The Radiators have been so consistently good at what they do for so long there was never a question of an expiration date. As seminal rock bands go, perhaps only Los Lobos can lay claim to maintaining similar longevity and consistency – no breakups, no misguided artistic indulgences, all achieved with its original lineup.

The Radiators have been so consistently good at what they do for so long there was never a question of an expiration date. As seminal rock bands go, perhaps only Los Lobos can lay claim to maintaining similar longevity and consistency – no breakups, no misguided artistic indulgences, all achieved with its original lineup.


But all good things reach an end – they have to – and so, too, will New Orleans’ versatile swamp rockers. The Radiators last fall confirmed that they would play a final set of shows, called “The Last Watusi,” in June in New Orleans, and pad the time until then with “as many shows as possible.”


According to bassist Reggie Scanlan, calling the breakup a group decision, cut and dry, isn’t accurate. Keyboardist Ed Volker – who, alongside Scanlan, guitarists Dave Malone and Camile Baudoin, and drummer Frank Bua Jr., birthed the band in a January 1978 jam session – told the rest of the Radiators it was time for him to leave.


“I totally understand that. If after 33 years of doing this, all he wants to do is sit at home and watch cartoons, that’s fine,” Scanlan said. “The rest of the band is still up in the air. Some people have some interest in keeping it going, and I guess maybe some time in the future we could tour as the Radiators with a keyboard player or do a full reunion. But I will say that the Radiators, after the final shows, are not going to be my priority anymore – and that’s OK.


“I love change. I like things changing all the time, and for another phase, I’m totally stoked. For people that have a hard time dealing with change, it’ll be hard, but it’s an essential part of life, and it’s good to embrace it and run with it.”


Thirty-three years and 4,500-plus shows later, the Radiators are still one of New Orleans finest rock exports – no small feat for a city with such a decorated musical legacy – and a crackerjack live act.


Swamp rock is an encompassing term for their sound, but the Radiators and their jamming proclivities span too many flavors of New Orleans music: funk, R&B, rock and soul. Scanlan said that the band’s current shows – there are some 40 to 50 of them left at the time of our interview – have taken on an urgency.


“You can hook into that energy, and the band’s been playing even better than usual, I think,” he said. “We have this community that the band was the formation of, and a lot of bands have great fans, but our fans are unique and that’s a stunning achievement. So no one has time right now for a ho-hum attitude.”


Why does Scanlan think Volker opted out?


“I can’t speak for him, but I don’t think many people come to these kinds of decisions randomly. It’s not like you wake up, have breakfast and suddenly say, ‘I’ll quit,’” Scanlan said. “I think it’s something he’d been thinking about for a long time, and maybe even wrestled with.”


Scanlan said that all of his bandmates have “a game plan of some kind.” As for him, he’s already recording and plotting dates with a new band, the Suspects, that combines him with the great “Mean” Willie Green (Neville Brothers) on drums, Jake Eckert (Dirty Dozen Brass Band) on guitar, Kevin Harris (Dirty Dozen Brass Band) on saxophone and C.R. Gruver (Outformation) on keyboards.


Like many New Orleans bands, it formed from a jam session at legendary local haunt the Maple Leaf, Scanlan said, and largely by accident. It leans toward plenty of New Orleans funk and groove, and plays tunes by Wet Willie, Robert Palmer, Little Feat and others, not to mention Radiators, Nevilles and Dirty Dozen songs.


The Patriot Ledger