By Christa T. for Accordion Americana There is no place in America that is more “about the music” than Louisiana. While it is true that New Orleans was the sweet spot for those responsible for the birth of several distinct genres of music, Louisiana, in its own right, has served as a fountain of inspiration for generations of musicians and songwriters. It is where “it” all comes together–where the dry meets the moist, where the crackling heat of the cotton field converges with the murky depths of the swamp. Where the crunch of gravel under the boot binds with the squish of mud between the toes. “It” can be heard and felt in the music of Louisiana. In one form or another, the accordion has been a part of the texture and grit of Louisiana, for a long time.
Singer/Songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and keyboardist Steve Conn has been a part of that, as well. Originally from Pineville, Louisiana, he is the son of a professional musician, southern and western swing fiddle player, “Peanut” Conn. Steve began to learn his craft early, and decided to pursue music and songwriting as a profession. He followed through at Louisiana State University, choosing a foundation of coursework in Literature. Since then, he has worked constantly as a writer and musician, moved from Louisiana to Colorado, and then on to Los Angeles. He finally settled just outside of Nashville, Tennessee in 1993, and it has been his home base ever since then.
He spent two years as musical director for E-Town, a weekly National Public Radio variety show based in Boulder, Colorado that has since become an Americana institution. Conn enlisted a roster of great artists, a tradition that continues today, that included James Taylor, Michelle Shocked, Shawn Colvin, David Wilcox, Maura O’Connell, Emmylou Harris and by now, hundreds of other musicians. He also continued to perform as a solo artist during that time, as well.
Steve has used the accordion as a session musician and front man, performing with the best in the business. He has performed on 9 Grammy nominated albums with a cadre of artists including Bonnie Raitt, Sonny Landreth, the Dixie Chicks, Nanci Griffith, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Mark Knopfler, Kenny Loggins, Albert King, Marshall Crenshaw and many others. Steve Conn received a Grammy nomination for his piano, harmonica and saxophone contributions with BeauSoleil, and another for his work on accordion with Arlo Guthrie.
With his old friend from Louisiana, the great slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, Steve collaborated on “Beautiful Dream”, from which the song “Let the Rain Fall Down” is drawn. He says. “I’m writing for people who have lost at love but know that love is still the greatest force of all….I’m writing for people who are trying to find the best in themselves and in the world, people who get up and try again, over and over, because they know on some deep and ancient level that it’s all just a beautiful dream even when it seems like a damn nightmare.” Only through music can one even begin to express such complexities of the human spirit.
By Christa T. for Accordion Americana Sad news was received about Buckwheat Zydeco. He passed away on September 24, 2016 from cancer. Stanley Dural, also known as Buckwheat Zydeco, will be greatly missed. To mark his passing, I am running the following article that I previously posted on this site, September 2015. Rest in peace.
As a young child growing up in Lafayette, Louisiana, Stanley Dural, Jr. was said to look like the Little Rascal’s character “Buckwheat” in the Our Gang comedy series filmed during the 1930’s. This whimsical image was to stick with him his entire life as a professional musician. Drawing from his musical roots, the artist who became known as Buckwheat Zydeco,has shown that he is not afraid to move forward and reach beyond the Zydeco traditions to become a legend in American music.
Zydeco music evolved from the French speaking musicians who played at house dances who blended blues, rhythm and blues and the music of the indigenous people of southwest Louisiana. Stanley did not start out as a Zydeco artist, but he continuously worked as an organist from the late 1950’s throughout the 1960’s and well into the 1970’s. Dural concentrated on rhythm and blues, backing well known acts such as Joe Tex, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, among many others. As a mature musician in 1976, he agreed to be hired as a backing organist for Zydeco pioneer, Accordionist Clifton Chenier and his Louisiana Red Hot Band. It was the turning point in his career because it was through this professional relationship that Dural came to be, like Chenier, proficient on the piano-accordion. Stanley Dural, Jr. then recast himself as a Zydeco musician and formed his own band, Buckwheat Zydeco and debuted with One for the Road in 1979. Since then, Dural and his band have become one of the most renowned Blues and Zydeco acts. Buckwheat Zydeco is distinguished as being among the few Zydeco artists to find mainstream success in the music industry and he is the only accordionist of any genre to ever reach that level of recognition in recent times in America.
