Buckwheat Brings It Back Home

Buckwheat Zydeco

Kansas City Star

By Joel Francis

After a 20-year estrangement, Stanley Dural Jr. is returning to his first love: the Hammond B-3 organ.
But fans of the man otherwise known as Buckwheat Zydeco needn’t worry. He has found a way to reconcile the differences between his main squeeze, the accordion, and the B3.
“When I was playing the accordion originally I had the organ onstage with me,” Dural said. “I had the tendency to run from the accordion to the organ, but it was cutting into my time with the accordion, so I took it off the stage.”
Dural will bring a road-size version of the B3 with him at Knucklehead’s Saloon on Wednesday, continuing a reunion that began when he used it on some tracks for his first studio album in eight years, “Jackpot!”
“If I was going to use it in the studio, it wouldn’t be fair to if people didn’t hear it on stage,” Dural said. “I’ve always had a keyboard but it was a simple one. I couldn’t fully express myself on it. Now I Can, and the fans are loving it.”
Dural’s B3 playing is featured on the album’s 18-minute trilogy, “Encore: Featuring Organic Buckwheat,” which includes a slow blues and a jazz tribute to Jimmy Smith. This might seem like a stretch from zydeco’s traditional territory, but from a man who has stretched the genre to include country, gospel, children’s music and rock, it’s just bringing it back home.
“I’m taking it to another level,” said Dural, who counts Eric Clapton, Mavis Staples, Willie Nelson and members of Los Lobos among his recorded collaborators. “I love rasta and Bob Marley so there’s a song called ‘Love and Happiness’ that’s all about unity that has a Jamaican reggae feel.”
Listeners may have to wait awhile to hear that song at home, though – it’s one of dozens of Dural’s new tracks that didn’t make it on the album.
“We cut near 30 songs, and I caught the blues trying to figure out what to put on and what to leave off (the album),” Dural said. “It was my worst nightmare.”
No one will have to wait 8 years for the next Buckwheat Zydeco studio album, though.
“I’m going to give this one a chance,” Dural said, “but please believe me there’s another one coming right behind it.”
Dural’s re-embrace of the B3 is a sort of homecoming. It’s the instrument he played as the founder of Buckwheat and the Hitchhikers, a 15-piece funk band that backed artists like Joe Tex, Solomon Burke and Bobby Bland in the early ‘70s and also precipitated his friendship with Eric Clapton in the mid-‘80s.
A jam session broke out after Buckwheat Zydeco’s set at the 25th anniversary party ofr Island Records, Dural’s label at the time. Spying a vacant B3, Dural’s manager asked if he wanted to play.
“I said not ‘yeah,’ but ‘hell yeah,’” Dural said. “There was an army of guitars and Eric was at the front of the stage, but somehow we got to trading licks. We kept going back and forth, and when we got done he walked to the back of the stage, put out his hand and said, ‘I’m Eric, who are you?’ I took his hand and said, ‘I’m Buckwheat.’ We hit it off.”
Clapton played the guitar solo on Buckwheat Zydeco’s 1987 remake of “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad” and invited the band to open his 12-night stand at Royal Albert Hall in 1988.
“That was like a dream come true,” Dural said. “It was frightening, but it went over big time.”
If the concept of a zydeco band opening for a rock legend in one of London’s most hallowed music halls seems incongruous, consider Buckwheat Zydeco opening for U2 around the same time.
“If you think about U2 and Buckwheat, they don’t match. That’s a different audience,” Dural said. “But it worked.”
The major-label shakeups 10 years ago led Dural to start his own label, Tomorrow Recordings, which also handles younger talents. If he misses rubbing shoulders with other legends and playing large venues, Dural isn’t letting on.
“I feel like I’m in a place now where I’m opening a lot of doors,” Dural said. “It doesn’t matter where I perform as long as I see a smile on people’s faces.”