With so many talented artists playing Jazz Fest this year, we’re getting to know some of their stories in our 2014 Jazz Fest interview series. Among that number is Dave Malone, the guitarist for Raw Oyster Cult and member of legendary New Orleans rock band, the Radiators. Raw Oyster Cult and the Radiators are both playing Jazz Fest 2014. Discover more about Dave, from his love of vocal harmonies to the unspoken telepathy of playing with the Radiators to seeing Stevie Wonder play drums with the Meters. See Raw Oyster Cult at Jazz Fest on Saturday, April 26 at 12:45 p.m. on the Samsung Galaxy Stage and the Radiators on Sunday, May 4 at 3:30 p.m. on the Samsung Galaxy Stage.
Dave Malone of Raw Oyster Cult and the Radiators
What first got you interested in playing guitar?
My story is, I’m one of those guys that, when I was a kid, on February 9th, 1964, saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I didn’t know it right away, but I saw these four guys making this incredible music. As I got the albums, there were a lot of songs I recognized that other people had done. What I liked about them was their brilliant awesomeness, their singing, and the way they put songs together and wrote them. Also, the way they took someone else’s songs. They had a bunch of Chuck Berry songs, Little Richard songs, stuff from operas and Broadway show songs. I loved that.
Anyway, that was back in ’64, so I was 12. I’m the third of four brothers, no sisters in the Malone family. My two older brothers got caught up in the folk craze. They got their hands on acoustic guitars, and they started playing folk music. It was handy, because it really taught me how to sing the harmony. That was always a big part of my thing musically before.
I played bass first. The ’60s had such cool tunes and music parts. I learned how to play bass on a lot of songs like the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”. At the same time, I was learning guitar. We lived in the country, in Edgar, Louisiana. I learned from my brothers and some of their friends. We didn’t have sheet music, we didn’t have the Internet. We did everything by ear. I’m guessing probably around 15, I got my first band, the Family Dog. I was playing well enough that I was the lead guitarist. At the time, I managed to score my first good guitar, which was a 1956 Fender Telecaster. I still have it. I played it at rehearsal today, which, by the way, I paid $80 for.
How did Raw Oyster Cult come together?
I was being asked, every single day almost, by Rads fans here, there and everywhere, to put something together to continue playing Rads songs. I just figured, I’ll put together a band. I put together a band for a party gig or something. I called Frank and Camille, because we have chemistry. We’re like musical mind-readers, really.
You guys play off of each other so well.
This is the absolute truth: we did that with telepathy from the very beginning, from the very first time we played together in 1978. It was January of ’78, the first time the Rads ever played together. Me and Camille were playing the same things, all of these left-field kind of licks that weren’t even supposed to be there. We were doing all of these licks, playing them in harmony. We’d look at each other like, “What in the hell was that?” We kind of never questioned it. I called Camille and Frank. I always liked John, especially his B3 playing.
I always liked the bass player for Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Dave Pomerleau. Plus, I was looking for two other guys who could sing. The people throwing the party said, “Well, we need a name for this band.” I had been kidding around with someone, saying I was going to have a band called Raw Oyster Cult. Playing off the Blue Oyster Cult thing. I was also going to write a song called “Don’t Fear the Schucker,” which I still may do. That’s how it happened. We played that gig and then we played another one. At that time, I thought, “Boy, this is really a stupid name. I need to come up with a better name.” No one would let me change it. They all liked the name. Now, I love it.
What do you enjoy most about playing with Raw Oyster Cult?
Dave Pomerleau not only sings really well, he’s also a very aggressive bass player. I can toss him the ball and he’ll solo. He can just solo on a groove and take it to a new level. Reggie was never about bass solos. Reggie was a groove player, still is. He’s wonderful at it, one of the best. It’s cool to have Dave, point at him and he’ll take it. He’ll just go. It’s being able to play with my two compadres, hear John play along, Dave play his bass, and singing three-part harmonies. It’s a big part of the equation.
How do you go about creating the set list for Raw Oyster Cult?
