Cowboy Mouth, formed in the early 1990s in New Orleans, Louisiana, from the remnants of several 1980s bands, became a popular live act that performed exuberant interpretations of their studio songs and album-oriented rock standards. The group’s name came from the play Cowboy Mouth, written by Sam Shepard and Patti Smith, in which a character declares: “You gotta grab all the little broken-up, busted pieces of people’s frustration… you gotta give it back to them bigger than life… you gotta be a rock ‘n’ roll Jesus with a cowboy mouth.”
The band’s fusion of disparate musical styles is often categorized as Americana or roots music. Their songs combine the distinct talents of the four band members, who respectively write and perform what their manager Jon Birge describes as a “rock ‘n’ roll gumbo.” This includes such Cajun- and zydeco-inflected songs written by Savoy as the performance favorite “1-10 West;” such straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll songs as “What You Gonna Do,” “Easy,” and “Jenny Says,” which were written by LeBlanc; the introspective singer/songwriter, folk-styled songs of Sanchez; and the popular music and alternative country compositions of Griffith. While seemingly disparate, Birge says the band blends these styles together seamlessly during live performances.
Members include John Thomas Griffith (born on April 3, 1960, in Lubbock, TX), guitar, piano, Hammond B-3 organ, mandolin, peddle steel guitar, dobro, vocals; Fred LeBlanc, drums, vocals; Paul Sanchez, vocals, guitar; Rob Savoy, bass.
Group formed in New Orleans, LA, early 1990s; toured as opening act for Hootie and the Blowfish, 1995; signed major label contract with MCA, 1995; released MCA debut album, Are You with Me?, 1996; reissued live album, Mouthin’ off Live, 1997; released Easy on Atlantic subsidiary Blackbird, 2000.
Many of their songs either describe unhappy romantic relationships or celebrate love and youthful exuberance. In comments included on the Cowboy Mouth official website, Paul Sanchez explained, “I don’t consider myself a writer of fiction. I think I should stick to real life, remain as true as possible. Then it’s true to someone else’s life.”
The four Cowboy Mouth members were all experienced performers with well-known alternative, blues, and New Wave rock acts prior to the formation of their band. Guitarist Paul Sanchez was raised in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans. He began his career as a solo performer, forming the Backbeats with Vance DeGeneres—who later appeared as a regular cast member of Comedy Central’s Daily Show—and drummer Fred LeBlanc, who had previously performed with the band Dash Rip Rock (named after a matinee idol character from the television series The Beverly Hillbillies). Prior to Cowboy Mouth and following the dissolution of the Backbeats, Sanchez released several solo albums, the first of which was Jet Black and Jealous. He signed briefly with CBS Records, but never recorded due to a management change at the label. Sanchez then embarked on a career in the film industry as a production assistant, working on the Joel and Ethan Coen film Miller’s Crossing. His most recent venture is the band the Lonesome Travellers, which also included Griffith and Eddie Vecker.
Sanchez returned to New Orleans in 1988 and reacquainted himself with LeBlanc, who had recently left Dash Rip Rock. LeBlanc, the youngest of four children, began drumming on a Sesame Street “Oscar the Grouch” trash can he received as a Christmas present. In comments included on the group’s official website, LeBlanc also claims that he was approached on the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter by a gypsy fortune-teller, who informed him that the purpose of his life was to “remind others of the joy of living.” LeBlanc’s side projects include writing short stories and record production. He produced Sanchez’s solo album, Wasted Lives and Bluegrass, as well as an album by the band Deadeye Dick, which contained a gold single “New Age Girl.”
John Thomas Griffith was the son of a chemical engineer whose career took the family from Texas to California, New Jersey, and New Orleans. Griffith’s early influences were such seminal 1960s bands as the Beatles, Doors, Rolling Stones, Cream, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. While growing up in California, he became familiar with the country-inflected music of New Riders of the Purple Sage, Eagles, and Pure Prairie League. He also watched the television series Hee Haw and listened to Saturday night radio broadcasts from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. In the 1980s Griffith joined the New Wave band Red Rockers, a group that had a hit with “China” in the early 1980s (a song that occasionally appeared in Cowboy Mouth live sets). The band toured with U2, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, the Go-Gos, and the B-52s. Griffith released his first solo album, Son of an Engineer, in 1988. Griffith, who plays guitar, dobro, Hammond B-3 organ, and piano, also performs as a member of the Texas Tornadoes, and contributed guest guitar tracks to the band Jolene’s recording of “Hell’s Half Acre” and Leisure McCorkle’s “Sparkle and Fade.”
Bass player Rob Savoy joined the band after fronting the Blues Runners, a New Orleans blues and Cajun music band. He joined the other members of Cowboy Mouth in 1993. On the band’s official website, Griffith remarked that his earliest influences were the Glenn Miller and Dean Martin albums played by his parents, and the Motown and British Invasion songs played on the radio during the 1960s. Another important early influence was the Cajun and country-and-western music he heard on the Happy Fats Show, a local radio program. Savoy studied clarinet for two years in elementary school, but switched to bass in his high school orchestra. He developed a passion for zydeco and R&B music while studying music and English at the University of Southern Louisiana and performing in a local band, the Rocking Shapes. In 1987, he joined the Bluesrunners, a band that blended zydeco and rockabilly. The Bluesrunners released their self-titled album on Island Records in 1991, and a follow-up, Chateau Chuck, on the New Orleans label Monkey Hill in 1993. He subsequently guested for the Peter Holsapple Band, John Sinclair’s Blues Scholars, and the band thousand dollar car.
Cowboy Mouth’s major label debut, Are You with Me?, which included songs from Sanchez’s solo album Jet Black and Jealous, was recorded in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and released on MCA in 1996. The band’s body of recorded work also includes the MCA studio album Mercyland, released in 1998, as well as several live albums, including Mouthin’ Off Live and All You Need Is Live. The Red Rocker hit “China” was rerecorded for the band’s 2000 album, Easy, released on the Atlantic Record subsidiary Blackbird. The band, which continues to record and tour as a unit, also records solo and side projects.
Cowboy Mouth established their reputation through many performances, often logging more than 250 a year. The band is noted for its combination of music and gospel-influenced revival, wherein LeBlanc abandons his drum kit to exhort the audience to fall to their knees to offer praise for the joy of existence as he dives from the stage. LeBlanc explained on the group’s official website: “The goal is everybody getting off. Life’s not about fitting in, it’s about finding your place.”
Mouthing Off: Live and More, Cowboy Mouth Records, 1992; reissued, Viceroy, 1993; reissued, Monkey Hill, 1997.
It Means Escape (EP), Cowboy Mouth Records, 1994; reissued, Monkey Hill, 1995.
Life as a Dog, Marina, 1995.
Are You with Me?, MCA, 1996.
Word of Mouth, Domino, 1996.
Cowboy Mouth Live! (EP), MCA, 1998.
Mercyland, MCA, 1998.
All You Need Is Live, Valley Entertainment, 2000.
Easy, Atlantic/Blackbird, 2000.
Graff, Gary, and Daniel Durchholz, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
Billboard, December 11, 1993.
“Cowboy Mouth,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll (February 20, 2002).
“Cowboy Mouth,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (February 20, 2002).
Cowboy Mouth Official Website, http://www.cowboymouth.com (February 20, 2002).
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