Throughout three decades, Buckwheat Zydeco has performed and toured extensively around the world. They have also performed at the 1996 Summer Olympics closing ceremonies, and for both of President Clinton’s inaugurations. Buckwheat Zydeco has performed and recorded with major names in the business such as Eric Clapton, Bono and U2, The Boston Pops Orchestra, Paul Simon, Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, Ry Cooder and Los Lobos. The band has also appeared on television numerous times and was chosen by Jimmy Fallon for his final show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. They have appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, The Today Show, MTV, BET, CNN and have been featured on news programs on NBC, CBS and National Public Radio. Buckwheat Zydeco has appeared numerous times at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, as well as the Chicago Blues Festival, the Newport Folk Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival and countless major music festivals and venues across America.
Nominated several times for the Grammy Award, Buckwheat Zydeco won for ‘Best Zydeco or Cajun Album” for Lay Your Burden Down in 2010. They also received an Emmy for music performed in the CBS television movie Pistol Pete: The Life and Times of Pete Maravich. The music of Buckwheat Zydeco has been featured in the movies, The Waterboy, Fletch Lives, Hard Target, Ya La Tengo and Bob Dylan’s I’m Not There. The band also made an appearance and performed in The Big Easy, a movie that is credited with revitalizing Zydeco and Cajun music in America. Buckwheat Zydeco’s version of the classic “Cryin’ in the Streets” is featured on the album for Hurricane Katrina, Our New Orleans: A Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast.
Because of his commitment to promoting Louisiana cuisine, Dural wrote and performed the theme music for the PBS television series, Pierre Franey’s Cooking in America. Out of that interest, in 2014, Dural and his long time manager and collaborator, Ted Fox, premiered the You Tube documentary series “Buckwheat’s World”. The online show focuses on the music and colorful lifestyle of the artist, Stanley Dural, Jr. who became known as Buckwheat Zydeco. Dural and Fox have shown their skill as writers and commentarians by becoming bloggers for The Huffington Post in 2014, with their first post, “Mardi Gras Is The Flip Side of the Blues”.
John Mayall had no goal other than “to make a normal blues album” , which is what the veteran artist and bandleader has done over the course of his 51-year recording career. And if you start adding it up, after 50 years, it’s obviously quite a career.” Mayall recorded “A Special Life,” his first release in five years for Forty Below Records, during a three-day session with his band during November at Entourage Studios in North Hollywood. It features four originals — one written by band members Greg Rzab and Rocky Athas — plus covers of songs by Jimmy Rogers, Albert King, Sonny Landreth and others. Mayall’s band is also bolstered by accordionist C.J. Chenier on several tracks, including a version of his father Clifton Chenier’s “Why Did You Go Last Night” that kicks off the album. “That was one of the songs I’ve always had a fondness for,” Mayall says. “In fact, we used to play it when Jack Bruce was in the band, so it goes that far back, and it’s far less Zydeco than straightahead blues. I thought it was a perfect time to approach C.J.; his father wrote and sang the song originally, and he was available, so I just contacted him. I hadn’t met him before, but he flew in for the day and we nailed it. It was a really great experience.”
C.J. Chenier grew up in the 1960s, in the housing projects of his native Port Arthur, Texas, where he was aware of, but not exposed to his father’s music as a young child.
Upon first listening to his father’s music, Chenier thought all the songs sounded the same. But he eventually began to appreciate and master his style, as he later joined and then took over his father’s band and career. He has since played such venues as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, San Diego’s Street Scene and Milwaukee’s Summerfest. Paul Simon first heard Chenier in 1990, and featured him on the The Rhythm of the Saints album, and that year’s ‘Born At The Right Time’ tour. In 1992 Chenier played accordion on “Cajun Song”, a track on the Gin Blossoms‘ album, New Miserable Experience. 1992 saw Chenier featured with the Red Hot Louisiana Band on the PBS music television program Austin City Limits. By October 1994 Chenier was signed by Alligator. His debut release there was Too Much Fun, named the next year as best zydeco album of 1995 by Living Blues magazine. In 1995, Chenier gained his widest audience to date with television appearances on the Jon Stewart Show and CNN. His 1996 appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was featured in a segment by the VH1cable music television network, as well as by Entertainment Weekly. Chenier and the band also appeared that year at the Austin, Texas, 1996 SxSW Music Conference, a special event for Alligator Records’ 25th anniversary. Chenier won the 1997 Living Blues’ Critics’ Poll Award and also an AFIM Indie Award for best zydeco album, for his next release, The Big Squeeze. In 2001, Chenier played in front of 60,000 fans at the Chicago Blues Festival.