We all know aspiring rock stars. They imagine themselves at the top of the Billboard charts and making videos for MTV. But this particular rock 'n' roll dream is merely another example of Howe's Law: Everyone has a scheme that will not work.
Plenty of rockers tour incessantly, make records and have fans (in addition to Mom), all without the benefit of hits or videos. The Grateful Dead, the Neville Brothers, Todd Rundgren, NRBQ, Michael On Fire and about every blues band you can name are out there on the road just doing it. The Radiators, another of those bands that always seems to be driving, will stop by the venerable Ventura Theatre on Wednesday night to share some New Orleans "Fish Head Music."
The Radiators have been around since 1978 and tour most of the year. They have a two-guitar attack featuring Dave Malone and Camille Baudoin. Lead singer and keyboard player Ed Volker has written more than 2,000 songs--no cable, perhaps?
Reggie Scanlon, the bass player, used to live in California and played on the chitlin' circuit with lots of famous blues dudes. Frank Bua hits the drums and Glenn Sears is the percussionist. In short, the Radiators have been around. A couple of times.
In a recent phone interview from New Orleans, Scanlon discussed the life and times of his band and his town.
So are the Radiators on the endless tour?
Pretty much. We're usually on the road eight to 10 months, so I guess, it's pretty much the endless tour. When we're home, we gig a lot around here too.
Any states you haven't played yet?
Let's see, Alaska, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Montana--I don't think there are any clubs in Montana.
How'd your last album, "Total Evaporation," do?
It was a hit aesthetically, but not economically. Epic pretty much let it go by the wayside.
So three albums on Epic, that's it?
Yes, but we put out two ourselves early on. We sell them at the gigs and by mail order. We're getting ready to put out a live bootleg CD. Otherwise, we're shopping for a label--we've had a couple of nibbles.
So millions of musicians are wrong--you don't have to be signed to be a hit?
There's two kinds of bands. One kind makes their living by putting out records but can't draw 10 people to their gig. Other bands sell out clubs. We're a playing band.
So what advice would you give aspiring musicians?
Don't compromise. Do what you like. Don't do stuff just because it's in vogue or on the Top 40 charts. Actually, if you're interested in playing an instrument, you need to play it and not be worried about your haircut and making a video. I think videos have destroyed a lot of bands.
Oh yeah? Are there any Radiators' videos?
We did two--one was really bad. The other one was really funny; it was by the same guy--I can't remember his name--that did the Stevie Ray Vaughan video where his girlfriend kept beating him up. Our video was for a song called "Suck The Head." It never got played except at 4 in the morning on MTV. I don't think they got the joke.
"Fish Head Music," that's what you call Radiators' music?
Right, "Fish Head Music." We don't know what else to call it. It's just a conglomeration of everything we grew up listening to. We don't lay down any rules--just do whatever you want so long as you don't get in anybody else's way.
Your bio sheet, which is a couple of years old, says Ed Volker has written over 2,000 songs. There are a lot more by now, right?
Oh man, I used to live around the corner from him when I was a kid. When he moved, he left a bunch of junk like a stack of notebooks about two feet high that were all full of songs. That was in high school. There's a lot more than 2,000 now.
So you guys could play longer than the Grateful Dead?
We could probably give them a run for their money. We can go for long periods without repeating ourselves because we have such a backlog of stuff. We know more than 100 originals, more than 100 covers. Then when we do an acoustic show, that's a different thing altogether.
Why are there so many good bands in New Orleans?
It's a law. If you can't play, they kick you out of town, so everybody plays to some extent. You see, for every occasion here they have a band or a parade, then you go eat. In between, you sort of work so you can afford to go see a band or a parade, then eat some more. Then there's the Mardi Gras, the Super Bowl of parties. So we have to practice hard all the time to get into shape so we can kill ourselves.
How did the Radiators get started?
Basically, Ed, Frank and Camille have been together 20, 25 years. The Radiators is just the last in a succession of their bands. They were in a band that was falling apart and Dave and I were too. They asked us to come over and jam one day and I thought "Yeah, sure, we'll do a 15-minute blues song then sit around and drink some beer." Well, we didn't stop for five hours. When we stopped, we said "This is it, man." The next day, we all quit our other bands. That was in 1978.
What was your strangest gig?
We played a 3 a.m. set at Disney World in Orlando in the middle of the worst freeze they ever had. It was 22 degrees and they wouldn't let us quit unless it got into the teens. There were like 10 people there who drove all the way from New Orleans, plus some employees who all looked like Secret Service men in bad suits. We were all wearing overcoats plus some gloves we borrowed from some of the employees and cut the fingers off. That was definitely a strange one.
Who goes to Radiators' gigs?
All kinds of people--college people, Grateful Dead crossover fans. Then there's people who have been coming to see us for 15 years who have found semi-respectable work and who still don't know how they got there.
What's next for the Radiators?
Totally touring, then it's Mardi Gras time, then an East Coast tour, then a Southeast tour, then a live album in Minneapolis, and we're shopping for a label.