Louisiana vocal giant GG Shinn has delivered some of the most electrifying performances in recent Ponderosa Stomp memory. On Aug. 29, Shinn will be stepping up to an East Texas microphone to support his equally talented foil in the legendary 1960s lineup of the Boogie Kings, Jerry LaCroix, one of the most soulful voices in Gulf Coast music history. A benefit concert for LaCroix is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Crockett Street Entertainment District in Beaumont – part of Texas’ Golden Triangle, the fertile musical breeding ground that has spawned Stomp favorites such as Barbara Lynn, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, the Big Bopper, Janis Joplin, George Jones, and Edgar and Johnny Winter. Appearing with Shinn will be swamp-pop/soul stud TK Hulin; Port Arthur native Jivin’ Gene of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” fame; East Texan keyboardist Ken Marvel, one of modern swamp pop’s pre-eminent songwriters; Scott McGill; Gerry Mouton; West Bank-bred drummer Steve Adams; Larry Badon; Bilou Hulin; and a host of Boogie Kings alumni such as Parker James. The donation is $20, and barbecue and gumbo will be sold.
LaCroix singing under the name Jerry “Count” Jackson:
The Boogie Kings at their peak in 1965, with Jerry LaCroix and GG Shinn.
Jerry LaCroix was born in 1943 in Alexandria, La., lived in Jena, and moved to Texas’ Port Neches-Groves area as a youth. He played in a series of bands but sealed his stellar reputation by joining the Boogie Kings in 1965, performing as “Count Jackson” and joining Shinn in now-legendary, jaw-dropping duets as the “King Brothers.” LaCroix’s powerful, soul-belting voice served as a visceral counterpoint to Shinn’s silky-smooth, multi-octave acrobatics — all to the squealing delight of the bikini-clad throngs and their beaus at the Bamboo Hut in Galveston and other such storied venues.
Here is LaCroix and Duane Yates as the King Brothers at a Boogie Kings reunion doing one of the Boogie Kings few original numbers, The Philly Walk.
LaCroix recalls the first time he heard the Boogie Kings: “It was like a freight train coming through that room! These guys had five tenor saxophones, a couple of trumpets, a Hammond B-3 organ and one of those Louisiana drummers. They were playing all of that what is now called swamp pop music back then. Fats Domino, Bobby Charles, Louisiana-style music. These guys were really super powerful. They were great. So, after our band kind of disbanded, all of my friends went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston. So, I said if I can’t lick these guys I’ll join them. I called up Ned [Theall], the leader of the band, and asked him if he could use another singer. He said, ‘Come on.’ There were three lead singers and all the horn players sang like black chicks in a gospel choir. They had beautiful voices. It was just an incredible band.”
See LaCroix in a Boogie Kings reunion:
A multi-instrumentalist (sax, keyboards, guitar, and harmonica), LaCroix went on to perform, tour, and record with Edgar Winter’s White Trash band; Blood, Sweat, and Tears; and Rare Earth in the 1970s. He also cut two solo records, “LaCroix” and “Second Coming.”
LaCroix singing with Blood, Sweat, and Tears:
LaCroix singing backup and playing sax with Blood, Sweat, and Tears:
Jerry LaCroix sings Rainbow 65 in a Boogie Kings reunion performance around 2006.
LaCroix’s show-stopping performances with the Boogie Kings resumed in reunion gigs over the past few decades, and no Boogie Kings concert is ever complete without seeing LaCroix drop to his knees to deliver his gut-wrenching rendition of Gene Chandler’s “Rainbow ’65.”
A regular performer at the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame’s annual Janis Joplin tribute concert, LaCroix’s bluesy, balls-to-the-wall vocal style likely influenced the young chanteuse from Port Arthur. “She used to come out to a club across the river and play. It was a place that was really famous down here called The Big Oaks Club in Louisiana just across the Sabine River. At that time, the drinking age in Texas was 21, but in Louisiana it was 18. If you could reach the bar with a quarter you could get a beer. They were very loose. In fact, I started playing over there when I was 14 years old. … I knew of her by reputation, but her reputation in this area wasn’t very good. She had a bad reputation because she talked bad about Port Arthur, but we still loved her.”
