Le Roux - 2003 Interview with Leon Medica Jnr


The band LeRoux and the musical genre of AOR can be compared with hand and glove. Their 80's work represents everything we loved about the genre: huge melodies, razor sharp hooks and a distinctive style that's similar to many other beloved AOR bands, but always different enough to be their own.

The LeRoux story has it's origins in the mid 70's, involving fateful studio sessions and a Louisiana blues legend. LeRoux bassist and spokesman Leon Medica Jnr kicks off our latest interview with the band, following on from our previous session undertalken with the old HOTR site, back in July 2001.

'I worked some speculative sessions at a studio and on down time, when the studio was not booked, I was allowed to record at no cost' says Leon. 'Because Jeff (Pollard) was the main writer I felt I could get him a publishing deal and I was ready to try my hand as a producer.'

'Jeff had an acoustic band at the time, which consisted of David Peters, Rod Roddy, and Bobby Campo. I played bass on a Gatemouth Brown album and 'Gate' wanted me to put a live backup band together. I slowly added the members of LeRoux to Gate's band as the money permitted and soon it was the whole band. It was a great relationship'.

'During the week we would play acoustically as the Jeff Pollard Band, and on the weekends play our music electrically, and then back up 'Gate'. Gatemouth was a great influence on the band. Some of the tempos that 'Gate' liked were very fast. This is great for building your speed and endurance. He was also a very funny man'.

'There are so many funny Gatemouth Brown stories that I will only say the music was great, and the travel was worldwide including your beautiful country South Africa Lee. I had a blast and wonderful memories.'

An inspired, if unusual way for an AOR legend to take it's first steps. The influence of Gatemouth Brown and other Louisiana sounds of the day, combined with mainstream rock influences, resulted in a gourmet mixture of musical styles - always melodic, often funky. It's well known that the name 'LeRoux' refers to this mixture, as told in the liner notes of their compilation CD 'Bayou Degradable'.

Which brings us to how their recording career got into gear - Leon takes us back to the debut era. 'I was doing recording sessions in Nashville as a bass player, and on one of the sessions I met Paul Tannen, the head of Screen Gems publishing, the sister company to Capitol Records. On a following trip, I gave Paul a copy of the tapes that I had been producing with Jeff. Paul liked the tape and I negotiated a publishing deal for Jeff'.

'This gave me a major company for financing our demos and helped me set up showcases with major label record companies. We received offers from Capitol and Epic Rrecords and accepted the Capitol deal.'

Leon continues, 'A suggestion was made to add another guitar player. We added Tony Haselden, and that was a great choice. Tony is a great guitarist, writer, and is to this day one of my best friends. In the beginning we recorded most of Jeff's songs, when I presented 'New Orleans Ladies' to Jeff, he did not want to play it'.

'Once we did the audience response was overwhelming. In hindsight I'm glad I convinced Jeff to sing the song because to this day 'New Orleans Ladies' is our signature song and was voted song of the century in New Orleans by Gambit Magazine, the cities premier music magazine'.

'It's interesting LeRoux's signature song was almost not a LeRoux song! The first album was approached similar to the demos, however we spent more time working on sounds and mixing. We'd played the songs at gigs for so long it was second nature recording the tracks. We finished the album ahead of schedule and under budget' adds Leon.

Keeping the format of combined musical styles, 'Keep The Fire Burning' was released in 1979 to quite an initial response, and saw the band resume a heavy touring schedule with some of the big names of the late 70's AOR scene. We asked Leon to keep the fire burning a little longer and take us back to those days.

'Well 'Keep the Fire Burning' started out as the number two most added album in America. We toured heavily on this album. It did not have the radio success of the first album, but did well. All the bands that we toured with treated us as part of the show'.

'We received the stage room, sound, lighting, and hospitality as if we were old friends and in the case of Kansas and the Doobies, we are still very good friends. Journey was also a group of great guys, and although we rarely see them now, we were friends back then.'

