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Long-term radiation exposure

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Weekly
The Radiators from left, Dave Malone, Camile Boudoin, Reggie Scanlan, Frank Bua and Ed Volker celebrate their 30th anniversary with the Wild & Free Tour, which lands at Belly Up Aspen on Wednesday, April 2. (Contributed photo)
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Dave Malone, a New Orleans resident for 30-plus years who was raised in the tiny sugar town of Edgard, 30 miles west of the city, was pushed out of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. Malone is renting a place in Port Vincent while a new house, in Prairieville, near Baton Rouge, is being built.The 55-year-old Malone is eloquent in his emotions regarding the destruction of his house, and clear in identifying the parties responsible for the devastation. I survived the storm, he said by phone. And then the wall that the Corps of Engineers built badly crumbled and killed my house, my brothers house. It was a man-made disaster.Malone, singer and guitarist of the New Orleans-based Radiators, has to spend time in New Orleans to congregate with his bandmates none of whose houses suffered like his. For a while he crashed in a spare room at his brothers place, but when he got tired of that, he checked into a hotel. That was killing me Im in a hotel room? In my hometown? I wanted to puke, said Malone, who last month finally began renting an apartment in the city.In contrast to his home life, at least as its been since Katrina walloped the Louisiana shore in late August 2005, Malones professional existence has been phenomenally stable. Since a jam session in January 1978 in the garage of keyboardist Ed Volker, Malone has been a member of the Radiators, the band that formed instantly out of that gathering. Flanking Malone onstage for the full three decades have been the same four bandmates: guitarist Camile Baudoin, bassist Reggie Scanlan, drummer Frank Bua and Volker. Apart from Glenn Cool Sears, a percussionist who joined the band in the mid-80s and left in the early 90s, the Rads have been the same five guys, no more, no less. Malone observes that the only American band that can claim a longer history with the same membership is Los Lobos.He is quick to explain the personal upheaval caused by Katrina, but Malone cant pinpoint any reasons why the Radiators have survived intact. There is no talk of how seamlessly the personalities mesh, or of techniques to keep the Radiators from overheating, or of how its just a bunch of old buddies still hanging out together (though Baudoin and Volkers relationship dates to kindergarten).In fact, the strategy seems to be one of having no strategy at all. The Radiators may be the least self-reflective group in rock music. Because of being busy they have never taken an extended break, and still play more than 100 gigs a year or because of personalities and group dynamics, the Radiators appear to have spent 30 years writing, recording and playing music, rather than thinking about the process of doing so.We dont analyze it or think about it. We just do what we do, said Malone. He slips into humor mode to note that the five have developed a high tolerance for one another: Among us, there are only feelings of mild hatred. Thats doable. Volker chimes in with an equal shortage of internal examination: Its a mystery to me, he said by phone, from his home near the New Orleans Fairgrounds, site of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where they have a standing gig playing the closing set on a main stage. We must like what we do.

