Louisiana Legend: Wayne Toups
Wayne Toups is arguably the most revered figure in Cajun music. In the mid-1980s, Toups combined the traditional accordion-dance music with zydeco, R&B, and southern rock to create a contemporary style called “zydecajun.” Toups’ high-energy sound turned south Louisiana upside down. Fans in their teens and 20s, who previously thought Cajun music was just for their grandparents, flooded to Toups’ performances by the thousands.
Toups signed an album deal with Mercury Records, a major feat for a Cajun band. Worldwide tours with big-name acts began. Toups was branded as the “Cajun Bruce Springsteen.” Country star Hunter Hayes and dozens of other Cajun musicians have walked in the trail that Toups blazed. Toups solidified his legend with a 2013 Grammy with The Band Courbouillon - a traditional acoustic trio with two of his disciples, Steve Riley and Wilson Savoy.
An icon for 30 years, Toups might be ready to hang up his “zydecajun” shoes. Not quite yet. “We always follow the dream,” said Toups, 57. “The dream is continuing to play on a high level. The gift of playing for yourself and enjoying it, that’s the gift God gave to you. He doesn’t want you to tarnish it by being greedy. Making everybody smile and enjoy those songs, that is the gift. I get up on stage, make somebody smile and forget about their problems, that’s a miracle. You take them on vacation for 90 minutes or two hours, they forget what hurt is all about.”
Toups is now making headlines with his debut country CD. He makes use of his deep, music industry connections on this self-titled album, published on Malaco Records of Jackson, Mississippi. Toups co-produced the CD with Shreveport native James Stroud, a Marshall Tucker Band alum and the Academy of Country Music’s Producer of the Year in 1989.
Hunter Hayes’ “Ain’t Love Sweet” opens the CD. Gordon Bradberry, who penned tunes for Conway Twitty and Sammy Kershaw, wrote “Stay Away from the Window” and “Say It Again.” Kix Brooks, half of the renowned duo Brooks & Dunn, adds vocals to the Cajun accordion-flavored, “Down Where the River Ends.” Toups and Randy Boudreaux, a writer for Tracy Lawrence and Joe Nichols, collaborated on “I’m Alive” and the ballad, “Tears on the Bayou.”
Influenced by Percy Sledge, George Jones, Otis Redding, and other legendary singers, Toups wanted his voice to be front and center. “You listen to those old [Cajun] records, cut around here over the last 20, 30, 40 years, and say, ‘I can’t quite understand what he’s saying’,” said Toups. “The voice is not up front and center. It’s more of the blend. If you have a good vocalist, you want to hear those syllables, feel the passion. With James Stroud coming in, he made sure you can hear my vocals. I was able to sing better than I have before. I think I was really healthy and took care of myself enough to be able to put some really sound vocals on the record.”
Some observers have wondered why Toups, a Cajun music game-changer, would sign with a label known for blues and R&B legends, such as Bobby “Blue” Bland and Johnnie Taylor. The truth is, signing with Malaco puts Toups on the same playing field with Jimmy Buffett, country hit maker Colt Ford, Mexican singer Diana Reyes (owner of three gold records), and Three Six Mafia - sellers of 5.5 million records and the first hip hop group to win an Oscar. Toups is now part of the Malaco Music Group and its ever-expanding empire.
Toups said the album will help expand his musical horizons. “I continue to evolve and find the right songs that fit me,” said Toups. “I want not only my fans to love it, but I want to make my fan base grow, so they can share it with their friends and acquaintances. They can turn them on to what Wayne Toups has been doing for the majority of his life. I’ve been producing music that I love. The passion is still there. I have a wonderful family that backs me and a wonderful fan base that continues to support us. My faith in God has done miracles for me. It’s a total blessing.”
Herman Fuselier is a writer and broadcaster living in Opelousas, La. His Zydeco Stomp radio show airs noon to 3 p.m. Central Saturdays on KRVS 88.7 FM and www.krvs.org.