Friday Night with Guitar George: LeRoux Edition

Two weeks ago we took a road trip to Jacksonville, Florida to pay tribute to Molly Hatchet and their late drummer Bruce Crump. Now we are traveling west on I-10, on our way back to Mississippi to continue our ongoing series about the Delta Blues, but first we are going to make a slight detour in Louisiana before heading north on I-55.

It is likely that LeRoux is not a household name anywhere other than Louisiana, and it is quite possible that outside the Deep South most people have never even heard of them. LeRoux (originally called Louisiana’s LeRoux but later shortened) was a quasi -jazz/rock band from Baton Rouge who enjoyed a brief period of modest success in the late Seventies. Their most recognizable song, the soft-edged, harmony-laden “New Orleans Ladies”, was a huge hit in the South but did not get much airplay elsewhere, peaking at #59 on the Billboard chart (the song is probably still in the top ten in the Baton Rouge market). Lead singer Jeff Pollard’s voice had just the right blend of pop smoothness, rock urgency, and creole twang, and the band’s six musicians combined to produce a sound that boasted a jazz-like looseness without straying too far from conventional rock arrangements.

In February 1979 I had the pleasure of seeing LeRoux perform in a small but classy venue in Montgomery, Alabama. It was an exceptionally good concert that perfectly blended the intimate charm of the small venue with the precision of talented, well-rehearsed musicians. At the conclusion of the aforementioned “New Orleans Ladies”, an explosion of thunderous applause and deafening cheers erupted. The ovation continued for quite some time, and as the band members stood politely and acknowledged the applause, an expression came over Jeff Pollard’s face that I will never forget. Obviously moved and humbled by the enthusiastic reaction, Jeff’s heartfelt appreciation was clearly visible. As an overall experience, a Rolling Stones or Fleetwood Mac concert might be better, but I seriously doubt that you would see such a genuine expression of humility and gratitude on Mick Jagger’s or Lindsey Buckingham’s face.

The other moment that I distinctly remember from the LeRoux concert came toward the end of the closing number “Slow Burn.” As its title suggests, the song has a sensuous, smoldering beginning and gradually progresses toward an all-out bonfire. During the extended coda after the final verse, the passion of the musicians combined with the enthusiasm of the audience to create a palpable energy. No elaborate stage props, no high-tech lighting, no choreographed prancing, just six boys from the Bayou dripping with sweat and playing music with frenzied passion, as though their lives depended on it. It was at that moment, as a seventeen year old high school senior, that I first experienced the spiritual transcendence and the sheer magic of a live musical performance.

Unfortunately, I could not find a live recording of “Slow Burn” on the net, so we will have to be content with the original studio version, which has a funky, jazzy energy but not quite the punch as when performed live. It is nonetheless an enjoyable listen. If you insist on seeing a live recording, I did find this really nice rendition of “New Orleans Ladies” from LeRoux’s first television appearance.

I realize that few of the BGS regulars will enjoy this week’s post nearly as much as I do, but my hope is that I will evoke your own recollection of that magical moment when you first felt the transformative power of live music.

Random side note: in 1982 LeRoux’s front man Jeff Pollard renounced rock music and entered the Baptist ministry. He is currently serving as pastor of Mt. Zion Bible Church in Pensacola, Florida. Podcasts of his sermons can be heard here.

Ok, we had our fried alligator tail, and now we’ve had a spicy bowl of Cajun gumbo, next week we will be feasting on catfish from the muddy waters of the Mississippi. Bring your cane pole and a beverage of your choice.

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