David Peters, Bobby Campo of Le Roux
by Robyn Flans
Photos by Michelle Wright LaCombe
While the plight of the drummer is strenuous enough in Los Angeles and New York, it is almost impenetrable for those living in various other parts of the country, which is most often the case. While the opportunities are surely limited in the larger cities, they are nearly nonexistent in those smaller cities.
David Peters and Bobby Campo are two musicians who greatly sympathize with the difficulties faced by most players, while finally managing to secure a spot in the industry while residing in Louisiana.Peters is a drummer, while Campo lends his varied musicianship to the trumpet, flugelhorn, flute, congas and additional percussion instruments. They have been playing together in different bands for over ten years, presently together in Louisiana’s LeRoux, a band which has been recording for Capitol Records having had some acknowledgement for their single, “New Orleans Ladies.”
While in Los Angeles for three weeks recording their third album, Peters and Campo candidly discussed the multitude of pros and cons of growing up and retaining residency in south Louisiana.
Campo, whose training was primarily in the field of symphonic trumpet playing, knows that had he pursued his original desire, he would most certainly have had to leave Louisiana.
“The symphony route is through the route of auditions. You read the papers and they say ‘Assistant trumpet opens up in Cleveland’ and you fly to Cleveland and audition. You fail in Cleveland and you go back to work at your 7-11 job. You keep looking in the papers for the openings and fly out and audition. It’s real tough.”
Percussion came for him as a means to supply the demand and open alternatives for obtaining work.
“There’s not a whole lot of work for an individual trumpet player in anything, so the automatic response was to percussion. Anything to keep a gig,” Campo laughed. “That’s my motto. I like to play, so regardless of whether it’s trumpet, congas, stage or studio, I find pleasure in everything.”
While the symphonic route would have been impossible in New Orleans, musicians in the contemporary music scene have it almost as rough.
“There’s no music scene there,” Campo explained. “There are no record dates, there’s no studio scene. Either you play a club or you do your original material and try to get out. You grow up and you’re playing and you dig it and the next thing you do is get into a band, so you get into a band and you dig that and play in that for a long time. You never really calculate the next step there. You just kind of keep digging it and have a good time at it and it takes its own course. That’s probably why there’s not a big musical scene there. Everybody just does it and there are few people with foresight. You’ll ask somebody whatever happened to so and so and someone will say, ‘Oh, he’s out in L.A.’ But somehow, there’s a big gap somewhere. How did he get from here to there?”
“Out here in L.A., everybody knows what to do if you get into a band,” Peters added. “Back home, you’re just not exposed to that. There’s nothing to go to and nobody really knows what the next step is, so it stops there. There’s got to be a connection—somebody who knows. Management or whatever. But nobody knows what to do. Once they get to that point, they just keep on doing what they’ve been doing. Some of them are great players, but they just get stuck. A lot of them keep doing it and they manage to make a living. Some of them end up working during the day just to have that enjoyment of playing at night. When we say a club, we really mean a bar. It’s not like the Roxy or a nice club like that. If you want to play music, you have these few bars to play in and the places are real rough.”
“I remember when I was 13, I played at a place a week before the stage was dynamited,” recalled Campo. “It was this place where the stage surrounds the bar, so the stage is in the middle and there’s a place for the bartender to walk around. About a week after we played there, there was a black guy who played there. This is not to say that the South is prejudiced, because there are those people everywhere, and it’s not as prejudiced as everyone thinks, but this was a particularly rough neighborhood and they blew the stage up from under this black guy. It wasn’t enough to kill anybody, but enough to scare the heck out of everyone. A couple of years later, the whole front end of the building of that same club caved in.”
A series of events led up to LeRoux’s breaking out of the local scene. Several horn bands preceded what was first called the Levy Band, but the eventual combination of members remained with singer/guitarist/writer, Jeff Pollard at the helm.
“Jeff and a bass player by the name of Russell were doing an acoustic thing and then Rod (Roddy) came in and added a little piano,” detailed Campo. “Then I came in and started doing Cabasa and a little flute. We were all like, ‘Let me come and play. You don’t have to pay me.’ We were all just kicking rocks, doing nothing. And then David came in and played congas and all of a sudden, Jeff was really happening. We were packing the place. When Russell decided to leave, we called Leon (Medica) to see if he would do it for a couple of days. By this time, Leon had pretty well established himself as a good bass player and was working with lots of people who were really into what was happening and working out at Bogalusa, which was a real studio. He was working with a guy by the name of Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown at the time and one at a time, Leon got everybody in Gate’s band. So we were doing the acoustic thing with Jeff during the week, and on weekends, we would go out with Gate and play Monroe, Lake Charles, Lafayette and that circuit. Then we recorded two albums with Gate and it snowballed. Since we played a lot of festivals with him, there were a lot of government officials present and they thought it would be perfect as a goodwill ambassador to send this black guy with his white band to Africa.”
