Brother Dege

June 8, 1967 - March 8, 2024

When Dege Legg ended his Earthbound journey on March 8, Louisiana lost, as he sang, a “crazy motherfucker.” To most of the world, Dege is best remembered as Brother Dege, the dobro-wielding pseudo bluesman who reached a global audience after his song Too Old to Die Young appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 film Django Unchained. However, Dege was so much more than that. Behind his scruffy beard and shaggy hair was a fierce individual who burned out his own path regardless of the noise around him and turned piss into gold in the process.

Dege created art that seemed entirely devoid of the fear of crashing and burning that keeps many of us from pushing our craft to its furthest extent. In fact, Dege had crashed and burned many times throughout his life. Each time, he brushed the dirt off of his shoulders and moved onward to the next project seemingly unfazed. He spent much of the ‘90s and aughts blazing through half-empty clubs as the singer-guitarist of Santeria, a mighty Lafayette band that fused strong psychedelic influences with hard-hitting Southern rock for explosive results that they called “psyouthern rock.” Over two decades after its release, the band’s 2002 album House of the Dying Sun stands out as a testament to the far-out potential of humid, swamp-infused freak rock despite being relegated to unfortunate obscurity. As the band petered out in the aughts, Dege pursued other musical endeavors including a stint in C.C. Adcock’s band and leading his own group Black Bayou Construkt.

During those turbulent 2000s, Dege increasingly pursued projects alone, turning towards unconventional recording settings and exploring new textures in his music. He recorded an explorative, ambient album in the trailer he called home at the time and took to filming guerilla style performance videos in odd locations. He was equally comfortable stomping out his soon-to-be signature song “Too Old to Die Young” in an abandoned house as he was creating hypnotic loops of overlapping buzzing slide dobro in the woods outside of Mamou. In one such video, Dege sought out the acoustics of a parking lot in Lafayette to sculpt an engulfing soundscape, only for a police officer to quickly arrive at the scene during the performance. The officer threatened to throw Dege in jail and berated, “I heard that shit from all the way over there.” Dege’s instinctual reaction was to ask enthusiastically, “Did it sound good?”

Dege put on a fearless facade, but behind that was a kind man who went out of his way to help others. I’ll never forget when he came to Chicago alone in 2010 a few months after releasing Folk Songs of the American Longhair, his proper debut as Brother Dege. I was just 15 years old and he was playing in a small bar. It wasn’t exactly a winning equation for a young music fan. After exchanging some emails, we hatched a plan where he would vouch that I was his roadie-merch guy. It was a comical image when this baby-faced kid showed up, helping Dege lug a single amp into the empty room and sit behind a stack of the only CD that made up his solo discography as Brother Dege at the time. It was a miracle that the bar didn’t call us out on this obvious bullshit. Looking back as an adult, I realize how much Dege stuck his neck out for me. He was driving across the country in a dying van that he slept in for most of that tour. Every night, he was liable to lose more money than he made, yet he still put a paying gig on the line just to get one kid in.

During those initial tours as Brother Dege, he only brandished a dobro, a slide, some pedals, and an amp as he spun twisted tales alone in tiny rooms across the country. Most nights, he slept in that dying black van with the phrase “Black Bayou Ministries” plastered on the side. Over the years, his solo efforts grew to include the assistance of the Brethren, a backing band of rotating characters, and multiple well-received European tours. By the time of his passing, Dege had reached such a notoriety in Europe that news of his passing even made the cover of Rolling Stone’s French edition. Over the course of his life, Dege amassed a lengthy discography with each album furthering his attempts to traverse the depth of the human experience across twisting musical terrains.

One week after Dege’s passing, Prophecy Productions released his final studio album Aurora on its previously scheduled release date. The album serves as a bittersweet celebration of Dege’s craftsmanship and his life. Conceptually, the album centers around the complex emotions that flow as a romantic relationship develops, stabilizes, ruptures, and eventually meets its demise. Throughout the album, Dege reflects on these feelings with the honesty of a man who experienced it firsthand during his final years. He soundtracks this by freely drawing upon the musical diversity that he explored throughout his life. The Devil You Know resonates with a beautiful mixture of pedal steel and piano while parts of the instrumental Ouroboros weighs heavy with slow, crushing guitars that sound akin to if Sunn O))) were raised out in the humid swamps instead of the dreary Pacific Northwest. On closing track The Longing,” Dege embarks on a 12-minute epic journey that begins with traditional songwriting before the piece is swallowed whole by ethereal, contemplative ambiance.

While Dege rose to become a celebrated figure in Lafayette through his musical output, he didn’t simplistically feed into the area’s branding of Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler! In addition to playing music, Dege was a prolific writer who documented his countless ventures out to life’s edge where he wrote down lesser-told tales of the South. One of his biggest achievements as a writer was the book Cablog, a collection that documents Lafayette’s seedy underbelly through his perspective as a late-night cab driver circa the mid-2000s. During his stint with the Lafayette newspaper The Independent Weekly, he made the bold decision to abandon the comforts of home and live amongst the homeless in the area for a week in order to sculpt a humanizing depiction of them. When his music appeared in Tarantino’s film in 2012, Dege was working full time at a men’s homeless shelter, a job he said he would’ve continued working if his busy touring schedule hadn’t complicated things. As a kid, I spent hours upon hours scrolling through Dege’s blog-era writings. I found his perspective to be incredibly inspirational. His words taught me that everyone in the world has a story worth hearing, regardless of if the powers-that-be chose to amplify those stories or not. In light of Dege’s passing, I encourage everyone to listen to and amplify the voices of the downtrodden around us.

Photo by Travis Gauthier

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