If AC/DC's schoolboy-uniform-wearing, whirling-dervish guitarist Angus Young had a child with soulful goodtime crooner Aaron Neville, odds are he would look and sound like Cowboy Mouth's singer/drummer Fred LeBlanc. The image fairly describes LeBlanc's heart-tugging-singer-meets-eternal-teenager shtick, and really pegs his New Orleans-based band, which after 17 years is still one of the last true live acts still touring.
"We've got a couple of studio records, but live is where everything comes together," says LeBlanc, speaking while on break from a cross-country tour. "Let's put it this way: Our albums are very calm compared to our live shows."
Cowboy Mouth has flirted with commercial success throughout its career, most notably with "Jenny Says" on 1996's Word of Mouth. According to LeBlanc, though, the band was, and remains, a live act first and foremost.
"I often compare what we do live and what we do in the studio to the difference between making love and watching porn," he says. "People rarely have sex the way they do in porn it's got to be exaggerated for you to get the idea across but when you are with someone you love, it's much more subtle, and you still think that it's awesome."
In interviews, LeBlanc is the fast-talking madman that he is in concert. But underneath the Bacchanalian rock god image exists an underlying sweetness. That kind of sweetness, combined with the band's positivity, fuels both Cowboy Mouth's success and its devoted fans.
"I think we put out something positive, and it helps keep us from burning out, because there are a lot of people who genuinely enjoy and get something positive out of what we do," he says. "I learned a long time ago that if you create something angry and negative, it will take its toll on you. When you try to put out something that gives energy back to you, you can do it for the rest of your life.
"It all depends on what you put out in the world. What you put out there comes back to you."
What the band is putting out these days is an infectious blend of pop, good old fashioned rock 'n roll and a smattering of sing-along-infused punk rock. It's a mix that helps set Cowboy Mouth apart in its aforementioned live shows. It also makes the band difficult to label, often to the detriment of potential for a radio breakthrough.
But after all this time, LeBlanc, bassist Regina Zernay and guitarists/vocalists Vance Degeneres and John Thomas Griffith will continue dabbling in different genres, and won't, in LeBlanc's words, "write the same kind of song over and over again." Instead, they'll just rip it up with more live shows. The life of the road-weary rock star is the life for LeBlanc, pop hits be damned.
"I don't want to sound pretentious, but for better or for worse, I'm an artist," he says. "It's my soul, and I have to do what I do. If I can't do it my way, then there are easier ways to do what I do than this."