It’s no small irony that Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural once refused to play zydeco music.
Long before he became the genre’s biggest name, Dural had grown tired of the unique style of folk music that he grew up immersed in in his native Louisiana.
“My daddy played accordion,” he said this week. “And from the old school, the original roots of zydeco with only two instruments — the accordion and washboard.”
“So I heard it 24-7,” Dural said. “It’s just like you tell me you have 365 days for this year and you’re going to eat nothing but pork chop. I mean, somewhere within that span I’m going to get tired of pork chop. And I heard this music all the time. Man, I said, ‘No way, I’m not going to play this.’”
A musical prodigy, Dural instead delved into boogie-woogie piano, taking after performers like Little Richard and Fats Domino.
That wouldn’t last long.
In hindsight, it seems inevitable that he would end up playing zydeco, a form of American roots music that emerged in the 19th century from black communities in southwest Louisiana. Marked by upbeat rhythms typically played with an accordion and washboard, zydeco combines elements of French, Caribbean and blues music, and was traditionally sung in French Creole.
And today no one does it better than Buckwheat Zydeco, the Dural-led combo that continues to record and tour, nearly 40 years into his historic music career.
The band will be playing two shows in the New York metro area in the coming weeks, starting with a Feb. 6 show at BB King Blues Club & Grill in Manhattan. On Tuesday, Feb. 9, Buckwheat Zydeco will come even closer to home, with a scheduled show at The Bayou restaurant in Mount Vernon.
The band is touring behind the Grammy-nominated “Lay Your Burden Down,” their latest major-label release.
Dural, 62, credits zydeco legend Clifton Chenier with pulling him into zydeco in 1975. Home on a break from touring with his 15-piece band, Dural was asked by Chenier if he would play the organ for one show with his band.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what. Let me just go and do this one night, and put my organ on stage, play it, take it off, put it back and bring it back home,’ and say, see? I played zydeco and I still don’t like it,’” Dural recalled.
“And, man, I had no clue,” he said. “Surprised the hell out of me, because I wound up staying with Clifton over two years.”
Dural had been accustomed to the traditional music his father played at home. What Chenier had done was put a full band behind the accordion and washboard, which he also improvised to wear over the shoulders.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Dural said. “This man on stage with his big ole’ piano-note accordion. And he had a band. I had never heard zydeco with a band. He had the guitar, the bass and he had this horn, this man blowing saxophone that would never quit. And I said, ‘You know, this ain’t so bad.’”
It would be a gross understatement to say that Dural has since embraced the music. In fact, he sees it as a representation of his own heritage and cultural identity, with himself as a veritable goodwill ambassador.
“See, that’s the reason for playing zydeco music,” he said. “It’s a culture. It’s like the food.”
Dural’s music, however, always has his own spin — a remnant of his early love for R&B music.
Buckwheat Zydeco expands the realms of traditional zydeco, adapting its musical style to a variety of artists the band covers. For “Lay Your Burden Down,” they cover both Bruce Springsteen and Gov’t Mule, while also performing “When The Levee Breaks,” a Memphis Minnie song most commonly associated with heavy metal’s Led Zeppelin.
Dural calls them “legend songs,” which serve to both lure younger audiences as well as deliver poignant messages. “When The Levee Breaks,” for instance, is covered as a reference to the levees that collapsed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
And the album’s title track, “Lay Your Burden Down,” is a plea to the people of Louisiana to put their worries aside, if for a moment.
“These songs are reality songs,” he explained. “‘When The Levee Breaks,’ which it did. So that relates to what’s going on in this universe. They’re very good songs and songs that, I would call them legend songs. So I invite people like Zeppelin, invite people like that to help with the CD.”
Dural says he’s lost track of how many albums he’s put out, and even how many legendary performers he’s teamed with — “Burden” includes Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes.
What he hasn’t lost track of is his love for the music, nor for the seemingly countless live shows that have taken him all over the globe serveral times over.
And he’s showing no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
“You know what is my thing? I keep my health and keep on doing what I’m doing until I can’t do it no more,” Dural said. “You know, I sit and talk with BB King when we meet up, and that’s my question to him. I know the answer but I’d like to hear him say it. I say, ‘B, why do you do it?’ He says, ‘Man, this is my heart. This is my love. This is what I do.’”
“You see, and that’s how I feel,” he said. “There’s a similarity. I wouldn’t want to get caught doing anything else.”
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