-After Twenty Years Of Jamming, the Legendary New Orleans Party Band Is Still More Interested in Having a Good Time Than What's Next
By Lee Abraham
"We're new every night," says Reggie Scanlan, founding member and bass player for the Radiators, "If the mood strikes, anything can happen."
That sort of off-the-cuff spontaneity is second nature after more than two decades of making music together. Lead vocalist/keyboard player Ed Volker, Camile Baudoin and Dave Malone on guitars, Frank Bua on drums, and Scanlan on bass have done just that. Originally forming as the Rhapsodizers in the mid-'70s, the band officially became the Radiators in 1978. Since that time, the only line-up change has been a percussionist that played with the band for an apx. ten year span from the early '80s until about 5 years ago.
While the band members have been a constant, the material played at any given show is often as much of a surprise to the band as the audience. The Radiators have made a career of not knowing what's next. It's just more fun that way.
Somewhere along the way, the Rads got away from set lists. Even when they have one, they rarely stick to it. In addition to swamp buckets full of originals and New Orleans traditionals, the Rads are famous for busting out covers of countless tunes from the Beatles, Dylan, Little Feat and the Rolling Stones, to name a few.
Every so often, someone in the band hears a song on the radio earlier in the day and decides to play it that night. Without telling anyone else. "A lot of times the band doesn't know what the song is gonna be until the guy that starts the rhythm off, starts singin'," laughs Scanlan.
The combination of intense live jamming and playful stage presence have made the Rads a perennial highlight of the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and a year round concert draw, both at home and on the road.
Over the years, the Radiators have carved their own niche in the storied history of the Crescent City's music scene. -Law of the Fish-, the Rads1987 release is widely regarding to be among the best original music ever to come out of New Orleans, Their hybrid of New Orleans roots blended with blues, R&B and rock and roll, is known affectionately as "Fish Head Music."
Longtime fans know they can count on the Radiators to bring an authentic dose of New Orleans funk and Mardi Gras party fever wherever they perform. Collectively and individually, the Radiators have played with everyone from Dr. John, the Neville Brothers and Earl King, to the father of the Mardi Gras, Professor Longhair.
"I still miss that guy more than you can imagine," says Scanlan, who played bass in 'Fess's band for about a year. "He was an absolute prince of a human being. Playing in his band was like goin' to grad school."
Onstage, the Radiators have developed a chemistry that extends beyond musical interactions. These guys genuinely enjoy playing with each other. "We're good friends and it's like a family kind of situation," explains Scanlan. "Over twenty years you've probably said everything that could possibly be said to somebody and nobody's gone away."
"On a musical level, like a musical conversation, we've never run out of things to say to each other and I guess that's why bands break up eventually, because they run out of ideas. That's the only reason you get together with somebody, on any level," continues Scanlan. "Whether it's a girlfriend or whatever, you have something in common and for however long that lasts and however long it works, you stay together."
While having "something to say" to each other has kept the Radiators together, it's their ability to harness the energy from their fans that makes their live shows legendary "A lot of it depends on the audience," says Scanlan. "Whatever the feeling is from the crowd on any given night, that's where we'll take it."