James "The Blues Hound" Nagel
Used by kind permission of Texas Music News and Music News Online
It is indeed a pleasure to feature a true road warrior as this month's
spotlight artist. A soulful blues veteran whose musical collaborations
have taken him around the world and back with many of the most talented
musicians in the world.
Jerry LaCroix was born October 10, 1943 in Alexandria, LA, and a 30-mile journey from his kinfolk's home in nearby Jena. His first musical exposure came by way of family.
What I was exposed to first was all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma, and grandpa sitting on the front porch and singing and picking. They used to have what I would call a jam session or shivaree. They would all come and bring their instruments -- guitars, banjos, mandolins, even a big bass fiddle. It would send cold chills up and down your spine. There was a lot of talent up there. That was my first influence. They loved bluegrass. They played bluegrass, and it was bluesy and soulful country music.
So it gave you your first real love of music.
Oh, golly, yes. But then I discovered Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Buddy Holly. Once I heard that kind of music, well that was just something else.
So you used to tune into the late night radio shows?
Yeah. We used to get radio stations from Mexico, XERF, and Del Rio, and get the Wolfman and John R, and they were hipping us to all kind of good stuff. That kind of turned me all around right there.
As you were getting into your teens, were you primarily doing vocal work or were you concentrating on an instrument?
In school I played clarinet in about the sixth grade. Then I found out what a saxophone was and switched over to that in the ninth grade. I heard rock and roll about the same time, and I picked up a guitar and started playing. This was the time when music was really good. People like James Brown, Bobby Blue Bland, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles came along, and they really blew my mind.
The soulful balladeer type of music.
Yeah, more of a sophisticated blues. I liked the horns, the horn bands, and the horn voicings. Edgar Winter and I had a little group together, and we had horns in it. We would sit down with our ear right next to the speaker and go, what's that saxophone player playing. We would pick out each bass note and each horn note individually and then start figuring out what they really were. This is like before we even knew what chords, voicings and all of that stuff were. We just more or less figured it out on our own. Later I went to Berkley School of Music. Well, I went to Lamar in Beaumont for two years and majored in music. They only taught classical style of music at Lamar. Three of the guys in the band went up to Boston and got to hanging out at Berkley. Then we started learning what music was really all about. They taught the jazz style, but we applied it to rhythm and blues. We were playing all the real hot and heavy R&B stuff.
Tell me more about your early days in music and how your reputation was established.
I moved away from Louisiana when I was like 5 years old and came over here to this house that I am in right now speaking to you from. I went to school all through the Port Neches, Groves school district from the first grade on. The reputation started when we got a gig at The Big Oaks Club, a club across the river in Vinton, LA. We had a little five piece band called The Counts, and we played the Jimmy Reed kind of stuff. I guess that's probably around the age of 14. That's about the time we discovered horns and got two saxophones, and it was like wow. We started experimenting with a little harmony in the horns, got a trumpet player and a trombone player, and we formed a band called The Dominoes. We were playing some really cool R&B stuff, Guitar Slim and all the esoteric cool stuff that nobody ever really heard. There was this hot spot across the river that a group called JT Richard played at called The Big Oaks Club. They would have cars parked on the highway and this was the happening place. The drinking age in Louisiana was 18 and in Texas it was 21. People would drive 100 miles to go to this club. We went over there and sat in with JT Richard. We just knocked them out, and actually more or less stole the job from JT Richard. He still likes me though. I don't know why. But that's how we got the gig. Then the band grew a lot. We kept adding horns until at one point, I had like 4 trumpets and 5 saxophones. We called that band Thirteen Pieces of Sugar Coated Soul. I guess I got addicted to horns. I'm back in that same bag right now. Since you saw me in Conroe, I've added two more horns -- another trumpet and another baritone. I have five horns and when I play, it is six. I'm playing keyboards in this band. The Blues Crew is the latest band. But if you want to know a little more history there was another band in Louisiana called the Boogie Kings, and they were very popular. We were trying to buck them more or less. They played across the river at one club, and we played at another club. When they came to town, everybody went to see them. We're studying music, voicing things out, and learning what thirds, fifths, sevenths, and even ninths are. Anyway, we went across the street on our break to go hear this fabulous band. Sure enough man, when we walked in the door they had like a Hammond B3 organ, about five tenor saxophones, a baritone saxophone, two or three trumpets, and one of those Louisiana drummers. Man, they sounded like a freight train coming through, just rolling right over you. I said oh my, how are we going to compete with this? We tried bucking them for a while, but we ended up going if we can't lick these guys, we'll join them. And we did. I got all the guys in the band. I got Gary, the bass player, my bass player eventually, and Dale Gauthier, my alto sax player, and Bobby Ramirez, the drummer too. We were more or less like the Texas Boogie Kings. I joined them first and then I recruited the guys, as spots became available. The Boogie Kings had a name and a reputation, and they were hot. We had three vocalists -- GG Shannon, Gary Walker, and myself. We would trade off singing all the popular stuff of the day, in the R&B vein, and made a show and revue out of it. We would all sing at the same time; it was extremely powerful. The band is still legendary.
