Louisiana’s LeRoux is among the music acts from Baton Rouge that achieved national, even international popularity. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, the band recorded five major-label albums, the first three for Capitol and final two for RCA.
LeRoux’s RCA albums held hit singles that got the band major radio and MTV play. “Nobody Said It Was Easy (Looking For The Lights)” and “Addicted” both came from 1981’s Last Safe Place. Despite the departure of lead singer Jeff Pollard, follow-up album So Fired Up contained another hit, “Carrie’s Gone.”
The group toured extensively, performing more than 300 shows a year, sharing stages with ZZ Top, Heart, Kansas, the Doobie Brothers, Bob Seger, Journey and more.
The original LeRoux grew from eclectic singer, guitarist and fiddler Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s backup band. Bassist and songwriter Leon Medica has led the group through the decades.
Medica also produced LeRoux’s first two Capitol albums, both of them soaked in the group’s Louisiana roots. Neither album was commercially successful, but the band’s self-titled album debut contains the LeRoux song Louisiana loves most, “New Orleans Ladies.”
“All the way,” lead singer Jeff Pollard laments in the original recording, “from Bourbon Street to Esplanade, they sashay by, they sashay by.”
Sustained interest in “New Orleans Ladies” prompted a belated greatest hits album in 1996, Bayou Degradable: The Best of Louisiana’s LeRoux. Most of the band’s original members reunited to promote the collection, performing in Lafayette, New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
Louisiana’s LeRoux remains active today, playing about 12 shows a year, many of them at casinos and festivals. And the band is completing a new album that will feature its musical friends as special guests, including Bill Champlin from Chicago and Bobby Kimball from Toto.
“They were just up here doing a show together,” Medica said from the Nashville, Tenn., suburb of Hendersonville, his home for many years. “Bobby called me and said, ‘Hey, man. Y’all doing a new album? Well, you want to cut us while we’re up here? We got time.’
“So I rented a studio and they came. Actually, Bill Champlin sent us a bunch of great songs. He’s a great songwriter. And I’ve never been in a studio with anybody who does background vocals as good as he does.”
Medica, an Alexandria native who lived in Baton Rouge for many years, also wants Lafayette slide guitarist Sonny Landreth to play a solo for a new version of “New Orleans Ladies.” And Tab Benoit, the swamp-blues singer-guitarist from Houma with whom LeRoux recorded and toured with in recent years, may make a guest appearance. “There’s a couple of blues things I really want Tab to do,” Medica said.
The album’s tentative title is Lightning In This Bottle. Medica and Jim Odom, the Baton Rouge-based guitarist and founder and president of PreSonus Audio Electronics, are co-producing. Medica anticipates the project will be released in Europe and the United States late this year.
“It’s a whole mix of stuff,” he said of the track list. “We’ve got songs from all kinds of writers besides ourselves. And I told the guys in the band, ‘If you’ve got any stuff, submit it.’ ”
LeRoux member Tony Haselden wrote some of the band’s best-loved songs as well as country hits for Colin Ray (“That’s My Story”), Keith Whitley (“It Ain’t Nothing”) and George Strait (“You Know Me Better Than That”).
Like Haselden, Medica’s music career includes non-LeRoux projects. He composed music for nine movies but his biggest success came when he produced a song for the 1987 film, Dirty Dancing. Sung by his old friend from the Doobie Brothers, Tom Johnston, Medica and Johnston recorded “Where Are You Tonight?” at Studio in the Country in Bogalusa.
“Talk about something changing your world,” Medica marveled. “I got gold records and platinum records all over my office.”
Medica’s other musical activities include post-LeRoux European tours with Zachary Richard, an impromptu performance in Lafayette with John Fogerty, meeting Johnny Cash at the Hendersonville post office and pre-LeRoux work in the house band for musicals in New York and London.
During one of those London performances, Harry Nilsson showed up and complimented Medica’s bass playing.
“I look back on those kinds of things and I go, ‘How did I wind up in England in Harry Nilsson’s apartment and he’s playing his whole Nilsson Schmilsson album for me with an acoustic guitar?” Medica asked.
Despite Medica’s success beyond LeRoux and his many adventures in music, LeRoux remains a priority.
“I couldn’t let it go,” he said. “They’re my friends.”
With the hard days of playing 300 shows a year behind the group and just a dozen shows a year on the group’s schedule, every LeRoux show is a special show.
“If you could see us when we all get back together, it’s like kids in a candy store,” Medica said. “We’re all so close with each other.”
LeRoux returns to its city of origin this weekend for a free show at the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino. It’s the first in a series of summer concerts at the casino produced by the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
“Like all the jobs we play,” Medica said, “when we go to Baton Rouge, there will be some kind of adventure, something that’s gonna happen.”