Remembering Buckwheat Zydeco

Stanley Dural, aka Buckwheat Zydeco, died on Saturday (September 24). He was 68 years old, and the cause was lung cancer. Just last month he postponed a concert that was scheduled for the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington. He was also slated to share a double bill with Marcia Ball at The Egg on Friday, February 17. Ticket sales for that show have been temporarily suspended, while a tribute to the zydeco music legend is in the works for this date.

By Fred Rudofsky

Sometimes an album or two can change your life, or at least your view of the world – music used to do that, you know. It can become a soundtrack for appreciating what’s to follow.

Back in ’87, I was hosting a radio show, “Blues with a Feeling,” at Colgate University. I was obsessed with Texas and Chicago blues, and only just beginning to get into the music of Louisiana through hearing Dr. John, Professor Longhair and Irma Thomas on Mark King’s “Stormy Monday Blues” on WRPI-FM during vacation breaks.

Seeing the film “The Big Easy” that summer at the Spectrum was a revelation not only only because of the sultry star turn by Ellen Barkin, but the indigenous music of the Louisiana bayou and Crescent City that fit every scene and sequence to perfection. That soundtrack introduced to me to Zachary Richard, Aaron Neville, Beausoleil, the Wild Tchoupatoulas, Terrance Simien and one artist who had not one but two featured songs, Stanley Dural, a.k.a. Buckwheat Zydeco. That’s a name you’ll never forget, I thought.

Fast forward a little over a year later. Zydeco entered the zeitgeist.

Going through the new releases in the radio station one wintry afternoon, I saw a colorful acrylic painting adorn the cover of On a Night Like This, the new album by Buckwheat Zydeco. I signed it out on the spot and must have listened to it several times later that evening; I knew it would be a go-to album for my show. Listeners loved what they heard. I bought my own copy soon afterwards.

Here was an album – on a major label! – that jumped off the turntable. The music transcended easy labeling, too. Yes, it was steeped in Creole traditions, but it was a bold zydeco career move without question. First, Dural’s remarkable touring band, Ils Sont Partis, were often augmented by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Second, the song selection was eclectic. Buckwheat’s “Ma ‘Tit Fille” (from “The Big Easy”) and “Zydeco Honky Tonk” rubbed shoulders with Clifton Chenier’s frenetic classic “Hot Tamale Baby,” the Blasters’ fairly recent gem “Marie Marie,” Booker T & the MGs’ Stax anthem “Time Is Tight” and the title cut, arguably one of the best covers of Bob Dylan this side of Jimi Hendrix and The Band. (For years afterwards, I speculated what Dylan must have thought of his song being transformed into a call to the dance floor way out in the bayou clubs and beyond).

Few could match Buckwheat Zydeco’s rousing live show; I will never forget once at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in the early ’90s when he invited hundreds from the main amphitheater up onto the stage to two-step, boogie and waltz in the heat of the night. He was a gracious entertainer, too, always humbled to hear new fans say they had discovered zydeco through him and eager to chat backstage with loyal fans who had seen him play over decades.

Whether he played stately venues like Proctors, small clubs like the Bayou Cafe or Revolution Hall, or outdoor events like Alive at Five, Buckwheat Zydeco always brought the party and made young and old feel like hearing his soulful voice and accordion – right there, right now and dancing to the rhythms of that road-tested band of brothers was all that mattered. He could break (or mend) your heart with a ballad one minute, then jam like there was no tomorrow for your feet the next. The growth of zydeco music in the years after the release of On a Night Like This speaks volumes about his influence and inspiration.

Rest in peace, my friend, and thanks for the music, laughter and good will.

A select Buckwheat Zydeco discography:

2009: Let The Good Times Roll: Essential Recordings (Rounder Records)
2009: Lay Your Burden Down (Alligator Records)
2006: The Best of Buckwheat Zydeco: Millennium Collection (Island Records)
2005: Jackpot! (Tomorrow Recordings)
1999: Buckwheat Zydeco Story: A 20 Year Party (Tomorrow Recordings)
1997: Trouble (Tomorrow Recordings)
1994: Choo Choo Boogaloo (Music for Little People)
1988: Taking It Home (Island Records)
1987: On a Night Like This (Island Records; reissued on MCA Special Products)
1984: Ils Sont Partis (Blues Unlimited Records)
1983: 100% Fortified Zydeco (Black Top Records; reissued on Shout Factory Records

  1. Richard Brody says

    Thank you Fred for a great tribute to a very important artist.

  2. RB Lucivero says

    BZ was a professional, traveling gentleman. When a person brings his talents and goodness far from home to share as if he was on his own street, you take notice and enjoy your good fortune. This was Stanley Dural, Jr., via his Cajunized, Creoled, country tours, time and time again. Message to self: Respect the talent, copy the kindness. Blessings to all family, friends and fans who had and always will have, great (musical and more) moments with him.

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