Louisiana vocal giant GG Shinn has delivered some of the most electrifying performances in recent Ponderosa Stomp memory. On Aug. 29, Shinn will be stepping up to an East Texas microphone to support his equally talented foil in the legendary 1960s lineup of the Boogie Kings, Jerry LaCroix, one of the most soulful voices in Gulf Coast music history.
A benefit concert for LaCroix is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Crockett Street Entertainment District in Beaumont – part of Texas’ Golden Triangle, the fertile musical breeding ground that has spawned Stomp favorites such as Barbara Lynn, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, the Big Bopper, Janis Joplin, George Jones, and Edgar and Johnny Winter.
Appearing with Shinn will be swamp-pop/soul stud TK Hulin; Port Arthur native Jivin’ Gene of “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” fame; East Texan keyboardist Ken Marvel, one of modern swamp pop’s pre-eminent songwriters; Scott McGill; Gerry Mouton; West Bank-bred drummer Steve Adams; Larry Badon; Bilou Hulin; and a host of Boogie Kings alumni such as Parker James. The donation is $20, and barbecue and gumbo will be sold.
LaCroix singing under the name Jerry “Count” Jackson:
The Boogie Kings at their peak in 1965, with Jerry LaCroix and GG Shinn.
Jerry LaCroix was born in 1943 in Alexandria, La., lived in Jena, and moved to Texas’ Port Neches-Groves area as a youth. He played in a series of bands but sealed his stellar reputation by joining the Boogie Kings in 1965, performing as “Count Jackson” and joining Shinn in now-legendary, jaw-dropping duets as the “King Brothers.” LaCroix’s powerful, soul-belting voice served as a visceral counterpoint to Shinn’s silky-smooth, multi-octave acrobatics — all to the squealing delight of the bikini-clad throngs and their beaus at the Bamboo Hut in Galveston and other such storied venues.
Here is LaCroix and Duane Yates as the King Brothers at a Boogie Kings reunion doing one of the Boogie Kings few original numbers, The Philly Walk.
LaCroix recalls the first time he heard the Boogie Kings: “It was like a freight train coming through that room! These guys had five tenor saxophones, a couple of trumpets, a Hammond B-3 organ and one of those Louisiana drummers. They were playing all of that what is now called swamp pop music back then. Fats Domino, Bobby Charles, Louisiana-style music. These guys were really super powerful. They were great. So, after our band kind of disbanded, all of my friends went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston. So, I said if I can’t lick these guys I’ll join them. I called up Ned [Theall], the leader of the band, and asked him if he could use another singer. He said, ‘Come on.’ There were three lead singers and all the horn players sang like black chicks in a gospel choir. They had beautiful voices. It was just an incredible band.”
See LaCroix in a Boogie Kings reunion:
A multi-instrumentalist (sax, keyboards, guitar, and harmonica), LaCroix went on to perform, tour, and record with Edgar Winter’s White Trash band; Blood, Sweat, and Tears; and Rare Earth in the 1970s. He also cut two solo records, “LaCroix” and “Second Coming.”
LaCroix singing with Blood, Sweat, and Tears:
LaCroix singing backup and playing sax with Blood, Sweat, and Tears:
Jerry LaCroix sings Rainbow 65 in a Boogie Kings reunion performance around 2006.
LaCroix’s show-stopping performances with the Boogie Kings resumed in reunion gigs over the past few decades, and no Boogie Kings concert is ever complete without seeing LaCroix drop to his knees to deliver his gut-wrenching rendition of Gene Chandler’s “Rainbow ’65.”
A regular performer at the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame’s annual Janis Joplin tribute concert, LaCroix’s bluesy, balls-to-the-wall vocal style likely influenced the young chanteuse from Port Arthur. “She used to come out to a club across the river and play. It was a place that was really famous down here called The Big Oaks Club in Louisiana just across the Sabine River. At that time, the drinking age in Texas was 21, but in Louisiana it was 18. If you could reach the bar with a quarter you could get a beer. They were very loose. In fact, I started playing over there when I was 14 years old. … I knew of her by reputation, but her reputation in this area wasn’t very good. She had a bad reputation because she talked bad about Port Arthur, but we still loved her.”
