Thursday, June 30, 2011

New Atlantis on WRSU tonight

I will be the guest on Richard Skelly's "Low Budget Blues Show" tonight June 30 on Rutgers University Radio talking about my book New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Future of New Orleans and playing related music. Listen online from 8-10 pm EST at:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Call me Bilbo

It was apparent from the moment the Radiators announced their retirement last November that this band meant a lot more to New Orleans music history than just about all the official chroniclers of same ever allowed. Perhaps that fact alone pushed many of its fans deeper into the cult worship of what has clearly taken on spiritual implications in the wake of the band's existence. The fervor fans brought to the final run of shows -- San Francisco, Florida, Minnesota, the northeast and the Last Watusi at Tipitina's -- was unlike anything I've seen in more than 40 years of covering popular music. Of course these things are beyond any real human measure because they're literally supernatural, but the fact is that now that the Radiators have gone the fans have picked up the torch and created a nascent religious movement. From an almost frenzied speculation about what the last words (last song) would be the fans turned to consideration of the second coming. A mythology is brewing merrily only a week later as the apostles Camile Baudoin and Reggie Scanlan each held successful communion with thirsty Fishheads on New Orleans stages. Radiators fans became rapturous storytellers, poets and philosophers, sharing lengthy anecdotes about personal problems the band helped them to overcome and using quotes from Plato and Schopenhauer to illustrate points. One fan even suggested that the survivng fans were a Fellowship of the Fish, which I guess would make Ed Volker Gandalf the Grey, Tolkein's wizard who sacrificed himself for the survival of the rest. In which case the Fellowship awaits the return from the spirit world of Gandalf the White to rescue them at some undetermined future moment of peril. All of this goes to prove that there's no limit to the power of human imagination, especially when it's animated by the spirit force of music. It's a secret that every New Orleans musician seems to know instinctively. I count myself very lucky to share in that.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Zeke Speaks about Treme

Here's one of the interview sections I've withheld to avoid giving away information about the Radiators performing on Treme until the show aired.

Zeke actually wrote the song as he sings it... "I dreamed I saw Professor Longhair way up in the clouds..."

"I had the experience at the Jazz Fest the year after Fess passed away. I was pretty high and it was the middle of the day and I thought I saw Fess's face form in a cloud, you know, like the way people say they see the Virgin Mary in apparitions. I saw Fess in the clouds. Despite all the artificial substances I've taken over the years I've had very few visions. It was a very weird thing. I carried that image for years years and there's a book called Long Hard Journey Home. And while I was reading the book I thought of that image of Fess. I went from there and I started writing down the words. It was like he was urging the people who were still alive to keep on playing. He made the journey... and he was telling us it's a long hard joourney and the one thing that can really brighten the firmament is if people keep playing and singing it."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On to Watusi Rapture (after Trocadero)

I do have a lot more interview material but the overall impression one will get from it is how much this band of brothers cares for each other after decades of stress-filled coexistence. The magic of the music they conjure and the communion with the fans has given each member of the Radiators a life's reward that is beyond any known measure of computation. They are all aware of it and they all treasure it. We as listeners are also participants in the magic. The final New York shows took place on some supernatural parnassus of joy. I've never heard the Rads sound better than they did Friday night in their New York finale, when they lived up to the marquee billing and even played "On Broadway" after a magnificent "River Run." The way the crowd reacted to "Number Two Pencil" you might have though Pink Floyd had reformed to play Dark Side of the Moon. Like all the greatest New Orleans music, the show moved to some kind of secret, timeless rhythm that boiled up out of the interaction of these five conjurers and the crowd danced in unison -- old folks on crutches, canes waving in the air, danced with bouncing circles of squealing young women. The spirit of joy that suffused the crowd all night long was an emotion rarely, rarely seen from the usually tough and cynical New York audiences. There was a moment -- was it during "Suck the Head?" -- when Camile played one of those solos from a different dimension. The two guitar interchange between Dave and Camile remains an uncanny aspect of this band's brilliance and somehow seems more solid now than ever. This is one aspect of what we've come to know from the Radiators that is flourishing right now and certainly doesn't look like it's going to disappear anytime soon. Now it's back home to the burning crescent for a final weekend of Watusi Rapture. But somehow I know even if it's the end of the Last Watusi, the end of what these musicians have in store for us is not in sight.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Frank speaks

Here's the last installment of the Radiators transcripts I have from recent interviews with the band. There are more to come. The Rads are going out on a very high note and I think we are going to hear a lot more music from all of them even if it's not as the same entity.

