The Radiators are back at Jazz Fest this year, celebrating their 40th anniversary at the scene of many memorable shows, the Gentilly stage on the final day of the fest. The Rads are scheduled to play just before the day’s closing set by Steve Miller.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we closed the Gentilly stage for 30-plus years so getting to play the last Sunday on our stage is very special,” says guitarist/vocalist Dave Malone. “It’s a tradition that got broken for a while and here we are doing it again.”
Malone and his bandmates have good reason to be in high spirits. The band is on a roll coming off a trio of great lives shows at Tipitina’s in January and what group members are calling the best album they’ve ever made, Welcome to the Monkey House.
Back in 2010, founder Ed Volker decided that he wanted to opt out of the band’s grueling life on the road. The “breakup” turned into a freshening in which all the members got to play in other configurations. Malone, guitarist Camile Baudoin and drummer Frank Bua played together in Raw Oyster Cult; bassist Reggie Scanlan played in the New Orleans Suspects and a bunch of side projects; and Volker made an impressive series of solo recordings and fronted several bands. The outside work made reunion shows more and more like the wild nights from the band’s heyday.
“The last two years of reunion shows at Tipitina’s have been outstanding,” says Camile Baudoin. “It’s all about the band members getting back together, the circle of friends at our shows getting back together. It’s better than ever, a monumental thing, having a 40th anniversary. Things are just falling into place. The band is solid. It’s been a thrill and a pleasure to play with them after all these years. There’s nothing to prove or worry about. We’re just having fun.”
The Rads will be playing a show at Tipitina’s Wednesday May 2, between the two Jazz Fest weekends. Baudoin will also be joining Malone and Reggie Scanlan in a lineup they call the Gatorators at Cafe Istanbul on Thursday May 3. Baudoin is on his own at Buffa’s April 28th.
Malone will also be playing at Jazz Fest with his kids Johnny and Darcy in the Chilluns, and with an all-star lineup in The Magnificent 7. The 7 was scheduled to play last year but was rained out. Malone was so disappointed he posted the set list they were unable to play. A year later we’ll get to finally hear it.
Scanlan will be playing with the New Soul Finders and will appear on a panel celebrating Professor Longhair’s 100th birthday. Scanlan played with Fess before joining the Radiators. “Just the idea of being involved in something that lasts 40 years is pretty overwhelming,” says Scanlan. “Getting some recognition for it is kinda cool. It’s almost like a full circle thing at the Jazz Festival. I played there with Professor Longhair in ‘77 and this is kind of like coming full circle. With Fess it was sort of like a celebration of his music; I was onstage with all these heavyweights and I just kinda lucked out. And now with the the Rads at 40, it’s kind of my own thing that’s being recognized. It gives you a sense of contintinuity in terms of where you belong in the scheme of New Orleans music and it’s traditions. It’s also cool that it’s a band that still is the five original guys; it’s not like you’ve got two original guys and they own the name but there are three other guys that you don’t know where they are. It feels like a very intact project that has lasted this long and made a mark in the whole tradition of New Orleans music. It’s a sense of accomplishment to think that I contributed something to a tradition that I love and respect so much, to know that you did something positive for it.”
Volker will also play with The Iguanas in Los Reyes de Lagardo at Jazz Fest. He formed the Rads in 1978 after a rehearsal in his garage at Waldo Drive.
“I shake my head in wonder that we’re still doing it,” he says.
Volker is not worried about trying to fit 40 years of history into a 75 minute set.
“Why would you even try? You’ve gotta play to the situation.”
Volker has actually been playing Jazz Fest for 45 years, dating back to his days with the Rhapsodisers, a band that also included Baudoin and Bua.
“Everything was on such a smaller scale back then, in terms of Jazz Fest, in terms of the world we live in,” he says. “After the gig Saturday night Frank would park his car behind the stage and sleep in his car until it was time to play.”
But Volker’s favorite Jazz Fest memory dates back even further, to 1972, “When I could stand next to Fess while he played ‘Tipitina.’ I could leave Waldo Drive with $15, go to Jazz Fest and come home with $5 in my pocket.”
THE RADIATORS @ 40: SUNDAY, MAY 6—GENTILLY STAGE, 3:15 P.M.