Allen Toussaint called Paul “Lil’ Buck” Sinegal the “Gentle Giant of Guitar.” But get him reminiscing about his 50 years in music and the laid-back Lil Buck often leaps to his feet, hands moving, arms flailing and his tongue flip-flopping between English and Creole French.
“When Big Joe Turner walked onstage, that man was huge,” says Sinegal, 66, a lifelong resident of Lafayette. “When he did ‘Shake Rattle and Roll,’ the stage was doing the same thing.”
Sinegal has played Jazz Fest every year since the 1970s, whether it was with his blues band or zydeco legends Clifton Chenier, Buckwheat Zydeco and Rockin’ Dopsie. He is officially scheduled for one Jazz Fest performance this year, but he knows that gig usually turns into a two-week engagement.
“Before it’s over with, I’m going to play with about five or six different bands. Last year, I stayed in New Orleans nine days from everybody calling me and wanting me to play with them.”
Although not a household name, Sinegal has reigned as the guitarist of choice for dozens of zydeco bands. According to the liner notes of his CD, Bad Situation, Sinegal is credited as a sideman on more than 300 recordings in each decade since the 1950s. Fourteen years with Chenier, as well as years with Katie Webster, Lazy Lester, Henry Gray and other blues artists, have allowed Sinegal to play thousands of concerts. He recently returned from Switzerland with Buckwheat Zydeco and is now recording a children’s CD with the band.
Despite his travels and recordings, Sinegal says his best times are at the “Practice House,” his childhood home on St. Charles Street, a spot to rehearse and barbecue and drink a few. The porch offers a view of his parents’ and grandmother’s graves in the cemetery across the street. The house is lined with guitars, records and music that won’t leave him alone.
“When it comes to blues, I have to get the guitars out of my face,” Sinegal says. “Because if I grab one, it’s going to be all day and all night.”