Exclusive interview with Wayne Toups
Certainly one of the most exciting musicians to come out of Acadiana is Wayne Toups. This Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and accordionist created his own style of music, Zydecajun — a fusion of Cajun sounds and the rhythms of zydeco, with elements of soul music and southern rock mixed in. The 2013 Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Album is the high-water mark in a wave of recent career triumphs for Toups. In 2009, he earned an Album-of-the Year award from Offbeat magazine. In 2010, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. In 2011, he entered both the Gulf Coast Hall of Fame and the Cajun French Music Hall of Fame. Toups expressed his excitement about playing at the upcoming Gift of Life fundraiser Champagne & Ribs on Thursday, April 10 in Beaumont in an interview with The Examiner.
How excited are you to be performing in Beaumont and for this worthy cause? The Golden Triangle is really a great area for us, and we enjoy coming that way and entertaining. As far as the event, it’s fabulous that people get together and do something for a great cause and invite me to be a part of it. As we all get older, we worry about prostate (cancer) all the time. After you turn 40, you have to address the situation. So, we feel very fortunate that we’re able to be a part of this event.
You recently played at the Orange Mardi Gras celebration. What was the reception like?
The reception was absolutely great. They love us around here. I did see new faces and made new fans. The fan base continues to grow. We look forward to going back.
Why do you think Southeast Texans enjoy Cajun and Zydeco music maybe just as much as Louisianans do?
Back in the ’50s, a lot of people from Louisiana moved to the Golden Triangle area — Orange, Port Arthur, Port Neches, Nederland, Beaumont — for work. They ended up staying.
What was the experience of winning a Grammy Award like for you? I still haven’t come down from the cloud yet. First of all to be nominated for some-thing like that, you’ve already won — win or lose. Getting the trophy is the icing on the cake. It’s like winning the MVP for a Super Bowl. You win awards around here you really appreciate. You win Best Cajun Band and Best Cajun Vocalist or Best Cajun Accordionist, and I cherish those awards too. But get-ting nominated for a Grammy, you’re actually in the middle of the mecca of music. I’m still on cloud nine. People work hard all their life and I got invited to the big show. The Good Lord has been wonderful.
Are you pretty attached to the award? Do you carry it around with you when you go on tour?
Awards are to be put on a shelf at the house. I carry the award with me in my heart.
When did you come up with the signature sound of Zydecajun? It was around 1985 that we started dabbling in this musical fusion. I always did love southern rock and rhythm and blues. My soul-singing heroes were Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding and Percy Sledge – that old Motown sound. But I loved southern rock — The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Little Feat, Delbert McClinton. I grew up with this thick Cajun accent singing all those old Cajun songs, but as I matured as a singer, I starting singing with more blues notes. That is the soul and the compassion that people develop over the years of hardship, losing loved ones and stuff like that. I called it Zydecajun because I always thought it was a Cajun rhythm and blues that’ll rock your socks off.
When did you first start playing the accordion, and how difficult is the instrument to play?
My brother taught me my first song probably right at the beginning of 1972. Growing up I was learning how to play like all my Cajun heroes … but after a while I wanted to explore playing the accordion as an instrument and not just an accordion that played French music or zydeco music. I don’t know how it is for other accordion players, but I do know that the Good Lord had a hand in mine. To me, nobody learns how to play the accordion like I do on his own. You have to have the Good Lord in your life and he has to do something to you to make you play the way I play. I think being innovative and pushing the accordion to the limit is a lot of fun and definitely a challenge.
I heard you are working on a new album.
We have 12 songs that we have already tracked. I’ve got a few surprises in there. There are about half a dozen songs on there that … people have never heard me sing that way. But I wouldn’t be messing with them if I didn’t think it deserved attention. I put my heart on the line all the time when it comes to those songs. We have some songs that are going to be radio friendly and people are going to dig what we are doing. Some of the traditionalists are going to say, “Are you goin’ the middle of the road?” No, I’m not. If I feel a song, and I can make the song mine, then it’s my song. Does it make a difference which genre it is? It could be blues, rock, country, Cajun whatever. If I feel the song, then I can make the song mine.
What else are you working on? I’m working on a documentary right now. The story about my life. I started from the beginning from 1972. We’ve probably got about half a dozen hours into it. We’re about finished. We’ll probably have about 48 minutes when we’re finished. You can go on YouTube and see about a five-minute thing (YouTube - Wayne Toups: Do What You Gotta Do) on there.
What do you see for the future of Wayne Toups?
Everybody dreams about radio play. I would love to have that. That’s one of my goals. We’ll continue to move that direction — to have our songs heard by the multitude by getting radio play. Continue to keep our eyes straight ahead. Continue to make great music and make more fans. Enjoy what we do, that’s the No. 1 thing. I continue to enjoy it now more than ever. I never want to retire.