Buckwheat Zydeco’s longtime manager and producer Ted Fox reflects on launching zydeco’s first major label release.
“I was a senior editor [at Audio magazine] and I started getting into zydeco. Audio sent me to Louisiana and I wrote an article about zydeco and Cajun music. I met Buck and it was obvious that he was, by far, the most talented musician. We struck up a friendship over a year or two. We were like twins separated by birth, even though he was a black Creole guy and I was this New York Jew.
Then I did an interview with Chris Blackwell [of] Island Records (Bob Marley, Traffic, U2) and had a couple of hours left at the end of the interview. I started telling him about Louisiana. ‘Man, it’s incredible,’ I said. ‘You got to get into this guy Buckwheat Zydeco.’ So I made him a mix tape and sent him the cassette. He owned Compass Point Studio in the Bahamas and I started hearing from people that they were playing the cassette at Compass Point. Whenever a session would start to lag, they would put on the tape and revive the session.
I sent him a note and said, ‘Look, I hear your people are playing my Buckwheat cassette so I know you must be into this. Why don’t you consider making a record with Buck?’ About two to three days later, I get a call from Blackwell and he said ‘I want to sign him to a five-record deal and I think you ought to manage and produce him.’
I had never done any of this stuff before, but this was the opportunity to be the first-ever major label zydeco record.
The technical end of producing is not really important. The important part is understanding your artist, the material and getting the feeling across. With an artist like Buckwheat Zydeco and a genre like zydeco, it’s really about the performance.
We went to this little club in Sunset called Paul’s Playhouse. I would sit on the pool table with a pool cue in my hand like I was Mitch Miller conducting the orchestra and we just ran through the songs that we were going to do on the album. And Buck would figure out all the cool things he could do. We knew we were going to have some guys from the Dirty Dozen come in as the horn section and Buck would be like ‘Oh yeah, I could do this cool little arrangement on the horns here and those guys come in.’
I wanted to keep Blackwell involved because I knew that the key to getting Island to take this seriously and not look at it as another one of Blackwell’s follies was to keep Chris involved personally. If he was interested and excited, he would make things happen. I told Chris, ‘Look man, here’s what we should do. We should make the record in between the two weekends of Jazz Fest. We’ll have the press in on the final day for a record release party.’
We also wanted zydeco to become something that was approachable, so the concept was to have the greatest zydeco songs ever—‘Ma ‘Tit Fille,’ ‘Buckwheat’s Special’ and ‘Hot Tamale Baby’—and also have the songs like ‘On a Night Like This’ (Bob Dylan) and ‘Marie Marie’ (The Blasters).
We tracked the whole thing in four days. Then [Island engineer] Rob [Fraboni], Buck and I did an overnight 18-hour mix session on Thursday night because the next day at noon I arranged to have a listening party in the main studio. We had 30–40 journalists coming in from all the major outlets and newspapers. As people were starting to walk in, we finished the mix. And I said ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I want to present a record we are very proud of and hope you like it.’ And I put on ‘Ma ‘Tit Fille’ and I am not exaggerating: Literally everyone stopped like they were statues. You could just see jaws dropping and people were like, ‘What the?’
Everybody listened. It sounded like a million bucks coming out of the studio speakers. And the song finished and there was this little micro-pause and then the whole place just burst into applause. People were applauding and cheering. It was great.”