Talkin’ Trash with Jerry LaCroix
An Interview with the Former Lead Singer of Edgar Winter’s White Trash
by Michael Buffalo Smith
My wife and I were in Port Arthur, Texas on December 31st, 1999 for the huge Millennium Celebration starring Edgar Winter and featuring the White Trash horns, Chris Duarte Group and one of the most soulful voices in the history of rock and roll, Jerry LaCroix.
Jerry agreed to take some time in the Ramada Inn lounge and answer a few questions for Gritz about his days with Edgar Winter, Rare Earth and his current projects. We were all ears.
Where were you born?
Alexandria, Louisiana. My hometown was in Gena which is about thirty miles from Alexandria. That’s where the nearest hospital was. Both of my parents were from Gena. It’s a small town.
Did you ever know Janis Joplin?
She used to come out to a club across the river and play. It was a place that was really famous down here called The Big Oaks Club in Louisiana just across the Serbian River. At that time, the drinking age in Texas was 21 but in Louisiana it was 18. If you could reach the bar with a quarter you could get a beer. They were very loose. In fact, I started playing over there when I was 14 years old. Bobby Ramirez, who was later the drummer for White Trash was 11 years old. But Janis, I didn’t really know. I knew of her by reputation but her reputation in this area wasn’t very good. She had a bad reputation because she talked bad about Port Arthur but we still loved her. (smiles) She dated some of the guys in my band. She was friends with Gary Dorsey, my bass player, and later Jim Langton. He was the newspaper editor in Lafayette and later wrote a book about her. I think they used to hitch hike to New Orleans. She never did come up and sing that I remember. She was here for her class reunion. That movie “The Rose” was kind of based on her. I liked that movie a lot. I don’t really care for Bette Midler but I liked the movie.
What were some of the bands you were involved in prior to Edgar Winter’s White Trash?
One of my first bands that played over at the club I was talking about was called Jerry and The Dominoes. I met some of my life long friends in that band. Dale Gothea the saxophone player, who is playing with me again today. He was a member of a band that is a bit of a legend in this area called The Boogie Kings. So was Gary Dorsey. And Bobby Ramirez was in that band. There was a guitar player in that band called Luther Diamond who later went out to the West coast and became Angel South. He just passed away last year. And we had three horns, trombone, trumpet, saxophone. That was one of the first bands I was in. The Boogie Kings were getting really famous. We were at The Big Oaks Club and they came in and played across the street from us. We had never heard them at the time so we said let’s go across the street and see what’s going on over here. We were playing music at the time; we were more studied musicians trying to voice out three-part horns and harmonies and write music and study jazz. We were serious musicians. We took a break and walked across the street and opened the door and it was like a freight train coming through that room! These guys had five tenor saxophones, a couple of trumpets, a Hammond B-3 organ and one of those Louisiana drummers. They were playing all of that what is now called swamp pop music back then. Fats Domino, Bobby Charles, Louisiana style music. These guys were really super powerful. They were great. So, after our band kind of disbanded, all of my friends went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston. So, I said if I can’t lick these guys I’ll join them. I called up Ned, the leader of the band, and asked him if he could use another singer. He said, “come on.” There were three lead singers and all the horn players sang like black chicks in a gospel choir. They had beautiful voices. It was just an incredible band.
How was White Trash formed? Did you already know Edgar?
Yeah. Edgar and I already knew each other through reputations from when we were young. We were playing little birthday parties. The first time I ever saw Edgar was on an afternoon TV show -- Don Mahoney. It was Edgar and Johnny. Edgar was real little and he was playing a tenor guitar and Johnny was playing a regular guitar. They sang and it was something special. These guys were good. Edgar must have been about 8 years old. Later, they came here to Groves and played a teen hall, him and Johnny, and they blew the walls down. Johnny was already rocking at an early age and Edgar was right there behind him. Edgar was always the more studious musician of the two and Johnny always just wanted to let it all hang out and be wild and not have any form. Edgar was the complete opposite. He wanted everything to be perfect, to be just right. That’s a lot of the way I am, too so Edgar and I got along great. He used to come and sit in with my band and he had a band called The Twilights and I’d go over and sing with them. That’s when Edgar and I started writing together. This was about the time Bobby Blue Bland came out with “Two Steps to the Blues.” We started putting our ears down to the speaker to figure out what the horns were doing and Edgar began to sit at the piano and I would take the needle on the LP -- the spot that we were trying to figure out -- and when it’d get there I’d pick it up and Edgar would play something on the keyboard, play the chord and say “is that it?” and I would write it down. That’s when we started writing music together. I had written one song in my life before I went to New York and we started writing the original stuff that we did for the first White Trash album. I had a band in New Orleans, a four-piece band with two horns. We were the first music, other than Dixieland, the first entertainment, other than strippers, on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. We started packing them in. We’d play from 10 at night until 6 in the morning. We ended up being the place that all the other people that worked on the street -- the bartenders, musicians and strippers ended up at. It was very, very cool. And Edgar would come down. After Johnny got famous and made the famous quote, “You think I’m good, wait until you hear my brother.” Then, of course, the label signed Edgar and he did his “Entrance” album. He had just done that all by himself. I was rocking ‘em out on Bourbon Street. I used to be called Jerry “The Count” Jackson. That was my stage name.
