For decades, Louisiana music legend, Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural has been bringing his soulful Creole sounds to the masses. Zydeco’s biggest success story, “Buck” (as he likes to be called) has been the genre’s main preservationist and innovator—as well as its first artist to achieve major-label success. His band, Buckewheat Zydeco is still going strong after 25 years, with a flurry of reissues and a new album out in the last year. And, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s ravaging of the U.S. Gulf Coast, he’s performed many a benefit during the last year, including shows with Paul Simon and Allen Toussaint. On the road as usual, Dural took a few minutes to chat with Paste from his Indianapolis hotel room.
P: You’ve been really busy over the last two years—reissues of a lot of your early records, you put out your first new album in 8 years, Jackpot!, on Tomorrow Recordings. What got you interested in going back into the studio?
B: Well, I just figured it was time to do another record. I got a little disappointed eight years ago, ’cause of the way the record companies and the music industry was going. All your good companies was selling out. A lot of companies been sold, you see? And they kept on changing year round—I know ’cause I been with a few of ’em.
P: That was when you were hopping around to different labels?
B: Yeah, man. Every other month, you never know who you be working for, man. So it got a little disappointing. And then new technology come in, everybody download your music and stuff like that. So I just decided to tour, and don’t record no more. And [manager] Ted Fox is my right hand man, and we talked about it and he says, “You have to do another record, man. You have to do another record, Buck. People want something new from you.’ And I thought about it and thought about it, then when I decided to start writing again, I had to get back to the shop—it had been a long time. I started writing music one week for one record and it just gets to you—once you start, you just can’t stop. Within two weeks, we had about 29 songs! So we’re really ready… we got another [album], not completely ready, but it’s there.
P: Do you usually write that fast?
B: Yeah. See, first of all, if I’m not recording, I’m never thinking about writing music, I’m just thinking about playing music, see what I’m saying? But when it starts, it just clicks and it starts coming in and coming in. At one time—when I first started—I go in the studio to record about 10 songs, and I never knew what I was going in there to do. And everything would happen in the studio.
P: So it’s always been completely spontaneous for you?
B: Yeah, and I don’t think I know anybody that do that. You know, you go to rehearsal, you learn some, you write some—you don’t walk in the studio in the morning, and then about three o’clock the next morning you got 10 songs. That’s what I used to do, you know?
P: On the new album, Jackpot!, there’s whole lot of Hammond B3 organ on there—I guess that’s kind of a throwback for you.
B: Yeah, what happened—I stopped playing the B3 [live] about 20 years ago. And I only played it in the studio…
P: You used to play it with Clifton Chenier, right?
B: Yeah , and I also played it when I had my first band, The Hitchhikers. And when I decided in ’79 to build this band, I started bringing it out, toward the beginning of Buckwheat Zydeco. But then I wasn’t giving enough time to the accordion. See, what it was doing, it was pulling me back from the accordion, and that’s what I wanted to do—play the accordion. But I’d be onstage, and I was runnin’ to the Hammond all the time, you see? So I said, ‘I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna give some time to the accordion and leave that thing at home,’ and that was 20 years ago. And I’ve decided to bring it back now. That’s crazy, huh?! Now that I’ve given enough time to the accordion, I can put thing in perspective again.
P: We just put out a new issue about New Orleans music in the wake of Katrina—about how the musicians and the scene are struggling. We wanted to make sure people were thinking about the situation, a year after, to make sure they didn’t forget about the people of New Orleans and what’s happened. Being from Louisiana, and spending so much of your life there, how did Katrina affect you and the people you know?
B: Oh, man, devastation. I mean, it’s terrible. It still is, today. That’s why you have so much in the media about it right now, on television. When all this was going on, I was touring up in Canada. I’m lookin’ at the TV and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And what you see on television is bad enough, but please believe me—what you see in person… it’s terrible, from last year to this moment as we speak. And doin’ the Jazz [and Heritage] Festival this year, I had a couple of days there, also did some things with Paul Simon in New Orleans and in New York, when we were doing all the benefits for the hurricane victims.
When me and Ted and the band took a trip [to New Orleans], I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, man. And I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but you know what? It’ll tear you apart. All your good friends—the Nevilles gone, Toussaint, so many people, all these good musicians who make up New Orleans have all gone to different places.
You know what really hurt me? How in the world, after a year—you can’t find your family, man. Parents can’t find their kids, kids can’t find their parents. It’s like they’ve just been put on another planet. This is the United States, you know? That’s not supposed to happen here. Everywhere I go touring, I got people who come out of the audience, and they’re from New Orleans and haven’t been back in over a year. And, man, their kids might be somewhere in Texas or something, and they don’t even know it.
Listen, I’ve never seen nothin’ like it. Never seen nothin’ like it. And the action that we, as a people, should take to do something about it is not being done. That’s what’s very disturbing to me. Let me just tell you this and see if it makes sense to you: if we can go to other countries and try to solve their problems—the United States do that, right? They go try to solve problems in another country. Now I said country, right? And here it is, we have one city, and we can’t take care of that? Somethin’ wrong with that page. We can take care of a whole country [somewhere else], but we can’t take care of one city [here]? C’mon, man. I think they got the wrong book, man. It’s that simple. That disturbed me, bad. And please believe me, we’re a country that helps the whole planet, right? But doggone it, how can you help somebody when you can’t help your own self?! It don’t make sense.
P: Let’s hope that, going forward, we learn from these mistakes.
B: Yeah, man. It’s mandatory that something positive be done. How would it look to you without New Orleans, man? That don’t even sound right.
P: Even as someone who has only visited the city and has never lived there, to see what a cultural treasure New Orleans is…
B: That’s right, man!
P: …Without that, America is a sadder, less complete place. So much of our music and culture has spread from New Orleans.
B: That’s right. New Orleans identifies the United States. That’s our identity, man.
S: Buck, coming up, is there anything you want to let Paste readers know about—anything new on the way, a tour?
B: Well, I been touring since December of last year, and will go ’til next year. It’s just what I do, what I love to do. I like to be out there and see people have fun—put a smile on their face. That’s very rewarding to me, man.
S: You’ve got to spread a little of the joy right now.
B: There you go. And that’s what we need at this moment, to be honest with you.
(For more info on Stanley Dural and Buckwheat Zydeco, click here.)