How long did you stay with the Boogie Kings?
Off and on for probably seven or eight years. Everything was back and forth. There's lots of things. Going to school in Boston, coming back, and joining up with them again. My big break came when Edgar Winter got his big break in about 1970. We did a White Trash album. I went up there in 70. I had formed a smaller band out of a band that GG and I had put together that was a spin-off of the Boogie Kings called the Rollercoasters. Then I formed another band, a little four piece band. We went to Bourbon Street in New Orleans and had a sit down job there. That was one of the most fun times of my life, playing right on Bourbon Street. We were the first rock and roll, rhythm and blues. We were more kind of a rock and roll band at that time, just four pieces with two horns, a trumpet, sax, an organ player that kicked the pedals, and a drummer. My stage name all back through that era was Jerry Count Jackson. We called ourselves the Jackson Brewing Company. We were working at the Ivanhoe. Everything else was strippers and Dixieland on the street at that time. We were the first ones to kind of break through. Anyway, that is where I was playing when Edgar came down and saw our band with his manager, Steve Paul. They came in and Edgar brought me an acetate of his Entrance album. After the gig we went over to a friend's apartment and Edgar put on this acetate and it just blew me away. He told me his idea of putting together the best band in the world, a super group. He planned to spend all of his front money, going to Europe and all through the United States, auditioning people to find the best players in the world. I said well, what time are we leaving? So, I did. I left and went back with Edgar after a couple of weeks. He was living in New York and I would sleep on the couch . We commenced to write all of our original material for the first White Trash album. After we wrote the material, we went on a tour like we planned to do all these auditions in the major cities and try out all the musicians and find the best musicians in the world. Well, we never did make it to Europe because we spent all of Edgar's front money. Come to find out, we had already played with the best musicians in the world. We already knew who they were. The same guys we grew up playing with. So we ended up using them. It was a hard lesson. You know you listen to people on records and think man it sounds great. Then you go and get them to play with you in person and you're like man, is that the same guy.
It was a wild ride with Edgar Winter and White Trash.
Yeah, it was probably the pentacle of my career so far. That was wonderful.
After the project with Edgar ended, you moved on to Blood, Sweat and Tears or Rare Earth?
I did in the interim when White Trash broke up everybody in the band, except Rick and Edgar, went with me out to the West Coast. I got a solo deal out there. We did an album called LaCroix with Columbia Records, Epic actually, the same label we were on. Then I did another solo album with all the best musicians in New York City. We went on tour with Uriah Heap. We played Madison Square Garden with Rod Stewart. We were playing all the hottest spots -- Cobo Hall, The Spectrum in Philadelphia. We played in Chicago and that's when there was a terrible accident. Bobby Ramirez, the drummer, got killed. Bobby started playing with me when he was 11 and I was 14. He could like read my mind and everybody else's too. He was the greatest drummer in the world. When he died, the spirit of the band died too. We tried to carry on a little while, but it was just too hard.
Did you come back home?
No, I was living in California at the time. I went to Connecticut and did a solo album with all the greatest studio musicians in New York City that were available. I had the Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Rick Merado (on drums), and all the best rhythm players.
What was the name of that record?
