The Regattabar, Charles Hotel, Cambridge, MA
February 8, 2011
Imagine James Brown with a big-assed silver and white accordion slung over his shoulders and you get the drift of Stanley Dural, Jr., better known as “Buckwheat,” the leader of legendary band Buckwheat Zydeco. While other roofs in New England are in jeopardy of falling in with the weight of snow, Buckwheat raised the roof at the Regattabar last Tuesday.
Let’s back up a minute. Zydeco is not a household name around here. Lafayette, Louisiana, a hotspot of Cajun and zydeco music, is around 1500 miles away. And here we are with nearly every one of the Regattbar’s 225 seats filled with people who clearly know the music and the man playing it. What’s the draw?
Clue: Dural’s entrance is classic old school showman. The band, led by veteran session bass player Lee Allen Zeno, warms up the crowd with a few funky pop grooves. After he figures he’s greased the skids, Zeno starts to pitch. “2010 Grammy Award winning artist…. Coming all the way from Lafayette, Louisiana,” and pauses. “I said…2010 Grammy Award winning artist…” and we get the idea. The hollering begins.
The band lays down a good ol’ flame throwing 32 beat intro, the entry door to the Regattabar is swung open and Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, Jr., on the arm of his son who plays the B-3 Hammond organ, parts the crowd in a slow high fiving royal stroll to the stage. The cheering is universal, heartfelt, and loud. And is not lost on Stanley.
He carefully hangs his black suit jacket at the side of the stage, extends his arms, and his son Reginald drapes a huge gleaming accordion over Dural’s shoulders. There was a day when Dural would have picked up the accordion like a po boy sandwich but he’s getting on in years – and besides, the visual effect is impressive, sort of like watching a surgeon have his sterile gloves fitted over his hands before he begins major surgery. Except you’ve probably never seen a surgeon with a gorgeous pile of silky black hair swept up in a pompadour.
The room is in a state of quiet expectation. Stanley strides to center stage. “ We gonna party tonight, stand up! Cambridge… stand UP!”
Damn, we did. Within seconds, Buckwheat Zydeco digs into a groove that does not quit. People are dancing in the aisles. I rub my eyes. Remind me. This is not Randol’s in Lafayette. This is the Regattabar in Cambridge, a venue not known for audience participation.
A master showman like Dural has Cantabridgians dropping decorum like it’s a hot biscuit. When bassist Zeno says, “comin’ at ya’” he isn’t kidding. For the better part of two hours, Dural banters, he teases, he strides into the audience and peals off sparkling riffs on the keys of his accordion, he projects a megawatt smile. He makes you feel like he came all the way from his home in the bayou just to play for you. And you believe it.
Cross Otis Redding’s passion, Bob Marley’s sense of social justice, and James Brown’s fierce showmanship and you get Stanley Dural, Jr. His veteran band - two guitars, bass, drums, washboard, trumpet, and B-3 organ can turn on a dime. Stanley Dural, Jr. has been playing music since he was 4 years old. He was tutored by his father’s friend, the late accordionist Clifton Chenier, the godfather of zydeco.
Dural’s Buckwheat Zydeco band has been a presence for more than thirty years. Along the way, their zydeco sound has sampled sounds of funk, R&B, reggae, blues, soul, even country, and bits of all of it are on display tonight.
When he says he’s about to play a song by his favorite artist and teases us while we guess the identity, he shocks us by identifying “Hank Williams” then rolls into a version of “Hey, Good Lookin” with a rollicking New Orleans beat. With very little prompting, the buttoned down Cantabridgians sing along like it was a Mitch Miller show. A corner of the bar is filled with dancers. My goodness.
Entertainers like Dural feed on the energy they create and by now Dural is feeling the love. The Regattabar has become his sandbox, we’re his toys, and he’s gonna play with us. “OK we’re dividing the room. This half of the room sing…” “Now this half….” Once again, audience reticence has been checked at the door - the lusty response sounds more like a high school pep rally.
Dural talks Lafayette smack a mile a minute and runs his words together faster than those notes fluttering out of the Hammond B-3, which he plays for the last part of the set.
“I feel like rippin’ it up,” Dural says after returning for his encore. I’m not sure if he says this every night and I don’t care. Dural is working us over pretty good.
“I got this from the swamp,” he says (he’s referenced ‘the swamp’ in his patter several times and seems to want us to know that he’s not far removed from his Louisiana roots).
“Men, you should try this, it worked for me.” And he launches into “Jackpot,” with the refrain, “Honey, I’ve been lucky all my life, but when I found you, I hit the jackpot.” Applause rings out from the women. Once again, we’re singing the chorus.
Dural’s not done with us yet. He’s got a message. Along with the playful music, I’ve heard snatches of lyrics relating to social issues all night long. Dural digs hard into his B3 and wrings out powerful chords that galvanize a gospel tent - we’re feelin’ it. Near the end of his reggae inflected “Why We Can’t Live Together,” with its refrain, “Peace… Love…and Happiness.” We’re on our feet – again – in a fist pumping, call and response reggae influenced tandem with the man.
“What do we want?” he calls.
“What do we need?”
What do we deserve?”
“What do we demand?”
“What do we want to give our children?”
“Peace… Love…and Happiness,” we volley back to each call.
The world has become a more hopeful place. Dural is giving us respite from the headlines. It may be an illusion but it’s a potent one that pastes a smile on our faces far into the winter night.
“I got this from the swamp… we gonna be alright. Take this to your best bank, we gonna be alright!” he intones with minister’s conviction and makes his way to the door, shaking hands, taking hugs.
I hope he’s right.
Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, Jr.: Accordion, Hammond B-3, electric keyboard, lead vocals
Lee Allen Zeno: Bass, background vocals
Sir Reginald Master Dural: Rubboard, background vocals, Hammond B-3 organ
Paul “Lil’ Buck” Sinegal: Guitar
Olivier Scoazec: Guitar
Gerard St. Julien: Drums
Curtis Watson: Trumpet
Bass player Lee Allen Zeno with pt - I met him at Cafe des Amis in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. The man has played with some of the best in the business.
Stanley Dural, Jr. exudes infectious energy and connects with the audience from the jump. He's at home on the Hammond B-3 organ - ended the show with a rousing version of "Why We Can't Live Together."
This photo pretty much sums up the energy level of the night.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.