With a ‘new’ drummer in tow, Lafayette’s Lil’ Band o’ Gold joins Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant on tour. By Scott Jordan

Monday, July 1, 2013

Photo by Dallas McNamara
Li'l Band O' Gold's C.C. Adcock, Jockey Etienne and Steve Riley

At a former feed store and semi-refurbished warehouse in the shadows of the downtown railroad tracks in Lafayette, the garage doors are open but the stifling June air doesn’t move. It’s a hazy, moonless Tuesday night where patrons and liquor bottles drip rivulets. The early action on stage matches the atmosphere: band members alternately tune their instruments and mill around on the back porch, while a temperamental amp at sound check tests the patience of Lil’ Band o’ Gold frontmen C.C. Adcock, Steve Riley and David Egan.

“Fifteen years ago when we started this band, we used to do Monday night gigs at the Swampwater Saloon,” guitarist Adcock says to the crowd. Accordionist Riley deadpans, “Look at us now — we’ve come all the way to Tuesday nights at the Feed & Seed.”

Wisecracking aside, tonight’s gig is no random show, but a vital tune-up: Robert Plant hand-picked the band to open a string of Southern dates on his summer tour, which kicked off June 20 in Dallas and concludes July 17 in New Orleans. The Golden God’s Lil’ Band o’ Gold endorsement continues the relationship started when Plant teamed up with the Acadiana supergroup to record two tracks for the 2007 Fats Domino tribute CD, Goin’ Home.

“This new chapter is that process of being done with grieving, of digging deeper and seeing what we can do, discover and create,” says songwriter and pianist Egan.  

He’s referencing the departure of 76-year-old drummer and vocalist Warren Storm, the swamp pop legend who helped anchor the band by crooning classic South Louisiana ballads like “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights” and “I Don’t Wanna Know.” Storm did not return a call for comment, but his former band mates were wounded and deeply disappointed when Storm broke promises and burned bridges by backing out of all of LBOG’s spring shows. Apparently under new management, Storm has decided, bizarrely, to play solely with Cypress.  

“It’s a shame he’s not with us, but this band is too strong and too important to let it go,” says Riley. That’s not empty braggadocio. LBOG’s musical prowess, including the formidable Adcock/Egan/Riley frontline, harnesses Sonny Landreth bassist Dave Ranson, pedal steel picker John Troutman, ace blues guitarist Lil’ Buck Sinegal, guest vocalist and swamp pop legend Tommy McLain, and saxophonists Dickie Landry and Pat Breaux, who’ve collectively played with Otis Redding, Philip Glass, Bob Dylan, Beausoleil and Zachary Richard. This is not a gig for the faint of heart. So who do you get for the drum chair?

Their new band mate is — drum roll, please — a 78-year-old Creole percussionist with one good eye. Nickname: Jockey. He drums on cardboard boxes and was an early mentor to Warren Storm. (You cannot make this stuff up.)

Louisiana blues aficionado Plant was in tour rehearsals and unavailable for an interview, but he no doubt loves LBOG’s choice of Jockey. Clarence “Jockey” Etienne was one of the driving forces on the seminal 1950s-1960s Excello swamp-blues recordings out of Crowley. He propelled timeless tracks like Slim Harpo’s “I’ve Got Love if You Want it,” “Baby Scratch My Back,” and Guitar Gable’s rumba instrumental “Congo Mambo.” Etienne’s also the engine of The Creole Zydeco Farmers; the Plant gigs don’t faze him, as he’s played to enormous festival crowds in Montreal and Brazil with the Farmers. “There were so many people in Rio, they looked like ants,” he says.

Sitting outside at his carport on a recent Sunday morning, the razor-thin Etienne reclines in a worn patio chair, sporting faded jeans, flip-flops and wispy white shoulder-length hair behind an L.A. Lakers cap. “With the Zydeco Farmers, you gotta beat on that drum, bang, bang, bang, with that backbeat and heavy kick drum,” he says. “In zydeco, you gotta be heard — to hell with it, even when the frontman’s taking a solo. With Lil’ Band o’ Gold, you have to take it from one thing to another. They’re great musicians, and you gotta find which way to go to blend in with them.”

