Stanley Dural Jr., Founder of Buckwheat Zydeco, Dies at 68

Stanley Dural Jr., known as Buckwheat, at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2011. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)
Stanley Dural Jr., known as Buckwheat, at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 2011. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

Stanley Dural Jr., better known as Buckwheat, the accordionist whose band carried zydeco music from the Louisiana bayous to a worldwide audience, died on Saturday in Lafayette, La., where he was born. He was 68.

Ted Fox, his manager and frequent producer, said the cause was lung cancer. Buckwheat lived in the neighboring city of Carencro.

Formed in 1979, his band, Buckwheat Zydeco, barnstormed for more than 30 years, winning both a Grammy and an Emmy Award along the way. With his broad-brimmed black hat, glasses and a white piano accordion emblazoned with the words “BUCK WHEAT,” Mr. Dural became the face of zydeco for many listeners far beyond the music’s Gulf Coast regional circuit.

He played festivals worldwide and sat in, on stage and on recordings, with a host of rock and pop musicians, including Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, U2, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant and Keith Richards.

Buckwheat’s music melded Louisiana Creole traditions — the tootling propulsion of the accordion and the clatter of the rubboard, a metal vest played with spoons — with the R&B he grew up on in the 1950s and ’60s and with rock.

He sang in French Creole and in English, leading his band in two-steps, waltzes, shuffles, blues and funk, all of which kept dance floors active. Buckwheat Zydeco was celebrated as one of the world’s great party bands.

Stanley Joseph Dural Jr. was born on Nov. 14, 1947. His family, with six brothers and six sisters, shared a two-bedroom house in Lafayette; growing up, he picked cotton.

His father was an accordionist who played Creole music, but Stanley Jr. was drawn to R&B, and chose the organ as his instrument. He was nicknamed Buckwheat for his braided hair, which resembled the character Buckwheat, played by William Thomas Jr. in “The Little Rascals” short films. He made his first recordings in the early 1970s with his 15-piece soul band, Buckwheat and the Hitchhikers, and had a local hit with the single “It’s Hard to Get.”

Buckwheat rediscovered zydeco in 1976, becoming the organist in the band, which was led by Clifton Chenier. A pioneer in merging Creole music and blues, Mr. Chenier was universally acknowledged as the Gulf Coast’s king of zydeco until his death in 1987.

Buckwheat took up accordion in 1978; a year later he started his own zydeco band. At first he called it the Buckwheat Zydeco Ils Sont Partis Band, from the Creole French announcement he had heard at horse races at Evangeline Downs, which was then in Carencro: “They’re off!”

In the early 1980s the band recorded for blues and folk labels: Blues Unlimited, Black Top and Rounder. In 1986, he signed a five-album deal with a major label, Island Records, and the band became simply Buckwheat Zydeco.

Its touring circuit grew. In 1988 the band opened for Eric Clapton on a tour that stretched across North America and to the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Buckwheat Zydeco returned largely to independent labels for albums in the 1990s and 2000s, including Buckwheat’s own label, Tomorrow Records. The band worked constantly, from club dates in Louisiana to festival appearances in Montreux in Switzerland.

Television, film and advertising producers seeking Louisiana atmosphere placed his songs on many soundtracks, and Buckwheat performed and helped to write the theme song for “Pierre Franey’s Cooking in America” on PBS.

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The New York Times