Edgar Winter and Jerry LaCroix
Joplin’s sister, Laura, confirms LaCroix’s influence in her biography, “Love, Janis,” and also paints a vivid portrait of that bustling time and place in Louisiana music history: “Vinton, Louisiana, offered Janis a glimpse into another way of life. It was Cajun. Both the language and the social attitude that came with it were different from the Anglo culture of Texas. There was a whole group of bars catering to the Texas youth: the Big Oak, Lou Ann’s, Buster’s, the Stateline, and more. Each had a large dance floor and several pool tables. After growing up glued to radio and hi-fi, Janis found her first good live music in Vinton. It may have been Cajun soul, rockabilly, or something else. There was certainly the white soul music of Jerry LaCroix and the Counts. Whatever it was, it sounded good, and uniquely Louisianan. Mixed into the atmosphere of the club was the Cajun priority of having a good time. These French-Acadian descendants didn’t harbor the pent-up Anglo-Saxon attitude toward emotional expression. They let it flow and everyone accepted it.”
According to journalist Margaret Moser: “For kids in East Texas’ ‘Golden Triangle’ — Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange — the promised land of booze and blues lay just across the Louisiana border. While the big-city sound of Bobby Bland and gritty rhythm of Lightnin’ Hopkins filtered in from Houston, 90 miles away, Slim Harpo, Clifton Chenier, and swamp-pop royalty like Tommy McLain, Rod Bernard, and Dale & Grace reigned in the roadhouses and dance halls of Cajun and swamp country that ran off Highway 90 between Lafayette and the Lone Star border.”
Come pass a good time — Golden Triangle style — and help support a true Texas-Louisiana music legend, Jerry “Count Jackson” LaCroix, in Beaumont on Aug. 29 at 3 p.m.
There are photos of Phil Spector, circa 1958, looking remarkably sedate. A picture of Tennessee Ernie Ford standing atop a pile of coal, advertising “Sixteen Tons.” A portrait of burlesque star Coco Barr brandishing a pair of pistols.
And, of course, there’s music galore: The Collins Kids, performing on the U.S. Air Force’s Country Music Time show. Big Star. Dexter Romweber. “The Patio Twist.” And an incredible live stream of “obscure ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n’ soul.” I’m listening to Huey Smith and the Clowns right now!
In other WFMU news, the Trashmen will be performing at the Record Fair, slated for Manhattan’s Metropolitan Pavilion on October 23rd, 24th and 25th!
Metairie is a place often disparaged by those “not from here.” It is especially disparaged by those not from here who seek to cloak themselves and where they came from in all things New Orleans. By disparaging our hinterlands, they strive to make themselves all the more genuinely New Orleans. Ironically, these self-appointed New Orleans experts miss the “tout ensemble” for the trees (or maybe the lack thereof). They fail to discern that there is often more New Orleans buried amid the neon-and-concrete trappings of seemingly bland suburbia than in the city itself these days. Especially musically.
Mo’s Chalet is just such an under-the-radar den of down-home blues. Impresario Morell “Mo” Crane is an important patron of local music, particularly the classic styles such as jazz, rhythm and blues, and swamp pop. Mo brought in his old friend, sax titan Sam Butera, years before the New Orleans JazzFest ever sat up and took notice that the supercharged turbine behind Louie Prima was still jumping, jiving, and wailing like never before, well into his 70s.
But Mo doesn’t just hire the well-known entertainers. Super-talented rank-and-file artists who somehow got lost in the shuffle but are still cranking it out in the musical trenches can find a welcome stage at Mo’s Chalet. Names such as Bobby Lonero, Earl Stanley, Skip Easterling, Eddie Powers, Art SirVan, Allen Collay, Al McCrossen, and Billy Bell. These are just the sort of hidden gems that the Ponderosa Stomp strives to spotlight. And such a roster fits in with Mo’s motto: “GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT.”
And “the people,” in Mo’s case, fit a certain demographic. They are either members of “the Greatest Generation” or hail from the immediately younger age groups. These are the people who grew up in a still-vibrant New Orleans, attended its grammar and high schools, and bore witness to not only the jazz revival of the late 1940s and early ’50s, but also the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. These are the people who remember Butera and Prima blazing away on Bourbon Street and at the Beverly Club. These are the people who saw Pete Fountain and Al “Jumbo” Hirt trading lightning-bolt licks at Lenfant’s on the lakefront. These are the people who when they hear the name “Dukes of Dixieland” immediately think “Assunto brothers”—you know, those nice neighborhood Italian boys from around the French Market who just happen to have a red-hot family band. These are the people who grew up buying Fats Domino 45s and swaying to Jerry Raines’ “Our Teenage Love” at the CYO dances. They remember serving detention-hall stints with Roland “Stone” LeBlanc at Warren Easton High, or eating cheeseburgers next to a teenage Frankie Ford at Da Wabbit in Gretna after a sock hop at the McDonoghville VFW. These are New Orleans’ salt of the earth, and those who still make it out to Mo’s Chalet are the silver-fox survivors. They’re still boogieing down and drinking up well into their 60s, 70s, and 80s.
