Buckwheat Zydeco reminds young musicians to remember their roots

Grammy-winner Buckwheat Zydeco will headline event; reminds younger generation of musicians to remember their roots

“I’ll just meet up with people, perform with anybody. I just love what I do. ” Stanley Dural JR., Buckwheat Zydeco

Stanley Dural Jr., known to the world as Buckwheat Zydeco, is music’s best-selling zydeco artist. Following six Grammy nominations, the Carencro singer and accordion and organ player’s 2009 album, “Lay Your Burden Down,” clinched his first Grammy award.

A frequent performer at the world’s music festivals since the 1970s — including the Newport Folk Festival, Montreaux Jazz Festival, Milwaukee’s Summerfest, Seattle’s Bumbershoot and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival — Dural returns to the Louisiana Cajun-Zydeco Festival this weekend as Saturday’s headliner. It’s Buckwheat Zydeco’s first appearance at the Jazz and Heritage Festival Foundation-sponsored community festival since 2010.

Dural, 66, feels fortunate to have lived a musical life, touring the world and sharing stages and collaborating with the likes of Eric Clapton, U2, Robert Plant, Keith Richards, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples and Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin.

“I’ll just meet up with people, perform with anybody,” Dural said. “I just love what I do.”

But when Dural was a young man playing funk and soul music at the organ, he thought zydeco was old people’s music. Zydeco pioneer Clifton Chenier inspired Dural’s musical conversion.

“Clifton stopped me in my tracks, man,” he said. “I’d never seen nothing like that before. This tall man, 6-foot-something, holding a damn accordion for four hours, and so energetic. I said, ‘Oh, I got to give this a try.’ ”

Dural attributes his zydeco success to lessons learned from his elders. He had great examples in his father, his father’s first cousin, Good Rockin’ Dopsie, and Chenier.

Dural also decided that, although he’d become a zydeco musician, he would play for the old and the young.

“So I played a song like ‘Walking the Floor Over You’ for the older generation,” he explained, “and then I played ‘Ya Ya’ for the young generation. And both generations enjoyed whatever I did.”

Dural’s career took an upswing after he met Ted Fox, the New York writer who’s been managing Buckwheat Zydeco since 1986.

“I met Buck in Louisiana and thought he was the absolute best,” Fox recalled.

Fox recommended Buckwheat Zydeco to Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. Fox met Blackwell during research for his 1986 book “In the Groove: The People Behind the Music.”

Although Blackwell’s label brought Bob Marley to the world, he knew nothing about Louisiana’s zydeco scene. Fox sent Blackwell tapes of two albums Buckwheat Zydeco recorded for the Blues Unlimited label, 1980’s “Take It Easy, Baby” and 1982’s “People’s Choice.”

“Chris called me back a couple of days later and said, ‘Not only do I want to make a record with him, I want to sign him to Island for a five-record deal. And I think you ought to produce him and manage him.’ ”

“Ted didn’t want to take the job,” Dural remembered. “He said, ‘I don’t know anything about managing a band. I said, ‘Well, give it try.’ ”

“Buck and I really hit it off,” Fox said. “It’s been great ever since.”

Zydeco master Dural has some advice for the younger zydeco artists who’ve followed in his bootsteps.

“Now, today, you have so many zydeco players,” he said. “They’re taking it to a different dimension. That’s OK, because you have a new generation born every day.

“But I’m going to say this: Don’t forget where you come from. Zydeco music brought you here, so don’t neglect it and throw it away. Always keep the roots with whatever else you’re doing.”