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Music / The Radiators (US)

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The True Companions, l-r: Camille Baudoin, Dave Malone, Frank Bua Jr., Reggie Scanlan, Ed Volker

"Do they do fishhead music, bustin' down your ears?"
"Cocktail Music", Heat Generation
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The Radiators (occasionally The New Orleans Radiators) are a long running rock band from New Orleans, purveyors of a spicy gumbo they call "Fishhead Music"—a blend of swamp rock and New Orleans-style R&B, with a dash of funk, a splash of soul, and a sprinkling of Creole and Cajun influences.

The band started when five working musicians got together for a jam session in singer/keyboardist Ed Volker's garage. The next day, all five quit their current bands and formed The Radiators, which would remain their main gig for the next thirty-three years. Volker, a prolific songwriter, wrote the vast majority of their repertoire, and shared singing duties with guitarist Dave Malone. The band's dual-guitar attack, also featuring guitarist Camille Baudoin, invited frequent comparisons with The Allman Brothers, with whom they later developed a friendship.note 

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They quickly attracted the attention of more established New Orleans musicians like Dr John, Professor Longhair, and particularly with Earl King, with whom they toured for several years. Within just a few years, they had enough of a cult following to became regular headliners at the famous New Orleans Jazz Festival (which, as you might guess, was hardly limited to jazz). Soon thereafter, they achieved some mainstream success after signing with Epic Records. Their first song to make the charts was "Doctor, Doctor" from Law of the Fish, and their biggest seller was the song "Confidential" from Zig-zaggin' Through Ghostland, which made it all the way up to #8 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart.

In the meantime, their cult developed in some odd directions. The band's association with the eccentric Mardis Gras Krewe, the Mystic Orphans and Misfits (MOMs), and their annual performances at the wild, invite-only MOMs Ball, led to their fans forming their own "krewes" in various cities, such as the Krewe of DADs in Minnesota, the Monkey Krewe in Florida, and the Krewe de Playa in Los Angeles, and hosting similar events. Like the MOMs Ball, these events were often given individual names, such as "Void Where Not Prohibited" (1984 MOMs Ball) or "Night of the Living DADs" (2007 DADs Halloween show). The band would often write songs to match the names, making them one of the only bands ever to have title tracks for concerts! Most of these songs were throwaways, played only once, but a few, like "Fuck'em If They Can't Take a Joke" from the 2003 MOMs Ball, became part of the band's regular repertoire.

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Speaking of their repertoire, it was legendarily huge. They had over 300 original songs, mostly written by the extremely prolific Volker, and over the years, they ended up covering over 1000 more songs by a wide variety of artists. Though much of it never ended up on official recordings, the band had an open taping policy, like The Grateful Dead, and over a thousand free concert recordings are available from The Internet Archive.

The band officially broke up in 2011, when Volker decided he was tired of the road, but they have had annual reunion concerts in New Orleans every year since then.


Members:

  • Ed "Professor Zeke" Volker (vocals, keyboards, percussion)
  • Dave Malone (vocals, guitars)
  • Camile Baudoin (guitars, background vocals)
  • Reggie Scanlan (bass)
  • Frank Bua, Jr. (drums and percussion)
  • Glenn "Kuhl" Sears (vocals, percussion, 1984-1992)

Discography:

  • Work Done on Premises (1980, live)
  • Heat Generation (1981)
  • Law of the Fish (1987)
  • Zig-zaggin' Through Ghostland (1989)
  • Total Evaporation (1991)
  • Snafu 10-31-91 (1992, live)
  • Bucket of Fish (1994, live)
  • New Dark Ages (1995)
  • Party On (1996, best-of)
  • Songs from the Ancient Furnace (1997, best-of + unreleased material)
  • Live at the Great American Music Hall (1998, live)
  • The Radiators (2001)
  • Earth vs. the Radiators (2004, live)note 
  • Dreaming Out Loud (2006)
  • Wild and Free (2008, unreleased, mostly live)
  • The Lost Southlake Sessions (2009)
  • The Last Watusi (2012, live)

Filmography:

  • Earth vs. the Radiators: the First 25 (2004, live)note 

That's the Trope of the Fish:

