Blues Wax Show Revue
July 22, 2009

Louisiana’s LeRoux featuring Jimmy Hall & Steve Cropper
Coast Coliseum, Biloxi, MS
Southern Gold Hits

By Mark Goodman

The occasion that brings me to the Katrina ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast was the 17th annual Coast Coliseum Crawfish Festival. The event boasts two weekends of music and about 20,000 pounds of “mudbugs” (that’s crawfish to the uninformed). The location is only 100 yards from the sugar sand beaches of Biloxi. This year’s lineup featured a variety of music including Blues, R&B, Soul, Country, Cajun, and Classic Rock. Some of the head-liners at this year’s festival included Grand Funk Railroad, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton, Chubby Carrier, Bobby Rush and Mel Waiters, and the show that I was particularly interested in, Louisiana’s LeRoux featuring Jimmy Hall and the legendary Steve Cropper.

LeRoux will sound familiar to fans of “Swamp Blues King” Tab Benoit. The band has been featured on his last three Telarc releases (Live: Night Train from Nashville, Power of the Ponchartrain, and the Grammy nominated Brother to the Blues). Drummer David Peters and bassist Leon Medica also served as Tab’s rhythm section for the last several years before moving onto this new venture. While not known in their heyday as a blues band, these guys are class “A” musicians that can play behind anyone. As a matter of fact, they started out backing blues great Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, including an international goodwill tour before signing with Capital and later RCA Records.

Jimmy Hall probably needs no introduction to fans as he has been very active on the blues festival circuit of late. His 2006 release, Rendezvous with the Blues, is still one of my favorites. His work with Jeff Beck in the 80's garnered him a Grammy nomination as “Best Male Vocalist and his appearance with the Allman Brothers this year at the Beacon Theater was a highlight according to fans.

Steve Cropper should absolutely need no introduction. However, for those of you that have been asleep for the last 40 plus years, here is a refresher. Remember Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, or Albert King? How about Booker T & the MG’s or The Blues Brothers? Remember Dock of the Bay (6th most played song of all time), In the Midnight Hour, Knock on Wood, or Soul Man (“play it Steve”). Maybe Green Onions will ring some bells. Not only has he contributed to all these as a musician and song writer, but he has also produced quite a few. He helmed the Shemekia Copeland release The Soul Truth that garnered her Blues Music Award nomination in 2006.

I had actually hooked up with LeRoux the night before in New Orleans. They were the featured band for the grand opening of the new Rock-n-Bowl. This well-known venue (a Tab Benoit regular stop) sports a much larger dance floor and many more tables than the old place. A definite improvement and a must visit when in NOLA.

When I arrived in Biloxi (only 11/2 hrs from New Orleans), it looked like a toss of the dice as to whether the weather was going to be a major factor. The sun was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately about two hours before show time the wind picked up and “blues” the nasty weather somewhere else.

I got to the Coliseum in time to catch Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band. The band hasn’t lost any steam from the recent departure of long time bassist Corey Duplechin. Rumor has it that Cory has joined forces with Tab Benoit, whom he played with early in his career. Still with Chubby is guitarist Randy Ellis and scrub board stroker extraordinaire, Earl “Washboard” Sally. Chubby Carrier brings a variety of styles to the stage. His main focus is of course Zydeco but punctuates that with heaping doses of swamp blues. A perennial favorite, Chubby announced he was already booked for next year’s festival.

Louisiana’s LeRoux opened their portion of the show with wonderful three-part harmonies on Take a Ride on a Riverboat. Lead by vocalist Terry Brock, who spent time with Kansas back in the 80s. The band launched into Back in America which was written by Brock, guitarist Jim Odom, and drummer David Peters. This song was the featured track for the Chevy Chase movie European Vacation. Brock is an outstanding vocalist with enough range to handle all of the band’s material once handled by three different singers. Today’s show also featured the Cropperpalooza horns with Peter Verbois on saxophone, Chris Belleau on trombone, and Jeff Chatelain on trumpet.

The band then followed with another one of their hits Addicted which was in steady rotation on MTV back in the 80s when MTV actually played music. They continued with their “best of” set-list with the one exception of That’s My Story (and I’m sticking to it) a top country hit written by LeRoux guitarist Tony Haselden. Haselden, I should note, has written an extended list of country hits in his career.

