The renewed interest in zydeco music owes much to Stanley “Buckwheat Zydeco” Dural, who worked with one of the genre’s masters before forming his own group, Buckwheat Zydeco and the Lls Sont Partis Band, in 1979. Within a few years, Durai had become the first zydeco artist to be signed by a major label, Island Records, and during the 1990s, he played at major events including the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and both of President Bill Clinton’s inaugural celebrations. Despite the mainstream acceptance of zydeco music, however, Durai has continued to insist on preserving its cultural integrity as a distinct, although eclectic, genre. “If you’re calling it a Cajun band, or you’re calling it a jazz band, then you have the wrong people performing for you,” Durai told Michael Tisserand in his book, The Kingdom of Zydeco.“You see, I didn’t come this far saying that I’m somebody I’m not. And if you don’t have that identity, man, you’re just lost.”
Born on November 14, 1947, Stanley Joseph Durai, Jr. was the fourth of thirteen children in the Durai family. His parents farmed around the Lafayette, Louisiana area, and young Durai had numerous jobs before he reached his teens. In addition to working as a delivery boy, catching crawfish, and raising chickens, he also
Born Stanley Joseph Durai, Jr. on November 14, 1947, in Lafayette, LA.
Played the piano professionally as a teenager; led Buck-wheat and the Hitchhikers band, 1971-76; switched to the accordion, formed Buck-wheat Zydeco and the Ils Sont Partis Band, 1979; released several albums of zydeco music, 1980s-1990s; established Tomorrow Recordings, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Tomorrow Recordings, P.O. Box 561, Rhinebeck, NY 12572. Website —Buck-wheat Zydeco Official Website: http://www.buckwheatzydeco.com.
picked cotton with his family in the fields where he picked up some of the traditional songs of his French-speaking Creole elders. Although the term Creole had first been applied to the descendants of European immigrants to southern Louisiana during the eighteenth century, over time it came to denote inhabitants with predominantly African and French origins. In contrast, Cajun inhabitants traced their ancestry to the Acadians expelled from Nova Scotia, Canada, by British authorities in 1755 who were furious over the Acadians’ refusal to ally with them in their colonial wars with the French and local indigenous tribes. Many of the exiled Acadians eventually settled in Louisiana where they became known as “Cajuns.” Like the Creoles, Cajuns were primarily working-class people who preserved their French heritage, particularly the French language, over succeeding generations. Although the two groups shared many cultural traits in their southern Louisiana home, however, differences of race often kept them apart.
For Creoles and Cajuns alike, the urban center of the region was not New Orleans, but the smaller city of Lafayette, about 80 miles to the west. There were a large number of music clubs around the city and its outlying districts, and Durai, having earned the nick-name “Buckwheat” for his hair, which resembled that of the Little Rascals serial character, soon came to play in a number of them as a pianist. In fact, Durai was a professional piano player by the time he was ten years old, and in his teens played for his idol, Fats Domino, as well as for Little Richard and Ray Charles. Durai disappointed his father, however, by refusing to play the accordion, a traditional instrument in zydeco music and one that the elder Durai often played at home. “Me and my dad, we had a big problem,” Durai told Tisserand. “He’d never been out to see me perform from the age of nine until 1979, because he didn’t want me to play R&B…. And I was one of the biggest critics about accordion music, but I wouldn’t tell that to him. In my generation, you don’t tell that to your dad, man.”
One of the chief reasons that Durai was so opposed to zydeco music was that he, like many other young Creoles, considered it a distinctly old-fashioned kind of music. Indeed, zydeco seemed to be losing ground in the era after World War II. For many, its traditional mix of African rhythms and simple instruments such as the accordion, fiddle, and washboard (or frottoir) played with spoons could not match the appeal of contemporary R&B and rock ‘n’roll. One of the few musicians to forge ahead during the era was one of Dural’s eventual mentors, Clifton Chenier, who happened to be a friend of Dural’s father. Chenier was acknowledged as the “King of Zydeco” from the 1960s onward. He even claimed to have invented the term zydeco, a word derived from the traditional Creole song, “Les haricots sont pas sale” (“The snap-beans aren’t salted”), that referred to the poverty that Creoles often endured. Whatever the true origins of the term, Chenier was its undisputed master, and when Durai agreed to play at a Chenier concert in 1976, it was a revelation to the young musician.
Dural had just dissolved his own 15-member funk band, Buckwheat and the Hitchhikers, and joined Chenier as a keyboardist for two years before taking up the accordion. In 1979, he felt that he had mastered the instrument and formed another band, Buckwheat Zydeco and the Lls Sont Partis Band, a term that loosely translates as “And they’re off!,” a typical comment from an announcer at the beginning of a horse race. Dural’s timing was fortunate, as zydeco was just beginning to find an audience outside of its traditional home in Louisiana. “In October of seventy-nine I built the band, and between eighty and eighty-one I was touring Europe,” he told Tisserand. The band quickly released two albums on small labels before joining Rounder Records in 1983. As one of the leading labels for roots, bluegrass, and folk-oriented music, Rounder helped familiarize the public with zydeco, and Durai gained two Grammy Award nominations for 1983’s Turning Point and 1986’s Waitin’ for My Ya-Ya.
