LeRoux’s First New Album in 18 Years Serves Tasty Gumbo of Blues, Southern Rock and Zydeco

Until Friday, I had never heard of LeRoux, aka Louisiana’s LeRoux. Then I came across their great song Lucy Anna and featured it in my latest Best of What’s New installment. The tune, which has a nice Little Feat vibe, is from the Baton Rouge-based group’s new album One of Those Days. Earlier today, I found myself in the car and spontaneously decided to listen into the album. All it really took to realize I’m going to dig this music were the first minute or two of the opener and title track – sometimes you just know right away!

Released on July 24, One of Those Days is LeRoux’s first new album in 18 years since 2002’s Higher Up. Prior to that, five of their six earlier records came out between 1978 and 1983. What evidently were the band’s most active years coincided with the period that lasted until their first breakup in 1984 after they had been dropped by their label RCA. However, they already regrouped in 1985. As explained on their website, the band took their name from “the Cajun French term for the thick and hearty gravy base that’s used to make a gumbo,” a rich, thick soup with meat or shellfish and vegetables that’s popular in Louisiana.

LeRoux (from left): Front: Tony Haselden (vocals, guitars) and Jim Odom (guitars); Back: Randy Carpenter (drums), Joey Decker (bass, backing vocals), Jeff McCarty (vocals), Mark Duthu (percussion), Nelson Blanchard (keyboards, vocals) and Rod Roddy (vocals, keyboards)

It doesn’t look like LeRoux ever had a significant national breakthrough, at least not based on chart performance. Their most successful single, which somewhat ironically was titled Nobody Said It Was Easy (Lookin’ For The Lights), peaked at no. 18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 – to be clear, I’m not saying this makes them a bad band. After all, I wouldn’t be writing about them if I thought they suck. I’m simply stating some facts.

As you would expect from a group that has been around for more than 40 years, LeRoux have seen many changes in their line-up. Apparently, two of the co-founding members, Tony Haselden (vocals, guitars) and Rod Roddy (vocals, keyboards), are still around. The current line-up also features Jim Odom (guitars), Nelson Blanchard (keyboards, vocals), Mark Duthu (percussion), Randy Carpenter (drums), Jeff McCarty (vocals) and Joey Decker (bass, backing vocals). Except for Decker who joined in 2014, most of the other members have been with the band for at least 10 years.

Let’s get to some music. A great place to start is the aforementioned opener and title track co-written by Odom and Haselden. Here’s the official video. I just love the warm sound, the guitars and keyboard work. I can hear some Allman Brothers and some Doobies in here. What a great tune! Why aren’t these guys better known, or is it just my ignorance?

No One‚Äôs Gonna Love Me (Like The Way You Do) is another great tune. It was written by Dustin Ransom, who per Wikipedia is a Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist, producer, vocalist, arranger, music transcriber and film composer – jeez, I guess they forgot to add over-achiever! And, oh, yeah, he’s 33 years old. Man, check out these harmonies and tell me this doesn’t sound friggin’ awesome!

Next up: Don’t Rescue Me, another Odom-Haselden co-write. This one reminds me a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd. No matter what influence may be in there, it’s just a solid tune – love that opening guitar riff, and there’s more great harmony singing!

On After All, LeRoux are slowing it down a bit. Coz you gotta take a break from going full throttle every now and then after all! ūüôā The tune was co-written by Randy Sharp and Donald Anderson. According to Wikipedia, over the past 40 years, Sharp’s songs have been performed by the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Blood Sweat and Tears, Edgar Winter and Emmylou Harris.

Here’s one more: Lifeline (Redux), a groovy rocker co-written by Odom, Haselden and McCarty. Apparently, it’s a new version of a tune the band initially recorded for their fifth studio album So Fired Up from 1983, the last release prior their first breakup.

‚ÄúIt‚Äôs the best combination of LeRoux’s musical palette¬†and represents the abilities of the band better than any album we‚Äôve probably ever done,” Haselden notes in a statement on the band’s website.¬†“It covers a wide spectrum of blues, southern rock, and zydeco.‚ÄĚ Now you know from where I got the inspiration for the post’s headline!

I can’t speak to other LeRoux records, but what I do know is One of Those Days is a great-sounding album I’m very happy I found. Last but not least, I should also mention some notable guests: Blues guitarist Tab Benoit; original Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball; and Bill Champlin, former longtime keyboarder and guitarist of Chicago.

Sources: Wikipedia; LeRoux website; YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: January 23

Even though I’ve already done numerous installments for this recurrent feature, many of the 365 dates remain to be explored. Let’s take a look at some of the events on January 23 in rock & roll history.

