Les personnes: That New Old Sound
Zydeco musician Wayne Singleton is a throwback on and off the stage, but still finds modern ways to engage and broaden his audience
Any lingering doubt on whether Zydeco frontman Wayne Singleton lives his lyrics — timeless verses about sweating through the daily toils of farm work and sweating even harder on the dance floor when the sun goes down and the stage lights up — evaporates as he unnecessarily apologizes for being a couple minutes late.
“Man, I was baling hay,” he explains, his words fighting the wind whipping through his open truck window while driving down one of St. Landry Parish’s many two-lane rural routes.
When asked if he knows he’s got a concert in Lafayette in less than six hours, Singleton doesn’t flinch:
“Oh, I got that. I’ll be ready. It’s just the country in me — I had to do this first,” he says through a laugh. “Man, I’m working. Most Zydeco artists are sleeping — sleeping until right before it’s time to play on Friday. Me? I’m getting up every morning at 5 o’clock and I’m getting it — whether I have to or not. If you’re a real Creole playing Zydeco, you’re up right now doing something.”
As the music that shaped Acadiana’s cultural identity becomes homogenized with more contemporary sounds, Wayne Singleton and his band, Same Ol’ 2 Step, are like time capsules with stage presence — artists whose new music sounds just like the old Zydeco classics. Now, that’s not to say Wayne and crew never color outside the lines. On their new album released last month, titled “Urban Creole,” the band includes a couple of tracks in which traditional Zydeco is infused with elements of modern R&B or hip hop. While those songs definitely bump, and deserve inclusion on the album, Singleton admits to ulterior motives — namely, they’re “bait” used to expand Zydeco, Old School Zydeco, to a younger audience.
“I never had the mentality to get into [music] for the money or to be popular,” Singleton says. “Because if I was, I probably would have played something else, a different kind of music. But I’m about tradition. I like the tradition of Zydeco music. Our music, the music I play, has a different type of value to the people.
“Plus, I never was a follower. When people go left, I’ll move right, and vice versa. I’m sticking to what was because nobody wants to do that anymore. You look at Zydeco today. You got a million different bands that are trying to do something new, but in doing that, they all sound the same. By doing it old school, and like I said, sticking to what was, you stand out from the crowd and you fill the need for the people who want to hear Zydeco music how they remembered it.”
A bit of a dirt road savant as a youngster, Singleton taught himself to play pretty much every musical instrument featured in a Zydeco band. Perhaps even more impressive, at the delicate age of 8, Singleton somehow got permission to hang and jam at Roy Carrier’s famous Zydeco hangout, The Offshore Lounge in Lawtell — a weekend hub for having a good time, and a weekday makeshift musical incubator where headliners and up-and-comers could workshop lyrics and rhythms.
“You talk about an education — I can’t thank Roy enough for extending that hand,” Singleton says. “I couldn’t believe it. I got to be around people like Jeffery Broussard, Robby Robinson, Zydeco Force — people I never, ever thought I’d ever meet. They all pitched in to help me, and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Just so many positive people with a positive attitude.”
In a way, Singleton’s choice to not deviate too far from the Zydeco music he grew up on is his ‘thank you’ to those who paved the path he’d one day venture down. An unapologetic cultural preservationist, Singleton frequently visits local schools to spread the gospel of Zydeco, letting the kids get their first taste of scrubbing keys on a rubboard, or pushing and pulling an accordion.
Beyond that, though, Singleton diligently promotes his Old School traditional Zydeco songs and upcoming appearances through the New School medium of social media (and yes, he’s aware of the irony, so don’t bring it up). He’s got a strong presence on various platforms and tries to go live on social media a couple times a week to give his followers an inside glimpse into the entire musical process.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a massive bale of hay for sale, he’s got those posted on Instagram, too.
“The music is a part of our heritage, but to keep it strong, you can’t wait for people to come to you. You have to come to them, at their level,” Singleton says. “Kids, and a lot of adults, are on their phones, on their computers. So to get through to them, that’s where you go — show them the music, show them something positive.”