Stanley Dural Jr. was a joyous giant of a musician. More than any artist of his generation, he introduced and furthered the Cajun/R&B music known as zydeco. It became so synonymous with him that audiences came to know Dural mostly by his professional non-de-plume – Buckwheat Zydeco.
Of course, serious Cajun music followers will forever credit the great Clifton Chenier as the forefather of zydeco, and they would be correct. But it was Dural, a longtime Chenier protégé and bandmate, that essentially inherited the elder’s accordion-led legacy and pushed zydeco into the mainstream. With Chenier, zydeco was more roots-directed, meshing Creole sounds with the blues. Dural had a bigger party in mind. From the dawn of the 1980s onward, he invited rock and soul into the songs he fashioned and put it all on display with an immensely infectious and endearing performance style.
Critics sometimes scoffed at how crossover his music became, especially on his late ‘80s crossover albums for the Island label. But Dural never let his Lafayette, Louisiana roots leave him even as his fascination for more broad based music grew. The title tune to his finest and most recommended Island album, 1987’s “On a Night Like This,” may have sounded like a Creole jamboree, but it was really a zydeco recasting of an underappreciated Bob Dylan tune from the early ‘70s.
Reflecting just how vast his musical reach had become was a growing list rock ‘n’ roll notables that lined up to work him. Dural’s A list collaborators included U2, Eric Clapton, John Fogerty, Keith Richards, Willie Nelson, Robert Plant and Paul Simon.
Luckily, Lexington got in on the fun, too. Though absent from local venues for much of the past decade, Dural and his Ils Sont Partis Band played long-since-demised downtown clubs like the Bottom Line and Breeding’s throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, flashing a smile as big and bright as the cosmos and making the rooms bounce with that white accordion adorned with the word most post-Chenier audiences would most come to associate with zydeco music: Buckwheat.