Pardon the geographical pun, but besides Texas, our neighbor to the east may be the most musical state in these United States. And in terms of per capita, Louisiana, which ranks 25th in population to Texas' second, is probably second to none.
Outside Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, the program most responsible for spreading country music throughout the South in the mid-20th century was the Shreveport-based Louisiana Hayride. Everyone pretty much agrees that jazz was invented in New Orleans, of course, but that city also has as good a pedigree as the birthplace of rock and roll as its neighbor up Highway 61, Memphis, and has been bouncing back and forth with Houston and Atlanta as the capital of Southern rap for a solid decade now.
To wit: Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, Faron Young, Jerry Lee Lewis, Slim Harpo, Dr. John, Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Lucinda Williams, Sonny Landreth, Juvenile, Lil Wayne... get the picture? Curiously enough, though - and also like Texas - Louisiana seems to specialize in solo artists; Pelican State groups that have had a similar amount of impact as the aforementioned performers are relatively few and far between.
So on this Mardi Gras day, Rocks Off set out to find a few and, as we often do, rank them arbitrarily according to our personal degree of familiarity and enjoyment. It's our blog, and that's how we let the good times roll. For the purposes of this list, by the way, we have limited our survey to the realms of pop, rock and R&B. It's not that we don't love Cajun, zydeco and second-line brass bands, but if we let them in we could be here all week. It's Mardi Gras, y'all, and we want to party too.
10. Eyehategod: Jazz, yes, but not a whole lot of people know that New Orleans is also the capital of sludge metal, a name that has less to do with the amount of pollution in the Mississippi River than just being a nifty way to describe an ill-tempered hybrid of doom-metal and hardcore punk. Formed in 1988, Eyehategod gets the nod over Phil Anselmo's Down and Acid Bath, which spawned alt-blues hellion Dax Riggs, because out of this cadre of mean sumbitches, they're probably the meanest of all.
Still Active? Yes. Played Walter's on Washington late last year.
9. Zebra: If Rocks Off were still doing our "Lost Tuneage" blogs, Zebra would be an ideal candidate - when we wrote about the Houston Symphony's "Music of Led Zeppelin" program in 2007, we had no idea Zebra was Robert Plant stand-in Randy Jackson's main gig.
Formed in New Orleans in 1975, Zebra moved back east and knocked around New York City and Long Island clubs with the likes of Twisted Sister, making it to Atlantic Records for three albums in the '80s. Never quite grabbed the brass ring, but never quit either. Inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame last year.
Still Active? Indeed. See www.thedoor.com.
8. Zydepunks: As literate as they are rambunctious, Rocks Off called this New Orleans group (and Los Skarnales pals) a "high-speed collision of ethnic traditions that manifests itself in song titles like 'A Fistful of Oysters'" when they played iFest last year. Think of them as Gogol Bordello for the red-beans-and-rice set.
Still Active? Yes. Featured in the upcoming New Orleans-shot independent movie Flood Streets, which premieres April 11 at the Worldfest Houston film festival.
7. Bluerunners: Several years before the Zydepunks came along, Lafayette's Bluerunners were mixing R.E.M.-ish rock with folk music (especially zydeco) and built a decent regjional following via Gulf Coast college radio and touring their asses off. Albums like 1994's The Chateau Chuck and '98's To the Country are hard to find but worth seeking out.
Still Active? Reunited last fall for a live broadcast on Lafayette's KRVS, but it looks like a one-shot deal.
6. The Fabulous Boogie Kings: A sentimental favorite. After Rocks Off discovered this swamp-pop big band that has had more members than Chicago since forming in Eunice around 1955, we happened to mention them to our dad, and he told us how he and his friends used to go see them at Sabine-side clubs like Lou Ann's and the Big Oaks back in the day. You can find current leader Ned Theall on Facebook here.
Still Active? Yep, with a few original members to boot (just don't ask us which ones). Played their induction into the Museum of the Gulf Coast's Music Hall of Fame last year.
