In the ’70s and ’80s, Louisiana’s LeRoux released five major-label albums. The band’s biggest hit, “Nobody Said It Was Easy,” reached the national Top 20. Two other songs, “Addicted” and “Carrie’s Gone,” received radio play and MTV exposure.
But “New Orleans Ladies,” LeRoux’s most famous song in Louisiana, never reached the Top 40. Lack of national success didn’t stop the bittersweet ballad, written by LeRoux bassist Leon Medica and Bogalusa songwriter Hoyt Garrick, from becoming a ubiquitous slow-dance classic in the Southeast.
40 years after “New Orleans Ladies” appeared on LeRoux’s debut album, the band feels renewed by its mix of new and classic membership. It’s even recording a new album.
The roots of LeRoux date to 1975, when its precursor, the Jeff Pollard Band, was a popular Baton Rouge group. In 1977, the Pollard Band toured the U.S. and Africa as backup for the eclectic roots-music star Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. The group subsequently signed with Capitol Records and changed its name to LeRoux. In 1978, Capitol released the Louisiana’s LeRoux album.
The regional popularity of “New Orleans Ladies” helped LeRoux secure opening act gigs with Kansas, Chicago, ZZ Top, Ozzy Osbourne, the Beach Boys, Foreigner, .38 Special, REO Speedwagon, the Doobie Brothers, Bob Seger, Journey and Loverboy.
“We were out with just about anybody you can think of,” founding guitarist and songwriter Tony Haselden said. “That was fun. It always felt like we were on the cusp of jumping to the next level, but we’re not disappointed with the success that we had. We all survived and still have active brain cells left.”
Pianist Rod Roddy remembers LeRoux’s five years of nearly major stardom as an awesome era. Despite their non-headliner status, he and his bandmates lived a surreal life, Roddy said.
“Being on the road for that long, you lose your sense of reality,” he said. “We weren’t even that big, so I can’t imagine what it was like for those mega-stars. We felt like we were working an hour a day.”
Guitarist and songwriter Jim Odom joined LeRoux in 1981, following the departure of lead singer Pollard. His early days with the band were daunting and exhilarating. “We had a lot of fun writing music for the fifth album (So Fired Up), but there was a lot of pressure to release a record people wanted to buy,” he said. “Some of the most intimidating things were the first concerts that I did with LeRoux. The stages were huge and the arenas were packed.”
Lead singers have always been LeRoux’s most changeable element. Pollard left for religious reasons. “Back in the day,” Roddy said, “most concerts were sponsored by cigarette manufacturers or brewers. Miller Lite, Budweiser, Marlboro. That made it difficult for Jeff. He’d say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to be involved in that.’”
Creative differences arose during production for LeRoux’s first RCA album, 1981’s Last Safe Place. “Doing that record was really uncomfortable for Jeff and the band,” Roddy said. “We’d started out more Louisiana, more funky. We were doing Jeff’s material, stuff that he had written, and we just played the way we played. But then we started touring with bands like Foreigner and Cheap Trick and Kansas. When I started writing, it was natural for me to write along those lines.”
The cohesion Odom initially saw in the band began evaporating. “We were trying to decide what to do next,” he remembered. “Jeff had left. He’d been the cornerstone of the band as a singer and a writer. There were differences of opinion. Each of the guys wanted to try something new.”
Dennis “Fergie” Frederiksen replaced Pollard on the road and in the studio for LeRoux’s most rock-oriented album, 1982’s So Fired Up. The group disbanded in 1983 but briefly reunited in 1984 with Randy Knaps as lead vocalist.
Frederiksen became the singer in Toto. The band’s other members moved to various pursuits, musical and otherwise.
In 1996, the release of a greatest hits album, Bayou Degradable: The Best of Louisiana’s LeRoux, led to reunion shows in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette. After a decade apart, Roddy said, “we met at the House of Blues and rehearsed. Chill bumps. All the stuff that accumulated while we loved and hated each other on the road was gone. It was just like a gig when we were 20 years old. We were happy to play.”
Since the 1996 reunion, LeRoux has continued performing, especially festival dates in Louisiana. The 2017 edition of the band, featuring lead vocalist Terry Brock, feels revitalized on stage and, with no major-label pressures to release hit singles, free to be itself in the studio.
“When we had a major-label deal, we were always trying to fashion ourselves to a format,” Haselden said. “But this new album is just fun. The palette will be broader. The common thread will be all of us and our musicianship. We’re excited about it. You can’t outgrow music.”