After their African tour in 1973, Gatemouth Brown and his band parted ways and it was about this time that things started to really come together for the band now known as LeRoux.
“About the time we finished with Gate, Leon got us into the studio to record some demos. Now there’s a man with a good business sense and a little foresight of what to do when. He had done some sessions in Nashville and went back to Paul Tannen and managed to get Jeff sold to a publishing company as a writer, at which time Screen Gems took the demos around to record companies and that was the start.”
It was back to the drawing board after the record companies rejected the band, but Leon’s persistence finally paid off. In 1977, while the band was in Colorado to play a scheduled performance, Leon happened to take the completed demo to an engineer friend of his with whom he had worked previously. Coincidentally, that night Bill McEuen, manager of Steve Martin and the Dirt Band, happened to be having dinner at the engineer’s house, at which time he was convinced to listen to the tape. The next night, McEuen showed up at LeRoux’s gig, and so it began with their first manager. Two showcases in Los Angeles followed at McEuen’s instigation, after which, LeRoux was signed by Capitol Records. Before their first album, guitarist Tony Haselden was added, and most recently, LeRoux signed a new management contract with the Budd Carr Agency.
With a record deal and Los Angeles management, the members are able to enjoy the most unusual luxury of being recording artists while living where the industry isn’t. Now, of course, their living situation is an advantageous one. Perhaps it is this distance from the mainstream of the musical industry that keeps the band members down to earth. All of LeRoux’s members would agree that they are somewhat isolated living in Louisiana, but by the same token, the hype with which most recording artists must contend, is nonexistent in their world. The strides they have made have also given them the confidence to push harder, Campo reveals.
“For instance, what makes a great piano player as opposed to a really good one, is his ability to break away from the rules. It’s a weeding out process. You go to college and learn how to make certain fingering because that helps you, but when it comes to a passage that you can play better when you make up your own fingering for it, then you excel. You start to leave the rules behind and start making your own rules. In Louisiana, since there is no music scene in the recording business or being able to make it as a musician by yourself, you’re stifled. If you can break out of it, you’re on your way, with a little more confidence from somebody from L.A., for instance, who has it in his life, who has grown up with that tough, hard-nosed competition. It’s easy to get your confidence shot right out from under you. In Louisiana, once you break out, then you feel there’s nothing that can keep you down. Come hell or high water, you can maintain a spirit. We had no idea what it felt like to deal with that rejection because, after all, we were the biggest thing in Pineville, Louisiana,” he laughed. “When we came out to L.A., it was like country boy comes to town, completely.”
Louisiana musicians tend to conjure up thoughts of a very distinctive style, which Campo and Peters agree is not far from reality.
“The people seem to let go more in Louisiana. You don’t have to worry about technical expertise in that everybody puts more of an emphasis on how it feels. You kind of grow up like that and it’s not just the musical vibe, but it’s in your family, your parents—the whole attitude. In Louisiana, it doesn’t take long for you to become family with anybody— total strangers. This is South Louisiana, specifically, because there is a difference in the personality of the people. It’s not like that anywhere else I’ve been,” claimed Campo.
“A lot of musicians from that area end up in L.A. or N.Y. or people will listen to the sounds that came out of that area because they were funky and they relate that to New Orleans and the old Mardi Gras type meters,” explained Peters. “The meters were great. A lot of heavy, heavy drummers out here in L.A. feel that their favorite drummer to listen to is one from that area because they like that old New Orleans jazz stuff because of the funk. We were exposed to a lot of it growing up and even now, I still love to play funk. I’ve had experience playing all kinds of different music, but that’s mostly what I was exposed to and what I like to do best. It’s hard to pinpoint what my style is. It’s hard to listen to yourself and be objective. The band is so versatile. The first album was almost a funk album and the second was somewhere in between funk and rock and now this third album is really rock.” Peters got his first set in the seventh grade after his earlier fascination with a snare drum his older brother borrowed from a friend. He still has his little Ludwig set which had a small tom and 14″ floor tom, a 22″ bass drum and a small 12″ ride cymbal, no hi-hat and a pair of sticks.
From elementary school to high school, Peters remained involved in the offered band classes as well as majoring in percussion for a year in college. Although he never took private lessons, Peters says he practiced constantly growing up, while listening to the commercial rock music on the radio and then taking a turn to jazz and Buddy Rich, who became a major influence.
