Sometimes you meet a person, and you are forever moved by the experience. And sometimes when you "meet" somebody, you don't ever shake their hand, or even see their face. When the mind meets Miles Davis or Bob Dylan or Marley and countless others, it can have an incredible impact on the soul. I was fortunate enough to meet Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural Jr. over the course of an almost two hour phone conversation a few weeks ago. More than any one thing the man said, or any one anecdote he crafted about his life and music, it was the overall impression he left on me that resonates. Buck (as his friends call him) evokes a vibe and an essence that is impossible to deny. Even over thousands of miles of phone wire, he is overwhelmingly positive, happy, even jovial, sincere, and incredibly entertaining. Oddly enough, or perhaps not odd at all, these same adjectives: "positive," "happy," "jovial," "sincere," and "entertaining" could just as easily be used to describe Buck's music as they are to describe the man.
As the founder, leader, and driving force of Buckwheat Zydeco, Dural has worked his way up to the very top of his profession. While the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier, put the art form on the map, Buck has taken the torch and brought zydeco music to unthought-of heights. Buck was the first zydeco artist to sign on with a major record label (Island Records, under the tutelage of legendary producer Chris Blackwell), as well as the first zydeco performer to appear on national television. In 1998, after putting out fifteen albums on seven different labels, Buck pulled off another first becoming the first zydeco artist to start his own record label, Tomorrow Recordings. While all of this is certainly impressive and more than worthy of discussion, we haven't even scratched the surface of what Buck is all about. As Buck explains, it's performing live where he really shines, "I couldn't be more at home then being on stage and seeing the people having a good time with smiles on their faces." And whether it be at a small club in Southwest Louisiana or at the Closing Ceremonies of the Atlanta Summer Olympics in front of three billion viewers, Buck definitely puts smiles on faces.
Buckwheat Zydeco by Joseph A. Rosen
Not only has Buck performed for billions at the Olympics, but he and his band entertained Bill Clinton at both his first and second inauguration, played the Democratic National Convention, played the 4th of July with the Boston Pops, and has made every major television appearance one can make, from MTV and Letterman to the NBC Nightly News and the BBC. And we still haven't hit his life on the road that often finds his band in Pollstar's top 50 grossing acts. While touring the world and recording at home, Buck has worked with Eric Clapton (opening an entire North American Tour and 12 shows at London's Royal Albert Hall), U2, Neil Young, Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Ringo Starr, Gregg Allman, Dwight Yokam, Robert Cray, Mavis Staples, Los Lobos, and many more. Along the way, Buck has been called "The best party band in America" by the Wall Street Journal, landed in the New York Times' "Top Ten," won an Emmy, and been nominated for four Grammys. But none of this impresses me as much as the man behind the squeezebox. From his love of children and animals (he has about 15 cats and 30 dogs), to the warmth he radiates, Buck is beyond special.
It's with all this in mind that the name of his brand new album Jackpot! (due out June 7th on Tomorrow Recordings) really hits me. Buck is the complete package. He's all those wonderful words: "positive," "happy," "jovial," "sincere," and "entertaining." Toss in the fact that he's wildly talented and incredibly dedicated, and we see that Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural Jr. is the Jackpot. He's got it all: the blinking lights, the coins pouring out, and the prize - both in terms of his personality and his music. And Buck has never sounded better than he does on this, his first studio album in eight years. With Jackpot!, Buck has tapped into the passionate party vibe on which he has built his career, but he picks up his old friend the Hammond once again and even dips into some new territory. Why has it taken eight years for Buck to make a new record? Why the rekindled relationship with the Hammond after so long? What was it like growing up with seven sisters and six brothers in a two bedroom home with an outhouse? Well, keep on reading, all this and plenty more comes to light as we dig in with Buck. So sit back and relax, maybe pour yourself a strawberry lemonade, turn that fan on, and get to know the man and the music we call Buckwheat Zydeco.
1947 LAFAYETTE, LOUISIANA :: BUCK IS BORN
Kayceman: So jumpin' into it a little bit here, I work for a magazine called JamBase, and we have a large population of some younger readers who I reckon have heard your name, maybe seen you at Jazz Fest but likely don't know a heck of a lot about you, so I wanted to get a little background if you don't mind.
Kayceman: So what was growing up like for you?
BZ: Growing up for me was a large family; I had seven sisters and six brothers, but the oldest brother deceased before I was born so that made me the fourth kid. We grew up in a home, our family home – it's still there in Lafayette, called the Truman Addition, a two-bedroom home and an outhouse, so that was growing up as a kid. With the music, it was played in the home ever since I can remember. My dad played the accordion - the roots, traditional accordion - and the washboard for family entertainment. And we always had a piano around because my dad used to get old pianos that people didn't want, and he'd get them in at the house and tune them by ear. My brother played piano, and I learned from my oldest brother, the one just before me. And my mother sang spiritual, only in the home. So at an early age, about five years old, I started to learn to play a little boogie-woogie, Fats Domino, and Little Richard on the piano.
Buck in front of his boyhood home, 1998 by H.C. Porter
Kayceman: Was the piano the first instrument that you took to?
I've read you also play some sax and...
That was at a later date, when I was going to school, like elementary or high school. I blew saxophone for a little while there, but I always go back to the keyboards because that's home for me. As a matter of fact, I learned how to read some music for saxophone and translated that to the keyboards because I didn't read keyboard you see. So that went on for a bit but I never did leave the keyboards.
From what I understand, your father was against you playing more contemporary music. Is that right?
[Laughing] Oooooh yeah.