September 24, 2016 – Buckwheat Zydeco was born Stanley Dural Jr. born in Lafayette, Louisiana on November 14, 1947. He acquired his nickname as a youth, because, with his braided hair, he looked like the character Buckwheat from Our Gang/The Little Rascals movies. His father, a farmer, was an accomplished amateur traditional Creole accordion player, but young Dural preferred listening to and playing rhythm and blues.
Dural became proficient at the organ, and by the late 1950s he was backing Joe Tex, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and many others.
In 1971, he founded Buckwheat & the Hitchhikers, a funk band that he led for five years before switching to zydeco. They were a local sensation and found success with the single, “It’s Hard To Get,” recorded for a local Louisiana-based label.
He began backing Clifton Chenier, one of the most legendary zydeco performers. Though not a traditional zydeco fan when growing up, Buckwheat accepted an invitation in 1976 to join Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band as organist. He quickly discovered the popularity of zydeco music, and marveled at the effect the music had on the audience. “Everywhere, people young and old just loved zydeco music,” Dural says. “I had so much fun playing that first night with Clifton. We played for four hours and I wasn’t ready to quit.”
Dural’s relationship with the legendary Chenier led him to take up the accordion in 1978. After practicing for a year, he felt ready to start his own band under the name Buckwheat Zydeco. They debuted with One for the Road in 1979 on the Blues Unlimited label and then recorded for New Orleans’ Black Top label. In 1983, they were nominated for a Grammy Award for Turning Point and in 1985 for Waitin’ For My Ya Ya after switching to the Rounder Records label. The band then signed to Island Records, becoming the first zydeco act on a major label, and released On a Night Like This, a critically acclaimed album that was nominated for a Grammy as well. The band appeared in the movie The Big Easy in 1987.
In 1988, Eric Clapton invited the band to open his North American tour as well as his 12-night stand at London’s Royal Albert Hall. As even more doors opened, Buckwheat found himself sharing stages and/or recording with Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, David Hidalgo, Dwight Yoakam, Paul Simon, Ry Cooder, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and many others, including indie music stalwarts Yo La Tengo on the soundtrack to the Bob Dylan bio-pic, I’m Not There. His music has been featured in films including The Waterboy, The Big Easy, Fletch Lives and Hard Target. BET’s show Comic View, used his live version of “What You Gonna Do?” as theme music for the program’s 10th anniversary “Pardi Gras” season. He also wrote and performed the theme music for the PBS television series Pierre Franey’s Cooking In America. Buckwheat won an Emmy for his music in the CBS TV movie, Pistol Pete: The Life And Times Of Pete Maravich.
Buckwheat Zydeco has played many major music festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (numerous times), Newport Folk Festival, Summerfest, San Diego Street Scene, Bumbershoot, Montreux Jazz Festival, the Voodoo Experience, and countless others.
The band performed at the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics to a worldwide audience of three billion people. Buckwheat performed for President Clinton twice, celebrating both of his inaugurations. The band appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, CNN, The Today Show, MTV, NBC News, CBS Morning News, and National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage.
During the 1990s and early 2000s Buckwheat recorded for his own Tomorrow Recordings label and maintained an extensive touring schedule. Buckwheat Zydeco’s latest album, Lay Your Burden Down, was released on May 5, 2009 on the Alligator Records label. It was produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos and included guest appearances by guitarists Warren Haynes and Sonny Landreth, Trombone Shorty, JJ Grey and Berlin himself. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award. Sonicboomers.com says, “The CD is a vastly entertaining and appealingly diverse package. Bandleader Dural remains an ever-engaging vocalist and a whiz on any keyboard he touches. So, for Buckwheat Zydeco fans, Lay Your Burden Down finds the maestro and his group near the top of their form. For listeners with less interest in the ol’ accordion get-down, the collection supplies enough interesting wrinkles to get the good times rolling.”
Buckwheat’s especially powerful and haunting version of the classic “Cryin’ in the Streets” appears on the benefit album for Hurricane Katrina recovery, Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast.
Buckwheat’s version of Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy’s “When the Levee Breaks” appeared on 2011’s Alligator Records 40th Anniversary Collection. It originally appeared on the 2009 Buckwheat Zydeco album Lay Your Burden Down.
Buckwheat Zydeco died at age 68, after a battle with lung cancer on September 24, 2016.
“Whether performing on the final episode of ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,’ or on the Letterman show many times, or in the closing ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics, or at President Clinton’s inaugurals, or with Eric Clapton, Paul Simon or Willie Nelson, Stanley Dural Jr.’s musical genius and genuine warm, welcoming personality carried the banner for zydeco and Southwest Louisiana’s Creole community.
He once said: ‘Life is a tour, and it’s all about how you decide to get where you’re going…I don’t want to ignore the bad things in life, but I want to emphasize the good things.’
Buck made everything and everyone he touched better and happier.
Since 1979, Buckwheat Zydeco has been one of the most celebrated bands to come out of Louisiana. The group has shared the stage and studio with Eric Clapton, U2, the Boston Pops Orchestra, B.B. King and other renowned names.
Dural and band performed in the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, which reached a TV audience of 3 billion people. They played at both inaugurations for former President Bill Clinton and countless commercials and TV shows, such as “The Late Show with David Letterman” and the last episode of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
Last November, Dural and band members were part of an all-star tribute to country music legend Willie Nelson, who received the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The TV special aired on PBS stations across the country.
Buckwheat won the Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album Grammy for the 2009 CD, “Lay Your Burden Down,” which featured Trombone Shorty, Sonny Landreth and other stars. The band received an Emmy for the music in the CBS TV movie from 2001, “Pistol Pete: The Life and Times of Pete Maravich.”