1956: Cleveland, Ohio banned rock & roll fans under the age of 18 from dancing in public unless accompanied by an adult, after the Ohio police had re-introduced a law dating back to 1931. Music bans rarely work, and there was no way young people could be kept away from rock & roll. Ironically, 27 years later, the very same city saw¬†the founding of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The times they are a-changin’.

50s dance ban

1965: Petula Clark¬†hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Downtown, the first female singer from the U.K. to reach the top of the U.S. chart since Vera Lynn in 1952. The tune, which peaked at no. 2 in the U.K., was written by Tony Hatch, who also produced it for Clark. The song’s recording session on October 16, 1964 at Pye Studios in London was attended by a popular studio guitarist. His name: Jimmy Page. That same year, his session work also included As Tears Go By (Marianne Faithfull), Heart Of Stone (The Rolling Stones) and Baby, Please Don’t Go (Them), among others.

1969: The Beatles were working at Abbey Road Studios as part of the Get Back/Let It Be sessions. They spent a great deal of time on Get Back, recording an impressive 43 takes of the Paul McCartney tune, none of which was officially released. Their efforts eventually would pay off during their rooftop concert. And, yes, they passed the audition!

1971: George Harrison reached no. 1 on the¬†Official Singles Chart¬†in the U.K. with My Sweet Lord, becoming the first former member of The Beatles to top the charts as a solo artist. The tune appeared on All Things Must Pass, Harrison’s first solo album following the band’s breakup. My Sweet Lord peaked at no. 1 in many other countries as well, including the U.S., Canada and Australia. It also made Harrison the first and only ex-Beatle to find himself embroiled in¬†major copyright infringement litigation. The lawsuit alleged My Sweet Lord plagiarized¬†He’s So Fine, a tune Ronnie Mack had written for The Chiffons, giving them a no. 1 single in the U.S. in 1963. In September 1976, a New York judge ruled that Harrison had “subconsciously copied” Mack’s tune. Subsequent litigation over damages dragged on until 1998.

1976: David Bowie released his 10th studio album Station To Station. It became his highest-charting record in the U.S. during the ’70s, climbing to no. 3 on the Billboard 200. The record also catapulted the¬†Thin White Duke¬†into the top 10 in various other countries, including the U.K. (no. 5), Australia (no. 8), The Netherlands (no. 3), Norway (no. 8) and New Zealand (no. 9). In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Station To Station at no. 324 on their list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Here’s the closer Wild Is The Wind, which like all tracks was written by Bowie.

1978: Terry Kath, best known as a founding member of Chicago, accidentally shot himself dead. Following a party, he started playing around with guns, held a pistol he thought was empty to his temple and pulled the trigger. The freak accident happened only a few days prior to what would have been his 32nd birthday. Referring to Kath,¬†Jimi Hendrix reportedly once told Chicago’s saxophone player Walter Parazaider that “your guitar player is better than me.” Regardless whether Hendrix meant it or not, there’s no question that Kath was an ace guitarist. Here’s I Don’t Want Your Money, which was co-written by him and Robert Lamm, and appeared on Chicago’s third studio album¬†Chicago III from January 1971.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music.com, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/4 Way Street

As oftentimes seems to happen lately, this post was inspired by a coincidence – earlier this week, I spotted 4 Way Street¬†by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in my Apple Music album suggestions. While I had been aware of the record (and somewhere still must have a taped recording on music cassette!), unlike¬†D√©j√† Vu, it had pretty much exited my radar screen. But it didn’t even take the 34 seconds of the opener Suite: Judy Blue Eyes to remind me what a killer album it is. As such, it felt appropriate to dedicate the 50th installment of the What I’ve Been Listening To feature to this gem.

Originally released in April 1971 as a double LP, 4 Way Street captured music from a turbulent 1970 U.S. tour CSNY conducted after the release of Déjà Vu in March that year. It includes material from gigs at Fillmore East (New York, June 2-7), The Forum (Los Angeles, June 26-28) and Auditorium Theatre (Chicago, July 5). CSNY were at a peak both artistically and in terms of tensions between them. Unfortunately, the latter proved to be unsustainable, and they broke up right after the recording of the album.

CSNY 1970
From left to right: Graham Nash, David Crosby, Neil Young and Stephen Stills at Fillmore East, New York, 1970

Of course, CSNY never were a traditional band to begin with, but four exceptional singer-songwriters who ended up playing together, mostly as CSN, with Young becoming an occasional fourth member. Each already had established himself as a member of other prominent bands: Crosby with The Byrds, Stills and Young with Buffalo Springfield, and Nash with The Hollies. Additionally, Crosby had released his first solo album, while the prolific Young already had two solo records out – his eponymous debut and the first album with Crazy Horse.

