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The Last Watusi Was a Doozie!

Life is a never ending race to see how many different things we can all juggle. I wish I had the resolve to keep this page updated in a more frequent manor but hey, life’s a ride and sometimes all we can do is hang on.

Photography by Bob Compton

Over the last few years I have had the pleasure to work as a simple loader and stage hand for The Radiators. Everyone in New Orleans knows the band, and they have been a prominent part of the scene for over 33 years. Those who came before me tell tales of their humble beginnings at a now defunct pizza parlor over by UNO, then graduating to The Boot, Jimmys, and The Dream Palace. The band also became regulars at a new club started by a bunch of music fans known as Tipitinas. Its of note that the birth of both Tipitinas and The Radiators took place the same year, and their relationship with the club has been steadfast through the years.

Both in New Orleans and around the country, the band began to pick up steam. Their fans, dubbing themselves “Fisheads”  began to show a loyalty to the band following them on tour, and even panned a Fishead Manifesto  (Link Here). While some die hard fans of both bands may crucify me for the comparison, the New Orleans Radiators had a very “Grateful Dead” New Orleans feel for me. In a city who’s musical heritage includes Professor Longhair, Louie Armstrong, and Wynton Marsalis, rock music isn’t what everyone thinks of New Orleans is mentioned. To me there are those individuals who somewhere along the line gain the essence of what it is to be a New Orleanian, and when they play it doesn’t matter the genre of the music, it just is New Orleans. The Radiators had this quality.
My first encounter with the band was their 28th anniversary gig at Tipitinas. At the time I was a young intern, always eager to see new bands and work my way into the club’s good graces. I volunteered to handle will call for the show, which turned out to be in the pouring rain. After hours of handing out tickets to very wet fish head fans I was finally let go to enjoy the music.

The night was as fun as any at the Rads show and I was quickly impressed at how many people knew every single song the band played. I had heard that they had several thousand originals and probably new at least a thousand covers, yet every single sweaty intoxicated soul in the place was singing at the top of their lungs. While I had fun, I knew I was missing something as I was the only person unfamiliar with the music in the room.  It came to my mind that The Radiators wasn’t just the 5 guys up their ripping their instruments. It was also the 800 fans packed in to see their umpteenth Rads show and they knew everyone, sang every song, and drank and partied as hard as the band played.  Needless to say I left very intrigued.

Photography By Bob Compton

Over the next few years I saw the band around town many times, but didn’t really start paying attention till my very good friend took over as their drum and keyboard tech. I began to attend the shows and get to know the band more and while I enjoyed their music, they were never really a stand out band in my mind. The band and its fans had embarked on their journey over 30 years ago and me as a young man just starting to sink his teeth into the music world I felt as though I had missed the train. Sometimes I felt they were just going through the motions and other times I’d get lost in the sway of the crowd enjoying the night but never being blown away.  I only really was completely engaged after I saw Reggie’s solo project The New Orleans Suspects which was a very different beast but I thought it really let Reggie step outside the behemoth of being the Bass player in such a monumental act. While I have friends who would tell me endlessly about shows they’ve seen over the years and how the Radiators just killed it over and over, I never was moved by the music. That being said, the last run of shows was an experience I will not soon forget, and the music was every bit the hype they received for their farewell shows.

As I said before, I have had the pleasure of working with the band for a number of years loading and as a stagehand, and I was glad to be with them at the end.  The Rads while never my favorite, have a mammoth presence in New Orleans, and in the country.  Seeing these men who have spent their lives playing their music and now ending that journey was inspiring. Tips was packed and the band carried an energy that must have been reminiscent of their hay day, I can say I have never seem them preform with such vigor. I suppose we only appreciate things when they are gone, and I really was sad by the end of the run that I would never see The Radiators again. . . . But who really believes that?
Now that the band is disbanded, for me, its all about the Suspects. I hear that Camille has a new album and is playing around town with some great musicians in a trio format that is about as far from the fish head brand as one can go. I enjoy it but as a drummer with the low intensity of the music, its not really for me. The Suspects on the other hand are just a powerhouse that is downright dangerous.  Jake Eckert and CR Gruver both bring unique personalities with dynamic but different vocal styles and equally versatile instrumental skills. All of the musicians have a resume worthy of the Rock N Roll Hall of fame, and its such a great collaboration because of the subtle difference in their interpretations of the New Orleans styles.  A short while ago at D.B.A. the band  played Big Chief, a song as familiar and New Orleans as Po boys to the audience, yet they had a sound that was all their own. Its hard to make a song such as Big Chief sound like your own because everyone’s played it. In short, The Suspects make it their own without breaking a sweat.  Willie Green of the Neville Brothers, Kevin Harris of the Dozen, Jake Eckert and CR Guver, and Reggie really make a damn good team, and I hope that this band gets to keep pushing ahead and can work around the hectic tour schedules of its memebers.

So let me say fair well to the Radiators, while I wasn’t there for the beginning I”m glad I caught the end. I’d also like to thank Josh, Kenny, Phil, Steveo, and Pete for the good times and the load in in calls.

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