You have to be in music for 50 years to get the plaque Jesse Domingue was given Friday night, and you have to be good at it, too.
Domingue, of Bridge City, received the Texas Cajun Music Hall of Fame Award at Winnie’s Texas Rice Festival – played at the festival then did a show Saturday and another the next day.
His voice was a little gravelly Monday as he talked about dividing his time between the stage and oilfield work.
The 65-year-old from Scott, La., (near Lafayette) hopes to retire early next year and and spend more time with his wife JoAnn and their three grandkids. And of course, devote more time to playing and performing.
“Music has always been a big part of my life,” he says. “It’s allowed me to go a lot of places and do a lot of things I never would have done.”
Domingue began playing drums at age 9 and later moved on to piano, keyboard and guitar.
“Both of my grandfathers playing the accordion,” he says. “My mom, dad and uncle played in the Bill Landry orchestra. It was a big band around the Lafayette area for a long time. I had a cousin who had a Cajun band and then I got to play in Lawrence Walker’s band. (Walker was one of Cajun music’s most influential accordion players and composers). From then on we always had a piano in the house, and when Fats Domino came out with ‘Blueberry Hill’, I starting picking up a little, and my momma and dad showed me a little bit, and after that I could help out people that were having a dance and things like that.
“Then when Chuck Berry came out with ‘Johnny B. Goode’ I took my daddy’s guitar and worked it out, and I played guitar with Warren Storm, Rod Bernard, T.K. Hulin and Johnny Allan and toured with all those guys from [Lafayette].”
Domingue moved to Bridge City in 1973 and played at Yvonne’s in Beaumont about five years. He joined Herbie Stutes’ group and then went out on his own, finding a regular spot at a Holiday Inn. He played country with a little swamp pop and always sang a few songs in French.
“If I had a nickel for every time someone requested ‘Jolie Blon’ I could have retired last year,” he says. Domingue went on to play with Benny Barnes, who occasionally toured with George Jones and Johnny Preston.
“My Cajun accent has always been the greatest asset I’ve had,” Domingue says. “A lot of people in the audience are drawn to it because of the way I talk. I’ll do a one-man show you know, come out and tell a few jokes in-between songs.”
Domingue had an interesting run-in with the Secret Service after La Louisianne Records (based in Lafayette) sent him to play for Tabasco brand sauces at a national convention in Chicago featuring food editors from all around the country. They put him up in the famous Drake Hotel, and as it happens Vice President Spiro Agnew was staying in a room down the hall, with surrounding rooms taken up by Secret Service agents.
“I was walking down the hall with some of the other musicians, and we were talking French, and all of a sudden a bunch of guys in dark suits came out about four different rooms, and one of them said, ‘What’s that language you’re talking?’ And I said, ‘French.” And he said, ‘Well, I’ve been to France and it doesn’t sound like that.’ I told him, ‘I’m not from France. I’m from Louisiana.’”
After the group showed their IDs and were cleared as a possible “threat” to the vice president, Domingue told them, “Just don’t make me miss my ride. I want to get back to Louisiana.”
Domingue has hosted and performed on Saturday Cajun music shows at both KOGT-AM and KOLE-AM. A few years ago, he recorded a CD sponsored by a Louisiana rice company, and one of the songs was played on a television commercial in New Orleans. Seven years ago, Domingue was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
He lost all of his equipment in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, but has been able to buy new equipment.
“I want to get back to doing my one-man show, just like I did years ago.”