5. Cowboy Mouth: Singing drummer Fred LeBlanc approaches Cowboy Mouth gigs more like a gospel revival than a rock show, which is one reason his quartet has been a dependable live draw around the Gulf Coast for 20 years now. They were doing "Jenny Says" live and loud years before it became their breakthough '90s alt-radio hit, but diehards know to listen for "Light It On Fire" as well as slam-bang covers of Hank WIlliams' "I Saw the Light" and (especially) Loretta Lynn's "Don't Come Home a-Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)."
Still Active? We hope so, because they're supposed to play House of Blues tonight.
4. Hot Boyz: As the group that spawned both Juvenile and Lil Wayne (Weezy debuting when he was around 11), these Cash Money millionaires eventually left their main NOLA rap rivals, Master P's No Limit Soldiers, in the dust. Together with producer Mannie Fresh, bobbed and weaved on and off each other's solo albums and three LPs as a group until 2003's Let 'Em Burn, leaving behind Southern-rap scorchers like "The Block Is Hot," "Back That Azz Up" and "I Need a Hot Girl." To date, no member has appeared on Dancing With the Stars, either.
Still Active? Very much so individually, and perhaps soon collectively, if Rap-a-Lot's J. Prince has anything to say about it.
3. Cookie & the Cupcakes: No decent Gulf Coast music collection is complete without at least a copy of Cookie & the Cupcakes' ageless 1993 anthology By Request (Jin). If the Lake Charles group formed by Huey "Cookie" Theirry in the mid-'50s didn't invent swamp-pop outright, they perfected this heartbroken hodgepodge of Cajun, country, R&B and early rock and roll on songs like "Mathilda," "Got You On My Mind," "Sea of Love" and "I Cried." Rocks Off was lucky enough to see them live at Austin's Continental Club around 1996 or so, and we'll never forget it.
Still Active? Sadly, Cookie passed away in 1997 and his replacement "Lil Alfred" Babino in 2006, but Houston's own Nick Gaitan & the Umbrella Man keep the flame burning via a sparkling cover of "Mathilda."
2. Dash Rip Rock: Hold on, isn't Dash Rip Rock opening for Cowboy Mouth tonight? Yes, but we told you this was a personal list, and LSU alum Bill Davis and crew's corn-likker swamp-rock - say, Georgia Satellites meets Poor Dumb Bastards - has always been right up Rocks Off's alley.
It's hard to argue with a band that can write an album updating Dante's Inferno to the contemporary South (2007 LP Hee Haw Hell) and still pull out "Pussywhipped" and "Rich Little Bitch" for encores. (Yes, and the pot song.) Trivia: Cowboy Mouth's Fred LeBlanc was Dash's original drummer before leaving to start his own thang.
Still Active? See Cowboy Mouth.
1. The Neville Brothers/The (Funky) Meters: Rocks Off hopes you saw this one coming at least. Between the two of them, these two groups centered around New Orleans' first family (that would be the Nevilles) mixed up Creole music, jazz and R&B, dipped it into some deep, deep funk, and lit a fiyo on the bayou that has yet to go out. Picked up famous fans like Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger along the way; "Cissy Strut" and "Look-Ka Py Py" have probably been sampled by hip-hop DJs as many times as James Brown.
Still Active? The core Meters - Art Neville, George Porter Jr., Leo Nocentelli, Zigaboo Modeliste - split in 1977 and have sporadically reunited in various permutations, sometimes as the Funky Meters and most prominently as headliners of Jazz Fest in 2005. As for the Nevilles... well, they're family.
A-Train (Shreveport's answer to the Radiators, according to a colleague)
Better Than Ezra ("Good" guys)
Bo Dollis & the Wild Magnolias (musical Mardi Gras Indian tribe)
John Fred & the Playboys (Baton Rouge one-hit wonders with 1967's "Judy In Disguise")
Galactic (jammy New Orleans funkateers)
Neutral Milk Hotel (Jeff Mangum's haunted, haunting Elephant 6 crew left off main list due to a brain fart)
The Radiators (recently disbanded Big Easy rock/R&B polymaths)
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Red Rockers (New Orleans New Wavers - remember "China"?)
Supagroup (N.O.'s Southern-fried Motley Crue)