For years, the Radiators supplied the soundtrack to the famously decadent M.O.M.s Ball at Mardi Gras World. Since the Radiators’ 2011 split, several different bands have filled in. In 2015, one of them was Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes.
“We’d all been to the M.O.M.s Ball in various states of undress,” Dirty Notes drummer Andre Bohren said this week. “It was a blast to play it.”
In a nod to M.O.M.s Ball history, the Dirty Notes slipped several Radiators songs into their set. Word of that performance reached organizers of OffBeat magazine’s Best of the Beat Awards.
They selected Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes to stage a tribute to the Radiators, the latest recipients of OffBeat’s Lifetime Achievement Award, during the Best of the Beat Awards on Thursday (Jan. 21) at Generations Hall.
It is one of several notable performances slated for Thursday’s show. The late Allen Toussaint is the subject of a tribute featuring Cyril Neville, Davell Crawford, bassist Tony Hall and keyboardist David Torkanowsky. Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters, Roddie Romero & the Hub City Allstars and the Young Fellaz Brass Band are also on the bill. The event, catered by several local restaurants, kicks off at 6 p.m. Tickets are $48, available at Eventbrite.com.
The personal and professional ties between the Radiators and Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes — especially Bohren — run deep.
His father, blues-folk guitarist Spencer Bohren, played alongside Radiators guitarist/vocalist Dave Malone in a long-ago band called Road Apple, and later used Radiators drummer Frank Bua and bassist Reggie Scanlan as his rhythm section. The Bohren family sometimes spent Christmas with the Malones in Edgard.
“We’re honorary Malones, they’re honorary Bohrens,” Andre said. “My dad says that the first call he made after I was born was to Dave Malone. I was born on Dave’s birthday.”
As a boy, Andre professed a desire to be a rock star guitarist, so his father introduced him to the interplay of Malone and Radiators lead guitarist Camile Baudoin. But at a Radiators gig in Fort Collins, Colorado, circa 1991, Frank Bua “rocked my world,” Bohren recalled. After receiving a pair of Bua’s battered drumsticks and some cracked cymbals, he switched his instrumental allegiance to drums.
Nearly 25 years later, his drumming is still influenced by Bua’s. “Watching Frank play really informed me about getting the most sound out of the drums. Whenever I need to dig deeper and get a little louder in the heat of the moment, I think about Frank.”
During their 33 years as one of New Orleans’ best-loved bands, the Radiators synthesized sturdy Americana rock, Big Easy rhythm & blues and an improvisatory streak into a sound all their own. “The Radiators are not necessarily from the same school as the Meters or the Neville Brothers,” Bohren said, “but they’re absolutely New Orleans.”
The same could be said of Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes, whose eclectic brand of rock is colored by funk and jazz. One of the Dirty Notes’ very first gigs, in December 2001, was opening for the Radiators at Tipitina’s. Shortly thereafter, Malone sold one of his old amplifiers to Dirty Notes singer/guitarist Marc Paradis, who still uses it as his primary amp.
More recently, the Dirty Notes have opened for Radiators reunion shows at Tipitina’s; Baudoin has sometimes sat in with them. “That always elevates us,” Bohren said. “He’s such a killer on guitar.”
If the two bands’ connection wasn’t already intimate enough, Dirty Notes bassist Dave Pomerleau will miss Thursday’s tribute because he’ll be on the road with the New Orleans Suspects — filling in for an ailing Reggie Scanlan. “It doesn’t get any more real than that,” Bohren said. “That’s the ultimate tribute.”
Early this week, Bohren and his bandmates were still debating the tribute show’s set list. The Radiators deep cut “No. 2 Pencil” was considered, but ultimately deemed too ambitious. “It’s 12 minutes long, like four songs in one,” Bohren said. “We talked about it and decided it was probably best not to try to pull off something like that. It’s almost like a mini-symphony.”
A working list of 10 possible Radiators songs, including the fan favorite “Smokin’ Hole,” would probably get whittled down to five or six, the most that can fit in a 45-minute set.
“We want to make sure that what we play, we can play to the best of our abilities, instead of taking unnecessary risks. We want to do the music justice, especially because we’ll be in front of our peers, and the Radiators themselves.
“But that’s not to say we’ll play it safe. We’re going to have some fun with it.”
Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.