Radiators: 25 years strong
When they were impressionable youths with a passion for music growing up in 1960s New Orleans, the members of the Radiators didn’t know how good they actually had it. After all, the local scene included plenty of guys like Dr. John and Professor Longhair – prominent national artists who just happened to call the Big Easy home.”To us it was just, ‘Oh, this is cool, this local stuff. Everybody’s probably got this going on,'” said Reggie Scanlan, bassist for the Radiators. “Then later you realize this is a gold mine – and you’re really lucky.”The Radiators have only added to the city’s music-rich legacy and become a treasure in their own right since getting started in 1978. Deftly blending rock ‘n’ roll with the sounds commonly heard during their youth – from jazz to zydeco to country – the Radiators have steadily grown beyond their cult-like following that began with students and graduates of New Orleans’ Tulane University. Thanks to their fondness for extended live shows, they’ve also become a prominent act on the national jam band circuit.All bands have to get started somewhere, however, with the Radiators starting out in keyboardist/vocalist Ed Volker’s garage.Scanlan said he and guitarist/vocalist Dave Malone, in a band together, were invited to Volker’s place just expecting to have a little fun.
“We figured we’d go over there and play a couple blues songs, drink a lot of beer and just hang out,” he said.But when the three teamed up with Frank Bua (drums) and Camile Baudoin (guitar), members of Volker’s band at the time, and started playing, Scanlan said he got more than he bargained for.”We started and no one really expected anything to happen,” he said. “But we just kind of fell into a groove and it just kept morphing into all these different things, and we were like, ‘Jeez’ – we couldn’t believe what was happening. After that we all quit our bands and got together.”Still nameless, the quintet got together again for their first gig two weeks later in a club that Scanlan said was “mostly a hangout for off-duty cab drivers.” Scanlan said the new group, as indebted to the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and ’60s R&B artists for their sound as much as their local heroes, wasn’t greatly appreciated.”We were not what they wanted in there, but we played basically for passing the hat and hoping that the hat came back with at least what we started with,” he said. With that inauspicious beginning and still without a name, Scanlan said he didn’t think the band would last nearly as long as it has.
“Back then, we were working, worrying about if we could get enough gigs to pay the rent,” he said. “It was really a day-to-day kind of attitude because, back then, bands broke up so fast. We had been in so many bands already, we didn’t have any expectations of anything lasting more than six months or a year.”Twenty-six years later, those five guys who met up for beers in Volker’s garage are still together, trailing only Los Lobos (30 years) as the oldest band still with its original members. The Radiators recently celebrated their silver anniversary with a live dual CD/DVD release, “Earth Vs. The Radiators: The First 25,” recorded at famed New Orleans’ nightspot Tipitina’s at the end of January. Both releases feature guest spots by Gregg Allman, Karl Denson (Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe) and other friends of the band. Despite their reputation as a great live act, Scanlan said he doesn’t foresee the band releasing any more live albums.”We’ve done so many of them, and there are so many tunes that we’d like to record in more of a controlled situation, and after all there are so many bootleg releases because every live show turns into a live CD now between the fans taping and the band taping,” he said.However, Scanlan said he doesn’t fault the fans taping and trading of the Radiators’ live shows, something encouraged by almost all jam bands, for the band’s desire to return to the studio. In fact, he said the band’s rabid fans, affectionately known as “fish-heads,” were integral in getting the word out.”We learned by accident early on that that was a great marketing tool,” he said. “When we were first started, we had a huge touring following and they would come and tape. The first time we played in New York (City) at the Lone Star Café (in 1985) the place was sold out. That was a revelation to us, we were like, ‘This is unbelievable.'”
Even though that unbelievable moment occurred nearly 20 years ago, the passion of the Radiators fans seems to have only grown in recent years. What if the fish-heads want 25 more years from their favorite band?”I hope we’re still playing,” Scanlan said. “Probably as long as people want to here us, that’s about as long as well be playing.”Earth vs. The RadsRadiatorsToday and Friday, 7:30 p.m.State Bridge Lodge in Bond