After a short break, the band took the stage and was joined by Jimmy Hall. He had just arrived from Nashville after a lengthy bus ride from Chicago the day before. The band then launched into the Medica penned ballad New Orleans Ladies. No song is more recognized in Louisiana than this tribute to the “Big Easy’s” fairest. Beat Magazine voted it the Song of the Century in Louisiana.

Jimmy Hall opened his portion of the show with She Caught the Katy, a tune written by 2009 Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Taj Mahal. He then paid a rousing tribute to the “King of Rock-n-Roll” with That’s All Right Mama. Then the blues started with a rumbling bass line intro to the Hall penned Rendezvous with the Blues, the title track of his 2006 release. Jimmy Hall is an excellent vocalist. His voice is as strong as it was in the days of Southern Rockers Wet Willie but now seems to have more character and soul. He then reached way down for his version of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Going to Come. The tune was enhanced significantly by the B3 work of Nelson Blanchard which gave it a nice gospel flavor.  I’ve heard this song more in the last eighteen months than since it was written and I’m here to tell you that Hall’s live version today literally gave me goose bumps. At its conclusion, the crowd sat in stunned silence for a moment before erupting in applause. The band then took a short “sweat break” as Jimmy called it, which allowed the crowd to grab a beer and some more crawfish.

After a short break, LeRoux and Hall returned for Little Milton’s Grits Ain’t Groceries. This was followed by Hall’s signature tune Keep On Smiling, which he dedicated to his son Adrian, who was in the crowd taking in the show.

Then it was time for the “Colonel.” Sporting his familiar long blonde ponytail, he strolled on stage carrying his tiger striped Peavy Steve Cropper prototype. Cropper opened his portion of the show with the Wilson Pickett classic In the Midnight Hour. He followed up with Knock On Wood, and noted that he wrote this song with Eddie Floyd in the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. You might remember the Lorraine as the hotel in which Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. The site is now home to the National Civil Rights Museum. Many of the tunes he would play tonight came with a short history lesson which seemed so appropriate as I have been listening to this music for a good part of my life yet knew little about them.

His next tune was a Wilson Pickett hit based on a phone number. 634-5789 has been covered by everybody from the Blues Brothers to Tina Turner to Jonny Lang. Cropper then gazed to his right passed the beach and said “there’s the bay, and I know there are docks out there somewhere. I sure as hell wish this guy was here today. I had the pleasure of writing this song with Otis Redding.” Then with a slight bow of his head he played Dock of the Bay. After a slight pause that seemed almost somber, Cropper called out “blues jam in F.” This lightened the mood and everybody got down to business as LeRoux guitarist Jim Odom and the “Colonel” traded licks for this nearly ten minute exercise in blues artistry. Before the crowd could settle down, they jumped into the Sam and Dave classic Soul Man (which featured the famous phrase “play it Steve” in the original recording). This song of course was rejuvenated by the Blues Brothers on Saturday Night Live and launched yet another chapter in Steve Cropper’s storied career.

To close the show they performed another Sam and Dave classic Hold On I’m Coming. Although Cropper didn’t have writing credit on the last two songs, he certainly played on the original recordings as part of Booker T and the MG’s (they were the house band at Stax Records). The song’s inspiration came from Isaac Hayes calling for his song writing partner David Porter (who was in the Stax studio restroom) to hurry up. Porter’s response; “hold on man.  I’m coming.” After his performance, Steve went to the merchandise tent to meet fans and sign autographs.

This is the second show for this group of musicians since their first performance at a Mardi Gras Ball in Baton Rouge on January 31. Rumor has it that they may be planning a series of shows featuring this line up. Hopefully there is some substance to that rumor. It is an incredibly entertaining show featuring musicians that bring a huge amount of talent, experience, and varying backgrounds to the stage.

In a recent BluesWax interview with Steve Cropper (April 8 & 15, 2009), he told me; “as long as we’re having fun, and the crowd is into what we’re doing, then I see no reason not to pursue it.”

Well, I can tell you from firsthand experience, if those are the only requirements, it’s a done deal!