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
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
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
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
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.
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
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!