That’s when you wore the Dracula cape?
Yeah. I still pull the cape out from time to time. It’s a lot of fun. I think I may pull it out tomorrow night. The audience seems to enjoy it and I have fun with it. With that I could turn into Count Jackson and do anything I wanted to and not get blamed for it. (laughs) That wasn’t me, that was Count Jackson! But when I got my chance to go nationally, I wanted to use my real name and let my family be known. It turns out that nobody can spell it, pronounce it or remember it, so I should have stayed Jerry “Count” Jackson.
How do you pronounce your name?
It’s supposed to be La-CRAW. How do you pronounce it?
In South Carolina we say La-CROW-wee. (3 syllables) (Laughs)
Getting back down to New Orleans. (laughs) Edgar came into the club with his manager who flew down from New York. After I got done with my show, we went to a friend of mine’s house on Bourbon Street. They had apartments up on the upper end of the street at that time. Edgar had his acetate for the Entrance album with him. It had not yet been made into an album. We played it and we all sat around there and listened to the whole thing in a total, dead silence. We listened to every note. Nobody spoke a word until it was all over. We were just floored. Just flabbergasted. I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard in my life. That was when Edgar told me about his secret plan. He was going to form the greatest band in the world. We were going to go all over the world and find all the best musicians there were to be in the band. I said, “when do we leave?”
Entrance was such an important album, and to me personally, as I began to get more and more into music. That, and your Roadwork album. I used to carry that one to school in my 8-track player and turn other kids on to it.
We used to run into other bands on the road and go on the buses and almost every one of them would say, ‘guess what we’ve got right here in the tape player?’ And it’d be Roadwork. Good traveling music. Getting back, I immediately gave my notice to the band on Bourbon Street. I hated to leave because we were doing real well, sitting in one spot and working five or six nights a week. Although it was hard and long hours. I was doing alright, but I knew that this was my big chance. So, I took it and went up to New York and stayed in Edgar’s apartment and slept on the couch. As soon as I got up there, Edgar looked at me and said, ‘Me and Barbara are going to go and get married.’ (laughs) I said, ‘Huh?’ He said ‘You’ll have run of the apartment.’ He had an ice box full of Coca-Colas. Little Cokes, not the big ones. He said, ‘We’ll be gone for a few days. ‘Maybe you can start writing some on your own and when I get back we’ll start putting it all together.’ So, our plan was to write the music first then to go out and find all the best musicians in the world, rehearse and tour. A lot of that did come about like that. I was so excited and inspired that while Edgar went off to get married, I wrote thirteen songs in two days. About six of those ended up on the first White Trash album. I would write the lyrics and just get a general feel of how I wanted the music to go. With “Save the Planet,” I imagined us being in an auditorium situation, the band breaking into a gospel feel and Edgar and I coming down the isles singing, ‘Clap your hands.’ That was the feel of it, that and the whole idea of saving the planet. So, when Edgar got back we started experimenting with the gospel type music. Edgar could always read my mind. I would just sing it to him and he would immediately get the feel for it and play it on the keyboards. He’s just a joy to write with.
Did you ever carry out the idea of coming down the isle singing?
(Laughs) No, we did the exact opposite. We started on the stage and then came down into the audience. I still do that today. I get excited and sometimes I just have to get out there with them.
Getting back to the greatest band in the world...
Right. After we finally had gotten all of our material written, Edgar and I -- I had left my wife and kids down here, down south, they were still in New Orleans and I had gone up there -- it took us a very long time and we worked very, very hard. Then we went on our tour of the United States to look for the greatest players in the world. Come to find out, after we had spent all of Edgar’s front money and been to every major city, we discovered that we already knew the best players in the world -- we had already played with them. They were right here under our noses all the time. We thought there were better players out there, but there weren’t. Not for our style and the type of music we wanted to play. These guys were the best in the world.
