New Orleans Suspects to play PAC3 in Carbondale

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado
The New Orleans Suspects, with bassist Reggie Scanlan, performs in Minturn Thursday night.
Stewart Oksenhorn | Special to the Daily |

ASPEN – As Reggie Scanlan approached his 60th birthday, life was taking some funky turns. The job he had held for 33 years had been terminated, and soon after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.At 61, though, the outlook is brighter. Scanlan’s doctors have not been able to detect cancer in recent months. “Which is fine with me. I’ve got my appetite. I feel f—ing great,” he said. “I’m healthy and moving ahead.”Aiding his rebound, Scanlan has found a satisfying new job. After spending more than three decades in the same position – bassist for the swamp-rock band the New Orleans Radiators – Scanlan has joined up with a pack of Louisiana veterans to form the New Orleans Suspects. The group – which includes longtime Neville Brothers drummer Willie Green; Dirty Dozen guitarist Jake Eckert; saxophonist Jeff Watkins, who directed James Brown’s band for 12 years; and keyboardist C.R. Gruver – makes its local debut Wednesday at 8 p.m. at PAC3 in Carbondale.”These guys are all world-class and have proved it a million times. It’s really challenging to play with them,” Scanlan said. “At 61, to find a new project that offers that kind of thing is a real gift. Not only do I get to keep going, but I get to keep going with something I really love.”The Radiators, in Scanlan’s view, were in the final stages when they called it quits in mid-2011. “It’s like being in a conversation for 33 years with the same people. You reach a point where you run out of stuff to say. The conversation just ended,” Scanlan said. “It wasn’t a creative endeavor anymore. We were touring to cover payroll.”Still, the band left behind a remarkable legacy as rock ‘n’ roll’s ultimate road warriors. After forming at a jam in keyboardist Ed Volker’s garage early in 1978, the Radiators played some 4,500 shows, with the original quintet intact from beginning to end.With the New Orleans Suspects, Scanlan is taking an even deeper plunge into the heart of New Orleans’ musical heritage. The band’s recent album “Caught Live at the Maple Leaf” features versions of core Crescent City repertoire: “Big Chief,” the Meters’ “Look-a-Py Py” and “Tipitina,” written by pianist Professor Longhair, Scanlan’s former employer. “You go out of town, people always ask for the classic New Orleans stuff,” Scanlan said. “New Orleans groups like Dumpstaphunk, Trombone Shorty are all doing a newer thing. There’s not many people doing the old stuff.”Scanlan added that the New Orleans Suspects aren’t looking at simply covering old ground for fans who want a taste of vintage Bourbon Street. “This band is not slavishly playing New Orleans music,” he said, noting a funked-up take on Steve Winwood’s instrumental “Glad.” “There’s too many influences. Jeff didn’t grow up here; he plays with his own twist. Jake’s from Atlanta; he’s got the Allman Brothers thing. It’s got a different slant, and that’s the way new music happens. That’s how the Radiators happened. There was so much different stuff in there.”If the Suspects’ foundation is pure New Orleans, Scanlan is a big reason why. He currently lives within blocks of the house, in the Uptown neighborhood, where he was born and raised. “I’m a strictly, hard-core Uptown resident,” he said.Scanlan didn’t have the classic musical upbringing of many New Orleans musicians. In a grade-school band, he gave saxophone a try. “I spent six months making a lot of noise and driving everyone crazy,” he recalled. In the ’60s, with teenagers everywhere imitating The Beatles – “Not that we were interested in music; it was a good way to get dates,” Scanlan said – he picked up guitar.”I was a horrible guitar player. And if you were the worst guitar player around, you became the bassist,” he said. “I got it and went, ‘Why didn’t I get started on this sooner?’ If I stuck with guitar, I’d be working in a 7-Eleven right now.”While not a naturally gifted musician, Scanlan had a creative, outsider personality. He was invited to leave several Catholic schools. “I had a different agenda. It was the ’60s; the revolution was going on,” he said. He developed his own course of study, heavy on literature and history, and worked for an underground newspaper. “That kind of stuff was totally against the grain, against the country and government and God,” he said.The bass guitar was a major focus. Scanlan was impressed with The Beatles’ cultural impact but musically was more moved by the Rolling Stones and the Animals. When he heard a John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers album that featured the hot new guitar sensation Eric Clapton, Scanlan knew where to look for inspiration.”Once I found out who wrote all those songs, the whole English thing for me was over. I was all into the blues,” he said. At the time, there was a resurgence of interest, in New Orleans, in local music. “It was one of those golden eras of discovering old music that had fallen by the wayside: ‘Professor Longhair – who’s that?'” he said.Scanlan learned about blues music, and the blues life, while living in San Francisco in the ’70s. “It was all ghetto clubs where people got shot and stabbed in the middle of a song. It was great for a guy like me, a dopey white kid who wanted to learn the blues,” he said. Then Professor Longhair called with a job offer. “I said, ‘Dude, I’m on the next train home,'” Scanlan said.While playing in the Radiators, Scanlan took on numerous side projects: the Mardi Gras Indians Orchestra, a nine-piece group that featured a string section; and a series of bands with Radiators frontman Volker, including Jolly House, in which Scanlan played upright bass. “I had a rule: I would never turn down a gig unless it was someone who was such an a–hole I couldn’t be in the same room with him,” he said.The New Orleans Suspects formed in 2009, when it still seemed as if the Radiators might go on forever. But after the Radiators broke up, Scanlan turned his attention to the Suspects, another group he believes has a long road in front of it.”I feel like lightning struck twice – first with the Rads, now this,” he said. “You dig deeper and deeper into the details, fine-tuning what it’s going to be. That’s what makes a band keep growing.”


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