New Orleans is full of musicians who epitomize the genre-busting goal of turning old school New Orleans music into an egalitarian mash-up, and no one has done more to realize this goal than Mark Mullins. The suave trombonist paid his dues in the tradition, earning his funk stripes playing in bassist George Porter, Jr.’s band and his jazz props as a member of the Harry Connick, Jr. Orchestra. Back in the late 1990s, Mullins co-led a brilliant but ultimately failed effort to combine funk and rock with John Gros in the band Mulebone. Mullins was restless in his pursuit of a style that would satisfy his desire to play jazz, funk and rock in the same band, and when Tipitina’s French Quarter club offered him a mid-week slot to present his ideas, Mullins and his trombonist partner in the Connick group, Craig Klein, put out a call to their brass brethren and assembled a trombone orchestra that was quickly dubbed Bonerama.
Bonerama has evolved over its 13 years into a powerful live band and a valued brass section utilized on recordings by OK Go and R.E.M. among others. A longstanding relationship with the Radiators took on another aspect following the Rads’ breakup earlier this year when Radiators’ front man Dave Malone was asked to join Bonerama as a guest vocalist and guitarist. The first collaboration of what Rads fans are now calling Malonerama was a huge success; on a recent Wednesday afternoon in Lafayette Square, Malone sounded like he’s been in this band for years, joining in on Bonerama’s “Shake Your Rugalator,” singing the Radiators’ classics “Confidential” and “Like Dreamers Do,” and giving voice to great covers of “I Like It Like That” and “Whipping Post.”
“We try to allow ourselves to change our approach and take risks,” says Mullins. “We all come from different backgrounds and we’re not afraid to put those together. I grew up listening to a lot of rock and the trombone wasn’t necessarily well-suited to play all the things I had in my head. Craig comes from a different background—he’s well versed in the New Orleans music tradition. When you put those things together with what everyone else brings to the group, it’s fun to see what happens. People talk about the arrangements, but the arrangements I’m most proud of, like “Crosstown Traffic” and “Frankenstein,” are more like transcriptions, not all that different from the originals. It’s fun to see people’s reactions when they hear something in a way they never thought they would hear it.”
The addition of Malone to the lineup adds a powerful lead vocal to the mix, but the collaboration had been in the cards. Mullins sat in with the Rads so many times he was nicknamed the sixth Radiator.
“I’ve been a fan of the Radiators for a long time,” says Klein. “I used to go see them at Luigi’s on Wednesday nights when it was free.
“If we were on the road and we had a day off and the Radiators were playing at some club that was 50 miles away, we’d say, ‘Let’s drive out there, just show up and blast away.’ They liked it. Dave was always just outgoing, a fun person. He was always the guy throwing riffs at us when we were on the stage and we’d throw things back at him. When the Radiators broke up, it was a natural thing to say, ‘Let’s get Dave and do some shows.’ We’d already started doing Radiators songs when we knew the end was coming. We were on the road so we missed “The Last Watusi,” but we probably played four or five Radiators songs that night. Voodoo was the second show. There will more than likely be a few others.”
Bonerama featuring Dave Malone of the Radiators plays Sunday, October 30 at 8 p.m. on the WWOZ Stage.