Zydeco became even trendier with the release of The Big Easy in 1987. The movie, starring Dennis Quaid as a Cajun detective, featured Durai and his band on its soundtrack and gave a huge boost to the interest in all things Cajun and Creole. Like many Creoles, however, Durai saw the rise in popularity of zydeco music as a mixed blessing as many of those who enjoyed the music assumed it was a Cajun tradition. Although the two musical types shared many common traits, they had grown increasingly distinct after World War II when Cajuns tended to listen to country-and-western music and Creoles tuned into R&B stations. As a result of these influences, zydeco bands emphasized the accordion while Cajun music favored the fiddle; while Cajuns sang more song lyrics in French, zydeco bands usually sang in English. Larger zydeco ensembles also added horn sections, electric guitars, and drums in addition to the accordion, washboard, and fiddle. Although his own music incorporated a range of contemporary influences, Durai nonetheless tried to raise awareness of the importance of these differences in order to preserve Creole culture. As he reflected to Tisserand after playing at the Atlanta Olympic Games, “I think our people here should put full force behind the artists and the culture, because that’s what we live by. If it’s bad, try to help it. If it’s good, continue to push it. That’s what I’m about.”
Dural’s status as a leading zydeco musician was confirmed with his signing to Island Records in 1986, the first such contract between a major label and a zydeco artist. His major-label debut, On a Night Like This in 1987, featured some traditional zydeco tunes in addition to covers of rock songs, including the title track by Bob Dylan. “This album is different than anything else I ever did before,” Durai told Ben Sandmel for his book Zydeco! “This one has more of a mixture, mixing in some pop and R&B, more of a ‘now generation’ thing, but there’s traditional zydeco, too.” Durai also changed his recording habits for the album, taking a week to rehearse the material with his band before entering the studio; in the past, they had simply shown up and began recording. “You can hear the difference. They took time with the setup and the recording too,” he told Sandmel. “The sound quality is a lot better, and I like that.”
Buckwheat Zydeco continued to release albums throughout the 1990s on several different labels, often suffering from record company mergers and buyouts. In 1998, frustrated at the constant turnover in the music industry, Durai formed his own label, Tomorrow Recordings, and immediately reissued the band’s 1997 album Trouble as its first release. With “ten tracks of propulsive, rollicking dance party music,” People welcomed the album as a “swamp-boogie joy ride,” a sentiment that was common among reviewers of the band’s work. In 1999, Tomorrow Recordings released The Buckwheat Zydeco Story: A 20-Year Party in honor of the band’s two decades of music. The band also remained a favorite on the concert circuit, playing with everyone from Eric Clapton to U2.
One for the Road, Paula/Flyright, 1979.
100% Fortified Zydeco, Black Top, 1983.
Turning Point, Rounder, 1983.
Waitin’for My Ya-Ya, Rounder, 1986.
Buckwheat Zydeco Party, Rounder, 1987.
On a Night Like This, Island, 1987.
IIs Sont Partis, Blues, 1988.
Taking It Home, PolyGram, 1988.
Zydeco Party, Rounder, 1988.
Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire, Island, 1990.
On Track, Charisma, 1992.
Five Card Stud, PolyGram, 1994.
Trouble, Atlantic, 1997.
The Buckwheat Zydeco Story: A 20-Year Party, Tomorrow, 1999.
Down Home Live, Tomorrow, 2001.
Broughton, Simon, et al., editors, World Music: The Rough Guide Volume 2, The Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Morton, Desmond, A Short History of Canada: Fifth Edition, McClelland and Stewart, Ltd., 2000.
Sandmel, Ben, with Rick Olivier, Zydeco!, University Press of Mississippi, 1999.
Tisserand, Michael, The Kingdom of Zydeco, Arcade Publishing, 1998.
Billboard, November 28, 1998, p. 55.
Kansas City Star, February 26, 2001.
New Orleans Magazine, October 1998, p. 42; January 2000, p. 32.
People, January 25, 1999, p. 39.
Rolling Stone, March 19, 1992, p. 92.
Buckwheat Zydeco Official Website, http://www.buckwheatzydeco.com (July 4, 2001).
"Buckwheat, Zydeco." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/buckwheat-zydeco
"Buckwheat, Zydeco." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved October 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/buckwheat-zydeco
Buckwheat Zydeco has been instrumental in the rise to popularity of zydeco music, a mixture of danceable black and Cajun French stylings originating in Louisiana. With his accordion and his band Ils sont partis —which, as Andrew Abrahams in People noted, “loosely translated, means ‘They’re off!’” in French—he burst on the music scene in 1987 with his first major-label album, On a Night Like This. Though Zydeco has yet to have a Top 40 hit, his first and subsequent albums have proved successful with both critics and fans; his records are especially loved by college dance crowds. As reviewer Michael Tearson of Audio explained, “Buckwheat Zydeco’s music is sweat, joy, spirit and fun.”