We had met Derringer and Randy up there. We already knew them before we went out on tour. So, (laughs) it was a big waste of time and money going out trying to find the best. If anybody’s got this idea, forget it! Play with the guys you know. (laughs) It’s like The Wizard of Oz.
I’ll never go looking any further than my own back yard.
That’s where it was! It’s like brothers. Family. We all have the same feeling about music.
Tell me a little about the other people in White Trash. Could you tell us a little about the drummer, Bobby Ramirez, the close friend of yours who was killed?
I will try and shed some light on the terrible event we had in Chicago that led to the death of one of my dearest and closest friends, Bobby Ramirez. We were on tour with Uriah Heep playing all the big halls (10,000 seaters) to sold out crowds. Uriah Heep and my band LaCroix gotten along swimmingly, as the English say. We really enjoyed each others company and got along great on and off stage. I had just released my first solo album and the tour was going along wonderfully. The contrasting styles of the two bands just seemed to work magic on the crowds. We had finished a great night and were out on the town for some fun and relaxation. Rush Street was where the action was. We found a club where an all girl band, Bertha, some friends of ours from LA, were playing and went on in and found a spot in the balcony. The girls were really hot...they were rockin’. The little drummer played with such dynamics.
We were yelling and encouraging them on just having the time of our lives. The show was over. Bobby went downstairs to take a leak. Our road manager came back upstairs and anxiously reported that Bobby had had an altercation in the bathroom. I ran downstairs to find out what was happening. Bobby told me that while he was standing over the urinal the guy next to him made a comment about his long hair. Mind you, we are in the long hair part of town in Chicago! Evidently Bobby said something back to the guy who, by the way, was also of Mexican decent, who then struck a blow to Bobby’s cheek which drew blood. By the time I got downstairs everyone was standing in the middle of the dance floor. Bobby, the club manager, the guy that hit him and onlookers. Bobby wanted to report the incident to the police. The manager was just trying to get us to go home, and so was I, but I could see Bobby’s point. This guy obviously didn’t belong down here with all the rest of us. He was dressed in slacks with sharp pointed shoes and his hair was short and slicked back. I believe that he was there to do just what he did. I tried to coax Bobby out and let’s just “blow it off” one of his favorite expressions but he couldn’t believe that someone could assault him (or anyone else) in a public place and get away with it! He went out the front door by himself. I followed. He was at the corner leaning against the lamp post with his head down and I shouted ‘come on Bobby, let’s go’ but he went around the corner and down the block. When I got to the corner I saw him halfway down the street when someone came running out of the alley and attacked. I ran to his assistance when another person came out of the alley and grabbed me by the hair and said ‘oh you want some, too’ and commenced kicking me repeatedly between the eyes with pointed shoes. I was of absolutely no help.
I’d never been in a fight in my life. I went down. When I recovered a little they were gone and our road manager was there on his knees with Bobby’s bloody head in his arms.This has been extremely difficult for me to report but it's time the world should know what really happened that dreadful night. There’s hardly a day goes by when I don’t think about dear Bobby and what 1000 things I could have done differently.
A terrible loss. What a tragedy. Where did you guys record the Roadwork album?
We recorded that at three different places. We had played The Fillmore East. I tell you, we played our very first gig in Woodstock. Not the big event, but there was a town called Woodstock that had a health food store. We played for our supper there. We rehearsed the band and we lived in a farm house in upstate New York on a farm called the Heart of Stone Farm. We all lived in the farm house. I had a little cottage. I had gotten my wife and kids up there and they gave me the little cottage in the back. So, I had a little privacy and that was very nice. The rest of the band were all single so they stayed in the big farm house. It was a 20 room house, two stories. We rehearsed there every day and then we got to try our music on this audience at the health food restaurant. They liked our music pretty good, and they fed us afterwards. That was our first job. Our next job was at The Fillmore East, (laughs) which is like the most famous rock and roll club in the world. We became one of Bill Graham’s pet bands; he let us close the Fillmore the night that it closed. We closed with The Allman Brothers, which was another one of his favorite bands, Chicago and The Beach Boys. By the way, that was an answer on Jeopardy one night. The guy got it right.
