After moving to Chicago in 1950 at the age of 19, Louisiana native Lenny LaCour’s big break came in 1955 when he won a jingle contest for Orange Crush, which was then looking to make a splash with the rock ’n’ roll crowd. Soon, singles of LaCour’s “Rock N’ Roll Romance” were distributed with every Crush 6-pack. The song marks the beginning of Night Train International’s LaCour retrospective, Walkin’ the Bullfrog.
While several takes of “Rock N’ Roll Romance” from various stages of LaCour’s career are included on
Walkin’, none measure up to the big, brassy shuffle, walking bass line, free-wheeling guitar, and howling vocals of the original cut. Following its success, LaCour landed his first recording contract. Sadly, it saw his output leveraged more in the realm of marketing than in the arena of rock. Nevertheless, much of this content merits equal regard to that of his esteemed peers. Though the hallucinatory, beatnik boogie of “Jungle Rock” undoubtedly bears no rival, “Rockin’ Rosalie” is definitely recalls the sounds of Bill Haley, and the teetering rockabilly and streaking blues of “Old Fish” ventures further than even most brazed rock pioneers dared.
As the ’50s waned, LaCour allowed his entrepreneurial instincts to guide his path. Often fulfilling the roles of performer, writer, producer, arranger, promoter, and talent scout, he helmed record labels and focused his efforts on capturing the doo-wop sounds of Chicago and Milwaukee. He also released several doo-wop gems under the moniker, Big Rocker. “No Privacy,” with its up-tempo cadence and hard-pressed teenage love story, is pure gold, and on the woeful, street-corner ballad “Have I Stayed Away Too Long,” LaCour adds a touch of swamp pop to his croon—a sound which characterizes the latter half of his career.
The ’70s found LaCour’s output significantly diminished and often cluttered with hokey disco hooks, yet he resurfaced again as King Creole to deliver the marvelous, southern Louisiana oddity “Walkin’ the Bullfrog,” and “Maharishi,” a swampy take on transcendental meditation that’s arguably the album’s best. LaCour’s later work definitely lacks the consistency of his earlier hits, but it still finds its architect (even at 75 years of age) driven, defying conventions, and stretching boundaries.
Though his name may never garner iconic status nor his legend epic stature, Lenny LaCour’s story, music, ingenuity, and battle for independence, embody the lasting spirit of rock ’n’ roll. From his Creole upbringings to his struggle for success to his current endeavors, Walkin’ the Bullfrog aptly captures the career of one of popular music’s true diamonds in the rough.