A TRIBUTE TO BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO: SATURDAY, MAY 6—BLUES TENT, 2:35 P.M.
“Buckwheat is special to the whole world,” says Corey “Lil Pop” Ledet, zydeco accordionist and participant in the upcoming Festival International and Jazz Fest tributes to zydeco’s global ambassador. “In my opinion, he was a gift to Planet Earth.”
On September 14, 2016, Planet Earth lost its special gift when Buckwheat Zydeco, whose real name was Stanley Joseph Dural, Jr., passed away after a long, hard-fought battle with lung cancer.
His accomplishments were many. More than anyone before him or since, he brought the bluesy-based, indigenous music of Southwest Louisiana’s Creoles its greatest prominence. He was the first to record on a major label—Island in 1986—and over time, he shared the stage and collaborated with Eric Clapton, U2, Paul Simon, Robert Plant, Keith Richards and Willie Nelson. He won a Grammy in 2010 for his last recording, Lay Your Burden Down on Alligator Records, and notched an Emmy in 2002 for his music for the television movie Pistol Pete: The Life and Times of Pete Maravich. He played the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta to three billion viewers across the globe. He appeared in the 1987 film The Big Easy and his music was also featured in several other flicks.
After spending two-and-a-half years in Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band, playing keys for the King of Zydeco, he left to start his own band and further evangelize the gospel of zydeco.
Though his accomplishments, accolades and contributions are too numerous to cite here, he touched the lives of many and won’t likely be forgotten. “I know he is still with us,” says Buckwheat’s son, Sir Reginald Master Dural, who also played rubboard in his father’s backing squadron Ils Sont Partis Band. “It’s just different. I’m still waiting for that phone call, ‘Hey Sir Reg, whatcha doing son?’”
That spirit will likely be present when the Reginald Dural-led Ils Sont Partis Band pays homage to their late, great former namesake frontman. Accordionists will be plentiful. Besides Dural, there will also be Ledet, C.J. Chenier and Nathan Williams of Nathan & the Zydeco Cha-Chas. Longtime Virginia-based guitarist Mike Melchione will reunite with his former bandmates, as will several “cousins,” bassist Lee Allen Zeno, legendary blues guitarist Paul “Lil’ Buck” Sinegal and drummer Kevin Menard. Dural predicts that all four accordionists will be onstage for the last number for a blazing shootout finale.
“Jazz Fest is good about honoring its fallen musicians. They honored my dad (Clifton Chenier),” says longtime friend C.J. Chenier. “Buckwheat did a lot for the zydeco community. It’s fitting for them to recognize him for what he did.”
Though C.J. and Buckwheat weren’t in Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band at the same time, over the years they did numerous tours together. C.J. says there were many things Buckwheat and he had in common, such as the same middle name (Joseph), starting out on saxophone, liking smooth jazz and even having the same booking agency for years. “We did a lot of shows and we became more like a family thing,” says C.J. “When I was around, I used to play his accordion or the organ and we just became musical buddies, sort of like relatives.”
C.J. remembers first seeing Buckwheat play while still in high school. “He was playing B-3 with my daddy and we were standing on the side of the stage saying ‘That’s a bad mother shut-your-mouth.’”
“Man, anything he ever called me for, no matter what it was, I was always available for him because I had that much respect for him,” says C.J.
Nathan Williams remembers first seeing Buckwheat playing a block dance with his legendary funk aggregation Buckwheat & the Hitchhikers as a young boy in St. Martinville. Years later, Williams moved to Lafayette to help his older brother Sid open a grocery store and met Buckwheat, who was living across the street. They became friends, and Nathan bought his first accordion from Buckwheat. “So what happened was I went to one of his dances,” Williams explained. “I played one song with the band and then I started practicing on my own.” Eventually Buckwheat recommended Williams to his booking agency and his former label Rounder Records. “It has come a long way, man,” Williams reflects. “He’s been a giant help. Good people, you know.”
When Ledet considered stepping down from the zydeco game—“Buckwheat caught word of that and instructed me to come to his house,” Ledet recalls. “He basically told me that ‘you are too good to ever stop anything that you’re doing and if you stop, I’m going to have a problem with you.’ So with that being said, I strapped the accordion back on and kept on going. And that was the last time we spoke.”
“I know it’s going to be nice,” Sir Reginald says about the upcoming tribute. “It’s going to be a blessing because I love these guys and have been performing with them for years. We are just going to have a ball. It’s a happy music, man. I mean if you are not moving, something’s wrong with you.”