He admits that he rarely practices now, since last year, the band was on the road for 43 out of the 52 weeks, opening for such acts as the Beach Boys, Heart, Charlie Daniels and Bob Seger.
“To me, and I think everyone would agree, a drummer is the backbone of the band, so he must have good time. How you play, the touch and how you tune are obviously important factors too.
“I like each drum to have a real distinct tone, more melodic than a percussive sound. On the old records in the old days like with Otis Redding, I think drums sounded like cardboard boxes. No matter how many tom toms you had on a set, all of them sounded the same. I try to get as much note out of each drum. I tune my drums very low, with the drum heads real, real loose, and I try to get as much volume out of the drums as possible. I spend a lot of time tuning and trying to get all the overtones out of it, without taping the drum down and muffling it. I think that was the problem years ago. Drummers didn’t know exactly what to do with the drum and how to tune it and they’d get into the studio and end up taping it so much to get all the ring and overtones out of it, that it ended up sounding like a cardboard box. So I spent a lot of time thinking about it and what kind of sound I wanted and how to get it without putting all that junk on the drum, so it’s just a drum shell and two heads and a note. I like two heads on the drum so it gets a lot of resonance and rings for a long, long time, but it’s a note—almost a Syndrum effect, where the note drops. I think all the drummers back in the 60’s took their bottom heads off because it was a fad. They thought it made the drum louder, which is hogwash. I think with the bottom head, the sound is a lot fuller.”
He utilizes identical set-ups for recording and live performances and ecstatically endorses Slingerland. His setup includes 8″, 10″, 12″ and 13″ toms, a 16″ floor tom, a 22″ bass drum, although he says he is about ready to switch to a 24″ bass drum. All his drums are natural wood because, “I like that natural sound. I think even the drums with the wrapping on it—the Pearl finish and that, effects the sound of the drum and smothers it. That’s the way they made them years and years ago, and then they started painting them and putting finishes on and all of that.”
Peters uses Remo Ambassador medium heads on the tops and the thinnest heads he can find for the bottoms.
“If I were to change to a thick on top, I would go with a medium on the bottom so it is all in proportion. That way you can tune the top head to the note that you want and no matter how loose it is, the bottom head is real thin and it will vibrate and pull the note out.”
He uses Zildjian cymbals, laughing, “they’re the only kind.” In addition to a 20″ thin crash, an 18″ medium thin and a 20″ pang, Peters recently acquired a 22″ Earth cymbal.
“It’s a new kind of cymbal,” he explained. “I think what they do is pour it into a mold. They put cymbals on lathes, which is why you see all the ridges on the cymbals, but with this cymbal, what they did was take all the metals and pour them into a mold and you can see pieces of copper and pieces of brass there. It’s a great cymbal and really interesting looking.”
He uses oak Pro-Mark 747 nylon top drum sticks, because he finds them more flexible than the hickory, which he says is a little more brittle.
“I sand my sticks down to get all the lacquer off so they don’t fly out of my hands, and I also wear sweat bands around my wrists. They keep all the sweat from going down and getting the sticks all grimy which makes them fly out of your hands. People don’t realize the bands aren’t just for show—they really work.”
Spending as much time as the group does on the road is a definite threat to the well being and preservation of their equipment.
“It’s like a new car,” Peters compared. “Once you get that first little nick on it, it’s not new anymore and you just stop worrying about it. We’ve played some jobs out in the rain with a roof that leaked and the drums were filling up with water. There’s nothing you can do about it. Road equipment is just abused. It just gets thrown around everywhere and airports are notorious for beating up equipment. If I had a personal set at home, that’s the kind of thing I would take care of, but road equipment is another story altogether. I just try not to worry because there’s nothing you can do about it.”
An endorsement with Peavey has helped LeRoux preserve and maintain their equipment somewhat.
“They’ve been absolutely great to us,” exclaimed Peters. “They have helped us out so much. I went to the factory and spent a whole day there and they have a room where they work on their new equipment and they had me set up my drums and they custom built a monitoring system that would equal a P. A. system that a small band would use in a club. Unbelievable! I have two 18” woofers in the back, just for the bass drum, then I have two Peavey Internationals set up on stands blowing at me on each side at ear level. Then I have a 800 watt power amp, a 7 channel mixer and a ten band graphic stereo equalizer, that one side is just for the bass drum and the other side is for the rest of the drum set and vocals.
“I have trouble a lot of times with my bass drum feeding back, so I told them about it and they took readings on my bass drum and found out where those frequencies were and they built this P.L. can which plugs in and immediately cancels out those frequencies, so no matter what I do, it isn’t going to feed back.
