Randy Falcon, the legendary Cajun instrument maker who patented the double accordion, died Saturday night from complications of Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 69.
The Crowley native is best known for making and patenting the double accordion about 25 years ago. His creation allowed the diatonic accordion to play in two keys instead of just one, marking the first change to the instrument since its invention in 1885.
"That was his big accomplishment," said Herman Fuselier, a zydeco music historian. "He made history with that."
Falcon hails from a family of Cajun musicians. One of his cousins, Joe Falcon, made Cajun music's first commercial recording, "Allons a Lafayette," in 1928.
Although Randy Falcon was more interested in rock 'n' roll in his younger years, he would eventually become fascinated by the 10-button accordion, learning the ropes of Cajun accordion making from another expert, Shine Mouton.
Falcon got the idea to create the double accordion while watching local musician Wayne Toups perform in the late 1980s.
Toups, who modulates between keys in a self-described zydecajun style, would have to change accordions quickly in the middle of songs to achieve his signature sound. It was a cumbersome but necessary task because each accordion could only be played in one key.
Falcon's new instrument revolutionized the way Toups and younger musicians played the accordion.
"His building was magnificent," Toups said. "I truly believe that Randy's tuning was the best. He made a big impact on the young accordion players. He was a player himself. He played accordion well and bass guitar. He was a musician who knew what he wanted in an accordion to make it better and play the best."
Falcon was more than just a musician and an accordion builder. He was a retired schoolteacher, mentor and father figure to many.
"I think he leaves a legacy for people who got to know him and for people who just knew of him," said his son, Wade Falcon. "If you knew of him, he was this great craftsman that led the way for so many people who are talking about or are making double accordions today. And if you got to know him personally and knew him well beyond the instrument-maker, then you'd gotten to know him truly as a dad. He showed you the humanity of a real, true father."
Rusty Sanner, who worked as an apprentice under Randy Falcon, turned to the man for far more than just advice about the accordion.
Sanner was just 13 when he met Randy Falcon in 1993. The two spent long hours together talking about everything from building cars to pursuing education.
"He never sold anyone short and just always made you feel welcomed and loved, no matter if you knew him for 20 minutes or 20 years," Sanner said. "It's going to be a struggle for me because I have a lot of his old tools. I'll be reminded of him every day."
Sanner had just gotten his first accordion when he met Rusty Falcon. Eventually, the expert maker would ask the apprentice to take over his business upon his retirement. Falcon accordions are now made under Sanner's Heritage brand.
Randy Falcon stopped making accordions last year after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease. The progressive disease, which is also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, affects nerve cells responsible for muscle movement.
"He didn't tell anybody," his son said. "He was diagnosed almost a year ago, and it was very, very hard for him to share that publicly. He had it, and he suffered from it."
Randy Falcon made about 500 single accordions and 55 to 60 double accordions during his lifetime, according to Sanner's estimate.
Toups has owned six Falcon accordions. The instruments are used by some of the region's top musicians and artists across the globe.
Like other musicians, Toups said he's glad Sanner has taken over Randy Falcon's craft of accordion making. Still, Toups is going to miss his friend and mentor of nearly 50 years.
"It breaks my heart. I'll tell you that right now," Toups said. "It breaks my heart. God, I'm going to miss him."