The Epic chapterVolker a former Tulane English student, who is known as Zeke Fishhead and projects an air of mystery and even oddity behind the keyboard says the Radiators course has not been a Ferris wheel, which only goes around and around. Its a roller coaster. Its been multidimensional, with ups and downs and sideways.From this side of the tour bus, however, the bumps the Rads have experienced seem to have been fairly small, and negotiated smoothly. There have been no casualties, no apparent addictions. The line they have traveled appears notably straight.The ride has certainly been slow, marked by a gradual incline. For several years the Radiators stayed at home. They played mostly for Tulane students, either on school grounds or in the small dives like the Maple Leaf and Jimmys that surrounded the uptown New Orleans campus. It was a big deal for the band to play the famed club Tipitinas, and they would build themed weekends around these engagements. Out-of-town gigs were a rarity, and those they did have were invariably in neighboring town like Mandeville and Covington. Not until 1984 did they make their New York debut, but enough transplanted Tulane graduates showed up at clubs like the Lone Star Cafe to make the road trips a success and give the band momentum.The Radiators celebrate three decades this year with the Wild & Free Tour, and while some of the shows are in casino theaters and on festival grounds, others are in venues that have been familiar to them for 20 or more years. The tour stops at Belly Up on Wednesday, April 2; the Rads played the same room as far back as 1989, when it was the Paradise.The Radiators have never, in any way, seemed built for mass stardom; it was a given they would make their living on gigs rather than album sales. Essentially, they were a jam band before the concept was invented. Perhaps that is why the highlight of the lengthy, unusual journey was when the band came closest to being rock stars. In 1987, nine years into their existence, the Rads signed with Epic Records. Their major-label debut, Law of the Fish, yielded two small hits Like Dreamers Do and Doctor, Doctor both energized songs that didnt mess much with the bands usual Southern-fried, boogie-based, guitar-driven sound. That would be the commercial crest; the band stayed with Epic for three more years and two more albums, with diminishing returns. But the Epic years also meant financial backing and a team behind them that pushed the band into something close to the mainstream.You feel empowered when you have a mighty machine behind you, said Malone, who held a day job with the phone company in the Rads early days. We know full well we didnt take advantage of opportunities then. We had radio play, the record company paying for your tour bus. That was riding high.That was the biggest shift, going with Epic and really hitting the road, added Volker, who saw the band move into spots like San Franciscos Warfield Theatre and even Red Rocks during the Epic era.Still seeking the perfect songAs a musical unit, the Radiators havent altered their course much. They dont dabble in new styles; the current stew of New Orleans piano blues that Volker adores and boogie-rock most often compared to Little Feat would sound familiar to a fan who stopped listening in the early 80s. But they have sharpened their abilities, and they have opened the door often to collaboration peak shows from recent years often feature a New Orleans-based horn section to thicken the sound.When were hitting on all cylinders, we can be the greatest band in the world. Undoubtedly, said Malone. Were as good as ever. Its apparent and obvious.Probably the biggest element in keeping things fresh has been the repertoire. Their current gigs invariably include a bunch of old songs, but its not as if fans show up to hear chestnuts like Red Dress or River Run. As Malone puts it, If you go out on tour to play your old hits, you have to have hits. Were exempt from that. Instead, the Rads add songs to their sets like the Rolling Stones add corporate sponsors. The band will still come up with a cover song Johnny Cashs Ring of Fire, the Grateful Deads Deal, Ode to Billy Joe run through it backstage, then unveil it onstage a few minutes later.Then there is Volker. If the Rads place in history is secure, it is not only for the neat feat of surviving 30 years with the same five guys, but also for the prolific song-writing output of their keyboardist. Volker packs journal upon journal with songs. His bandmates say that maybe one in every five of these works makes it into performance. Still, that is more than enough to proclaim Volker as one of the wonders of the rock n roll world.Maybe what makes the Radiators keep pushing onward is the feeling that they havent truly succeeded yet. This is especially true of their recordings. Malone says the band has made three pretty decent albums: 1995s New Dark Ages (released on Colorados W.A.R.? label); 2006s Dreaming Out Loud; and the 2001 self-titled CD he refers to as the black album. Left off that list are the three Epic releases, which Malone says are sonically dated.I was just reading an interview with Mike Campbell [guitarist] from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, said Malone. He said one thing hed like is to make the definitive great album. And if hes saying that, Im thinking, damn, does anyone get that?One album that really sold well that would be great.Volker actually has even more modest ambitions driving him. Hed be content with a single perfect song. Im still trying to write that one, he said.Built to lastGiven the right night, the right venue, the Radiators can still play marathon shows, recalling the old days when theyd play till the last fan left the dance floor. Onstage, the band is still loose; Malone has a running conversation with audience members. The band maintains its willingness to look silly, performing songs theyd never rehearsed before. Were like daredevils, said Malone. And for the most part, it works. Surprisingly.But inevitably, things get lost during a three-decade march from local pizza places to tours of Europe. The Radiators lost their equipment, stolen along with their truck in 2001. Mostly, though, what has fallen away is the time the band used to spend away from the stage.The songs back then we had intricate arrangements, guitar harmonies, said Malone. You could tell we were rehearsing a lot. That was before the big traveling circus took us away.I miss that taking the time to really try stuff. I miss that, and the desire for that. I wish we had the hunger a little more. Maybe thats a young mans blues.Volker misses something very different from the early years. When they were a local bar band, playing endless gigs in New Orleans and then the occasional trips to New York and Philadelphia, he could look into the crowd and see familiar knots of people bonding over the songs. With the bands itinerary stretching from Miami to Seattle, that community-building experience is gone.A lot of the people who formed communities around the band have had to go off and do something else, said Volker, who is in the process of compiling the first in a series of retrospective multi-disc collections. There are a lot of things that have gone by. The future keeps coming hard and fast.What hasnt changed is the experience of looking around him and seeing four familiar faces, four partners who share his desire to create a musical legacy. Volker was already 30 in 1978, when he invited Baudoin and Bua, his mates in the Rhapsodizers, and Malone and Scanlan, from the Road Apples, over for a jam. He was old enough to know what he wanted something that would last.I had an articulated feeling in the bottom of my soul, that Id be playing music for life, said Volker. It was nice to share that feeling with these other guys.stewart@aspentimes.com

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