By 1980 rock music in general was moving in a very structured and melodic direction, more clearly defining our beloved AOR genre. This project saw Le Roux work with Cheap Trick session keyboardist and future 707 producer Jai Winding at the controls, and introduced the first of what is becoming a recurring theme in AOR - a classic AOR trilogy of albums. This is how Leon remembers the 'Up' era.

'This was Jeff's favoured LeRoux album. The songs went over good in concert. Jai produced us like Toto or other AOR sounding bands. Jai changed the sound of the band. However this album did not sell well, despite the acclaim.'

It often happens that a watershed album meets with lukewarm response from the public, but things were about to get a lot brighter regarding Le Roux's commercial fortunes - 1982 brought a change of label and the 'Last Safe Place' album, resulting in two MTV videos and a Billboard top 20 smash single 'Nobody Said It Was Easy'.

This was also their highest selling and charting album, but remains underrated in favour of the albums on either side of it. Nevertheless, things were looking up and LeRoux found themselves keeping the right kind of company on stage - Leon puts us in the 1982 picture frame.

'RCA made us an offer we could not refuse and it was in-between options. This album was recorded similar to the first. We spent a lot time in the demo studio really getting the songs and arrangements together.

I thought this album sounded like early LeRoux with influences from the 'Up' CD. My favored LeRoux album was the 1st 'Louisiana's LeRoux', my second favoured was 'Last Safe Place'. The band achieved a lot of chart action, the tours were great, and we rebuilt a strong fan base of people that liked both versions of the band'.

'Our new record company RCA was very happy. We did a lengthy tour with ZZ Top, as well as dates with Charlie Daniels, Foreigner, Loverboy, 38 Special, Triumph, Ozzy Osborne, Beach Boys, Joe Cocker, Rick Derringer, and Cheap Trick.'

To borrow an old cliche, if a Martian came to earth and asked 'What is 80's AOR?', you could play him LeRoux's 'So Fired Up' album, and he'd find out all he needed to know about crisp melodies, cosmic hooks and choruses from another realm. It completes the trilogy mentioned earlier, and ranks in many peoples' top 5 AOR discs of all time.

Like the previous album, Leon Medica was at the controls putting his considerable production abilities to use, but unlike any previous LeRoux album, vocals were handled by former Trillion/Angel singer Fergie Fredericksen, after Jeff Pollard decided to pursue a calling in Christian ministry. Once again there were two MTV videos, and Top 100 chart action with the single 'Carrie's Gone'. Leon brings us up to speed on the chaning of the guard, and the 'So Fired Up' recording approach.

'I did not mind Jeff's departure, however he left at the wrong time. He should have lived up to his contractual agreement and worked with the band at least through the entire 'Last Safe Place' album because RCA was planning to release more singles. I hooked up with Fergie through a friend of mine Phil Ehart, the drummer in Kansas. They had auditioned Fergie for Kansas. He was their 2nd choice. We gave him a shot and he really did a great job. He is a really great singer'.

'This album was recorded similar to 'Last Safe Place'. We spent a lot time in the demo studio really getting the songs and arrangements together, then went in the studio and just laid it down. We would always cut more songs than were used for the album. At that time we would only put 10 songs on an album because of the quality of cutting records.'

It's well known that Toto lured Fergie away to join them for their 'Isolation' album in 1984, causing a further setback for Le Roux. Despite this, the members were not idle in 1984, starting with the song 'Back In America' with future Strangeways singer Terry Brock on vocals. This track is included on the millennium edition CD of So Fired Up, so we asked Leon for some background on how it came together.

'Towards the end of LeRoux, Phil Ehart produced the song 'Back In America' for the movie 'European Vacation'. At this point Fergie had left the band to sing with Toto. Phil used members of LeRoux with Terry to record the song. The band was called Network.'

Also around 1984, Leon became involved in an all-star project called the USO, an annual collection of melodic rockers from various AOR/melodic bands who journeyed to an aircraft carrier and performed some blistering rock for soldiers deployed at sea. Leon takes us behind the scenes on how it came about, which stars were involved and what the experience was like.

