Members of the Radiators wasted no time forming new bands since the group announced it was calling it quits last year after a 33-year run that defined an era of New Orleans rock. We now have Camile Baudoin’s Living Rumors (acoustic and electric versions); Reggie Scanlan’s New Orleans Suspects; Dave Malone’s group with his brother Tommy, the Malone Brothers; and all of them along with Frank Bua in ever-evolving offshoots including Raw Oyster Cult. The only Radiators member who has stayed underground since the band performed its “Last Watusi” back in June is Ed Volker, who organized the group at an infamous jam session in his garage on Waldo Avenue back in 1978 and wrote most of their songs.
The reclusive Volker has not been inactive, though. He’s just released his latest solo project, Snag, the seventh album’s worth of songs recorded in his home studio under his nom de plume Zeke Fishhead and distributed as downloads since 2007 (hard copies are available on order and from the Louisiana Music Factory). These recordings cover a lot of ground, but it’s easy to read the material as the ruminations of a man who was sensing that his life’s project was nearing its end.
Radiators fans tend to view these songs in terms of how they would sound if the band played them. It’s understandable given that Radiators songs were always worked up from Volker’s demos. He would record his ideas on a home system with bare bones arrangements and give tapes to Malone, who would add guitar parts to the songs he liked. The songs on these seven Volker releases are not demos though, even the few that made an appearance in Radiators shows. These lo-fi recordings are fully realized pieces that stand on their own, and the resultant outside-of-time feeling these recordings evoke sounds oddly contemporary.
Volker brings a wealth of musical influences into the mix, evoking ancient folk themes, blues, rock and the dancing clave rhythm at the heart of all New Orleans music from Jelly Roll Morton to Dr. John (and Volker himself). On Snag, we hear his ruminations on the mythic runes of his own history. “1978 I can’t think straight,” he sings in “Last Lick,” one of the songs written over the years for MOMs Ball themes. “Sometimes it seems it was all a mirage / did I ever leave that garage? / But I lived to tell the tale that we know.” At the song’s coda, Volker offers an anthemic lament that seems to echo the joy and sorrow of a lifetime: “Where is my monkey? Where is my monkey girl?”
You can get glimpses of Volker’s reasons for getting off the rock ‘n’ rollercoaster in several songs on Snag. “Just a Little Snag” is a catalog of contemporary white noise events that references the indignities of travel in post 9-11 America. “Dead Man’s Hand” is a travelogue of places where Volker and his bandmates brought the noise over the years: “Shakin’ in Chicago in Shakopee in skinny Minny in Memphis, Tennessee.” But Volker calls for mercy: “I can’t shake it, I ain’t gonna make it / let me loose, come on dead man / you gotta let me loose.” This sense of futility spills over to the commentary on current events “Nothing Works”: “Nothing works well, maybe for a while. / Sooner or later it all ends up on the pile / the dungheap of history the scrapyard of time. / Just ask Captain Kirk, nothing works.”
The album isn’t simply a commentary on Radiator Days, though it’s hard to hear songs without the Rads’ echo. Volker’s version of “The Ballad of Delia Green” is the most detailed account of the murder of Delia Green ever put to song, but Radiators subtexts abound. Anyone who thinks he is kidding about leaving the band behind should check out “Kryptonite,” an almost giddy renunciation of his powers: “I used to be a man of steel…now I’m just like Clark Kent without a phone booth in sight…this speeding bullet ain’t coming back.”
The exultant chorus indicates how happy Volker is with his decision:
Ka-boom lordy lordy lordy lordy
Looking for a little taste of kryptonite.
Volker is obviously very pleased with the opportunity to sit at home with his musical amusements. That satisfaction allows him to look back without bitterness as the elegiac “Save the Last Watusi for Me” indicates. But the final song, “Honeysuckle Still Hanging on the Vine,” depicts Volker in his own private Avalon:
I try not to keep up
so I can fall way behind
and stay right back here
where the honeysuckle’s still hanging sweet on the vine.
I was a raver and a rover
in a whole ‘nother time zone
when New Orleans was New Orleans
and everything wasn’t just a secret code.
Volker’s recent releases are available at LiveDownloads.com.