I look at the tunes, figure out how much time we have to play. I try to put songs that flow well from one to the next. I try to be mindful of the keys they are in. I sing 99% of the Raw Oyster Cult songs. John Gros is starting to sing more, and inserting ones that he sings in there as well. That balance and ratio will change as John Gros starts singing lead on more songs. If we’re doing a two-night run somewhere, I try to not repeat songs too much. I’ll gladly do it though, because the fans are what it’s all about. They keep us going. They feed us back the energy, and that’s really what it’s all about.
Rads fans are really passionate.
They are not only really passionate, they are really knowledgeable about music. Most of them are pretty serious musicologists.
How do you rearrange Rads tunes in Raw Oyster Cult?
With different players, they’re going to sound a little different anyway. We find places where vocal harmonies can fit in. We do “Never Let Your Fire Go Out,” but we each sing a verse, me, John Gros and Dave Pomerleau. That makes it cool. I love singing with my daughter Darcy and my son Johnny.
Do you have a favorite venue in NOLA?
Well, of course, our biggest history with a still-existing place is Tipitina’s. It’s everyone’s favorite venue, I believe.
What do you love about it?
I have a long history there. We were playing it before it was Tipitina’s. I played with Professor Longhair there, Earl King, Allen Toussaint, Benny Spellman. It was home for so long that it’s kind of hard to not think of it that way. It’s so easy to play there. I have great times at the Maple Leaf and everywhere, really.
What inspired the Radiators to get back together to play Jazz Fest?
We thought it was time after a few years. Quint kept asking us. The inspiration is, was, and always will be the fans wanting to hear that stuff again. Those five guys playing it. That really is what it is all about.
What do you enjoy most about playing Jazz Fest?
Well, I enjoy playing Jazz Fest. Really, what I enjoy about Jazz Fest is when I’m not playing and walking around. I just stumble upon something I’ve never heard of that just knocks me out.
What have you seen over the years that has just blown you away?
I can’t even remember the names of whatever it was. It kind of lives in that moment.
What are some of your favorite memories from playing at Jazz Fest?
The last one that the Rads officially played, where we brought out Warren Haynes and Paul Barrere, my brother Tommy, Michael Doucet, and Mike Skinkus playing percussion. It was pretty awesome. Some of my favorite moments where, like, when Springsteen did that set with the big band, with the pianos, and the accordions, and the horns. He was singing songs that had a real relevance to New Orleans post-Katrina. I was just on the sidelines, balling like a baby. It was very moving. Seeing stuff in the Gospel Tent that will make your goosebumps have goosebumps. Nutty stuff like, back in the day, Ironing Board Sam. He was playing in a giant water tank, with a snorkel, his keyboard in a gigantic baggy so it wouldn’t get wet. It was so absurd, ridiculous, and great. Seeing the original Meters play there. Back in the day, you could get right up on the stage. Seeing Professor Longhair, seeing Stevie Wonder play drums with the Meters. It was killer. Seeing Jeff Beck play, probably my favorite guitar player ever. Moments like that.
It’s stuff that only happens at Jazz Fest.
Yeah. People seem to treat that with such reverence that they pull out all of the stops. Musically, they reach new plateaus, or they try to think of different approaches to what they would ordinarily be doing. It’s just, “What the hell is this?” It’s crazy wonderful.
Once people see you guys live, then they’re hooked.
I think that’s pretty true. People used to say, “You have to see the Rads live to get it.” I certainly understand that. We never really tried to do the songs the way they were on the record. We never played the music business game the way it’s supposed to be played. It’s probably why we’ve always had an underground cult following than some bigger band.
What do you feel is the Rads’ place in New Orleans music history?
I have no idea how to answer that.
You guys connected so much together. Like you said, you were playing Tip’s with everybody, Earl King, Professor Longhair. You guys carved out your own space right from the beginning.
Yeah, at the time, we were the only rock band, especially white guys, to make a dent in the grand musical universe. Hopefully, we’ll be remembered for the songs. Ed Volker, his songwriting is just incredible. The joy that we brought to people. Our fans too. Our fans are just like a giant family. In the place of New Orleans music, I would say one of the first and longest running, rock bands to come out of New Orleans and have a worldwide following.