Over the course of 20 years and eight albums, the subdudes have quietly become one of America's national musical treasures.
The New Orleans-rooted group is a living synthesis of American music, a vibrant cauldron of sounds that stirs together meaty grooves and jazzy dynamics, soulful R & B swagger, easy vocal harmonies, cheeky rock 'n' roll attitude and folky social consciousness – not to mention exceedingly sharp musicianship and ensemble playing. It's tight enough to be loose, but never sloppy.
Their distinctive sound is that of Steve Amedee's tambourine, which they used to replace the traditional kick drum. Their decision to forgo conventional rock drumming gave them a distinctive sound, but it might have cost them - because they remain one of the untold stories of rock. Now the time has come for their story to be told, a little louder.
But in a quiet way – which is to say, Fall 2008 brings us the subdudes, subdued – an all-acoustic tour, their first, that will celebrate a number of different things. It'll celebrate in advance the mid-October release from Biographica Films of their double DVD, Live at the Ram's Head (the regular electric 'dudes) and Unplugged at Pleasant Plains.
The tour will also celebrate their new relationship with Texas-based Music Road Records for their next CD, due in the spring.
In March 1987, John Magnie (vocals, keyboards, accordion) and Tommy Malone (vocals, guitars) started a new band…
Magnie had begun his musical career in the Denver area with a blues band, then came to New Orleans in the '70s, where he studied the work of the great NOLA pianomen James Booker and Professor Longhair. Eventually he cofounded the legendary "Little Queenie and the Percolators," in its time one of NOLA's hottest bands.
In 1980, Tommy Malone joined LQ&tP. A native Louisianan, he'd started at 14 in a cover band called Elroy (which included a drummer named Steve Amedee), then at 18 moved to New Orleans and began working with his two older brothers in Dustwoofie, a country-rock band. Eventually he joined Little Queenie and the Percolators. After the band lost steam, Tommy and John formed the Continental Drifters. "I think we were trying to be edgy, and we just ended up being loud," said John.
One night, as an antidote to the volume and a general dissatisfaction with the direction of the Drifters, they decided to with a different set of rules. On March 16, 1987, John, Tommy, their friend Johnny Allen from the Drifters and another pal, a veteran of the Bourbon Street club scene, Steve Amedee (vocals, percussion, mandolin) came together at Tipitina's. Their rule for the night was, play only what you could carry into the club. Listening to the tape, they knew something special had happened. The four of them moved to Fort Collins to define themselves, and in the succeeding years signed a contract with Atlantic Records and developed an enthusiastic fan base in Colorado. But luck was not on their side, and in 1996, they went their separate ways.
Magnie and Amedee joined forces with Tim Cook (vocals, bass, percussion) and worked the Colorado club circuit as the 3 Twins. During the 3 Twins' era, Tommy Malone was working with the band Tiny Town, then releasing a solo album, Soul Heavy, and re-connecting with Jimmy Messa (vocals, bass, guitar), who'd worked on Bourbon Street and had also been a member of the Continental Drifters.
But the subdudes' peculiar magic could not be denied. In 2001, the Three Twins and the Tommy Malone Band joined forces to become first the Dudes and then – just as it should be – the subdudes. The revived subdudes released the splendid Miracle Mule and then followed it up with Behind the Levee – a highly appropriate title in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which included the radio hit "Papa Dukie and the Mud People." Their most recent studio release was in 2007, Street Symphony. In addition to the songs Tommy and John bring in, the band has developed an 'everybody in the room' collaborative writing style that has generated highly successful results.
Live at the Ram's Head/Unplugged at Pleasant Plains is a knock-your-socks-off double package of subdued-ian musical pleasure. The Ram's Head shoot is mostly hand-held, capturing the intimacy of a small room. You ARE there. And Pleasant Plains, with more room, is a little more elegant. Both ways, they capture the power of the music, and that's a wonderful thing.
They may be subdued – but they make a lot of noise.