Buckwheat Zydeco Captures Chenier's Spirit

Musician's set with his Ils Sont Partis band is highlight of sixth annual Pittsburgh Blues Festival.

PITTSBURGH — Many artists have tried to wear the late zydeco king Clifton Chenier's crown, but only Buckwheat Zydeco has been able to stretch the music's boundaries while capturing Chenier's spirit.

He demonstrated that Sunday night at the I.C. Light Amphitheatre, smoothly weaving funk, R&B and soul with traditional zydeco in a two-and-a-half-hour set with his band, Ils Sont Partis (French for "They're off") in a performance that was part of the sixth annual Pittsburgh Blues Festival.

"We're gonna get this party started Louisiana style," Buckwheat Zydeco (born Stanley Joseph Dural Jr.) shouted in a bona fide Creole accent. "We're gonna do this like we do it in swamp country, where even the alligators got soul."

The band — trumpeter the Rev. Curtis Watson, tenor saxophonist Vince Williams, drummer Nathaniel Jolivette, guitarist Mike Melchione, bassist Lee Allen Zeno and Patrick Landry on rubboards — played "What You Gonna Do?" (RealAudio excerpt) with a relaxed, silky continuity. "Hard To Stop" found accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco, Watson and Williams trading eighth notes and quarter notes, a device more commonly used in jazz.

The interplay was well-received by the overflowing crowd, as were the band's performance of "Put It in the Pocket" and sample of "Heard You Twice the First Time," off their 1997 album, Trouble (re-released in 1999).

Zydeco music, a funkier-edged Cajun music of Louisiana black Creoles, draws its inspiration from gospel, R&B and blues. It is, as Chenier once said, "simply the traditional French two-step with new hinges so she can swing."

Many artists have had some success revitalizing zydeco after Chenier's passing, including Rockin' Dopsie, Beau Jocque, Terrance Simien, John Delafose, and the resolute preservationist Boozoo Chavis. But no one incorporates those elements better than Buckwheat Zydeco.

"Everyone has their own style," he said before the show. "My music is for every generation. I've tried to bring my influences to the music. I grew up in funk and R&B, so my music reflects those styles. The older generation wants to stick to the roots, but you can't just do that and capture the younger audience."

Young and old were enthralled at the concert, especially when the band played Chenier's "Hot Tamale Baby" and Billy Roberts' "Hey Joe," which featured the high-wattage pyrotechnics of Zeno and Melchione.