Dubbed “the gentle giant of guitar” by the esteemed producer Allen Toussaint, Paul “Lil’ Buck” Sinegal died at his Lafayette home June 10, after a lengthy illness. He was 75.
Well known as a versatile, hard-working guitarist whose career spanned six decades, Sinegal played with virtually every South Louisiana R&B, zydeco, blues and swamp pop artist. In the 1990s, he often played with over a half-dozen different groups during the Jazz Fest.
“When it comes to the blues, I have to get the guitar out of my face,” Sinegal told Herman Fuselier in OffBeat. “Because if I grab one, it’s gonna be all day and all night.”
Born January 14, 1944, Sinegal was largely self-taught on guitar. In the late 1950s, he began playing with a group called the Jive Five, which played on the South Louisiana R&B circuit. In 1962, Sinegal fronted his own 13-piece band dubbed Lil’ Buck and the Top Cats. Very popular around Lafayette, the group recorded a couple of great contemporary ’60s soul singles for Carl Rachou’s La Louisianne label, including “You’ve Got the Power,” and the cult classic “Monkey In a Sack.”
The Top Cats broke up around 1969 but, not long after, the adaptable guitarist joined Clifton Chenier’s popular group, the Red Hot Louisiana Band.
The hardest working band in the land, Chenier’s group regularly played six-hour sets with the only break being a pause for a sip of Falstaff or to light up a Camel. Sinegal toured Europe and recorded several LPs and 45s with Chenier during the better part of a decade.
In the 1980s, Sinegal went to play with Rockin’ Dopsie’s Zydeco Twisters (Jr. and Sr.), and Stanley Dural, a.k.a. Buckwheat Zydeco. (Briefly Sinegal and Dural both were in Chenier’s group, in 1979.) In addition, Sinegal often was called upon for studio dates, even playing on Paul Simon’s acclaimed 1987 album Graceland.
In the early 1990s, Sinegal formed his own R&B band, the Cowboy Stew Blues Revue, which played every Monday night at Lafayette’s Swampwater Saloon. His gig there attracted several young up-and-coming musicians including C.C. Adcock and Steve Riley. In the late 1990s, Sinegal teamed up with Allen Toussaint, which produced The Buck Stops Here, an excellent CD for the short-lived NYNO label.
His most recent CD, Bad Situation, was also great. In later years, Sinegal often performed in New Orleans (with fellow guitarist Barbara Lynn) playing festivals, and was a regular attraction at the Ponderosa Stomp.