Given their history and egos, it’s not a surprise that CSNY wasn’t meant to last. But while it was going on, it was sheer magic. Apart from¬†D√©j√† Vu, I think this live album perfectly illustrates why, so let’s get to some music!

First up: Teach Your Children, undoubtedly one of the best known CSNY songs, first appeared on the Déjà Vu album. The tune was written by Nash when he was still with The Hollies.

Triad is a song Crosby wrote while working with The Byrds on their fifth studio album The Notorious Byrd Brothers. Although they recorded the song and performed it during a live gig in September 1967, it didn’t make the record. Crosby ended up giving it to Jefferson Airplane, and they included it on their fourth studio album Crown Of Creation from September 1968. Perhaps even more intriguing than the tune is listening to Crosby’s announcement.

Chicago is a song by Nash, which he dedicated to Richard Daley, who was then the city’s powerful mayor. It’s about anti-Vietnam war and counter-cultural protests around the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the ensuing federal charges against eight protesters who became known as the Chicago Eight¬†for conspiracy to incite a riot. Nash also included the tune on his debut solo album Songs For Beginners, which was released in May 1971.

Cowgirl In The Sand is one of Young’s great early songs, which initially appeared on his second studio album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, the first of many he recorded with his backing band Crazy Horse. Songfacts points out the liner notes to Young’s 1977 compilation album Decade explain that he wrote Cowgirl In The Sand, together with Down By The River and Cinnamon Girl in a single afternoon while being sick with a 103 degree temperature – it’s quite amazing what a fever can do!

The last tune on the first LP of 4 Way Street¬†is Still’s Love The One You’re With,¬†which also concludes CSNY’s acoustic set. The song became the lead single to Stills’ eponymous debut album from November 1970. It climbed all the way to no. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it his biggest hit single.

The second LP of 4 Way Street captures songs from CSNY’s electric rock-oriented set. Long Time Gone is a tune by Crosby, which was included on CSN’s eponymous studio debut from March 1969. Not that¬†D√©j√† Vu would have needed any additional strong tunes, but it would have been a perfect fit for that album as well!

Southern Man is another classic by Young, which he included on his third studio album After The Gold Rush released in September 1970. Together with Alabama from his follow-on record Harvest, it triggered a response by Lynyrd Skynyrd with southern rock anthem Sweet Home Alabama.¬†While that tune explicitly tells him to take a hike, the band and Young were actually mutual fans, and there never was a serious feud between them. Young in his 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream said his words in Southern Man were “accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”

While with so much great material on the album I could easily go on and on calling out tunes, the last track I’d like to highlight is Carry On. Written by Stills, it’s another gem from¬†D√©j√† Vu. Like Southern Man, the take of Carry On on 4 Way Street is an extended version.

4 Way Street’s¬†musicians include Crosby (vocals, guitar), Stills (vocals, guitar, piano, organ), Nash (vocals, guitar, piano, organ), Young (vocals, guitar), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass) and Johnny Barbata (drums). The album was produced by CSNY. In June 1992, an expanded CD version appeared, which was produced by Nash and included four solo acoustic performances, one by each artist.

Like¬†D√©j√† Vu,¬†the record topped the Billboard 200. It was certified Gold by RIAA just a few days after its release. On December 18, 1992, U.S. sales hit 4 million certified units, giving it¬†4X Multi-Platinum status. Unlike¬†D√©j√† Vu, interestingly, the album didn’t make Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube

Chicago Is Turning 50

The self-described “rock & roll band with horns” has come a long way since its origins in Feb 1967.

While the past few years have seen various 50th anniversary celebrations of rock bands that started in the 60s, such as the Beach Boys, Cream and this year The Doors, only very few have consistently performed for five decades. Chicago is one of them. The only other band I can think of that can truly match this record is The Rolling Stones.

Chicago’s story started in Feb 1967 – according to a¬†Daily Herald¬†article I found, it was Feb 15 that year. Then,¬†James Pankow (trombone, keyboards, percussion, vocals), Walter Parazaider (woodwinds, backing vocals), Terry Kath (guitar, bass, vocals), Danny Seraphine (drums, percussion), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, guitar, percussion, vocals), Robert Lamm (keyboards, vocals) and Peter Cetera (bass, guitar, vocals) formed a band called “The Big Thing.” While the lineup has changed numerous times over the years, Pankow, Parazaider, Loughnane and Lamm have remained as original members.

