As I called up Fred LeBlanc of the New Orleans band Cowboy Mouth last week to discuss the band’s two-night stand at The Windjammer on Isle of Palms this Friday and Saturday, the internet is still abuzz with the antics of Dave Grohl. Just a couple of days prior, the Foo Fighters front man had taken a nasty tumble off a stage in Sweden, broken his leg and dislocated his ankle. This had happened only a couple of songs into the band’s show, and rather than cancel the show and leave his fans disappointed, Grohl had the rest of the band play while he had his leg set in a cast backstage, then returned to play for a couple more hours while sitting in a chair with his broken leg propped up. I ask LeBlanc, no stranger to onstage antics, if he’d ever sustained a similar onstage injury and if the show had gone on. Speaking on the phone from somewhere in the Mid-West, LeBlanc chuckles. It’s not a chuckle that suggests, “Broken leg? Shit, that’s nothing,” but rather a knowing chuckle that suggests LeBlanc has been in a similar situation. “I remember one time in Louisiana years ago I hopped up on the bar of this club we were playing, and I didn’t see this metal beam that was hanging down over the bar,” recalls LeBlanc. “I ran smack into it, but I kept going. I hopped back up onstage, and both the band and the crowd recoiled. My face was completely red with blood. I ended up getting some stitches at the hospital after the show.” I listen as LeBlanc runs through a laundry list of injuries he’s received over the years, including a broken right hand, at least one broken toe, a torn rotator cuff, and the fact that both of his knees are shot. He also recalls slicing open his hand onstage while touring the Czech Republic back in the 90’s right after the end of the Cold War. “I ended up in some grim Czech hospital and they had no anesthesia, so I had to just grit my teeth while they stitched me up,” says LeBlanc. Then there was the time that Cowboy Mouth played with Hootie and The Blowfish as that band was starting its meteoric rise in the mid-90’s. “We were opening for Hootie in Wilmington,” says LeBlanc. “I had climbed up on the PA stacks by the stage and I saw this iron hook that was hanging from a pulley from the ceiling. I jumped out to grab the hook, not knowing that it had been greased, and it was like everything was in slow motion. (In a low voice) ‘Nooooo!‘ I slipped of and fell about twenty feet to the ground and landed flat on my back. I wiggled a few limbs to make sure I wasn’t paralyzed, and got up and finished the set. I definitely felt it the next day. It‘s all good though. At the end of the day, it’s just a meat suit.”
These days LeBlanc and the rest of the band, which includes founding member John Thomas Griffith on guitar and keys, Matt Jones on guitar, and Brian Broussard on bass, are in what they consider to be a good place. After years of chasing fame and feeling under pressure by whatever label they were signed to at the time to sell as many units as possible, these days the band concentrates on bringing its electrifying live act in front of as many eyes and ears as possible. “An album can’t even last an entire tour cycle,” says LeBlanc. Cowboy Mouth’s last release, “Go!,” was released last year. It has received airplay in certain pockets around the country, but nowhere near what the band experienced in the 90’s when the single “Jenny Says” made them a sought-after act all across the US. Charleston’s own now-defunct 96 Wave FM championed the band and put them on the same Wavefest bill in 1997 with David Byrne, Wilco, Cracker, and Ben Folds Five. The band is working on new songs and LeBlanc thinks that Cowboy Mouth will release them as an EP either at the end of this year or in early 2016. For now though he’s looking forward to playing the songs the band has cultivated over the years to the fans who give them as much love back as the band projects from the stage.
For the uninitiated, a Cowboy Mouth show is not so much a concert as it is a force of nature. LeBlanc plays drums, but he also sings lead and acts as the Master of Ceremonies during the show. Unlike most bands, LeBlanc’s drum kit is pushed right up to the edge of the stage, and from the first song of their set it is Fred’s mission to make sure that every living soul in the venue has the time of their life. A Cowboy Mouth show is part rock show, part sideshow, part tent revival, and it is unlike anything else in music. While he doesn’t swing from the rafters quite as often as he used to, LeBlanc nonetheless still does what it takes to whip the crowd into a frenzy. He’ll still hop up on a bar, although one suspects he keeps a better lookout for steel beams. A few years back after a Windjammer show LeBlanc finished the encore and invited the audience to run out to the beach behind the club and take a midnight dip. More than a few took him up on the offer. “I don’t do that anymore,” laughs LeBlanc. “Those folks that followed me into the ocean got a little too enthusiastic.” Still, LeBlanc and the rest of the band love playing the Windjammer. “It’s one of the highlights of our summer,” says LeBlanc. “The crowd there is fun, always ready to cut loose, to throw down!”
We get to talking about our first concert experiences and LeBlanc relays a story that basically sums up the reason for Cowboy Mouth’s drive to make sure every last fan is satisfied. “When I was 12 years old the Rolling Stones came to town to play the Superdome,” recalls LeBlanc. “I loved the Stones, and so I worked my ass off and saved up and bought a ticket. Actually, I bought two tickets; one for me and one for my sister, who drove me to the show. I was so excited to see the Stones, and I got to the show and I was way in the back, and the band went on 90 minutes late, and it was just dreadful. I have seen the Stones a couple times since, and I still think Mick Jagger is an amazing frontman, and I’m sure they were good the night I saw them, but as far back as I was and with the overall experience being what it was, it was a disappointment. Later on, when I started playing in bands, I decided that I was going to play as if that kid way in the back who had spent all his money on a ticket to the show was the most important person in the place.”
As for Friday and Saturday night’s shows on Isle of Palms, LeBlanc promises to play crowd favorites like “Jenny Says,” and a few songs that have been out of the rotation for a bit. Each night’s setlist will be unique, but both shows will feature the high-energy good times one has come to expect from Cowboy Mouth. Don’t be surprised if the normally jovial LeBlanc seems extra happy at the Windjammer shows. “I’m enjoying doing this more than I ever have,” says LeBlanc. “There’s more happiness than ever in the band. We’re having fun. We’re having a ball.”
Devin Grant’s love for live music began back in 1982 when he won tickets off a local radio station to see Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. Had that show been anything other than epic, he would probably be an accountant, or perhaps a podiatrist. Since that fateful day Devin has attended hundreds of live shows. Once he figured out that he could get free tickets in return for writing about the shows, music journalism seemed a logical choice. Devin’s work has appeared in Charleston’s Free Times, The Charleston City Paper, The Post & Courier, Charleston Magazine, and No Depression. He has interviewed the likes of Mike Watt, The Rev. Al Green, Tori Amos, Mike Doughty, Warren Haynes, and Loretta Lynn. He has photographed hundreds of bands, including The Police, My Morning Jacket, The Eagles, Willie Nelson, White Stripes, and Taylor Swift.