One recent Sunday I stopped in to hear vocalist Duke Duplantis front his RBT combo. What a gentleman Duke is—a total man’s man, whose specialty is singing Sinatra and other Rat Pack standards with the perfect measure of gravitas and testosterone. I don’t know who I’d be more afraid to piss off backstage in Vegas in a fight over some mob bimbo: Duke himself, or Ole Blue Eyes backed up by a gang of sycophantic “associates.” Of course, Duke—after setting you straight—would probably suggest a round of 18 holes at the local golf course and even pick up the greens fees just to show you what a stand-up guy he is.
And serving as the smiling bandleader with just a hint of an Elvis sneer to his lip, Richie Ladner brings decades of professional experience to the table, having been a latter-day member of New Orleans’ legendary Jokers. Playing with an almost pornographic joy, he is both a stellar pianist and vocalist, and his baritony rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” melded into a gospel medley still sends chills down my spine. When not amazing you with his melodiousness, Ladner will slay you with his hysterically ribald humor and impeccable comic timing.
A book could be written about saxophonist Johnny Pennino (http://www.johnnypennino.com), but luckily for the local music scene, his story is not yet over. Music aficionadoes have heard of the legendary Papa Joe’s nightclub on Bourbon Street, whose 1960s-era band featured luminaries such as Freddy Fender, Joe Barry, and Skip Easterling. Though not as well-known, Pennino made his musical bones at Papa Joe’s and was in fact that band’s longest-serving member. Fender once said of Pennino: “He blows a tenor sax in such a sweet, pleasant and unforgettable way. Nobody else can come up with anything so unique. Johnny’s sound is romantic. It is magical.” So magical that when Duke Ellington was brought to hear the young Italian stallion play on Bourbon Street in the 1960s, the Duke offered Pennino a job, asking: “Do you read music, son?”
But New Orleans’ pull was too strong on Pennino, and he stayed put, carrying the torches of Jumbo and Butera and continuing to play with an otherworldly fire-and-brimstone ferocity, yet with utter lyricism and beauty on tour-de-force power ballads such as “Europa.” Pennino’s voice on saxophone is completely unique, but then so is his shamefully undershowcased singing. His vocal rendition of Dean Martin’s “Return to Me” is incredibly sensuous, and his Elvis interpretations must have the King himself sitting up in his crypt and taking notice. But Pennino ultimately is a horn player who makes anyone’s band sound better, as evidenced by swamp-pop legend Johnnie Allan turning to me one night at a West Bank hideaway and asking in bewilderment: “WHO IS THAT GUY?” The Cajun icon was simply blown away by Pennino, who had just accompanied Allan on his own set—walking on totally unrehearsed and never having before met.
Injecting some intangible Mo-jo to the mix was John Dauenhauer on baritone sax, who is always a welcome sight wielding that bazooka-like piece of brass, which was key to the classic 1950s riffing ensemble horn sound, but which is rarely employed today—and sadly so. The titanic instrument’s notes are almost imperceptibly heard at first—hitting your gut and injecting a fat-bottomed groove to the wailing sound of the tenor above it. Thanks to Our Lady of Prompt Succor for the presence of John Dauenhauer on bari sax. He’s like a flambeaux carrier in a Mardi Gras parade: Just when you thought the tradition had died out, there he is with his big flame-throwing rig, bringing it all back home again.
Drummer Wally Rabalais is another unsung local veteran, having set a splendidly percussive tone with countless bands and frontmen like Bobby Lonero; Al Dressel and the Fugowees; and Midnight Streetcar. Rabalais is a rock-solid timekeeper but also surprises audiences with his own singing voice. For one second at Mo’s I thought Clarence “Frogman” Henry was in the house, exclaiming out of nowhere that he sang like a frog and had no home. Turns out it was Rabalais doing his dead-on Frogman impression from behind the drum kit. The legendary Frogman was hopefully enjoying some well-deserved relaxation on his front porch in Algiers, content to let his disciples do the singing.