Edgar Winter and Jerry LaCroix
Joplin’s sister, Laura, confirms LaCroix’s influence in her biography, “Love, Janis,” and also paints a vivid portrait of that bustling time and place in Louisiana music history: “Vinton, Louisiana, offered Janis a glimpse into another way of life. It was Cajun. Both the language and the social attitude that came with it were different from the Anglo culture of Texas. There was a whole group of bars catering to the Texas youth: the Big Oak, Lou Ann’s, Buster’s, the Stateline, and more. Each had a large dance floor and several pool tables. After growing up glued to radio and hi-fi, Janis found her first good live music in Vinton. It may have been Cajun soul, rockabilly, or something else. There was certainly the white soul music of Jerry LaCroix and the Counts. Whatever it was, it sounded good, and uniquely Louisianan. Mixed into the atmosphere of the club was the Cajun priority of having a good time. These French-Acadian descendants didn’t harbor the pent-up Anglo-Saxon attitude toward emotional expression. They let it flow and everyone accepted it.”
According to journalist Margaret Moser: “For kids in East Texas’ ‘Golden Triangle’ — Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange — the promised land of booze and blues lay just across the Louisiana border. While the big-city sound of Bobby Bland and gritty rhythm of Lightnin’ Hopkins filtered in from Houston, 90 miles away, Slim Harpo, Clifton Chenier, and swamp-pop royalty like Tommy McLain, Rod Bernard, and Dale & Grace reigned in the roadhouses and dance halls of Cajun and swamp country that ran off Highway 90 between Lafayette and the Lone Star border.”
Come pass a good time — Golden Triangle style — and help support a true Texas-Louisiana music legend, Jerry “Count Jackson” LaCroix, in Beaumont on Aug. 29 at 3 p.m.
“Stoop down baby,
Let your daddy see. (X2)
You got something down there baby worrying the hell out of me.
Two old maids, laying in the bed,
One turned over to the other and said.
Wake up old maid,
Don’t sleep so damn sound,
You know what you promised when you first laid down.”
I had the very good fortune to see to see Chick Willis and his “Stoop Down Revue” at the height of “Stoop Down Fever,” during the summer of 1973. An early issue of ‘Living Blues’ sparked my interest as it contained a feature on Willis, a colorful performer (who wore a turban!!!). Chick was related to the great Chuck Willis and had a record that was then tearing up the South—the said “Stoop Down Baby”—which no radio station could play. Jukebox’s were responsible for breaking that record.
On a record hunting trip to Detroit, I tracked down of a copy of the actual “Stoop Down” album which was issued on LaVal, a label out of Kalamazoo, Michigan. When I got home I dropped the needle on side one which contained a 21 minute plus version of “Stoop Down.” It took about 20 seconds to realize that if any radio station aired the record, their broadcast license would be revoked before the it finished playing. (I’ve since been reminded it was played on New Orleans radio, “Until we were sick of hearing it.”) Side two contained two songs by our own Guitar Slim—”The Story of My Life” and of course the timeless “The Things I Used To Do.” While I didn’t realize it at the time, to this day, Willis probably interpreted Slim’s material better than anyone else living-or-dead.
I had a month to kill before I enrolled in my first year of college and I talked my dad into lending me the family’s second car–a brand new Ford Maverick—to make my first trip to New Orleans. Being a possessed blues record collector, the plan was to head South (from Canada) and hit all the juke box dealers (jukebox dealers were a prime source for blues records then as they sold off their old 45s for as little as a dime), junk stores and thrift stores, after I crossed the Mason Dixon Line. Disdaining Inter State Highways, my travels took me to Greenville, Mississippi. Now a gambling destination, back then Greenville’s major industry was poverty and ginning cotton. First stop in decent sized town meant finding the yellow pages and finding out where the jukebox dealers were located. On this day, instead I stopped to inspect one of a plethora of neon colored posters that were seemingly stapled to every utility pole inside Greenville’s city limits. The posters announced “CHICK WILLIS & his Stoop Down Revue and Show—added attraction—stoop down contest with prizes. This is not a BYOB event. Admission $5.00.” As luck would have it, the show was that evening at the Greenville VFW Hall. My evening was planned.
Despite being a week night, the parking lot was jammed and I dare say, I had the only car in it with Ontario plates. The Greenville VFW’s major source of lighting seemed to be dim Christmas lights initially. Drink options were limited. Set ups—pint of whiskey, two cokes, ice and paper cups—and tepid quarts of Falstaff and Budweiser beer that sold for $2.00 each. I chose the latter and sat inauspiciously in a corner. When the stage lights came on, a local band, the Zodiacs no less, ran through a short set of current soul favorites. Then a small band took the stage and played a couple of instrumentals while they struggled with the sound system. Then a well dressed man—the promoter or a local deejay—got behind the microphone and asked the audience “Are you ready for the star of the show? Are you ready for the man of the hour?” The audiences response was was resounding “Yes!” The guy in the suit then proclaimed “Here he is, the stoop down man—Chick Willis!!!