“Whenever we need equipment repaired, we send it in or a lot of times we’ll be going through Meridian, Mississippi and we stop and immediately they’ll pull out the equipment and bring it into the laboratories and plug all their equipment into it and check it out and repair whatever needs repairing or replacing and we go on our merry way. It’s almost as if they maintain the equipment. They want to find out how the equipment holds up on the road. They would almost rather we bring in a piece of equipment that has almost been abused so they can find out what they need to build for road equipment because they know that the stuff gets beat up. It’s great road equipment— it doesn’t break down. And when it does, it’s real easy to get it fixed. They have people everywhere. If we were in Portland, Oregon and something blew, we just have to call them up and they’ll call the closest store and tell them to furnish us with whatever we need.”
With all their traveling, however, they would like to be able to spend more time in Los Angeles. Aside from providing a stronger link with the industry in which they make their careers, L.A. also affords them the opportunity to see the acts and hear the music with which they are in competition, in addition to having the chance to catch their idols and would-be teachers.
“One day I may even be able to go out and catch Paulina de Costa,” Campo said. “There have been things that I’ve been fortunate enough to have found out from bending other conga player’s ears. I’ve only met two and I’ve bent them both—hard!” he laughed. “What’s great is to hear other people play. Paulina de Costa is a fantastic player, and of course, Ralph MacDonald. The biggest treat for me was when we played with Santana and getting to watch their conga player. That’s when you realize there’s more to it than what you’re doing—that it’s not all natural. Yet, they’re not playing anything new, they’re just playing it better.”
“What’s funny about Bobby is that he uses drummer’s licks on congas,” Peters announced.
“It’s true,” Campo confirmed. “I learned congas from David. I tried to mimic his licks on the congas. Two licks will get you through a year. You can either go with him or against him. There’s no in between. If he’s hitting the snare on 2 and 4, you can hit your pop sound on 2 and 4 or you can play 1 and 3 against his 2/4. If you want to bluff your way through your first year, like I did, you play with the drummer. Actually, I’m starting to get a little cocky on congas now. Percussion is easy in the sense that it’s like the difference between tennis and racquetball. Tennis is great, but you have to have a certain amount of technical finesse. Racquetball you just go out and bang around the ball. Congas are like that. There’s not a lot of technical ability you have to have. It’s more a knack that you can get. There are different spots in the drum that you learn about after a while, but the basic thing is to hit the thing. The only thing that inhibits a percussionist is his speed because you have physical limitations. Drummers too. You don’t always use that speed, but it’s good to have it.”
Campo and Peters do not work together at figuring their parts, but rather each member of LeRoux works independently and “just plays what he feels,” they revealed.
“Logically, David should have been the first person I asked, but I never did ask how he felt about it,” Campo said, turning to Peters. “Does it work? Do I get in the way?”
“No, not at all,” Peters replied, then joked, “I can’t hear you half the time anyway. The difference of playing with a conga player is that he fills in all the holes I miss,” he laughed.
“I actually consider my job more visual than musical,” Campo revealed. “From an absolute technical point of view, I am actually more of a stage musician than a recording percussionist. In the studio, I’m great at knick knack things. We’ll put a bell here, or a triangle there.”
“That’s exactly what ends up making it,” commented Peters.
Presently, Campo plays Gon-Bops congas, but says he would like to switch to Slingerland as well.
“The thing about Slingerland congas is that their lug set-up is better. Every lug tightens from the bottom on conga drums and theirs tighten from the top, which makes it easier to get to. They have a mechanism where the screw meets up with the things that’s held onto the conga drum and the threads go in even. I’m looking forward to trying them.”
While it definitely has not been easy and certainly not typical, LeRoux has managed to overcome those obstacles laid out before the typical musician outside of the industry while maintaining certain freedoms most find they must relinquish.
“Our purpose is not entirely artistic, nor is it entirely industrial. There’s a marriage there between the two. A lot of people say that rock and roll is easy, but it’s not. To get a particular attitude and feeling onto vinyl is really tough to do. So, therein, lies the challenge. You’ve got to have a challenge in whatever you do. The unfortunate thing, I think, is that in this business your success against the challenge is measured in dollars. It’s good, I suppose, in that it’s a good thing to shoot for, but it’s kind of a bad way to keep score. It’s a good way to monitor yourself too because you figure if you’re not eating, then you must be doing something wrong,” Campo said, concluding, “I’m glad to be associated with the record industry because it gives you a little bit of a feeling of accomplishment. It makes it really feel like a career. You’re not just beating your head up against some club wall in Louisiana.”