But, the first night we played the Fillmore, we wanted to play some original music but we had worked up some other songs, too. We were doing a song by Ray Charles called “I’ve Got News for You,” a slow blues. We had that in the second spot in the show and after I sang it I got a standing ovation. The first night we had gone to The Fillmore we went there to see Chicago. My knees were knocking and I was going, ‘Oh my God, I’m in the Fillmore!’ I was in the audience and scared to death. The next time I was there I was on stage and, believe it or not, I wasn’t nearly as scared then because I felt like I knew what I was doing onstage! At least I thought I did. After that it was such a thrill, the people of New York City giving us a standing ovation. I finally felt like I had made the right decision leaving New Orleans. We were pretty much on our way. Bill Graham gave us a real boost.
But you were asking about where the Roadwork album was recorded. The Fillmore had closed down and The Academy of Music kind of took over. It was a newer and bigger place. It had become the place to go after the Fillmore. We had a recording crew come out and record us there one night. We recorded at The Apollo Theatre. They kind of treated us like white trash. They put us down in a corner in the bottom of the basement of The Apollo. It wasn’t even paved. It was like shells. My wife said, ‘Did you ever feel like the rest of the world was James Brown and you were Pat Boone?’ (laughs) But, when we walked out on stage, they booed us. But then Edgar started off with the real funky “Cool Fool” and everybody started goin,' “Hey, that ain’t bad, for white boys.’ By the end of the night, when we closed with “Turn On Your Lovelight,” we had them all up screaming and hollering and giving us encores. It was a big, big night for us. The other part of the album was recorded at The Whiskey-A-Go-Go. The crew followed us around and recorded for three nights and we just picked the best of the tracks. Of course we had Johnny (Winter) come in and Rick (Derringer). The sad part of it was White Trash broke up before that album came out. I don’t know if many people know that or not.
What caused the band to break up?
I would say the women. The wives. What do you think happened to The Beatles? My wife had to stay home with the children. Edgar’s wife didn’t have any children so she got to go to all the shows. So there was quite a bit of jealousy there. I’d say the rest of it was due to Edgar’s management. Most of the band didn’t like his management.
You mean Steve Paul?
Steve Paul -- I got along fine with him. Steve was brilliant. I think his IQ was about 480. But I think the reason the band didn’t like him was because the only people he felt like he needed to talk to were Edgar and I. He didn’t associate with the rest of the band. He would always tell us the rest of the band is disposable. That’s kind of the attitude he had toward the rest of the band.
How did White Trash come to be re-formed?
In the late ‘70’s I found myself in Modesto with Jon Smith. We had formed a little band called Dixie. We were hitting the clubs out there in Sacramento, San Jose and San Francisco. We’d never played in that are very much.We were doing pretty good. We were sitting around one night and I said, ‘Wonder what Edgar’s doing?’ So we decided to call Edgar and see if he might not want to come out here and check our little band out. And I’ll be damned if he didn’t. I guess he wasn’t doing anything at the time. We came out and started putting it all back together. He had written some new tunes and we wrote “In and Out of Love” and a few other songs. And then I had another crisis in my life. I had gotten a divorce and I ended up with my kids, twins and an older boy. I had kind of retired and left the music business. I moved to Oregon and was chopping wood up there. We had gotten Edgar back and were doing it all again. We had done a southern tour -- what we called a honky-tonk tour. It was pretty successful. I had left my kids with my mom and that wasn’t working. She couldn’t handle them. They were teenagers by this time. She called me one day and said, “Jerry, you’re going to have to come home and take care of these boys.”
So I did. I had to leave the band again. I don’t know if Edgar’s ever forgiven me. I hope he has. I did it twice. I broke the band up twice. I take full credit for breaking both of those bands up. You have to do what you have to do. Meanwhile, the wife that I left the band for has left me and I’m going, “What did I do that for?” (laughs) It’s like the old B.B. King song. “I gave you three children now you wanna give them back!” (laughs)
How did you become the singer for Blood, Sweat & Tears?
They were doing a world tour. That’s what lured me in with them. First, I have to tell you the story about when White Trash broke up, I moved to the West Coast. Most of the band came with me -- Bobby Ramirez, Jon Smith, Marshall Cyr, Tilly Lawrence -- we had George Sheck, the original White Trash bass player, and Mike McLellan, a trumpet player from The Detroit Wheels who was also in White Trash. I went out to Californi, and we were doing some new music and a couple of covers. Clive Davis came out and we were set up in a recording studio. We set up and played all of our new material for Clive. It was just him in the control booth with a couple of engineers. Just a private performance for Clive Davis. Of course, after we got through playing our stuff, he stood up by himself and gave us a standing ovation.
