Once upon a time in New Orleans, a rock band shook off the grungy conventions of the ’90s alt-music scene with its raucous energy, edgy humor—and a drummer as front man.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and Cowboy Mouth is still delivering high energy rock ‘n’ roll with a New Orleans twist and a big dose of joie de vivre.
The band, still led by charming, mercurial drummer Fred LeBlanc, brings the party to Leesburg’s Tally Ho Theatre on Feb. 4.
“It’s a rock ‘n’ roll band per se, but the energy and the enthusiasm and ‘enjoy yourself now because life is short’—that’s definitely a New Orleans kind of attitude and point of view,” LeBlanc said in an interview with Loudoun Now. “There’s such a celebration of life going on in our shows.”
Launched in the Crescent City in the early ’90s, Cowboy Mouth went on to national fame with their 1997 hit “Jenny Says.” That song and other freshly recorded versions of old favorites are featured on a new best-of album “The Name of The Band is…” released last year.
The new album is a great listen for longtime fans—and LeBlanc’s voice appears to have only gotten richer over the years. And the often rowdy front man very humbly says he thinks guitarist (and fellow founding member) John Thomas Griffith’s voice is even better than his own.
“I’m a much better singer now than I was back then. If you do something over and over again, you either get better or stop. Hopefully I’ve gotten better at it,” he said.
And while the new record is gorgeously produced and satisfying, the band’s live shows are still the tonic Gen X fans are looking for.
“That generation of fans that form our core, they still have that itch to get out and stir it up,” LeBlanc said. “Coming to a Cowboy Mouth show is a good way to blow off some steam.”
For LeBlanc, a New Orleans native, the urge to make music has been in his bones since childhood when the greats like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis inspired him with their soul-stirring tunes.
“These guys were fresh out of the church and there’s that celebratory element—the need to relieve one’s burdens. That’s what rock and roll music did for me as a youngster,” LeBlanc said. “When I first heard Bo Diddley, all of a sudden I saw the world in color for the first time.”
But in the music world, a drummer as front man is unusual to say the least: It took fans by surprise in the ’90s and surprises them still.
“I just wanted to be up where the fun was,” LeBlanc said with a laugh, adding that he had to change up his drum set (and lose a cymbal) to make eye contact with fans.
Cowboy Mouth has maintained an active touring schedule for more than two decades, with the longest break being a two-month hiatus in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And although they’ve scaled things back a bit since LeBlanc’s children, now 5 and 2, were born, they still play 100 shows or more a year.
When the band is at home in New Orleans, it tends to focus on larger festivals and special events. They’ll play a festival at New Orleans Riverwalk as part of the city’s Mardi Gras celebrations next month and take the stage for their 27th New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (the world-renowned event known as Jazzfest) performance in May.
But the band often hits smaller venues on the road and occasionally schedules a small club show in New Orleans—a big treat for old fans.
“There’s nothing like the feeling of a sweaty bar,” LeBlanc said. “It’s like the old-time gospel shows where the audience is right in your face and there’s that definite tangible transfer of energy back and forth.”
And while the band’s heart and soul is in New Orleans, members have a special connection to the DMV. Their 2000 album “Easy” was recorded in Falls Church with legendary producer Jim Ebert (best known in Loudoun for his Cancer Can Rock fundraising concerts). Rhythm guitarist Matt Jones (formerly of the Annapolis-based alt-rock band Jimmie’s Chicken Shack) hails from Maryland, and the new best-of album was recorded at Frank Marchand’s Waterford Digital Studios in Anne Arundel County.
LeBlanc says DC’s 9:30 Club is one of his all-time favorite venues, but for this tour the band decided to spread things out, hitting Virginia and Maryland instead of DC. (Cowboy Mouth plays Annapolis’ famed Ram’s Head On Stage the night before the Leesburg show).
And wherever folks go to check out these Big Easy rockers, a little sweat will likely come into play.
“We had a fan come up to us recently who gave us the best compliment ever,” LeBlanc said. “He said, ‘Man, you guys are like a southern gospel revival without the religion.’ I always look at rock ‘n’ roll shows as celebratory experiences.”
8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4
Tally Ho Theatre, Leesburg
Tickets: $25 in advance, $30 day of show
More info: tallyholeesburg.com