way.

This was a wild hare chase if ever there was one – we had no idea where we were going and we had no idea if Belton would even be there if we found his house, much less what kind of shape he’d be in and if he’d agree to record a song for us. But we were determined, so headed north to Cankton and as we got close to town I chose a random “black top” and turned right. Just as we started questioning ourselves heading down this completely random road, almost magically, this old man in overalls with a sunburst Gibson Les Paul over his shoulder appeared exiting a beat up tin shed in the middle of a pasture in front of a house. Jo and I looked at each other and stopped the car immediately. “This guy has to know where Belton is!” Jo said. So we hollered at him across the ditch, “Hey do you know where Belton Richard lives?!” The old guy turned around with his unplugged electric guitar and said, “Accordion man? You see those trash cans down there? Take a right right there and that’s his house.” Both totally amazed that we had somehow ended up on the right road and found this guitar-slinging faun in a field who knew where we needed to go, Jo and I drove into Belton’s driveway. Unfortunately, right then my phone rang and it was Todd calling to tel me that Belton had just moved to Broussard and wasn’t doing well enough to record anyway. So we drank the beer and ate the boudin and decided we’d have to include him on Volume 2.

Photo by flickr user cajunzydecophotos

Photo by flickr user cajunzydecophotos

Today, sitting in Portland Oregon getting ready to play a Cajun dance I really regret that this story doesn’t end with Jo and I sitting under the carport drinking beer and eating boudin with the legendary Belton Richard, and I regret that I won’t be around to attend the funeral as he’s laid to rest. However, I’ll always remember this little adventure and the few times I got to hang out with him, and tonight when we get onstage and get going, I hope Belton will hear his songs and look down with a smile knowing that we tried to find him that day and that he might not be with us any longer, but Belton Richard, the Legend, lives on!

Rest in peace, Belton Richard. Enjoy le paradis de musicien!

- Joel Savoy