The band entertained that Sunday with every genre of music, from cocktail-lounge warhorses to country two-steps, from Smiley Lewis’ “Someday” to Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee,” from Roland Stone’s “Just a Moment” to the classic 1950s doo-wop “We Belong Together.” And in true New Orleans fashion, a second-line erupted. Not a stomping parade of gator-popping buck-jumpers, but a procession of guest singers who stepped up to add their own unique spices to the mix. Owner Mo Crane’s brother Rene—a kindly venerable figure with billowy snow-white hair and a blood-red guayabera shirt—took a turn at a couple of chestnuts, and then Mo himself—a man whose infectious lust for life is positively Viagra-like—stepped up to the microphone, shucking and jiving to Al Jolson and a totally romping version of “Gentle On My Mind.”
Mo’s Chalet: A musical oasis in Metairie that really delivers on its promise to “give the people what they want.”
The scene: An historic crossroads in Chalmette, where St. Bernard Highway meets Paris Road, under the unearthly, Mordor-like glow of the Chalmette Refinery, in a parish where so many ghosts still tiptoe on the fringes of our consciousness: French land barons. West African slaves. Canary Island fishermen. Creole dandies. Kaintuck riflemen. Bloodied British invaders. Sicilian truck farmers. Mobbed-up political bosses. At this crossroads sits a roadhouse that has operated under numerous names, in myriad incarnations: now called Old Brad’s Nite Life. It was there last Sunday evening that I took an unforgettable musical ride on a runaway R&B freight train: the Midnight Streetcar.
Led by an original Joker, bassist Cullen Landry, the Midnight Streetcar is firing on all cylinders in its mission to keep classic New Orleans rock and roll alive and kicking. This night featured a double-barreled vocal attack: St. Bernard native son Phat 2′sDay, a jump-blues specialist whose booming bellow shines on Big Joe Turner and Smiley Lewis shouters; and then Laurin Munsch, possibly the closest thing we have left to the “Tan Canary,” Mr. Johnny Adams.
Munsch sings in a rich tenor that suddenly and effortlessly swoops and flutters heavenward into a spine-tingling upper register that breaks the sound barrier to nail his versions of Tan Canary classics such as “I Won’t Cry” and “Reconsider Me.” Sonic celestial orgasm, and then diving back down to the terra firma of his sweet tenor voice. It is simply criminal that a vocal talent like Munsch’s is not playing the Ritz-Carlton or the Blue Room. And Munsch is a seasoned showman, wandering amid the packed dancefloor and tables with a cordless microphone and coaxing out sing-alongs. But then, this man is a pure professional, having honed his natural talent over many years in mainstay Metairie nightclubs like Chesterfield’s and Critic’s Choice.
And as if that weren’t enough, the band featured a third big-time vocalist in the form of its electric pianist, Al Farrell. A star in his own right, this man can play and sing Ray Charles in his sleep, delighting the audience with his muscular tenor on “What I’d Say” and “Georgia.” A true towering talent. James Booker is dead, Huey Smith is dormant, but New Orleans has not yet run out of piano professors while Al Farrell continues to tinkle the ivories.
And throughout this musical journey stood the Streetcar conductor, the wiry visionary Cullen Landry, silently plucking away at his standup bass, his silver hair and ruddy face shrouded in shadow but clearly transported to another realm by the music of his youth as he anchored down the groove of his musical henchmen.
The band was fleshed out by other solid, standout players such as Larry Simpson on saxophone, Willie Panker on drums, and Nat Montalbano on guitar. Who else would you want to have cranking out all the New Orleans classics? And it was a magical night filled with a hit parade of New Orleans’ rich musical tapestry of the 1950s and ’60s.
Later that evening, I thought back to the classic Preservation Hall band lineups of the 1960s and ’70s. The musicians in those bands—like clarinetist George Lewis, trombonist Jim Robinson, and trumpeter Percy Humphrey—were children playing at the feet of the jazz originators (Bolden, Armstrong, Morton, Bechet) when they created that earth-shaking sound in the early 1900s. And we know that band today as the real deal. Likewise, Cullen Landry and his cohorts were once pimply teenagers playing at the feet of the rock originators—the heroes of their youth like Guitar Slim, Fats Domino, and Lloyd Price—at the CYO dances at St. Anthony’s, St. Dominic, and Germania Hall. Today we know Midnight Streetcar as the real deal in New Orleans R&B. Go see them.