A Sense of Sound and Place: A Few Words with Wayne Toups
By Justin Morris
For over 30 years, Wayne Toups has been a fixture of South Louisiana music and an icon at large. From tours with legends like Carole King to performances at the Super Bowl, this Crowley native has done what many musicians have not and he continues to be passionate about his music and fans to this very day.
At 57, Toups is doing anything but slowing down. With a brand-new record and a new son that just arrived in January, the creator of Zydecajun, as it has come to be known, still carries an enthusiasm that resembles a younger man that surely has had a great deal to do with his success over the years.
For this sense of sound and place, I caught up with “Le Boss” backstage at Delta Downs before his June 4 show to a packed house of eager fans waiting anxiously to tap some toes or to get out for a spin on the dance floor. Delta’s Director of Entertainment, Nora Papillion, was kind enough to set things up, bringing me back to be greeted by a welcoming smile surrounded by a grey beard lurking underneath a flat-brimmed cream-colored hat. So we sat in the warm glow of the dressing room lights talking about just who and what Wayne Toups is really all about.
Jam: Man, 30 years huh?
Wayne Toups: Oh yeah, man (laughs). I’ve been playing the accordion since ‘72, playing music since ’75 and doing it on a professional level since ’84.
Jam: That’s a lot of sights seen and artists worked with! Musically and professionally, what are the biggest differences between then and now?
WT: You know, you try to continue to evolve as an artist. Of course, being raised poor in south “Crolly,” it definitely gave me an opportunity to see the world. I’ve been to over 20 countries, toured with Carole King, opened up for Ray Charles and we’ve played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for, what, 27? 28 years? It’s been a great journey. We’ve had our ups and we’ve had our downs but it comes with the business. I’ve just released my 16th or 17th record, so the dream continues.
Jam: Let’s talk about that record. Looks like you had some of those old friends come back and help you with that.
WT: Oh yeah. Well, I’ve been friends with Leroy Parnell for a long time and I found out that Kix Brooks was a fan and it was just a great opportunity to ask those guys to indulge me a bit and help with a special record that I’ve been working on for three years. I did everything I could with it, but I needed a producer to, you know, do what producers do, and James Stroud was kind enough to lend his hand and his ear… and it turned out great. I’m really proud of it.
Jam: So it’s out now?
WT: Yep. The release date was April 29. I signed with Malaco Music Group out of Jackson, Mississippi and this is a new journey for us and for them guys. They’ve never had an artist quite like me. They’ve always done blues and gospel, but they’re excited about it. It’s only been out a month, but two days ago “A Good One,” our first release, was added to 140 stations in France (laughs).
Jam: You know, I’ve had Jo-El Sonnier tell me about some of the international love he’s seen for Louisiana music from non-Louisiana places like Switzerland, even.
WT: Well, music is the universal language. I made my first trip to Canada in ’86 but in ‘87 we did a tour to Brazil, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay… and the response was amazing! They loved the groove of the music. In ’91 we went to Southeast Asia and played in Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand, The Fiji Islands and Sri Lanka. They just loved us. It’s that universal language. We all speak it, maybe in different ways, but we all understand the same thing. It makes us feel good. That passion for the music.. It just comes across.
Jam: And for something a little different, you reached a bit out of your norm with something called The Band Courtbouillon and it sounds like that served you well.
WT: I had an idea about some kind of side project. We were playing one night at Cafe Des Amis in Breaux Bridge for Wilson Savoy’s birthday. And Steve Riley played acoustic guitar and Wilson played fiddle and Eric Frye played upright bass. I told them that I was thinking about doing something called Courtbouillon. Next thing, we were in the studio and had a great time on the project. In December, we went on my cruise that we do every couple of years and I’m not thinking anything. It was the furthest thing from my mind. We get back into port and I turn my phone back on and it just blows up. And I look at my wife and I say “Mais, we been nominated for a Grammy (laughs). So I called Norman (Land) and told him that if we had anything booked for Mardi Gras weekend, kill it! But keep the Monday at Cajun Field ‘cause we’ll be back for that (laughs). But we went. I was the only one from the band that went, but those guys, they’d been nominated, like, four times each or something. This was my first one and, you know, I didn’t think that we would actually win. Being nominated alone is as much as I could have ever even hoped for, but when they said that name, man it was such an amazing feeling. It’s like winning the MVP of the Super Bowl. It may never happen again and many musicians will never even get that.
Jam: So what’s the next step in your journey?
WT: I continue to live the dream. What is the dream? We don’t know. I mean, I won a Grammy, how far can you go? (laughs). But we’re going to continue to make songs that please not only us, but our fans, and just continue to live the dream of playing music and having fun and putting smiles on people’s faces. We’re just gonna keep chipping at this sculpture and one day it’s gonna make a face.
The new album Wayne Toups is available on iTunes, Google Play Store and on Amazon. Visit www.waynetoups.com for more information.
A big thanks to Wayne, Nora Papillion and all the good folk at Delta Downs for helping put this together. Sometimes, the best part of a show is the place you see it and who you see it with. A tip of the hat to DD for creating such a place and to Wayne Toups for giving us the sounds we want to hear. I look forward to doing it again with you all real soon.