By Christian Thompson
For more than 20 years, the New Orleans band Cowboy Mouth has combined elements of rockabilly, blues and punk, creating a timeless and enrapturing style of rock and roll that is best experienced live. We recently caught up with lead singer/drummer, Fred LeBlanc, to discuss how he maintains such a dominating stage presence, what’s responsible for New Orleans’ distinct musical identity, and the inspiration for pursuing what could be his next lucrative career: children’s book author.
Get Out Loudoun: You’re both Cowboy Mouth’s frontman and drummer—a seldom seen combo in rock music. Who were singers and drummers that inspired you to juggle those particular acts in the band?
Fred LeBlanc: I was never really inspired by singing drummers, mostly because I didn’t think they did it right! Not that they weren’t wonderful musicians and performers, I just really wanted to be the front man in the tradition of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Springsteen, etc. … As much of a showman as a musician.
I was always inspired by someone who is able to take command of an entire room and bring the whole audience on his or her journey. I found that connection in performers as disparate as Sam Cooke and Joe Strummer, front man for the punk rock legends The Clash.
My goal wasn’t just to be a drummer and/or a singer, my goal was—and still is—to transfer the emotion and experience of a rock show to the people who are gracious enough to give us their time and attention. I saw that 99 percent of the audience didn’t go to a Rolling Stones show to see Mick Jagger, they went to hopefully be Mick Jagger.
That’s a huge difference that I don’t think a lot of performers and musicians get, or know how to handle. I think I was just lucky enough to have that perception. Everything I do on stage is from that perspective.
GOL: Cowboy Mouth hails from New Orleans, a city famous for its jazz, blues and rock music. What do you think makes the city such a hotbed for musical creativity?
LeBlanc: Honestly? I couldn’t tell you. I have my own theories, but then again there will always be an instance which will contradict anything I can put forward. For a long time, there was an easiness of living there that gave many a creative person room and time to find their voice.
While that still exists to a certain extent, there also remains a certain “I–don’t–give–a–damn” nature to the population that I think is really healthy in any creative approach to life. If you worry too much about what other people think about you or what you do, you cheat yourself out of a lot of living.
GOL: Cowboy Mouth’s shows are defined by their revelatory, electric and almost gospel-like intensity. What pushes you to stay energized night after night while touring?
LeBlanc: That’s simple. The enthusiasm that I’m able to reconnect with on an almost nightly basis of being completely in love with what I’m able to do. Spreading the joy and that enthusiasm has been an almost life mission for me. The guys are very generous to allow me that room to pursue that feeling and I’m just trying to spread what I wish I had understood early on about life and living. And I choose to do rock ‘n’ roll to spread that understanding.
The joy of living, the energy of the moment, the fire and enthusiasm that lives in each of us that we allow the world to beat down on an almost regular basis. I learned early on to tap into that to re-energize myself on a consistent basis. Tapping into that enthusiasm has given me an almost bottomless source of energy, at least on stage.
GOL: You recently published your first children’s book, “Fred: The New Orleans Drummer Boy,” a book that could easily be enjoyed by children and adults alike. What interested you in pursuing that project? And are there any children’s authors or books that have been particularly influential to you?
LeBlanc: To tell you the truth, it was actually my aunt’s idea. My ex-wife had been trying to put the bug in my ear for a long time about me doing a children’s album, but that didn’t really feel right to me. Writing a children’s book seemed like the correct way to go, and it’s worked out very well.
Kids have always liked me, because I am just basically a big kid. Now that I have some of my own, I was very interested in the way of trying to transfer my thought and belief process—just something that little ones could understand, appreciate and use for themselves. So far, so good.
It was a new world for me and my publisher basically had to take me by the hand through the whole process. But, I have enjoyed it immensely. And it’s also been a huge boon to the band as well.
GOL: What are you most excited about for 2018? Does Cowboy Mouth have any big plans for the new year?
LeBlanc: We played a big New Year’s Eve show in the greatest city in the world, New Orleans. I like to believe that we kick a lot of ass and that a good time was had by all!
We are also in the process of putting together a second volume of our greatest hits collection that we released a year and a half ago. Hopefully, it will be out in time for our New Orleans Jazz Fest appearance on May 5.
Before that we have Mardi Gras, after that we have spring and summer touring that will take us all over the United States. Sounds pretty damn good to me!
Cowboy Mouth returns to Leesburg Friday, Jan. 19, for their second appearance at the Tally Ho Theater. Advance tickets are $25 and the doors open at 7 p.m.—details are available at tallyhotheater.com.
Here’s a link to our feature story ahead of last year’s Tally Ho show.