Lil’ Buck Sinegal, a guitarist whose mastery of zydeco and the blues made him a sought-after player heard on albums by Clifton Chenier, Buckwheat Zydeco, Allen Toussaint and more, died on Monday at his home in Lafayette, La. He was 75.
His son, Paul Jr., said on Friday that the cause had yet to be determined but that a heart attack was suspected. His father, he said, was still playing until a few weeks ago despite substantial pain from a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder, and he had put off surgery so that he could play the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival last month. The surgery was scheduled for this Monday, the day of his funeral.
In a career that began when he was a teenager, Mr. Sinegal, whose first and middle names at birth were Paul Alton, played on big stages around the world and in small clubs in southern Louisiana.
He was a regular at the Ponderosa Stomp, a New Orleans music festival dedicated to rediscovering unsung artists and songs of the past. Its website calls him “the best guitar slinger South Louisiana has to offer,” and in a tribute on Facebook, the festival’s co-founder, Ira Padnos, described him as “the heart and soul of the Ponderosa Stomp as well as its secret weapon,” a musician who would lead the festival’s backing band in hours’ worth of rehearsals to get the sound of the old roots-rock and blues tunes just right.
“Lil’ Buck truly relished the role he played as the leader of the Stomp’s band,” Mr. Padnos wrote. “He truly loved the challenge of what I could come up with to ask him to learn.”
Mr. Sinegal was born on Jan. 14, 1944, in Lafayette to Joseph and Odette (Broussard) Senegal. (His son said that ambiguous penmanship had led to the “I” spelling on an early passport and that his father had stuck with it.) By 11 he was camping out on a corner of St. Charles, the street where he lived, next to a newspaper stand and playing an old box guitar. He had picked up that skill from his mother, who played a bit.
“They’d put their change in my guitar, and I’d run back home and shake it out,” he told KATC-TV of Lafayette in an interview last year for a series called “Acadiana Famous.”
When he was about that same age, he said, his father woke him up one day and took him, his guitar and his amplifier to a nearby club where Mr. Chenier, an up-and-coming zydeco star, was performing. Not only did Mr. Chenier let him sit in — it was his first time onstage — he also paid him.
“He gave me $8,” Mr. Sinegal said. “I forgot my dad. I ran back home. He brought the guitar and the amp back.”
By 14, Mr. Sinegal had formed a band called the Jive Five and was playing professionally. By the 1960s, he said, the band, under the name Lil’ Buck and the Top Cats, had up to 17 players, including an organist named Stanley Dural Jr. Playing the accordion, Mr. Dural would form his own band, Buckwheat Zydeco, which would help make zydeco music a worldwide phenomenon. Mr. Sinegal played in that band and is heard on some of its records.
He also played with Mr. Chenier; in the KATC interview he especially remembered spending years’ worth of Christmases in Paris when Mr. Chenier was booked there. That was just one of many places his musical skill took him.
“The only two places I haven’t been are Japan and China,” he said.
Back home, he was known for coaching and encouraging younger musicians. In addition to playing on the albums of others, Mr. Sinegal released two of his own, “Buck Starts Here” in 1999 and “Bad Situation” in 2002.
In addition to his son, Mr. Sinegal is survived by his wife of 53 years, Inolia Petry Senegal; two daughters, Gretta Marie Senegal and Sherrelle Mouton; five sisters, Jerry Miller, Pearlie Burns, Dorothy Helaire, Rose Thomas and Anna Taylor; a brother, Joseph Arceneaux; and three grandsons.
Mr. Sinegal sometimes played to large crowds, but he told KATC that he preferred tighter quarters.
“The closer the people are to me when I’m playing, the better I play,” he said. “When they’re way back and sitting down, I don’t like that. I like them to be right on me. I want you to see and hear what I’m doing. It’s coming from me.” And he patted his chest.
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