American musical legend Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, Jr. — leader of the band Buckwheat Zydeco — died on September 24, 2016 of lung cancer at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center in Lafayette, Louisiana. The Grammy and Emmy winning artist was the pre-eminent ambassador of Louisiana zydeco music. NPR’s “Weekend Edition” called him “the go-to guy for zydeco music…a master of accordion and organ.”
Buckwheat played with everyone from Eric Clapton and U2 to Robert Plant and The Boston Pops. The band performed at the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics and 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 many others. They were also invited to play the final episode of “The Late Show With Jimmy Fallon.”
Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, Jr. was born in Lafayette, LA on November 14, 1947. He acquired his nickname because, with his braided hair, he looked like Buckwheat from The Little Rascals. His father was an accomplished, non-professional traditional Creole accordion player, but young Buckwheat preferred listening to and playing R&B. He became proficient at the organ, and by the late 1950s was backing Joe Tex, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and many others. In 1971, he formed Buckwheat and The Hitchhikers, a 15-piece funk and soul band. They were a local sensation and found success with the single, “It’s Hard To Get,” recorded for a local Louisiana-based label. Never a traditional zydeco fan when growing up, Buckwheat nonetheless accepted an invitation in 1976 to join Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band as organist. He quickly discovered the joy and power of zydeco music, and marveled at the effect the music had on the audience. “Everywhere, people young and old just loved zydeco music,” Buckwheat said. “I had so much fun playing that first night with Clifton. We played for four hours and I wasn’t ready to quit.”
Buckwheat’s relationship with the legendary Chenier led him to take up the accordion in 1978. After woodshedding for a year, he felt ready to start his own band under the name Buckwheat Zydeco, and began his recording career with the small Blues Unlimited label. By the mid-1980s there were more offers to perform than he could possibly accept. Recordings for Black Top and Rounder followed before Buckwheat befriended New York-based journalist Ted Fox, who championed Buckwheat to Chris Blackwell at Island Records in 1986. Buckwheat Zydeco signed a five-record deal and Fox became and remained his manager and frequent producer. The success of these records kept Buckwheat Zydeco on the road and in constant demand.
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 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 ranging from “The Waterboy”” “The Big Easy,” “Fletch Lives” and “Hard Target.” BET’s “Comic View” used his live version of “What You Gonna Do?” as theme music for the program’s 10th anniversary “Pardi Gras” season. He co-wrote and performed the theme song 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 played every major music festival in the world, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (numerous times), Newport Folk Festival, Summerfest, San Diego Street Scene, Bumbershoot, Montreux Jazz Festival and countless others.
During the 1990s and 2000s Buckwheat recorded for his own Tomorrow Recordings label and maintained an extensive touring schedule. Along with his remarkably talented band, he brought his music to fans all over the world. In 2009 he released the Grammy Award winning “Lay Your Burden Down” on Alligator Records. Since then, Buckwheat Zydeco continued to tour and share their music with fans around the world.
Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, Jr. is survived by his wife Bernite Dural and their daughter Tomorrow Lynn Dural; sons Sir Reginald M. Dural (who played rubboard and keyboards in his band) and Stanley Paul Dural III, daughters April Germain Dural, and Stacie Durham.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
-Marc Lipkin, Alligator Records