Familiar faces will grace the Gentilly Stage the final day of Jazz Fest. After a two-year hiatus, the Radiators will reunite for a one-hour set, before John Fogerty wraps up the 45th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
When the Rads departed the stage after the 2011 Fest, it was supposed to be the final time, just a few months before they officially ended their 33-year reign as New Orleans' preeminent rock 'n roll band. So what has changed in three years?
Well, it depends on whom you ask. For bassist Reggie Scanlan, the breakup was a long time coming. "We had been coasting for years. We never practiced anymore. We just showed up for gigs, played for a few hours and that was it. If it wasn't for our fans, it would have ended much sooner. They carried us the last few years." Scanlan quickly found a new gig, hooking up with Mean Willie Green (Neville Brothers) on drums, Jake Eckert (Dirty Dozen Brass Band) on guitar, CR Gruver on piano and Jeff Watkins on sax to form the New Orleans Suspects.
Soon after, though, Scanlan was faced with the fight of his life. "Everything up to then helped me face this," Scanlan said of his battle with pancreatic cancer. He felt lucky to undergo a 17-hour surgery to remove the tumor rather than having to undergo extensive chemo or radiation treatment. After a month hiatus, a gaunt Scanlan begged his doctors to let him back on the road, and they acquiesced as long as he agreed to adhere to a strict diet and follow his insulin treatments.
With help from The New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, Scanlan got back on his feet and used the educational classes to learn about and survive his ordeal. Since then, he has been organizing benefits to raise money and give back to the clinic because it "does so much to help us out. Unfortunately, the funding is drying up and it's increasingly relying on donations to continue."
While Scanlan was moving in different directions, singer/guitarist Dave Malone was trying to figure out how to keep the music going. Malone and guitarist Camile Baudoin tried a few different lineups, playing Radiators songs to their rabid fan-base, before finally settling on a lineup that included original drummer Frank Bua, John Gros (Papa Grows Funk), and Dave Parmaleau (Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes).
Dubbed Raw Oyster Cult, Malone got back to doing what he does best, singing beautiful songs written by original Radiator's singer/songwriter Ed Volker. The new band has two other accomplished singers so the old classic songs now have vocal harmonies added to them. And, Malone's gotten back to writing his own music. "I've always written the guitar parts to the Rads songs. Now I'm doing more of that. Taking some of Ed's songs and twisting them around." For thirty years, the Radiators headlined the decadent MOM's Ball, which included an original song written for the theme. This year, Raw Oyster Cult opened the show with "Call of Booty," proving that they can write songs without Volker.
Ed Volker, who was the impetus for the breakup, chose his own path, playing intimate shows from time to time with Michael Skinkus on percussion and Joe Cabral on baritone saxiphone. Mixing in Radiators tunes with classic songs like "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Hit the Road Jack" with original piano medleys, Volker seems to be enjoying the low profile. "Ed seems content with playing the odd gig now and then and collecting social security," mused Malone.
Luckily for local Radiators fans, those few shows a year included a short set at a 2012 Howlin' Wolf benefit to help ailing bassist Scanlan, as well as a three-night anniversary set at Tipitina's the past two Januarys. Adding the Jazz Fest show is like icing on the cake, even though they won't reclaim their spot as the closing act. "If we have to play before anyone, I'm glad it's John Fogerty," said Malone. Scanlan agrees, "I saw Fogerty back in the day with Creedence Clearwater Revival and he owned the stage. I'd hate to go on after him."
We may only have one Radiators show this festival season, but it won't be the only time you can hear fish head music. This year's festival lineup includes Raw Oyster Cult (April 26th), New Orleans Suspects (May 1st) and Ed Volker Trio Mollusc (May 3rd). In addition to these shows, the band members have gigs lined up all over town Jazz Fest week. Highlights include Reggie Scanlan sitting in with the Ed Volker, Michael Skinkus and Tim Green at Café Istanbul on April 30, the New Orleans Suspects at Down on the Bayou 5: Benefit for Musicians' Clinic on May 1 and Raw Oyster Cult at the 12th Annual Bayou Rendezvous at the Howlin' Wolf on May.
The big question is whether these shows will continue. Scanlan says, "I don't know if I'll be alive next year so I can't plan that far in advance." Malone thinks that as long as Ed's willing to do it, the fans would love it. "For me, playing with Ed is my favorite saddle to sit in. I love playing with Ed Volker and I miss it terribly. I sure hope the shows continue."