Etienne tunes his drums low. At the Feed & Seed show, that subtle change, along with his unique complementary cardboard-box stickwork, brought a bottom-heavy and swampier sound to LBOG. “There’s more an element of intensity as opposed to loudness and raucousness,” says Egan. “At once, it’s darker, spookier and more mysterious. It makes us all rethink our approach. Not so much flailing away with wild abandon, but rather thinking, how do we tighten the focus to this picture and make it more three-dimensional.”

This new chapter is a testament to the core and brotherhood of the band. Ever since Adcock and Riley cooked up LBOG’s blueprint over a Maison Creole pork-chop sandwich, their timeless sound has survived the logistical challenges of multiple members juggling solo careers and other side projects. (For example, Riley’s Courtbouillon, his trio with Wayne Toups and Wilson Savoy, won this year’s Grammy Award for Best Regional Roots Album, while Egan just released a knockout eponymous CD.) “I think everyone in this band needs other outlets to satisfy their urge to play music,” says elder statesman Landry. “It’s also a vehicle for songwriters. I credit CC and Steve for keeping this band alive.”

Photo by Richard Landry
Jockey and C.C., chillin'

Landry and Adcock have long lived in adjoining apartments in downtown Lafayette, hence their complex’s notorious moniker “DisGraceland.” For Adcock, the LBOG bandmembers’ distinct, sometimes outsized personalities feed into the music. “We’ve always said we’ve got nine or 10 members, about 25 egos — and only a few livers left among us! So sometimes shit goes down and gets sideways and you wonder if it’s all worth it and if we should keep booking it,” he says. “But all that bitching and humbug, that’s also the tension that causes us to rock and gives an edge — keeps us a bit menacing — the way real rock ’n’ roll should be, behind all those sweetheart ballads.”

That’s what made the initial pairing of Plant and LBOG a masterstroke. Plant showed his love and command of 1950s R&B and rock ’n’ roll with his early-80s Honeydrippers project; how could he not love an Acadiana band whose members grew up on Phil Phillips’ “Sea of Love” and for whom “Good Rockin’ at Midnight” is practically a mission statement? Plant was so taken with LBOG after the Fats Domino tribute sessions that he joined the band at Tipitina’s for a raucous surprise 30-minute set where he led the band through swamp pop, blues, and some teases of “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love.” The iconic vocalist has stayed in touch with the band since then, even as he navigated the massive pressure and expectations of the one-off Led Zeppelin reunion concert in London, and mainstream success with his Allison Krauss collaboration. When Lil’ Band o’ Gold played Austin’s Continental Club last December, Plant was in the audience.  

“He’s always bringing up old records we could do well together and maybe getting back in [the studio] to cut a few — he’s such a band flirt!” jokes Adcock.

In a just world, the Plant shows would help LBOG land worthy deals for three of their recent projects: a full Fats Domino tribute album, The Lil’ Band o’ Gold Plays Fats, and their superb CD, The Promised Land, with its accompanying documentary film on the band. (The CDs are currently available only at shows and as Australian imports.) The LBOG film is unreleased, but evokes Les Blank’s groundbreaking regional music documentaries and deserves national distribution. It’s a tribute to southwest Louisiana culture and the band’s talent and resilience, as Adcock soldiered on to complete the film in the aftermath of executive producer Tarka Cordell’s 2008 suicide. That came on the heels of the band’s triumphant time with Plant — and perhaps the current tour will help bring The Promised Land full circle.

“I’m used to playing folk music and traditional music with my band [The Mamou Playboys],” says Riley. “It’s much more of an even-keeled ride. Lil’ Band o’ Gold is rock ’n’ roll, and rock ’n’ roll has different rules. This is a roller coaster, and with all the personalities, you just gotta hold on. The lows are lower and the highs are higher, and you just gotta ride it out and keep going.”

Former IND editor Scott Jordan is an English instructor at ESA.

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