Make sure to catch Cowboy Mouth on Friday, May 26th at Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale. SFL Music recently got the chance to speak with vocalist and drummer Fred LeBlanc about the band’s success, its sound and its boisterous performances to more than 9 million fans.
SFL Music: It’s been more than 25 years since Cowboy Mouth’s inception. Is the band still located in New Orleans?
Fred LeBlanc: Yes, born and bred. Personally, I go back and forth because I have an ex-wife and kids that live in Mississippi. But New Orleans is and forever will be home.
SFL Music: Were all Cowboy Mouth’s influences born on the Bayou?
Fred: I grew up with many influences. The New Orleans influences permeate. Plenty of my drum playing’s influence comes from the Mardi Grad parade. When you experience it at 4 or 5-years-old, you feel it with every ounce of your being. You can’t escape it. It’s just part of growing up in the city. At the same time, I grew up as a punk rocker. I loved stuff like The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Replacements, early R.E.M. and Black Flag. Then there’s The Meters and Professor Longhair.(New Orleans funk). They can go hand-in-hand if you look at the broad musical spectrum. It’s just playing from the heart. When Cowboy Mouth first got together, I said ‘If The Clash and the Neville Brothers had a bastard child, it would be us.’
In the Eighties, I was in a band, Dash Rip Rock. It was intense and I loved that band. That’s where I got the sense that I could be a frontman as a drummer. I realized I didn’t have to spend the rest of my life looking at a guitar player’s ass. I just wanted to be up front where the action was. I envisioned four musicians in one row and it made things more interesting to look at.
SFL Music: Is Cowboy Mouth still touring for your 2016 release, The Name of the Band Is... Cowboy Mouth: Best Of?
Fred: We are just on a perennial tour. We are doing a 2-week run in June to support the album, but we’ve been doing on-and-off runs ever since the album came out. We never go out for a defined period of time and suddenly stop. One region of the country usually leads into another. It’s ever-evolving.
SFL Music: Cowboy Mouth has played more than 2,500 shows in its lengthy career. What are some of your favorite spots to play?
Fred: Jazz Fest is always great. We’re getting ready to play there this weekend. We do a gig the day before Mardi Gras at a place called Spanish Plaza that holds about 4,000 people. We‘re the headlining band where the King of Mardi Gras comes onstage as soon as we are finished, and the mayor reads a proclamation. It’s a tradition. We always have a ball. I also love playing at a place called The Windjammer in Charleston. It’s right on the ocean and we usually sell it out. Then there’s a place called The Belly Up in San Diego. Chicago’s got The House of Blues, and New York is home to BB King’s (Blues House & Grill). We’ve also played in Canada, France and Italy.
SFL Music: Can you pinpoint what makes Cowboy Mouth’s garage-rock performance unique?
Fred: When Cowboy Mouth first started, I made a conscience effort to not become part of the usual rock and roll experience. I love women and I love to drink beer. But I decided not to use that as a crutch at our shows. It seemed too cliché. I love punk rock and the energy it creates, but as an intellectual force, I usually found it equivalent to driving a car 90 miles-per-hour into a cement wall. So when Cowboy Mouth first started, I found myself saying things to the crowd like ‘Believe in yourself and anything is possible and isn’t it great to be alive? I noticed that it really resonated with people. There was an instant reaction.
A fan once told me that we are like a gospel tent reunion without the religion. That was awesome. As much as we have been influenced by punk, we are also influenced by a gospel tradition. I grew up as a lapsed (baptized but non-practicing) catholic. I sat through the whole thing as a kid thinking ‘This does not make sense. They’re telling us to follow rules that they don’t follow. They are telling us to be people that they will never be. This is not getting me any closer to the source. This is actually pushing me away. At the same time, I noticed that a lot of the gospel churchgoers around the city had the feeling of cleansing themselves by singing and dancing. They were releasing negativity so they could find the strength to keep going. The idea behind most of the black gospel churches was to lift the spirit. That really resonated with me.
I want to give my audience the same feeling that rock and roll gave me as a misfit kid. At first it was the blues when I discovered Bo Diddley. No, I didn’t know what it feels like to be a black man in the Fifties singing about drinking whiskey. But I could still identify with the emotion that had to be expressed. Then I accidentally found punk rock, which had that same feeling. No, I didn’t understand what it was like to be a British kid looking at his dark future. But again, I identified with the emotion behind it. No matter what your color or social economical level is, we all bleed red. That’s why I want Cowboy Mouth to be an all-inclusive thing that anyone at any level can enjoy. Sure, our shows are a party, but there’s definitely a more complex level there. It’s a celebration of life.
SFL Music: If you could play with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
Fred: I already did it. One of Cowboy Mouth’s first gigs was opening for and backing up Bo Diddley. It was wonderful. He was only supposed to play an hour. But he was having so much fun that he played for almost 2 and a half hours. He gave me one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard. I asked him what advice he would give a young musician. He said ‘Keep it simple and think of church.’ If you let your mind expand on that, it’s pretty profound. That’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since. When it comes to church, I am not referring to any sort of religious center, but the idea of the spirit.