John Swenson: Will you spend more time at your restaurant, Mande's, after the band stops playing?
Frank Bua: Probably. I'm there a lot anyway. I built the place myself. I cut the trees down from the woods, debarked them by hand, got 'em treated. I have 40 trees in the place. I've got 35 foot cielings, Spanish mahogany countertops, oak flooring. You gotta come if you like food. Mondays and Tuesdays are traditionally the best times to catch me when I'm off the road wth the Rads. My wife works there. When we opened up my partner asked me if I could give his wife a job and she turned out to be a Radiators fan who I'd known for years. so she and my wife are the managers.

J.S.: What went through your mind when Ed told you he had to stop?
F.B.: I thought he was kidding... for me it's like when you're younger and you think things never change and you're parents never die. It's like that. In my mind it was never gonna die. I thought about it but I never could really wrap my mind around it. So I thought he was kidding. We had the meeting in Chicago and I walked in, I was the last one in as usual. I looked at everybody and I looked at him and I said 'you're kiddin, right?' I thought he was joking. But I know him and when I looked at his face I knew he'd made that decision. I've seen that look once before when we were in the Rhapsodizers. It was me and Camile, Becky Kury and clark Vreeland. Ed wrote all the songs. Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic records had seen us at Jazz Fest and wanted to sign us to a recording contract. I think this was '76. They brought Ed and Becky up to New York and it looked like everything was set to roll from there. In New York Becky became the focal point and it upset the chemistry of the whole thing. Atlantic decided to throw Becky into the studio with a studio band. Ed asked Becky what she was gonna do and she said 'I'm gonna take the best offer.' Ed quit right on the spot. I was there. I saw that look on his face and it was the same finale. Something had come to an end. I knew he was serious then.

(Note... I'm fast forwarding the interview now) F.B: ... over 4600 gigs with the same five guys... uh, I dunno... don't know where I was going with that.
J.S.: what I asked was as the gigs went on has it felt different?
F.B.: Musically it's felt great. But as far as our feelings on the stage... it's great, y'now? There's four of us, Camile and Ed and I -- I mean Camile and Dave and I and Reggie, you know... didn't plan on this happening, didn't want it to happen and apparently don't want it to happen. But it is happening. To me it's been like the band is playing good together and the vibe on the stage has been terrific... people are lovin it we're lovin it. I really couldn't ask for a better closing to these 33 years, well Ed and I have been together 41 years. Ed, Camile and I have been together 41 years. In my heart I really don't think this is over. I think that's kind of a thing that I'm holding on to... not that we'll ever get back to doin what we did, but ... I'm ready to play. Right now, tomorrow, whenever, it's just a matter of if this band ever wants to play again...

J.S.:I know you've rehearsed with another keyboardist.
F.B: We've talked about it. It's just a big change for all of us. We've all been dedicated to this. I'm still dedicated to it. I'd like to go on and do some music... it's been hard. It's been fun but it's been hard. Anything we do, some gigs without without Ed, we've got a lot of people around the country, in Minnesota, the MOM's people, the Monkeys down in Fort Lauderdale, all of those groups of people will come back out and want us to come to them if we reform without Ed. I know that. They know that. They're asking us already: 'Can we get you guys to come back?' I don't know... I don't think... there's too many people out there that love what we're doing and like to dance and like to get outside of themselves and take a break from life. And that's kind of what we do. We help them take a break from reality. At the same time we take our break from reality, we need that as well.

J.S.: You're doing the Monkey Ball this weekend, right?
F.B.: (Brightens) Yeah Yeah. That's a bunch of Monkeys down there let me tell you.

J.S.: As you're doing these last shows, the last time you play Lafayette Square...
F.B.: I'm sad every time. It's like, not just saying goodbye to people that you love but you're saying goodbye to cities. Minny, wherever, we'll never be there again. We'll never be there again as... we are. After all this is over I may never see all my great friends in Minnesota again. Or San Francisco. San Francisco is like our second home. When I think about that it gets real sad. And I ... I realized it at the time. I said to myself 'Well, this is the last... that's it.' Chicago was like crazy. I walked out... I'd seen people crying in the audience but when I walked out, I was on the second train as they call it (the band is ferried back to the hotel in two car trips) and there were still people standing outside crying waiting to say goodbye. ... it's... I gotta tell you... it didn't sit right, y'know?

J.S.: Has it surprised you, this outpouring of emotion from the fans?
F.B.: Yeah. Even in Houston. I have nothing against Houston but I didn't realize we were that popular in Houston. At the House of Blues gig, the last time we played there, people were crying, people just grabbing you and hugging you.

J.S.: Wow
F.B.: It's sad

J.S.: why do you think they love the band so much?
F.B.: Umm, well, a lot of people grew up with us. It's not like they just started listening to us last year. The people in Minnesota, the Krewe of DAD's, they celebrated their 25th anniversary having us there.