Dwayne Dopsie remembers that fateful day in 1999. Dopsie, then 16, told his mom he was quitting school to play zydeco.
His father, zydeco legend Rockin’ Dopsie, had died six years earlier. Dwayne had a burning desire to follow in his footsteps.
“After he passed away, it seemed like everything changed,” said Dopsie, 36. “My interest for school went out the door. I told my mom that I wanted to play. She said ‘You’re going to need that schooling to fall back on.’
“I told her I won’t need school if I’m good. I would never discourage anybody from going or finishing school. I felt like what I need to do with music, I didn’t need to sit through a science class. It was like I had a guide, just pushing me, telling me just go do it.”
Dopsie, who has since performed in 26 countries, recently played in his hometown of Lafayette, La. for the first time in more than a decade. On April 22, Dopsie and his Zydeco Hellraisers opened Festival International de Louisiane, the largest, free, outdoor Francophone event in the United States that annually attracts 400,000 visitors to downtown Lafayette.
Dopsie had not performed in his hometown since a 2003 appearance at Downtown Alive! He last played Festival International in 2000.
Dopsie, who lives in Kenner, has stayed busy as a musician that Rolling Stone once branded as the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion. In ’99, he beat all competitors to win the America’s Hottest Accordionist title in a competition sponsored by the American Accordion Association.
Dopsie’s fiery, high-energy style has won him fans across the globe. He continues to win awards, including Offbeat magazine’s Best Zydeco Artist (2012, 2014), Best Zydeco Album (“Been Good to You,” 2012) and Best Accordion Player (2013).
In its “Top 100 Reasons to Visit Louisiana,” the state of Louisiana’s tourism web site lists Dopsie and his band as No. 29.
He’s part of zydeco royalty as his brothers, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. and the Zydeco Twisters, also keep the family tradition going. Those same brothers used to tease him about knowing only two songs.
But Dwayne now has seven CDs, including his latest, “Dopsie’s Got It.”
“My two songs used to be ‘Lucille’ and ‘Old Time Zydeco’,” joked Dwayne. “So when daddy would play by the (Jefferson Street) underpass for Mardi Gras, he started letting me playing his accordion.
“He’d take his accordion off and let me play. They’d laugh but I played my two songs. That was my time to do it.”
Dwayne started as a rubboard player with his father and actually played with his brothers after Dopsie Sr. passed. But he anxious to be in the spotlight.
“My brother Anthony played accordion. My other brother David (Dopsie Jr.) did his thing. I felt like there wasn’t enough room for me. I didn’t just want to play a few songs. I wanted to play the whole show.
“So to share time with my other brothers, it was just too much. The best thing was for me to try to go ahead and do my own thing. I didn’t really want to at the time. I wanted to stick with my family. It panned out and turned out to be a positive thing for me.”
Dopsie has a busy summer coming up, with two European tours, along with gigs in Brazil and throughout the United States. He’s proud to help keep the family’s music tradition alive.
“No matter where we play, people love the music. They want us to just keep playing. It’s like they can’t get enough of it. It’s like giving water to a mule that’s been working all day long. He wants to drink all day. Just keep it coming.”