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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
can tell you from first hand experience, if those are the only
requirements, it’s a done deal!