Unlike the many angry rockers of the 1990s — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, to name a few — New Orleans’ Cowboy Mouth accentuated the positive. Now, nearly 25 years after its start, Cowboy Mouth is still smiling.
The festive nature of New Orleans jazz and rhythm-and-blues music, singer-drummer Fred LeBlanc said last week, also fuels Cowboy Mouth’s rock and pop.
“That distinction made us a New Orleans rock band, not just a rock band,” LeBlanc said.
“When I formed the band, I didn’t want it to be, ‘Hey, rock ’n’ roll. Drink. Do drugs. Do stupid stuff. Destroy yourselves.’ I concentrated on being positive. People leave our shows exhausted but exhilarated, at the same time.”
Cowboy Mouth’s celebration rock makes a fitting New Year’s Eve soundtrack. In what’s becoming a tradition, Cowboy Mouth is making its third annual appearance at the Big Night New Orleans New Year’s Eve, Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency in New Orleans.
The 12 acts on the Big Night bill also include the Glen David Andrews Band, Brass-A-Holics, Chubby Carrier, Royal Teeth, the 610 Stompers and the Bad Girls of Burlesque.
“It’s just a ball,” LeBlanc said of the event. And as a solo act with his guitar, LeBlanc will also play his annual acoustic Christmas show and sing-along at 10 p.m. Friday at Carrollton Station, also in New Orleans.
Cowboy Mouth released its latest album, “Go!,” in June, but the band will concentrate on old favorites on New Year’s Eve, including the group’s 1996 national hit, “Jenny Says.” Big Night attendees can expect some Mardi Gras songs from Cowboy Mouth, too.
“Because people come out to hear what they know and love,” LeBlanc said. “It’s gonna be a typical kicking, crazy Cowboy Mouth show.”
In an era of depressed music sales and emphasis on singles rather than albums, Cowboy Mouth and its record company, the West Haven, Connecticut-based Elm City Music, opted to release the full-length “Go!”
“The guy who runs the label, he wanted to do an album,” LeBlanc said. “It’s a song-oriented culture these days, which is fine, but I come from the old school. You have a group of songs that tell where a band or a performer is in that moment.”
“Go!” covers much stylistic territory. Title song “Go!” is characteristically big and energetic. There’s also the melodic pop of “Where’s the Rain” and a sunny, could pass for a country song, “Song of the Summer.”
LeBlanc formed Cowboy Mouth in October 1990. In the several months before, he left Dash Rip Rock and watched his solo recording deal with EMI Records go nowhere.
“As much I loved working with Dash Rip Rock, I needed to go in a different direction,” he said.
But the original Cowboy Mouth was dreadful, LeBlanc recalled.
It didn’t stop being dreadful until singer-guitarst John Thomas Griffith joined a few months into the band’s existence. Griffith previously released a national hit, “China,” while he was frontman for New Orleans new wave band the Red Rockers.
“I was like, ‘OK. I wonder what John’s doing?’ ” LeBlanc remembered. “ ‘Hey, John. You interested in this?’ And then the band went from being terrible to great, within 20 seconds. John brought such a big sound. It not only focused what we did, it hid the flaws.”
LeBlanc and Griffith have had many ups and downs since with Cowboy Mouth, LeBlanc said, including short stays at two major labels and a succession of other musicians through the band.
“There have been varying degrees of success,” LeBlanc said. “But we’ve always been able to work an audience over to our side, no matter how big or how small. Every time we play, people go crazy.”