All five members of the New Orleans Suspects have impressive résumés.
Bassist Reggie Scanlan played bass with New Orleans rock band the Radiators for 33 years. Drummer “Mean” Willie Green spent just as many years with the Neville Brothers band.
Scanlan also worked with classic New Orleans artists Professor Longhair, James Booker and Earl King. Green recorded with the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.
New Orleans Suspects saxophonist Jeff Watkins, from south Florida, spent years on the road with soul star James Brown and later blue-eyed soul songstress Joss Stone. Singer-guitarist Jake Eckert worked in Atlanta and Los Angeles prior to joining New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band in 2007.
Keyboardist and singer C.R. Gruver performed with Atlanta’s Outformation, Denver’s Polytoxic and a member of classic New Orleans funk band the Meters, guitarist Leo Nocentelli.
No matter how special the New Orleans Suspects’ collective past is, it’s the present that matters most to them now.
The bandmates’ well-known history opened doors, Scanlan said, “But when you get down to it, the résumés don’t matter in the here and now. Where we came from doesn’t matter.”
Scanlan and his bandmates also want potential fans to know that the New Orleans Suspects isn’t just a sometime thing.
“We’ve tried to get people to realize that it’s not just a bunch of guys from different bands doing a side project,” Scanlan said. “It has a life of its own, and it’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”
Green and Scanlan form the New Orleans Suspects’ rhythm section. They’re the band’s born-and-raised locals.
“Willie and I come off the street,” Scanlan said. And in a city where streets habitually fill up with music and revelers, that’s a good thing. The other New Orleans Suspects are non-natives who’re formally trained in music.
“Two totally opposing approaches to music,” Scanlan said. “It’s interesting chemistry.”
It has taken some adjustment.
“A lot of times that means changing my approach a little and playing to fit in with other people’s styles,” Scanlan said. “And they do the same for me. You find that common ground. That’s really what you’re working toward. Everybody’s giving up enough of themselves to make the bigger thing work.”
The band’s third album, “Ouroboros,” illustrates the progress the Suspects have made since forming three years ago. An album release show is Friday at the Maple Leaf Bar.
Watkins sees “Ouroboros,” which incorporates funk, second line and Latin rhythms, classic New Orleans R&B, jazz and roots rock, as an early landmark in the Suspects’ history.
“This third album is the one that’s going to define who we are and what we’re trying to do,” he said. “It integrates New Orleans music into our band’s music without us being pigeonholed as a New Orleans band. We’re a rock band, similar to Little Feat or The Band. But we can go a lot of different ways.”
So far, the melding of styles and backgrounds is working.
“People,” Scanlan said, “have been enthusiastic from the jump.”