Free 'fish head music' from The Radiators

Who: The Radiators When: 3 p.m. Sunday Where: Slopeside Grill in Torian Plum Plaza Cost: Free

The Radiators started out as a three-man band playing background music for strippers on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The band grew to a quintet during an impromptu garage jam session Jan. 28, 1978.

More than 26 years later, the quintet is still together, touring as relentlessly as ever and playing its self-proclaimed "fish head music." On Sunday, The Radiators brings music inspired by "the effect of living one's life below sea level" to high altitude with a free show at Slopeside Grill.

The band is practically New Orleans royalty. The band's anniversary coincides with that of the legendary Tipitina's club in New Orleans, where The Radiators headlined a landmark 25-year celebration and recorded a live CD last year. The Radiators played behind such New Orleans greats as Professor Longhair, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers and Earl King. To top it off, the band is the closing act for the renowned New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival each year.

"Fish head music" has been loosely described as a morph between New Orleans roots, blues, R&B and rock 'n' roll. However you want to describe it, the band is known for long jam sessions that delve into a repertoire numbered at more than 1,300 songs. The band's devoted fan base has spread across the country throughout the decades, a testament to the about 3,600 live shows it has played during that time.

"The important thing we learned playing behind people like Fess (Professor Longhair) and Earl King is a sense of joy," said The Radiators founding member Ed Volker in a July 2003 interview with Offbeat, a Louisiana music magazine. "Earl is a very loose guy when he performs, where Fess would really work your butt off. He was a spiritual chief."

"There's a certain Mardi Gras vibe to our music or a sense of drama in what we got from Fess. When we play we try to transmit that," Volker said.

The Radiators members don't use set lists. They play original tunes, New Orleans traditionals and covers -- whatever strikes their whim for a given show. And band members confess to a friendship that is a lot like family.

That's the kind of dedication it takes to become the oldest band in America, along with Los Lobos, to remain intact with all its original members.

"Earth vs. The Radiators: The First 25" is the band's latest release, a double CD and DVD release recorded during three performances at Tipitina's. The DVD includes a star-studded cast of guest appearances from Gregg Allman, Karl Denson and George Porter Jr.

The Radiators is comprised of Volker on keyboards, Frank Bua on drums, David Molone and Camille Boudin on guitar, and Reggie Scanlan on bass.

While lounging on the lawn outside Slopeside Grill on Sunday afternoon, be prepared for the sounds of everything from blues, to jazz, to zydeco, swing and gospel ... and "laissez les bon temps rouler."

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