By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The honeymoon was over, and the marriage had truly begun. Whether this marriage will be a happy one or something that should be on Dr. Phil remains to be seen.
The Soul Rebels are perhaps the most adventurous of all the New Orleans brass bands. While there are others the Rebirth and Hot 8 come to mind that throw hip-hop and reggae in the mix, few do it as often or as well as the Soul Rebels, who have been infuriating purists with their update on brass band music ever since their inception in 1991.
The Soul Rebels still play every Thursday night at a bar called Le Bon Temps Roulé; on Magazine Street in New Orleans's Garden District, but today, three of the six members of the band live here in Houston and say they have no plans to move back home.
The Soul Rebels at New Orleans Mardi Gras...
photo:courtesy of the Soul Rebels
LeBlanc arrived in Houston with his family, a couple of changes of clothes and nothing else, or at least nothing physically tangible. "When we saw the horrible catastrophe in New Orleans on TV, we started to realize that probably everything was destroyed except for the inner city and the CBD [central business district]," he says. "The music was really the only thing that I had to keep me going financially and to keep my spirits up, and my wife and family."
Right now LeBlanc is viewing Houston more as a base of operations than a true hometown. "I plan to stay here to just commute to wherever I have to do my music," he says. "I've been playing music professionally since 1990, so my life has always been where I have to travel Europe and Brazil and all different countries. The traveling's really not a big roadblock."
LeBlanc's youngest son is with the family and attending school at Mount Carmel High School, but his oldest son returned to New Orleans to live with his mother's family and finish high school. Next fall LeBlanc hopes his oldest will enroll at his own alma mater Texas Southern University, where he served as a drum major in that school's Ocean of Soul Marching Band while he was studying to obtain a degree in social work. "When I had to evacuate, Houston was an easy choice for me because I was used to the city," he says.
...and at a benefit for the Ninth Ward.
photo: courtesy of the Soul Rebels
LeBlanc says that something similar has been going on with the Soul Rebels. "The music has been more in demand than ever," he says. "People look at it as some of the last authentic culture from New Orleans that wasn't washed away by the storm."
Only they haven't been playing in Houston much. LeBlanc believes that the city's infrastructure is better suited to his family than to his band. He is very happy with his son's schooling, and his wife was able to get a medical job that was comparable to what she had pre-Katrina. "I think that Houston's a much safer and better place due to what's been stripped away in New Orleans. We're going to settle here." But as of right now, LeBlanc has played most of his music on the road.
New Orleans's tourism industry was in many ways his lifeblood, along with much of the rest of the city. "We're always being asked to play for dignitaries or corporations that come to New Orleans," he says. LeBlanc says the city's compact layout makes life easy for tourists, conventioneers and musicians the party places are a minute's walk away from the attractions and convention halls. His band has serenaded visitors at the airport, convention centers and at parties, sometimes all in the same day, with minimal driving.
LeBlanc is leery of trying to start out in the clubs here. "I know how the club circuit is it's a hustle," he says. "And if you don't have a big following, clubs aren't gonna be able to stick with you to build a following. But in New Orleans, the clubs will stick with you for weeks and weeks, because they know that eventually people are gonna start coming." LeBlanc also echoes Mitchell's words about the late-night-loving, hard-drinking nature of the New Orleanian. "In New Orleans, you have the 24-hour drinking, so you might have people come into the club at 12:30, gettin' the party started and staying until 2 or 2:30."