Initially, The Big Thing was a cover band playing top 40 hits. Prompted by their manager, James William Guercio, they moved to Los Angeles in June 1968, got a contract with Columbia Records and changed their name to Chicago Transport Authority. At that time, they had started to work on own material. In April 1969, CTA released its eponymous double album, which by 1970 had sold over one million copies. Among others, it includes the classic Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is? and a great cover version of the Spencer Davis Group’s I’m A Man.

The album’s¬†fusion of jazz and rock is reminiscent of Blood, Sweat & Tears, which is not a coincidence. A few months earlier, Guercio had produced that band’s hugely successful eponymous second studio album. During CTA’s tour to support their debut album, the actual transit authority of Chicago threatened legal action, forcing the band to shorten its name to Chicago. Just nine months later, in January 1970,¬†Chicago released its second studio album, Chicago, another double release that later became known as Chicago II. It featured three top 10 Billboard Pop Singles, including Make Me Smile, Color My World and my favorite Chicago tune,¬†25 or 6 to 4.

After an extended tour, the band’s third studio album appeared in January 1971. While Chicago III, yet another double album,¬†did not yield any major hits, it saw the band introduce new musical styles, including funk and country. A great example is the opener Sing a Mean Tune Kid, which features a cool funky guitar sound by Terry Kath. Kath also shines with Jimi Hendrix-like guitar riffs on I Don’t Want Your Money. Speaking of Hendrix, he once told Parazaider, “Your horn players are one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me.”

Chicago continued to release new studio albums each year. Chicago X, the band’s eighth studio release appearing in June 1976, yielded its first No. 1 single, If You Leave Me Now. Written by Cetera, the Grammy award-winning ballad prominently features string arrangements and acoustic guitars, foreshadowing the band’s focus on pop ballads during the “Cetera era.” This was continued with Cetera’s¬†Baby, What a Big Surprise on the follow-up,¬†Chicago XI, though in the wake of its releases the album brought more change to Chicago than continuity. It was the band’s last record prior to Kath’s accidental death with a gun and the last album produced by Guerico.

Chicago 16, released in 1982, completed the band’s full transition to soft rock, driven by Cetera and new producer David Foster. The ballad Hard to Say I’m Sorry became Chicago’s second No. 1 single in the U.S. The follow-up, 1984’s Chicago 17, continued the successful formula. It became Chicago’ best-selling album, fueled by four top 10 singles: You’re the Inspiration, Hard Habit to Break, Stay the Night and Along Comes a Woman. While the band enjoyed unprecedented commercial success, tensions rose over Cetera’s and Foster’s artistic dominance.

According to a CNN documentary, Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago, which aired on Jan 1, 2017, the other band members felt that Cetera increasingly regarded Chicago as his back-up band. Cetera who had physically shaped up also became the focus in the band’s videos recorded for MTV. The cameras mostly ignored the rest of the band. Things came to a boil when Cetera started a solo career and sought an arrangement where Chicago would take breaks after tours to allow him to focus on his solo work. The band rejected, and by the summer of 1985 Cetera was out.

Interestingly, Chicago continued to work with Foster on 1986’s Chicago 18, before switching to Ron Nevison who produced the next two albums, Chicago 19 (1988) and Twenty 1 (1991). Starting with that album, the band slowed down the pace of new releases. Since then, seven Chicago albums have appeared, including two Christmas albums, compared with 16 during the band’s first 25 years.

Last year, Chicago was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, together with Cheap Trick, Deep Purple, Steve Miller and N.W.A.. But sadly, this milestone was not all harmony. While Seraphine reunited with his former band mates, Cetera stayed away after the band had rejected his proposal to perform 25 or 6 to 4 in the key of E, four notes lower than the original. In a Rolling Stone interview, Lamm explained, “if it’s just a four-piece band you can do it, but with horns, you got to transfer those…It’s not something we wanted to do for a one-off.”

Chicago has sold more than 100 million records, making it one of the world’s best-selling bands of all time. They have had five no. 1 albums and 21 top ten singles. Among American bands, their success in Billboard singles and album charts is only second to The Beach Boys. Chicago continues to perform live prolifically and is currently doing a 50th anniversary tour across the U.S. This will include 30 co-headlining dates with the Doobie Brothers from early June until the end of July.

Here is a nice clip of Chicago’s epic 25 or 6 to 4. By the way, the title refers to the time Robert Lamm wrote it, which was 25 or 26 minutes to 4:00 am.

Sources: Wikipedia, Daily Herald, CNN documentary “Now More Than Ever”, Rolling Stone, YouTube