While New Orleans has played a significant role in two of America’s greatest musical forms, jazz and blues, when you say “Louisiana music” to most people they hear the style championed by Stanley Dural, Jr., aka Buckwheat Zydeco. Dural passed away this past weekend and it’s worth remembering the man who became the face of a musical genre.
Dural was born in Lafayette, LA, in the heart of Cajun country. Immersed in the local culture, with a father who was an accomplished accordion player, he nonetheless gravitated toward an R&B sound and developed into a fantastic organ/keyboard player. It was that skill that landed him a position with Clifton Chenier’s band, the premier Zydeco group in the world at that point.
Shortly after joining Chenier, Dural was inspired to take up the accordion and within a few years left to form his own band, Buckwheat Zydeco. That was 1979. By 1983 they’d been nominated for their first Grammy, with many more nominations to follow. That led to the group opening for stadium acts like Eric Clapton, U2, and Willie Nelson. Over the next couple of decades the band appeared on numerous TV shows and movies, played both Clinton inaugurations, and the closing ceremonies of the ’96 Olympics (in front of 3 billion people).
The best music and performances have the magical ability to take you back to a time or place that was special. For me, the sound of zydeco recalls a muggy evening in a rural Louisiana backyard with a picnic table full of crawfish, corn and potatoes. The music came from a pick-up band of local musicians who were probably never paid for a note. But they excelled at creating a party out of a picnic and that’s really the spirit of zydeco. With the passing of Buckwheat Zydeco we’ve lost an icon, but thankfully it won’t make a dent in the music. If you’ve never danced a Cajun rhythm with the sticky fingers of a backyard boil and sweating from even your earlobes, go out this weekend and experience that joy.
About the author: Support new music. Listen to a band or singer you've never heard of this week. I've been doing that for over 30 years.