It was Second Coming. Right after that came out, I got a call from Clive Davis, who I had dealt with all through the White Trash years and the LaCroix album. You have to understand that there was one time when the LaCroix Band was in the studio and Clive Davis flew out, and we played all of our original songs for him to see what he thought. He stood up and gave us a standing ovation. After that he came around and talked to me on the side and said I love what you are doing. I love your band, but for your live performances I want you to get a star guitar player. He had in mind a rock and roll guitar player, somebody like Derringer was with White Trash. He had a couple of guys in mind, but I said, Clive, I've got a star guitar player. I had a guy named Barry Rowlero, who had played with Ray Charles, and he now plays with the Righteous Brothers. I loved the way Barry played. He played more R&B. Clive wanted me to go with a more rock and roll guitar player, but I stuck to my guns and I kept Barry. Well, it seems like we kind of got put on the shelf after I didn't do what Clive wanted me to do. So this time when Clive called me and said Jerry I've got something that I want you to do. I want you to come and sing in Blood, Sweat and Tears. I said ok, whatever you say. My album had just come out and those guys wanted to go on tour with me, but Blood, Sweat and Tears was going on a world tour and I hadn't seen the world. They enticed me to go, and I more or less put my project on hold, but my album was released on Polygram and Mercury. I had asked Clive for a release after nothing happened with the LaCroix album and Clive gratuitously gave me a release. Then I resigned with Mercury Polygram and did the Second Coming album. The album was barely off the presses when Clive calls me and wants me to join blood, Sweat and Tears and do their album, which turned out to be Mirror Image. I had written a few songs on that album, did the world tour with them, and that was quite interesting. Then I quit them.
It was a fairly short lived project.
Yeah, I gave my notice while we were in Australia. We were coming back to do one more big gig at Central Park. I basically didn't care for Blood, Sweat and Tears style. I loved to listen to them on record and everything, but they are just another one of those bands that sounds good recording. Don't get me wrong, they had a great horn section. I just wasn't very happy with the rhythm section. They didn't seem to gel very well at the time I was with them. Bobby Columbi, the drummer, was the leader of the band. We would talk and he would say, you have a lot of great ideas, Jerry, why don't you take over the band. I said, Bobby I couldn't do that because the first thing I would have to do would be to fire you. I would get another drummer. Bobby and I get along great. He has taken on other roles, he's a manager and a big A and R man out on the West Coast. He's got no problems. Anyway, I gave my notice and came back. Then I got a call from the manager of Rare Earth offering me a job in Rare Earth. I always loved Rare Earth, so I said let me go out there and see what happens. I got there and my head is still swimming, we're going to be on Don Kirschner's Rock Concert. We hadn't even had a rehearsal. For national television. I stayed with them until we just kind of petered out. I had a great time with them. We did two albums, one with Norman Whitefield. Then I came back home here and formed various bands. I am as proud of the band I have now as I am of anything I have ever done before. It's the Blues Krewe. We are more or less going back to the roots, going back and playing the old blues -- things by Little Milton, Wilson Pickett, Little Junior Parker, just getting back to the good old basics. We were playing more or less obscure blues but real hot horn stuff and real soulful good dance music. I mean everybody is just thrilled. We played in Beaumont at Red's Ice House and had the biggest crowd they ever had. It's a new club and we packed them out and turned them away at the door.
What else do you have in the works?
I'm working on a little tape and doing some homemade projects. I'm doing a compilation tape of things I've recorded in the past. A little package to give more or less as souvenirs to people who come to see us. Demos, if somebody wants to hear something. I'm also working on an anthology. I'm getting my own CD burner so I can make my own CDs and do them out of the back end of the Winabago. I don't think that they will be out before the first. We're currently working on the cover, the design, and the songs.
You also did some recording with Lightfoot.
I hear from him from time to time but nothing has really happened with all the tragedy in his life. Jerry's a great guy.
Weren't you out in Vegas for a while as well?
Yes, I lived in Reno. I was kind of retired out there, and I chopped wood in Reno.
I thought you did some engineering work and studio work out there.
Angel South, my guitar player from my early days, was living in Reno and came and found me in Oregon in a little town with a population of 250. I was cutting firewood for a living, making about 18 cents an hour, but I had a 28" waist. I was in shape. I'd sit on the side of the mountain look around and wonder what Edgar was doing. Angel knew a guy that had built a studio, and they coaxed me to work in the studio. I managed the studio and learned quite a bit about engineering there from the local engineer. Our claim to fame was that we cut Lionel Ritchie and Dianna Ross' Endless Love there. That was an experience that really got me back into the music business. That was after Rare Earth. I had basically quit and retired.