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RIP Buckwheat Zydeco

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Buckwheat Zydeco’s Stanley ‘Buckwheat’ Dural Jr. dies

by Mark Mobley, National Public Radio

September 24, 2016

Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr., an international ambassador for Louisiana roots music with his genre-leaping band Buckwheat Zydeco, died early Saturday morning. He was 68.

Dural died of lung cancer at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette, La. In August, Cynthia Simien, an agent and manager who is married to Zydeco musician Terrance Simien, and Dural’s daughter Tomorrow Dural started a GoFundMe account to defray Dural’s medical expenses.

Given the easy familiarity of the zydeco sound—accordion, washboard, a driving beat and infectious energy—in everything from pop music to TV commercials, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that it was not always instantly recognized outside its home. In 1987, when Island Records, the home of U2, released the Buckwheat Zydeco album On a Night Like This, Dural became the first zydeco artist on a major label. This was just one milestone among decades of them in a career that included a Grammy and performances at the Summer Olympics and President Bill Clinton’s inaugural festivities. He performed with musicians as varied as Eric Clapton, Yo La Tengo and the Boston Pops.

Dural, the son of amateur musicians—a singing mother and accordion-playing father—began his career on keyboards. He played R&B and funk until he sat in as organist with the band of one of his father’s best friends, Clifton Chenier, “the king of zydeco.”

“We played for four hours nonstop,” Dural told Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon in 2009, “and he was telling people goodnight and I couldn’t believe it. And I thought we had just got onstage; that’s how much energy he had projected. I wound up staying with Clifton over two years. I said, ‘Next band I get, I’ll be playing accordion.'”

Dural took up the accordion in 1978 and founded Buckwheat Zydeco a year later. In 30 years of touring and recording he took zydeco to unexpected physical and musical places. From his take on Bob Dylan’s “A Night Like This” for Australian TV in the ’80s, to “Hey Joe” on David Letterman’s Late Show in the ’90s, to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in May, Dural was a welcoming presence who made his audiences happy.

“If you want to get respect, you’ve got to give respect,” Dural told World Cafe host David Dye in 2009. “You got to be positive. You can’t have no like positive/negative, positive/negative … It’s not like a car battery.”

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Mark Mobley is a commentator and music producer for National Public Radio.

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Groove of the Day

Listen to Buckwheat Zydeco performing “Ya Ya”

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