  • Audience Participation Song: "Soul on Fire" contains a section where the band plays a little riff, then shouts "Hey!", then does it again, several times. They usually encourage the audience to shout along with them.
  • Animal Theme Naming: In honor of their "Fishhead Music", they named their first label "Croaker" (a type of fish), and their albums Law of the Fish and Bucket of Fish. Many of their album covers feature fish as well.
  • The Big Easy:
    • Their song "Life On Mars"note  is about the "alien" life forms one encounters on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, especially late at night.
    • "Cannibal Girls" is about the wild women of...New Orleans.
  • The Casanova: The female version, sometimes called Maneater appears in "Cannibal Girls".
    Their names are written on bathroom walls—
    The New Orleans ladies ain't no ladies at all.
  • Chainsaw Good: The song "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (named for the movie)—in the early days, they'd start up an actual chainsaw when performing the song live. (Which got them thrown out of a club or two.)
  • Cool Shades: The song "Sunglasses On" is all about how Moses was wearing sunglasses while doing all the cool things he did.
  • Crappy Holidays: Their anti-Mardis-Gras song "Ain't Ready for It" looks at Mardis Gras from the perspective of someone living in New Orleans.
    "I'd fly to Colorado, but I ain't got the cash. Who's going to pick up all the goddamn trash?"
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: "Number Two Pencil" opens with a lengthy duel between the guitars and keyboard.
  • Epic Rocking:
    • The song "Number Two Pencil" was over 10 minutes long, and had three separate and distinct sections—people often think the third part (with its own chorus, "someone like you") is a separate song.
    • "Songs from the Ancient Furnace" (from the album of the same name) was over 11 minutes, and had four very distinct sections—the second of which was later released as a standalone song under the title "Soul on Fire".
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: "Monkey Meet" and "She's Got the Monkey in Her Heart".
  • Flying Saucer: The cover of Earth vs. The Radiators (as well as the associated concert film) has a flying saucer approaching Earth...sporting a bumper sticker for the band.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Party On was a straight one. Songs from the Ancient Furnace was a mix of greatest hits and previously unreleased songs. Wild and Free was more of a retrospective, with previously unreleased studio material, and previously unreleased live versions of songs from throughout their career.
  • Innocent Innuendo: They claim that their song "Suck the Head, Squeeze the Tip" is about eating crawfish the traditional Louisiana way.
  • Live Album: Several, including their very first album, Work Done on Premises.
  • Lady in Red: The song "Red Dress" is an homage to the concept.
    The parking lot's busting out in fistfights—
    Such disturbance, just to catch her eye.
  • Location Song:
    • "Turtle Beach" is about the erosion and overcrowding at Turtle Beach, Florida, and its negative effect on any actual turtles.
    • "Meet Me Down in Birdland" is an homage to the famous jazz club in Manhattan, and all the music that's been played there over the years.
  • Long Runner: The band was together for 33 years, and it's debatable whether they actually broke up. Professor Zeke decided to stop touring, but the band still plays occasional gigs at home in New Orleans.
  • Long Runner Lineup: The original five members remained together for the full thirty-three years the band existed. They did add a Sixth Ranger for several years, Glenn "Kuhl" Sears on vocals and percussion, but went back to the original five-man lineup for their last twenty years.
  • Miniscule Rocking: "Heat Generation" was under two minutes. "Law of the Fish" was less than one! Both were the title tracks on their albums; both were usually used in concert as part of medleys.
  • One-Woman Song: "Crazy Mona", "Desdemona", "Lila", "Lucinda", "Rosie", and "Salty Jane".
  • Power Ballad: "I Want to Go Where the Green Arrow Goes" and "Lila", with their long, slow, almost mournful buildups to epic guitar solos.
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: "The Devil's Dream" is about the music coming from the devil.
    The dream, the dream, the devil's dream:
    When it's midnight in New Orleans
    They do a dance that can't be seen—
    Listen once again to the devil's dream.
  • The Runaway: The singer's desire to become the circus runaway variant is the topic of the song "Join the Circus".
  • Sanity Slippage Song: "Fever Dream". Which is not about being sick, but about a passion so strong it causes actual hallucinations.
    Don't know what's happenin', been dazzled and confused—
    I'm seein' visions and I'm blowin' my fuse.
  • Self-Titled Album: Unusually, it was their sixth studio album (and tenth album overall).
  • Siamese Twin Songs:
    • "Nightmare on the Misery Train" into the Funkadelics' "Take Your Dead Ass Home" from their Bucket of Fish album.
    • A siamese triplet with "Lucinda" into "The Theme from The Magnificent Seven" into a cover of The Meters' "Cissy Strut" from Live at the Great American Music Hall.
  • Single Stanza Song:
    • "Law of the Fish". (Usually used in concert as part of a medley.)
    Big ones eat the little ones;
    Little ones got to be fast.
    That's the law of the fish, now, baby—
    You got to move-uh your ass.
    • The mostly-instrumental "Gummin' Yo' Nub", where the only lyrics are repetitions of the title and the words "No teeth!".
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Long Hard Journey Home" is a tribute to Professor Longhair, who is namechecked in the first line.
    • "I Want to Go Where the Green Arrow Goes" references the comic book character.
    • "Sunglasses On" is full of references to the biblical character Moses.
    • The Last Watusi (their farewell concert and album) was a reference to The Band's farewell concert and album, The Last Waltz. A watusi, like a waltz, is a type of dance—but a much less...respectable one.
  • Solo Side Project: Ed Volker has released several solo albums as "Zeke Fishhead".
  • Stage Name: Ed Volker is often "Professor Zeke" or "Zeke Fishhead".
  • Stuffy Old Songs About the Buttocks: "Number Two Pencil" is about admiring the behind of a woman who has bent over to pick up her pencil. At least, that's what the first six minutes are about.
  • Title Track:
    • For albums: "Heat Generation", "Law of the Fish", "Zig-zaggin' Through Ghostland", "Total Evaporation", "The New Dark Ages", "Dreaming Out Loud", and "Wild and Free".
    • The band also has a bizarre habit of naming some of their individual concerts, and writing title tracks for those. Examples include "Fuck 'em If They Can't Take a Joke", "SNAFU You", "If It Don't Fit, Don't Faucet", "Slippery When Wet", and "Swallow the Leader".
  • Vocal Tag Team: Ed Volker and Dave Malone divide the vocals up about 50/50. Ed usually sings the more "New Orleans-y" songs, while Dave sings more of the rockers. On some songs, they alternate verses or one sings the verses while the other sings the chorus.

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