On stage came a slight man toting a Gibson guitar and wearing a big smile. Well, if you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought a bomb went off. Every woman it the building went ass over tea kettle. A master showman, Willis worked that crowd like a world champion yo-yo player works a yo-yo. He played the guitar behind his head, between his legs, he dropped to his knees, he played the guitar with his tongue. The latter which inspired women to charge the stage and kept Willis’ valet busy peeling them off the edge of the stage. Musically, Willis was dead on even in the midst of a circus. I recalled he played one of his cousins songs, maybe “What Am I Living For,” “Dirty Muther Fuyer” (called “The Dozens” in these parts) and Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used To Do,” which brought the house down. (In later, years I learned Slim was born and raised in nearby Hollandale.)
With the preliminaries dispensed, Willis lit into a 20 minute version of “Stoop Down Baby” that had everyone on their feet shaking their groove thing instantly. Well, except for me. Willis had a string of verses that seemingly had no end. Barn yard animals, little kids, the president—Willis managed to have everybody in the world stooping down except the Red Chinese and the USSR national hockey team. Soaked in sweat, he eventually retreated back stage. Then it was time for the much anticipated stoop down contest.
As one might assume, only “ladies” participated in the stoop down contest. At first, it reminded me of the limbo contests they had on American and Canadian Bandstand–Yes Virginia, there was a Canadian Bandstand, they filmed it in my home town—but, with no limbo stick. With the MC judging and “Stoop Down Baby” blasting over the sound system, scores of women in all shapes and sizes lined up for first prize. The object of the contest seemed to be, not just how low you could go, but how much drawers you could show. Naturally, the men in the audience howled in delight throughout. It was during the contest that an older black gentleman put his hand on my shoulder—quite obviously noting the look of disbelief on my face. He smiled and said, “Son, I bet you never saw anything like this before.” Obviously, he had a point. A rather well endowed woman took home first prize that night. I don’t remember what the award was, but I’m sure it wasn’t a gift certificate to Victoria Secret.
Willis then returned to the stage and pretty much reprised the first set, again concluding with you know what. He did however underline his genius by coming up with even more verses to “Stoop Down.” In later years, Willis would make several attempts to coat tail his hit–”Stoop Down Part 2,” “Stoop Down ’76,” “Don’t Let Me Catch You With Your Britches Down,” etc., but he couldn’t match the popularity of the original. However, that’s not to say he didn’t make anymore good records as even his most recent recordings have plenty to offer. Take it from some one who found out 37 years ago, an evening with Chick Willis won’t soon be forgotten.
Guitar Gable, Michael Hurtt, Jockey Etienne at a Congo Mambo concert.
Today is the last of our cocktail-and-conversation series with the Louisiana State Museum and it’s a doozy- a conversation with swamp-pop guitarist Gabriel Perrodin, better known as Guitar Gable. Today, Aug. 13 at 5:30 p.m at the Cabildo in New Orleans’ Jackson Square. Free drinks, Swamp Pop DJ and admission!
PonderosaStomp.com on Guitar Gable:
In the annals of bayou guitar slingers, few men can claim a pedigree as distinguished as that of Guitar Gable. Born Gabriel Perrodin, Gable’s echo-drenched six-string licks define the exotic Crowley studio sound that producer J.D. Miller perfected during the ‘50s. Picking his Telecaster with an advanced-yet edgy feel, and with the help of the amazing Clarence “Jockey” Etienne on drums, Gable came up with a string of Caribbean-laced instrumentals like Congo Mombo,” “Guitar Rhumbo” and—perhaps the rarest and greatest of all of them—“Gumbo Mambo,” that are as much a part of South Louisiana’s rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere as the songs of Fats Domino and Bobby Charles.
Guitar Gable and King Karl soon revolutionized the swamp pop lexicon with bluesy, heart-wrenching ballads such as “Irene,” “Life Problem” and “This Should Go On Forever”—ridden to the top of the charts in 1958 by Rod Bernard—as well as rockers like “Cool, Calm, Collected” and “Walking Through the Park.” While their material is most closely associated with Excello Records, Gable and Karl had some excellent releases during the ’60s on the La Louisianne label and its subsidiary, Tamm. The Kings broke up in 1968, but reformed in 1995. With Jockey Etienne still behind the drum kit, their inherently raw, visceral approach is as close to what this music sounded like when it was invented as anyone will ever hear live in the new millennium.