With the possible exception of Austin, Memphis, and Nashville (OK, maybe you could toss New York and Chicago in there), no American city has contributed more to this country's rich musical heritage than New Orleans. So when you gather a group of that city's most celebrated music-makers, representing the very bands that contributed to that fabled legacy -- like Neville Brothers, the Radiators, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band -- it's clearly an auspicious assemblage. The New Orleans Suspects, which include members of the aforementioned acts, is one such collaboration formed in 2011.
The Suspects' bassist Reggie Scanlan -- whose stint with the Radiators encompassed the whole of their 34-year career --doesn't exactly demur when the term supergroup is applied to his new association. "That's all in the eye of the beholder," he suggests. "Yes, from the standpoint of marketing the band, we make a lot of noise about the bands we all came from, and we are proud of it. I guess you could call it a supergroup, but we don't look at it like that."
Nevertheless, as Scanlan also suggests, any band that claims to represent New Orleans' best has a lingering legacy to live up to. And, as he also admits, the musical bar is set so high, it can prove daunting.
"Absolutely," he agrees. "Basically, everyone coming up behind you is going to be a better player. With all the music programs that now exist in the schools in New Orleans, kids are now coming out of school that are almost world-class players when they graduate. It really can be intimidating. I think all working musicians out of New Orleans are aware of that legacy. Fans, writers and others always remind us of it."
Given the all-star line-up, Scanlan also concedes that it was necessary to put their egos aside. "It's like any relationship," he maintains. "There's a lot of give and take, both in terms of personalities and in the music. For me, playing brass band music, despite coming from a rock 'n' roll background, required some new thinking. It helps that we all have the same goal. Every member of this band spent most of their careers as a sideman. If you're playing in James Brown's band or the Neville Brothers, there's no room for ego. We certainly don't expect star treatment."
As one might expect, the band's current repertoire includes hits and obscurities from the Allen Toussaint and Dr. John songbooks, and favorites from the Radiators, the Neville Brothers and the Dirty Dozen Band repertoire, along with original songs performed that hold to a signature jazz/funk style. The combination is effectively spotlighted on the band's recently released sophomore album, Live at the Maple Leaf.
"High energy New Orleans funk is what we are all about," Scanlan says. "Music you can dance to. Very much like most New Orleans bands. All the band members participate in selecting repertoire -- mostly it's songs that are fun for us to play and fun for an audience to hear. Yes, we are proud to perform some of the songs we all played in our previous bands, but we are approaching, even the covers and older material, from a fresh perspective. There's a lot of space given to the players. All of the songs have formal arrangements, but they have evolved over time as we perform them on stage."
When they're not on the road, the band can be found in the studio, honing material for a forthcoming studio set. In the meantime, Scanlan says he's satisfied with the band's progress to date. And despite his long tenure with the Radiators, he's only too happy to face the future in the company of his new musical colleagues.
"It's awesome," he exclaims. "There's a lot of talent, a lot of energy and a lot of professionalism, all combined with the desire to use those things to make a different, new sound. After playing for years and years in the same band, the opportunity to do something new is very exciting."
New Orleans Suspects. 9 p.m., Friday, March 15 & 16, the Bamboo Room, 25 S. J Street, Lake Worth. Tickets cost $20. For more information, visit bambooroomblues.com.
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