He said, ‘That was great, Jerry. Just marvelous!’ After that, he called me over to the side and said, ‘I’ve got one suggestion for you. You need a star guitar player.’ I said, “Well, Clive, I have a star guitar player.’ It was Barry Rivera, who had played with Ray Charles and The Righteous Brothers. But Clive felt I needed a rock and roll flash style player. So I didn’t do what Clive said, and my album pretty much got put on a shelf. So the next time Clive called me up,he said “Jerry, I’ve got something I want you to do.” I said, (quickly) “What is it Clive?”
(Laughs) Anything you want, Clive. It’s me and you baby. What do you want? He said, “I want you to come and sing with Blood, Sweat and Tears. There’s an opening and they are going to do a world tour and an album. I think this is where you need to be.” I had just released my second solo album but I dropped that. I didn’t pursue that. I went on tour with BS&T. My second album was released on Phonogram, Mercury here in the states. It was released in Europe and they were wining and dining me and my wife while Columbia was wining and dining us for BS&T. We went to Australia and all through Europe, but they weren’t really a kick-ass band like White Trash was and I wasn’t happy. So I gave them my notice in Australia and they said, ‘we’ve got one big show that we want you to do. It’s New York City and we’re playing Central Park.’ I said, I’ll do that, and that’s going to be it.
I got a call from Rare Earth’s manager who asked me if I’d be interested in singing with them and I said, yeah, I’ve always loved Rare Earth. So, he flew me out to L.A. and we talked a little bit and he said, “Oh, by the way, tomorrow we’re going to be on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. You want to sing with us?” No rehearsal, no nothing. I just got on live TV and sang “Get Ready.” He said and then, day after tomorrow, we’re going on tour. So I had to learn all of their songs in two days. I seem to have made a career out of taking people’s places in bands. (laughs)
How many Rare Earth albums were you on?
Two. Back to Earth and Midnight Lady. There’s been some new stuff released with some of my material on it.
I just thought of this. I’ve heard rumors that Bob Seger counts you as his major influence.
I don’t know. But I know he was in the audience at several of our shows.
What did you do between Rare Earth and now?
That’s all a fog. (laughs) I retired, basically. I just got started back in 1987. I was living up in Oregon cutting wood. A guy had a 2000 acre ranch. It was just pristine but it wasn’t music. I was working in a studio in Reno, Nevada. I came back home, my father was ill. He was in the hospital and wasn’t going to make it. I wanted to be close to him. I decided that, while I was down here, I might as well work some, too. So, I put a band together. It was basically the band that I have still right now. We called ourselves The Boogie Revival when we first started. Then we changed our name to The Blues Krewe to capitalize on the Mardi Gras theme. I think I’m going to change the name again next year.
Tell me about the Jerry Lightfoot CD.
He’s a great guitarist, a friend of mine. He’s won best guitarist in Houston two years in a row. He’s moved to Austin now. He’s a songwriter. One of the changes in my band was the guitar player and he came and played in my band for a while. But he had written this album and done it all himself. He had everything together, vocals and everything, but he decided he wanted me to recut some of the vocals. I didn’t do any of the writing. I ended up being on six of the ten tracks. We’re getting good reviews. Four and five star reviews. Eventually I’m going to get him in my band and make it like a review and add horns. He’s a good writer. His lyrics are very good.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’ve been thinking about an anthology kind of project where I could put together all of the things in one place that I am proud of. I’d like to put out some previously unreleased stuff I have.
Before we break, would you mind giving us your thoughts on Edgar Winter?
My thoughts on Edgar Winter. Well, I used to think he was Jesus Christ. Just to sit and talk with Edgar is a joy. He’s brilliant. He’s totally honest, totally fair. He’ll take the time to talk to you and explain things to you. A musical genius. I love him. I idolize Edgar. I really enjoyed my time I got to work with him and I hope I get to do some more stuff with Edgar in the future. I’d like to write with him some more. That was the highlight of my career so far. I felt like I was real creative, my creative juices were flowing. Edgar was a great guy to bounce any idea off of. We weren’t afraid to say that’s good or that sucks. You have to be honest. I think we kind of skimmed the cream off of our abilities together. I think I held his feet back down on the planet for a while. I’m more of an earthy kid of guy and Edgar is more of an edgy kind of guy. I go more with the feel, I’ve got to feel it. Edgar wants it to be brilliant; and it always is brilliant. You get both of those things together and you’ve really got something. I think we made a good team.
All phoros this page by Michael and Jill Smith except where noted.
A very heartfelt “thank you” to Jerry for taking the time to sit down and share his thoughts with GRITZ. You are still ‘da man’ Jerry!