Forgotten Artists – The Subdudes

Few bands in this day and age can claim to be truly unique but The Subdudes may have a better claim than most. Their music is a curious blend of folk, country, gospel and blues flavoured with New Orleans R&B and Cajun swamp rock; when their eponymous first album arrived in 1989 it was like a breeze blowing through the bayou, you could almost taste the Louisiana air.
Formed by Tommy Malone and John Magnie the band were all stalwarts of the New Orleans music scene. Tommy Malone is the brother of Dave Malone, the guitarist in one of New Orleans most famous local rock bands, The Radiators, and both Tommy and John Magnie had been in another well established local R&B outfit, Li’l Queenie & The Percolators, fronted by the great Leigh Harris. The band was rounded out by Steve Amedée, Jimmy Messa and Johnny Ray Allen. The band were all very talented musicians, with most of them playing a number of different instruments to give the band real flexibility as a unit. They gave a different texture to their music by shying away from a traditional sticks man in the band, Steve Amedée being much more of a percussionist than a straight-ahead drummer. The band were also blessed with a range of voices that enabled them to produce great harmonies that made the songs really stand out.

They followed up their first album with 1991’s ‘Lucky’, like the earlier ‘The Subdudes’ issued on the East West label but their breakthrough into the wider market came with their next three albums, recorded for High Street Records. First of these was ‘Annunciation’ (1994), produced by British producer Glyn Johns, best known for his work with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Crosby Stills & Nash and many more. They followed this with ‘Primitive Streak’ (1996), which gave them a minor hit with a song that is still a popular part of their live performance ‘All the Time In The World’ and in 1997 released a long-awaited live album ‘Live at Last’. For these three albums they became a six-piece, adding a second guitarist in the form of Willie Williams, to beef up their sound and give Tommy Malone more opportunities to show off his excellent slide guitar work. This clearly worked in bringing them to the attention of a wider, international audience but ‘Live at Last’ was the recording of their farewell tour in 1996 and, following this, the band called it a day.

The band re-emerged, though without Johnny Ray Allen, in 2002, initially as The Dudes, though they quickly reverted to the original band name. During this second wave of activity they cemented their standing in the U.S but international interest dropped considerably. They released another five albums between 2002 and 2011 and had another minor single hit with ‘Papa Dukie and the Mud People’ from their 2006 Keb Mo’ produced album ‘Behind the Levee’ and appeared, both together and individually, in the New Orleans set drama series ‘Treme’.

The third coming of this eclectic band kicked off in 2014 when the original line-up got back together but, sadly, bass player Johnny Ray Allen died later in that same year. Since that 2014 get together the band have continued to work, though they’re now down to a four-piece unit for live work; original members Malone, Magnie and Amedée are now joined by Tim Cook as the permanent bass player, Cook having worked with the band on various occasions in the later years.

The band are still a very active outfit. Since their latest reformation they’ve released a further two albums – ‘4 on the Floor’ in 2016 and, last year, they put out the twelfth album of their long career, ‘Lickskillet’. They continue to gig all around the U.S and remain stalwarts of the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The Subdudes may be largely forgotten outside their home country these days but they’re very much still alive and two-stepping.

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