Doing The Radiators’ Last Watusi with Dave Malone & Reggie Scanlan
New Orleans’ The Radiators played their last official shows in June of 2011 after a run of 33-1/3 years with the same lineup – a fact that, if it isn’t a rock ‘n’ roll record, must be damn close. The Rads – drummer Frank Bua, Jr.; bassist Reggie Scanlan; guitarist Camile Baudoin; guitarist/vocalist Dave Malone; and keyboardist/vocalist Ed Volker – built up a loyal following of Fishheads over their 3-decade-plus run, known for ladling out a sonic gumbo that combined their own originals with covers of everyone’s work from unsung blues heroes to Bob Dylan.
The announcement that The Radiators would play a pair of reunion shows in January of 2013 launched much speculation about was down the road for the band. Our conversations with Dave Malone and Reggie Scanlan on the eve of the reunion shows provided some insight into both The Radiators’ past and their future.
It was no secret to anyone that it was Ed Volker’s decision to retire in November of 2010 that spelled the end of The Radiators. As it is with the end of any long-time relationship, the news was received with sadness by those on the outside – but the parties involved knew some sort of change was bound to happen. Both Dave Malone and Reggie Scanlan were open in their descriptions of where The Radiators found themselves as a band at that point – apart from Volker’s announcement.
Dave Malone: It was Ed that wanted to leave the band – and where he’s the principal songwriter, plays all the keyboards and sings more than half the songs … well … it’s kind of up to him, you know? (laughs)
I don’t fault Ed one bit for pulling the plug. He’d just had it with the road – and at that point in his life needed to able to just be at home more.
Reggie Scanlan: It was kind of a surprise, but at the same time, I was geared up for it – nothing lasts forever.
I mean, I knew it was going to end; I just didn’t know what the circumstances would be. So when Ed made the announcement, it was still somewhat of a surprise. But we’d gotten to a point … well … the band really didn’t rehearse that much. You could kind of get the feeling like people were kinda getting tired of it. We didn’t rehearse; we weren’t really doing anything to build a new audience – we were just kind of gliding along, you know? To me, that’s not really pursuing music.
Dave Malone: I did not envision the end of The Radiators. But … honestly? The last couple years of the band we were all so sick of airports and the traveling. You know, the 2-1/2 hours on stage – those were great, but all the other bullshit had finally gotten to us. The truth is, we were kinda on cruise control, anyway … we weren’t putting the creative effort into learning new songs – we were just playing gigs.
Reggie Scanlan: Personally, I felt kind of frustrated. To me, a band is kind of analogous to having a conversation: unless you work at that and go out – do other things and play with other people – and bring new ideas to the table, you’re going to run out of things to talk about. And that’s when bands break up: the conversation ends; there’s nothing more to talk about musically or they’re not rehearsing or there’s not a lot of new material coming in. When that happens you need to be doing something else.
And that’s kind of what was happening; I was actually happy that it was ending the way it was. I didn’t want it to end like some kind if a joke, just limping along. We ended it when we wanted to – and we still sounded like a band.
The “cruise control” feeling described by Malone and Scanlan was no doubt made harder by having experienced the band’s years of great creativity. Both of them have fond memories of what is was like to dwell in a place where musical experimentation was encouraged – and have nothing but praise for the genius of Ed Volker.
Dave Malone: I don’t think people realize what an amazing and prolific songwriter Ed Volker is. He’s taken this opportunity to actually catalog all the songs from the late 70s to the present that he’s written – and it’s thousands … it really is.
Reggie Scanlan: The Radiators gave me the perfect laboratory to work in for 33 years and develop my bass playing. Everybody was free to do what they wanted as long as it didn’t step on anybody else’s toes musically. Any ideas I had, I could try them. Ed would bring a song in and tell me, “You’re the bass player – come up with a bass line.” It was a great opportunity.
Dave Malone: I’m the only person that’s heard a lot of the songs Ed’s written. I’ve always told him not to exclude anything as he wouldn’t know what I might hear in a song – and then rewrite or change it up to make it into a Radiators song. That was my modus operandi from Day One: the songs that we co-wrote we didn’t really co-write sitting in a room face-to-face. Ed would e-mail me a piece of a song or a sketch of a song or sometimes an almost-through song and I would see something in it that would work for the band and change it around enough so it became a Radiators song. And then he and I would work it out; flesh it out; and then we would bring it to the other guys – so they never heard all these other songs, either.
Ed’s a songwriter like no other – he’s got thousands and thousands of really great songs that we never did because either we didn’t feel like they were right for the band or we were just too busy at the time. By the time we got back to them, Ed had written a whole new batch of songs.
I’ve come to realize post-Rads how spoiled I was with having that many songs to choose from, you know? I’m a songwriter too, but not to the degree of Ed – I’m not driven to write like he is. I’m a guy who writes songs every now and then – and enjoy and love it when I do. Ed’s pretty astonishing in the songwriting capacity.