Heavenly Cajuns — who will fill their shoes
I’ve been fortunate to have walked this earth with some of God’s great Cajun guys. Men who worked every day to promote their culture, a way of life they loved and felt an urge to preserve.
W.T. “Boss Cajun” Oliver, after returning from the military service, launched the first area Cajun music show on KPNG radio. He was raised in Little Abbeville, on the outskirts of Port Neches. When he left home to join the service at age 17, he spoke barely understandable English. To his dying day, like most of us Cajuns, English gave him trouble with “th.” He never mastered it. His tongue still had the roll of the Cajun accent on many words.
However, he was very proud of his heritage.
When he was elected to the Texas State House in 1960, Waggoner Carr, speaker, often spoke of how W.T. had introduced gumbo and Cajun music to the capital city. With “Boucheries” that he and wife Ann hosted, and in his daily life, he never let anyone forget what Cajuns are made of and that their way of life was something to be proud of. Even though, until his last speech, W.T. pronounced the word children as “chillum” and gentlemen always had an “s” on it. I mentioned Oliver first because promoting Cajun music in Texas, even though like most of the others, with the exception of Johnnie Janot, he was not from Louisiana but was one of my dearest friends.
When Mama Judice and husband Albin came from the Cajun country, they introduced boudain and other Cajun dishes to the Texas public at their small store in Port Arthur. Today the tradition is still carried on by their grandchildren who followed in the footsteps of their father, A.J. Judice Jr. A.J. made promoting Cajuns a way of life. He, Jim Braud and Buddie Porter introduced crawfish racing at every function from school to festivals. A.J. even tried his hand at being a Cajun deejay. He and others tried to fill the Cajun Sunday show left vacant by the death of Janot. None were very successful until Tee Bruce came along with his Cajun Jamboree each Sunday morning on KLVI.
Born in Port Arthur, like W.T. and A.J., he spoke fluent French.
Judice on the other hand, spoke few words in Cajun. He bluffed it well and to this day few people knew he couldn’t speak the language. He loved the culture.
Tee-Bruce was a scholar when it came to Cajun music. He worked days at the Gulf Refinery and did his music by night and on weekends. He helped Huey Meaux with his Cajun show on KPAC radio where he learned to spin records. Ed Lovelace, owner of KOGT, was convinced to give Tee Bruce a time slot that later stretched to three hours. That’s when I got to know Tee Bruce really well and he became a close friend. Whenever he was master of ceremonies at a show and I was in the audience, he invited me on stage and spoke about me being his friend and what I did in life.
One of the low points for Tee Bruce was when one of his best friends, a guy he had helped, stole one of his wives. He produced Cajun albums for several well-known legends including Blackie Forester, Geno Thibodeaux, Milford Simon, Jude Moreau, Walter Mouton, Tim Broussard, Allen Thibodeaux and Joe Bonsall. I recently met Joe’s daughter somewhere but didn’t get her name or number. She is bound to have plenty of Cajun music history.
Tee Bruce was inducted into the Cajun Music Hall of Fame in both Lake Charles and Lafayette. Besides music, his hobby was woodworking. He said a craftman’s shop was the way of the Cajun.
Over the last three years he had not been in good health due to a heart problem. Ironically, it was a fall and blow to the head that took his life at age 81. Services were held Monday, March 23, with burial in Beech Creek Cemetery in Spurger. He is survived by his wife Bonnie, daughters Mary Ann and Barbara, sons Johnny and Mike, Brother Stanley and their families.
On the same day, at age 87, Tony Caillier (pronounced Kile-yea) passed away. He was owner of a legendary Cajun store, Veterans Grocery on Dupont Drive in Orange for more than 60 years. Tony, a native of Arnaudville, La., like Oliver, Judice and Broussard, was a veteran of World War II. He served under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He was the most decorated of all of them. After several beach landings, he was wounded. On his return, his father Elgee and sister named the store Veterans in his honor. Tony had 10 siblings.
Tony’s son Jackie, an award winning Cajun musician, has written and recorded many songs and is in the Cajun Music Hall of Fame.
The little store on Dupont, run by the Caillier family became an important part of my life also. My friend and employee Ray Trahan, who was raised and lived near the store, often brought either a link of boudain or an egg sandwich to start our day. I enjoyed not only the good food but also breaking bread during those early hours with my friend Ray. Those were special moments.
With all those wonderful Cajuns, who promoted the culture, now gathered together in Heaven, it’s got to be one heck of a fun place.
All Catholics, I’m sure this great bunch has liberated and brought Cajun joy and Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez to Cajun Heaven. I wonder who will fill their shoes. In a small way I try to do my part but those guys have set a high bar that will be hard to maintain with their passing. They spread joy Down Life’s Highway.