Born Leonard James LaCour Sr., 27 April 1932, Bayou Bredelle, Louisiana
Robert Pruter calls Lenny LaCour "one of those myriad shadowy figures in the record business who seemed to have touched every era and every area of the business without ever making a deep impression." An adequate description. LaCour has acted as a singer, songwriter, agent, promoter, producer and record company owner ever since he wrote his first song in school. Yet he is largely unknown, although this situation has changed somewhat after the release of his 2008 CD, "Walkin' the Bullfrog", a career overview.
Born in the Northwest of Louisiana, LaCour grew up on a cotton farm. His music loving parents were of French Creole and Italian descent. In 1950 he made his first of several migrations to Chicago and was thrilled with the type of records Chess was putting out. In 1952 he played a few demos for Leonard Chess, but he turned LaCour down, commenting "I don't put white boys on my label." The two tracks, "Alligator Man" and "My Baby She's Gone" would come out on a small label called All American, though. By 1953 he was fronting the Al Peterson Big Band singing pop tunes and cut two singles with that orchestra for the local Spin and Meteor labels (not to be confused with the L.A. and Memphis labels respectively). LaCour's break came in 1956 when he won a Chicago jingle contest for Orange Crush, the soda bottling subsidiary of Pepsi-Cola. Under the name of King Creole he performed a series of TV and radio spots for Orange Crush and soon singles of "Rock 'n' Roll Romance" were distributed with every Crush sixpack. This project was tied into a recording contract with Frank McGovern's Academy label, recording under his given name, Lenny LaCour. In later years, he would release two rerecordings of "Rock 'n' Roll Romance" (one in Big Bopper style under the alias of Big Rocker), but this first Academy version is the best. Another good rocker on Academy was "Rockin' Rosalie", which was also rerecorded, as "Rockin' Rosalie Vs Disco Bill" (Magic Touch 9023, 1980) and this time I prefer the newer version, which rocks more convincingly.
Unhappy with the Academy contract, Lenny decided to become an entrepreneur. In 1957 he set up his own publishing company and the next year he founded his own record company, Lucky Four, which was distributed by Chess. He also did independent production work for Chess and Mercury. Among the artists recorded by LaCour (both for Lucky Four and Mercury) was Eddie Bell, who made several good rockers like "Johnny B. Goode Is In Hollywood", "The Masked Man" and "Knock, Knock, Knock", with Eddie Clearwater on lead guitar. Eddie Bell would later become a huge polka star under his given name, Eddie Blazonczyk.
At Lucky Four, LaCour was a performer (his own records came out under the pseudonym The Big Rocker), the main songwriter, producer, arranger, talent scout and promoter. It was a one-man show. By 1961, he was concentrating his energies almost exclusively on vocal groups, most notably the Swinging Hearts and the Uniques, both doo-wop groups. In 1964 Lenny moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he founded the Magic Touch and (later) Dynamic Sounds labels, leaving Lucky Four defunct. Here he had more success recording local acts than in Chicago, though nothing came close to being a hit. By the late 1970s, LaCour was back in Chicago, releasing unsuccessful disco records on Magic Touch. He has always been a survivor, able to adapt to changing tastes. The present day finds Lenny as active as ever. Over the years he has received many offers from major recording companies to do production work for them, but he always preferred to stay independent.
The year 2008 saw the release of the CD "Walkin' the Bullfrog" (Night Train International NTI CD 7160) with 25 tracks from various stages of Lenny's career, though the majority is from the 1950s and early 1960s, with the accent on rock 'n' roll and swamp pop. The CD got a positive review in Now Dig This (309, December 2008), which you can read here http://tuffcity.wordpress.com/category/lenny-lacour/ Recommended with reservations. There are some very good tracks, but also some very bad.
LaCour has made several claims that need to be taken with a grain of salt. According to him, the movie "King Creole" was based on his life. ("Nobody knows that.") He says he "worked with Elvis", his company was "bigger than Chess" and he was "the first one in Milwaukee to do anything for the local talent."
Acknowledgements / further reading : - Robert Pruter, The Lenny LaCour Story". In Now Dig This, issue 151 (October 1995), page 6-8. An adaptation of this piece was published in Pruter's book "Doowop : The Chicago Scene" (University of Illinois Press, 2003).
With thanks to Gary Myers and Eric LeBlanc.
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