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Keep it Southern, Simple 

Leadfoot's tales of woe follow in the Allmans/Skynyrd tradition

A young band from Boston, fresh-scrubbed and awash in debut-album buzz, gets a call to appear at a local festival with the Guess Who. Backstage, the young Boston singer watches the old Canadian fat guys squeeze into their Spandex and cheekily asks them, "What are you guys doing?" To which one of the balding members replies, "Same thing as you - looking for an album deal." The music business is about perseverance, a subject Leadfoot front man Karl Agell is familiar with. Agell founded the band with bassist Phil Swisher in 1993, shortly after both were kicked out of Corrosion of Conformity. Leadfoot's groove-heavy, Southern-inflected hard rock combines the thick, sludgy bottom end of Black Sabbath with a crunchy riffing reminiscent of Thin Lizzy and a touch of Skynyrd's backwoods boogie. The effect is visceral and direct — raw, roaring power.

"It's extremely simple. I live by the credo, 'Don't bore us, get to the chorus,'" Agell says with a laugh. "It's that hardcore punk thing — if you can't make your point in two- to two-and-a-half minutes, it's not worth it. Leadfoot's also a definite rebellion to [the breakthrough 91 COC album] Blind. Songs I considered simple back then, and I listen to now, and they have 97 parts - this was our rock song? I wonder how I remembered all that. Did I drink and smoke that much less than I do now?"

The Raleigh-based Leadfoot got off to a promising start, signing to Roadrunner Records, which released the band's debut, Bring It On, in Europe in 1997. That turned out to be the first in a series of misfortunes that would plague the band.

"Back then there were still good deals to be had. We got $130,000 and 10 weeks in the studio. Today you get $5,000 and it's, 'Thank you, Jesus,'" Agell says. "We got Motorhead's management, who were merging with Sinatra's management. Totally mafia connected. Seriously, they were scary guys. Everything's looking great, then two days before Christmas, Roadrunner drops us, saying, 'We're not into this anymore. We're going to push the new metal.' Suddenly nobody would return our calls."

The American release of Leadfoot's debut was eventually picked up by The Music Cartel, which also released the band's 1999 follow-up, Take A Look. But the band was snake-bitten. A plane with their CDs caught fire. The mastering plant screwed up the pressing of the second album, resulting in 16 errors and a ton of returns. The band booked a European tour with Raging Slab set to begin September 11, 2001. Slab never made it. Leadfoot lost its guarantees (and its shirt). The band returned in 2003 with We Drink For Free, another disc of Southern-fried hard rock, only to encounter another, deeper problem with bassist Swisher.

"Phil became a full-blown schizophrenic," Agell explains. "Have you seen A Beautiful Mind? It was like that, to the tenth power. He threatened his roommate with a hunting rifle. He's now a garbage man in Switzerland.

"I miss him, but at the same time, it was such a horrible thing," Agell continues. "You're angry at him but you realize it's not his fault. For a long time I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it wasn't helping. It got to the point where all my good intentions got me nowhere."

Agell recalls Swisher's increasingly erratic behavior: "He was talking to angels and demons. Doing naked fire dances and burning my stuff. Calling the CIA and FBI and talking about French people who are terrorists. I don't mean to laugh about it, but if I couldn't, I'd be face down in the fetal position."

Some of the new lyrics Agell's written are reminiscent of Wish You Were Here, the Pink Floyd album dedicated to founding member Syd Barrett, whose descent into madness in the late 60s has become rock legend. Agell dedicated his new songs to Swisher, with whom he played in bands for 15 years. But he says the show must go on.

There may be a happy ending somewhere in the offing. For a band that was always a little too rock for the metal crowd and a little too metal for the rock crowd, Leadfoot appears well-poised to take advantage of the resurgence of loud hard rock. The success of acts such as Drive By Truckers and Alabama Thunderpussy encourages Agell.

"I hear it, and I'm hopeful, but then again, it doesn't pay to think too much in this business," he says. "We're not smart enough to start trying to figure it out. That's what I like about this band. We can't figure it out so we just keep our head down and moving forward."

Leadfoot plays the Milestone at 8pm Thursday, June 16, with Southern Bitch. Tickets are $5.

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