Fred LeBlanc, the gregarious singer, drummer and founding member of New Orleans-based band Cowboy Mouth, jokes that he doesn't feel well in a Facebook video posted during Mardi Gras at the Krewe of Zulu parade. But with partying comes transcendence, as Houstonians will see when Cowboy Mouth takes the stage at the House of Blues this Friday.
Though well known for their '90s radio hit “Jenny Says,” Cowboy Mouth now boasts more than 25 years of recording and touring experience. On their latest album, Go!, the band revisits “Jenny Says,” along with several crowd favorites. (Cowboy Mouth’s current line up includes LeBlanc, John Thomas Griffith on lead guitar, keyboards and vocals, Matt Jones on guitar and vocals, and Brian Broussard on bass.) On the record, the band’s fusion of pop punk and New Orleans funk is as tight and powerful as ever, and their live sets continue to win over audiences well beyond Louisiana.
“One guy told me, you guys are like a gospel tent revival without the religion,” says LeBlanc when asked about Cowboy Mouth’s reputation as one of the best live acts in the U.S. “It’s not about going up on stage and pretending to be ‘Mr. Rock Star.’ It’s all just a big community of joy. Or as I like to call it, a big ‘joygasm.’”
LeBlanc’s initiation into music began before he could hear. Born deaf, his parents used to place his head against a stereo speaker and play music, hoping this might somehow awaken his hearing. At the age of 3, after a successful operation, LeBlanc gained his hearing and, perhaps significantly, starting singing before learning how to speak. The drums came into his life shortly thereafter, thanks to Sesame Street.
“When I was 5 years old, all I wanted was a garbage can like Oscar the Grouch,” says LeBlanc. “My parents bought me one for Christmas, and I loved it. But one day I turned it over and beat on it and was like, ‘Oh, this is everything!’ It just started from there.”
While the trash can led LeBlanc to the tight snares and trashy cymbals of garage rock, a larger, communal drum aligned his burgeoning musical passions.
“When you grow up in New Orleans, you grow up with that giant bass drum in Mardi Gras,” says LeBlanc. “Everybody in New Orleans has rhythm, everybody can dance. It's just kind of second nature.” The music of Cowboy Mouth accordingly embraces that spirit of the second line, along with a pinch of gospel and a healthy dose of snotty punk rock attitude. “I’ve always said if the Neville Brothers and The Clash had a bastard child, it would be us,” says LeBlanc.
Now the father of a 5-year-old boy and 3-year-old girl, LeBlanc is content to steer his children toward the genius of The Three Stooges, and only occasionally show them firsthand what their dad does for a living.
“My son didn’t like me singing around the house,” laughs LeBlanc. “He would say, ‘You can’t sing, Daddy!’ I did bring him up onstage with us when we played Jazz Fest the year before last in front of 100,000 people. Then, all of the sudden, he thought I was kind of cool.”
So as the front man for a band that has performed for more than 9 million fans across the globe and is currently enjoying yet another cross country tour, what is the secret to survival in rock and roll?
“Enthusiasm,” says LeBlanc emphatically. “Everything else springs from that. If you find that enthusiasm, and find faith in yourself within that enthusiasm, nothing can stop you. That’s what a Cowboy Mouth show is—it's an exercise in enthusiasm. Coming into a venue and remembering what it’s like to be 5 years old and find that joy, that celebration within yourself. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do with my life and so far, I have.”
Friday, March 10 at 7. $20–29. House of Blues, Houston, 1204 Caroline St. houseofblues.com/houston