'Phil Ehart put the tours together and said from the beginning that we were not playing for the politics, as he knew some of us, myself included were doves (pacifists) and some hawks (pro-war), but we were playing music and spreading love for our friends and neighbors, our brothers and sisters who happened to be in the military. Everybody had the right attitude.'

'We did 3 tours for the USO. The first year line up was Phil Ehart, Rich Williams, and John Elefante from Kansas; Cory Lerios, Dave Jenkins, John Pierce from Pablo Cruise; Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick; and Pat Simmons from Doobie Brothers'.

'The second years line up was Phil Ehart and Rich Williams (Kansas); Stephen Stills, Mike Finnegan, and George 'Chocolate' Perry (Steve Stills Band); Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Bun E. Carlos, and John Brant (Cheap Trick); Steve Walsh, Mike Slamer, and Tim Gehrt (Streets); Tom Coster (Santana); and Leon Medica, Tony Haselden (LeRoux)'.

'The third year line up included the entire Kansas band; Phil Ehart, Rich Williams, Steve Morse, Steve Walsh, and Billy Greer. Steve Morse is a musical genius, truly a master of the guitar, what a pleasure to work with and get to know. Tom Johnston, Doobie Brothers; David Jenkins, Pablo Cruise; Michael Becker, Gene Stashuk, and Paul Revilli with Red 7, and Randy Knaps came with me representing LeRoux. These tours were a great life experience and a lot of fun' recalls Leon fondly.

After a lengthy absence from the scene, the 'Bayou Degradable' compilation CD brought Le Roux back into public focus in a big way in 1996. The fans had not forgotten their heroes and it showed - we asked Leon to take us through how this second wind got kickstarted.

'With the release of 'Bayou Degradable', I arranged a CD Release party at the House Of Blues in New Orleans and to my surprise the show was a sell out. Within the next few weeks I received many offers for the band to play Festivals. We began playing and the phone is still ringing. We are truly enjoying this renewed interest in the band.'

For the first Le Roux studio album since 1983, the band decided to go back in the direction of the first 2 albums - mixing influences such as rock, funk, r and b (classic r and b mind you, not the rubbish on MTV nowdays). Although this pleased many fans of the older Le Roux style in and around Louisiana, plenty of European AOR fanatics were hoping for a follow up to 'So Fired Up'. Leon explains the bigger picture with a hint of great things to come.

'My concept was to record two albums. The first 'Gris Gris', was to help with the fairs and Festivals in the Southeastern part of the US. This was the band playing music from our roots, and it has worked well. The second album I am still trying to get together, will feature Fergie, doing AOR material. It has not come together yet, but I am still continuing on it' says Leon.

While we all wait in anticipation for this 'classic in waiting', there's a DVD in the works to keep LeRoux fans smiling. We were very curious about what to expect, and judging from Leon's outline of the likely contents, this may well be one of the DVD's of the year. In Leon's words, here's what's in store.

'The DVD will include performances from 'Midnight Special', 'Solid Gold', 'Rock Concert', videos of 'Addicted', 'Nobody Said It Was Easy', 'Lifeline', 'Carrie's Gone' as wall as many interviews and other live performances.'

To round things off, we put it to Leon that two decades after the 5 initial albums were recorded, people who grew up with AOR as their life soundtrack are still being moved by the music of LeRoux - and a second generation of fans (interviewer included) have discovered the magic of LeRoux and other bands of the AOR era thanks to internet websites and discussion boards etc. Leon has some strong feelings on the issue, and had these great words for us.

'I am deeply touched that the music we loved and enjoyed creating is still remembered. I do not take the listener for granted and I sincerely thank everyone that takes the time to listen to our music. Rock on.'

Sounds like good advice, so while we wait for the DVD and new album to come around, let's do exactly that, rock on and turn it up!

URL www.laleroux.com

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