Buckwheat Zydeco was a little tired when he answered the phone from a hotel room in Eastern Kentucky. The accordion great said that he spends close to ten months a year on the road, moving from gig to gig. When he realized that the call was about a Louisiana fest, he sprang to life. “Oh! You’re calling from home!”
Buckwheat Zydeco is credited with introducing zydeco to the musical mainstream. The Grammy winning artist boasts the three largest selling zydeco albums of all time and the first album of the genre on a major label. Even with his great fame, his heart is still in the Pelican State.
The artist first started spending time in New Orleans as a nine-year-old playing gigs. “NOLA is the heart. If you’re a musician you have to perform in New Orleans,” he explained.
In Buck’s early years, those performances were on a Hammond B3 organ, not an accordion- and the songs were funk. The genre introduced him to many of the Crescent City’s icons. He explains, “Allen Toussaint, Rockin’ Dopsie, the Nevilles—I played with them all back then.”
In 1976, he became friends with the King of Zydeco, Clifton Chenier, ultimately joining his Red Hot Louisiana Band as an organist. In zydeco, Buckwheat found a new name and a new sound, not to mention a new instrument: the accordion. Within three years, he was leading his own zydeco band. From there, the magazine covers, Hollywood soundtracks, award nominations, and a pioneering deal with Island Records followed.
As Zydeco spread Louisiana’s zeitgeist, he grew more passionate. “In Louisiana, we have so much culture. Every second house is a musician,” he explained. “What hurts so bad is the lickin’ that we get [from Mother Nature].” To provide support, the musician recorded a legendary rendition of “Cryin’ in the Streets” to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches in September 2005.
When not celebrating and protecting his home state, Buck can be found enjoying it. He spends his spare time working on antique cars, hosting food drives, checking out friends in zydeco and blues clubs, and of course eating, preferably seafood. He also fishes—a lot. Buck joked that on days off he can generally be found in the bay or the swamp with a rod in his hand. “It doesn’t matter if I catch anything. That feeling of sitting there is just meditative.”
Surely the meditation results in some wisdom? Asked for some parting thoughts, Buckwheat Zydeco advises, “You want to know where you going; don’t forget where you come from.”
Buckwheat Zydeco performs at French Quarter Fest on Sunday April 10th. He is scheduled for 3:45p.m. on the Abita Beer Stage.