In the early 1980s, no New Orleans band was hotter than The Cold.
With a mesmerizing frontwoman, a refined melodic sense and high-octane shows, The Cold defined the New Wave era in New Orleans, packing local clubs and touring the southeast.
But The Cold eventually cooled off. By 1985, its members had gone their separate ways, pursuing motherhood, the movie business and animal shelter administration.
Fond memories, fueled by the occasional archival compilation album or DVD, remain. And the band undoubtedly earned a place in New Orleans music history.
In recognition of that legacy, The Cold will be inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame during a Friday ceremony at The Willow, the bar that now occupies the longtime home of Jimmy’s Music Club, the band’s favorite local venue.
Following a brief induction ceremony at 8 p.m., four members of the band — guitarists Bert Smith and Kevin Radecker, bassist Vance DeGeneres and drummer Chris Luckette — will perform a short set of seven or so songs. Cover charge is $10.
This won’t be a full-fledged Cold reunion because vocalist Barbara Menendez is not slated to attend. Menendez has retired from performing, Smith said this week, and opted not to participate in Friday’s event.
“I would have loved to see her — I’d love to be her sideman again,” Smith said. “We’re all going to miss her, but we understand if she doesn’t want to perform any more. That’s her decision, and we respect that. She’s very excited and grateful” to be inducted.
The roots of The Cold reach back to the Driftwood, the University of New Orleans’ student newspaper.
Smith and Radecker first met as UNO mass communication majors and Driftwood staffers. They bonded over a shared love of music, especially Bruce Springsteen, before veering off into punk rock. They soon discovered the Normals, the band at the vanguard of New Orleans’ nascent punk rock scene.
“To me, they’re still the most exciting band I’ve ever seen,” Smith said.
Radecker and Smith attended every Normals show and resolved to form their own band for the sole purpose of opening for the Normals.
“That was our entire ambition,” Smith said. “We just wanted to be part of that scene.”
They dubbed their new endeavor Totally Cold. Within a few months, they’d shared a stage with the Normals. Mission accomplished, Totally Cold disbanded.
Eager to continue their collaboration, Smith and Radecker started writing music with DeGeneres, a proficient bassist and songwriter. Radecker and DeGeneres recruited Menendez as the new band’s singer. Not yet 20, she’d recently returned from a brief stint in New York as an aspiring actress.
The Normals, meanwhile, had disbanded after their own unsuccessful New York adventure. Smith and Radecker invited Luckette, the Normals’ drummer, to join their new band. When he accepted, recalled Smith, “I was amazed. Kind of star-struck, too.”
With DeGeneres and Luckette supplying a solid foundation and the athletic, photogenic Menendez out front, this new outfit, dubbed The Cold, clearly had potential “beyond our Totally Cold ambition of just being an opening act,” Smith said.
In late 1979, The Cold made its debut. By the following summer, Menendez’s frenetic dancing, coupled with energetic, hook-laded songs, had earned a devoted following. The Cold filled Jimmy’s and other clubs as local radio stations spun their singles “You” and “Mesmerized.”
At their peak, they played 150 dates a year. Fans followed them to Texas, Mississippi and Florida, singing along to “Three Chord City,” “Russian Around,” “I’m Serious” and other favorites.
“That was kind of neat,” Smith said. “The fans were as much a part of the show as we were. We’re still friends with a lot of those people today.”
The musicians’ camaraderie was real. “We all loved each other,” Smith said. “We were best friends. There wasn’t a bunch of arguing and fighting and rivalries.
“My role became writing lyrics. It was always a big deal for me when I would write lyrics and Barbara would sing them. It was kind of like a playwright hearing an actor bring the words to life. I really got a kick out of that.”
But other passions came into play. Around the time The Cold launched, Menendez started dating Ray Ganucheau, a bassist and guitarist whose credits include the Continental Drifters and a later incarnation of the Subdudes. Menendez and Ganucheau got married in September 1982. The Cold was put on hold.
The band eventually reconvened, but momentum was lost. By 1985, they’d run out of steam, frustrated in part by not being able to land a record deal.
Playing the same clubs over and over again, “you start to lose your enthusiasm,” Smith said. The band “was good, but it just wasn’t going anywhere. You always want to see something progressing, but it wasn’t. Even if you love something, if you keep doing it over and over again, it’s not as exciting as it was in the beginning.”
They all moved on. Luckette drummed with Dash Rip Rock and other bands; he also restored historic homes. DeGeneres relocated to Los Angeles, where he has produced movies and TV and radio shows, and occasionally written material for his sister, Ellen DeGeneres.
Smith ran the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter for years, then worked for the office of the parish president before retiring. Menendez raised four children with Ganucheau. She fronted a few short-lived projects, including Babs' Guitars & Drums and another called the Help, but is now retired from the stage.
Top Pop Records, a small label run by Radecker, has released three Cold compilation albums, including a collection of previously unreleased material titled “Limbo’s Getting Crowded.” In 2012, Top Pop issued a 90-minute DVD of a Cold concert taped at Jimmy’s on July 31, 1981 for the WGNO-TV show “Homegrown.”
The five members of the band last shared a stage for a one-off reunion in 2001. Several years ago, Radecker, Luckette, Smith and Menendez performed at the House of Blues, with Ganucheau filling in for DeGeneres on bass.
Smith plans to enjoy Friday’s partial reunion with three of his four bandmates.
“When I think back on The Cold, personally, I just think of the five of us as friends,” he said. “That’s the thing I’m most grateful for. For the best years of my youth, it was five best friends traveling around, writing music, practicing music, performing music every day. Hanging out with my best friends, having fun, laughing a lot and doing nothing but playing music — you just can’t beat that.”