Better Than Ezra has outlasted most people’s expectations. Most college bands don’t last past graduation, have hits or stick around for 25 years, but this group beat the odds and will reward fans with a Dec. 30 concert at Harrah’s in New Orleans.
The Big Easy concert is a welcome show for bass player Tom Drummond, who co-founded Better Than Ezra with Kevin Griffin (guitar/lead vocals), Joel Rundell (guitar) and Cary Bonnecaze (drums) while they were students at LSU in the late 1980s.
The group’s quarter-century has been a mixed bag of experiences.
“Certainly, we’ve seen a little bit of everything in this band. I guess when you’re around for 25 years you’ve seen it all,” Drummond said. “We’ve been through managers, been through lawsuits, been through major labels — it’s funny.”
Keeping a sense of humor helped the members of Better Than Ezra deal with the ups and downs of their music career, including the personal tragedy when Rundell took his own life in 1990.
Rundell’s death shocked the group, just after their self-made 1990 recording, “Surprise,” got attention from college radio stations and sold well for a cassette-only release. Drummond said they were not sure if they would go on.
“I think it was particularly difficult for Kevin, because Joel was from Monroe where Kevin was from. They went to high school together, and they had been in previous bands together,” Drummond said.
The group decided to continue as a trio and returned to touring college towns. They recorded their first CD in 1993 on the band’s own “Swell Records” label. Drummond estimates this early version of “Deluxe” sold nearly 30,000 CDs and got big labels anxious to offer contracts to the band.
However, the band knew to be careful about the details in each deal when the major music labels set out to sign them.
“We always had very long-term vision on everything we’ve done,” Drummond said. “We didn’t sign the first deal just to get signed. We played seven years before we were even offered a deal. Then we played the South by Southwest festival, which is really when it all started to come together in ’94.”
By 1995, Better Than Ezra inked a deal to re-release “Deluxe” on a major label, and their single “Good” hit the charts.
Yet, despite pressure during negotiations, Drummond said, they never gave up creative control of their recordings, which is something that Better Than Ezra still maintains.
Bonnecaze left the band in 1996 and has now been replaced by Michael Jerome. The band even has new music on the horizon.
“We just started a new album. That’s in the works, probably will be out in the late spring. We’re also re-issuing our third album, “How Does Your Garden Grow” in 5.1 (surround sound) next year,” Drummond said.
While Drummond is proud of their recorded music, the band also serves its loyal following with their annual Krewe of Rocckus event celebrating Mardi Gras with Better Than Ezra as personal hosts for ticket holders in addition to their regular live concerts.
As they mark 25 years of sharing tour buses and recording studios, Drummond looks forward to Better Than Ezra giving more good times to their audience.
“We’ve always been entertainers,” Drummond said. “We like to have fun — we like the crowd to have fun, and I think that’s a big part of why we’re still around. We don’t just call it in. We give a hundred percent on every show — we always have.”
Better Than Ezra performs at Harrah’s (228 Poydras St.) in New Orleans on Dec. 30. Tickets are available at http://www.HarrahsNewOrleans.com or by visiting http://BetterThanEzra.com. More information on the Krewe of Rocckus can be found at http://Kreweofrocckus.com.