Zydeco was not, however, always a fan of the music from which he takes his stage name. Born Stanley Dural, Jr., in 1947 in Lafayette, Louisiana, he rebelled when his father suggested he learn to play the accordion, the traditional lead instrument of zydeco music. He told Abrahams: “I was just like kids are now. They get up and leave the room as soon as you say the word ‘accordion.’ To them, that’s for polkas.” Instead, Zydeco learned the piano at the age of four, playing for family reunions. By the time he was nine, he was playing professionally. He also received the first half of his recording name when he was a child; he was nicknamed by friends and family after the “Little Rascals” character Buckwheat.
In 1971, Zydeco formed a rhythm-and-blues band called Buckwheat and the Hitchhikers. The fifteen-piece group was fairly successful on the local level, because, he told Abrahams, it played “what everybody was listening to.” After four years with the Hitchhikers, however, Zydeco decided to take a year off from the music business, “to get [his] mind back,” as he said to Abrahams.
When he resurfaced, it was as the organist for zydeco great Clifton Chenier’s band. At the hands of Chenier, he learned the value not only of the traditional music of his black-Cajun ancestors, but of the previously despised accordion. By 1979, he had left Chenier to form his own zydeco group, for which he played the squeezebox himself. The band, which he called Ils sont partis, also featured the traditional zydeco instrument called a rub board. Zydeco explained the uninitiated audience’s response to the instrument for Abrahams: “Before the show they look at this thing on stage that looks like a steel T-shirt … then a guy puts this thing over his chest, grabs two spoons, and the folks say, ‘Now what in the hell is he going to do with those?’”
Some years passed before Buckwheat Zydeco came to the attention of a major record label, but by the mid-1980s New York music writer Ted Fox had become a
Born Stanley Dural, Jr., c. 1947 in Lafayette, LA; son of Stanley Dural (an automobile mechanic); married and divorced; children: four.
Singer, accordion, organ, and piano player. Began playing piano and organ professionally at the age of nine; formed and led Buckwheat and the Hitchhikers, 1971-75; played organ with Clifton Chenier c. 1977-78; solo performer, 1979—.
Addresses: Record company— Island, 14 East Fourth St., New York, NY 10012.
fan, and gave some of Zydeco’s tapes to Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. Blackwell was extremely impressed and signed Zydeco to a contract, making him the first zydeco act recruited by a major label. Island released his first album, On a Night Like This, in 1987.
On a Night Like This is “lively enough to get the dead to dance,” proclaimed Tearson. In addition to Zydeco’s original compositions like “Ma Tit Fille” (contracted French for “my little girl”) and “Buckwheat’s Special,” he also covers songs by Booker T and the MG’s, the Blasters, and Bob Dylan—“Time is Tight,” “Marie, Marie,” and the title track—on the album. Also included is Chenier’s zydeco classic, “Hot Tamale Baby.”
Though many critics considered On a Night Like This a good introduction to the genre of zydeco music, Tearson considered it “pop-oriented” compared to the “much more down-home album” Taking It Home, which Zydeco released the following year. Jeff Hannusch of Rolling Stone disagreed, however, claiming that “the producers … try to steer Buckwheat in the direction of contemporary rock and roll” on Taking It Home. Both reviewers, though, praised Zydeco’s version of Eric Clapton’s “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad” (on which Clapton provides guest guitar work) and the accordion instrumental “Drivin’ Old Gray.” Tearson also had kind words for the title track and “Creole Country,” and concluded: “what else is there to do but take Buckwheat home … turn the record player up loud, and disturb the neighbors?”
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire, Zydeco’s third album on Island Records, was released in 1990. “It’s a good-time party music album that works best when it sticks closest to the party music that zydeco traditionally is,” according to Tearson. Though Larry Birnbaum of Down Beat suggested that by the release of this album “Buckwheat’s sound has congealed into a formula,” he asserted that “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire throbs with raw energy.” Tearson lauded the tracks “What You Gonna Do” and the instrumental “Buck’s Hot Rod,” while Birnbaum favored Zydeco’s covers of “Beast of Burden” and “Route 66.” The latter critic concluded that Zydeco’s music “is unfailingly soulful.”
Waitin’ for My Ya Ya, Rounder, 1986.
On a Night Like This (includes “Ma ’Tit Fille,” “Buckwheat’s Special,” “Time Is Tight,” “Marie, Marie,” “On a Night Like This,” and “Hot Tamale Baby”), Island, 1987.
Zydeco Party, Rounder, 1988.
Taking It Home (includes “Taking It Home,” “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad,”“Drivin’Old Gray,”“Creole Country,” and “Down Dallas Alley”), Island, 1988.
Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire (includes “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire,” “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “We’re Having a Party,” “Maybe I Will,” “Beast of Burden,” “Route 66,” “What You Gonna Do?,” “Buck’s Hot Rod,” and “Pour Tout Quelqu’un”), Island, 1990.
Also released 100 Percent Fortified Zydeco, Black Top, and Turning Point, Rounder.
Audio, December 1987; January 1989; November 1990.
Down Beat, July 1990.
People, December 7, 1987.
Rolling Stone, November 17, 1988.
"Buckwheat, Zydeco." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/buckwheat-zydeco-0
"Buckwheat, Zydeco." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved October 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/buckwheat-zydeco-0