Twenty-three years after forming and many awards later, including a prestigious spot in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, the rock and roll band is still selling out venues and enticing audiences with their brand of rollicking tunes. Having just released their latest album This Train, Cowboy Mouth is staying as busy as ever touring heavily in support of it. I spoke with founder/drummer/singer Fred LeBlanc about the beginning of the band and the path to a reputable place in the annals of New Orleans music.
Fred LeBlanc is one of the few lead singing drummers in the world. He vigorously pounds the drums as he belts out his soulful tunes. Fred says that the odd combination of instrumentation was natural to him. He explains, "The whole story is that I was born deaf, and my folks would lay my head on a stereo speaker to music. I could actually sing before I could talk, and singing was second nature to me. After I got my hearing repaired, I watched Sesame Street. I thought Oscar the Grouch was the coolest thing in the world because he didn't clean up and he told everybody off. I asked Santa Claus for a garbage can from when I was 5, and Santa brought me a big, giant green garbage can, and I was the happiest kid in the world. One day I turned it over and started beating on it, and thought, 'I see a future in this.' Both of them have always been second nature to me. I've never had a conflict doing either. But at the same time, I worked very hard, but that initial spark was always there. I played in bands where I was just as good as the singer that was in the band, but I stayed in the back. With Cowboy Mouth, it was my band and I just wanted to be up front where the action was, so I said, 'Lets form a band where everybody is in the front' and it's worked out. It's unusual, but it makes sense to me."
Fred is a New Orleans native and frequented clubs that hosted the bands that came to influence him. Those bars also became a haven for the bands he started out playing in and eventually his band Cowboy Mouth. "When I started hitting the bars, Jimmy's was the only rock music club basically in town. I lived in the neighborhoods around there so it was easy to get to on my bike. When we started Cowboy Mouth, we played Carrolton Station and graduated to Jimmy's, that was the time when there was one music club and no local press about music. The only way I got noticed was through the Lagniappe section [of the Times-Picayune]. It was a really big supporter of us and the early '90s bands who were starting to get some notice, like Better than Ezra. But as a musician, you're not looking to have that one moment, you're looking to have a career."
Although New Orleans isn't known for the pure rock `n' roll music that Cowboy Mouth plays, they perform to many large, enthusiastic crowds and their name is recognizable. Fred discusses being a rock band in a jazz town; "Because we are a rock `n' roll band and we make a noise about being a rock band from New Orleans, we don't get a lot of the attention that other acts get. But at the same time, I don't get my back up about that. I don't get irritated about that. It makes us different than a lot of other bands. It's easy to play along with what people expect, and Cowboy Mouth is different than what 99 percent of what's out there. I think that difference is what makes us stand out and is unique and has made us able to pack houses for the last 23 years. I think we embody a spirit that is definitely New Orleans; a devil-may-care, live this moment to the fullest attitude. Those were all observations I made in my years growing up in New Orleans, being a young hellion, playing in bands around New Orleans, and that whole live life to the fullest as fast as you can because you never know when the river's gonna rise thing. And I like that, I like that kind of joyous abandon that you find in a lot of New Orleans music overall. Even going back to Louis Armstrong. One of the secrets of his music was just joy, just abandon, just celebration. I don't compare us to Louis Armstrong in any way, shape, or form, but that spirit, that kind of being bigger than life simple because you can thing. That's where I always thought the connection for New Orleans was; I love The Meters, the Neville Brothers, The Radiators and all that stuff, but I don't want to try to be them simply because I was also influenced by The Clash and The Sex Pistols. A lot of the New Orleans music I love goes back to the fifties, forties, and early sixties. Lee Dorsey, Ernie K. Doe and that stuff. His presentation was as much about celebration as it was musical; it's as much of an attitude as it is a musical thing. And that's the thing I love about New Orleans and New Orleans players; the very best ones have a willingness to push the music to the boundaries because they push living to the boundaries. That's what it's all about."
That attitude has landed Cowboy Mouth in the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. The band was inducted on May 14, 2011. Fred is honored by the recognition, but stays humble about it saying, "I guess it just means that we've been around long enough for people to start throwing awards at us, but you go through phases in your career; you start out as a new young buck, then after a while you have a certain amount of success and people are pulling for you, then for whatever reason they start turning their heads to the next young bucks, then you either stop and you die or you keep going and they just start throwing awards at you. I'm happy to have the awards. It's always been nice to be recognized for something you put your effort in to. I guess it's a measure of something, but that's not why we do this. We do this mostly because of the way it makes us feel and the gratification we get from fans and our audience. It's just a great way to make a living if you're fortunate enough to do it. We've just been fortunate."
You can learn more about Cowboy Mouth and purchase their new album This Train on their website at cowboymouth.com. Fred claims that his listeners love the album describing it, "I decided to put together a theme album with this one, and I say the album is all about faith and the struggle of maintaining faith in today's world. If you go through the whole album, it maintains that kind of thematic structure the whole way through. That's what a Cowboy Mouth show is basically; like a gospel revival without the religion."
Catch Cowboy Mouth live New Year's Eve at the Hyatt.