"I think it's the passing of time, and just the turn of the wheel," says piano/accordion wizard John Magnie. "We seemed to have run out of gas in the subdudes as far as material and writing songs together. It needed to get blown apart and have everybody wander around on their own for awhile. You can't really control these things. The time came around where it all seemed to fit back together in a little different form."
Magnie, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Malone, and percussionist Steve Amedee are the founding subdudes members on board for the Dudes; original bassist Johnny Ray Allen isn't participating in the new project. Three men -- drummer Jimmy Messa and bassist Sammy Neal from Malone's current trio, and bassist/vocalist Tim Cook, who plays with the Magnie/Amedee band, 3 Twins -- now occupy his former spot. But considering that the four original subdudes played occasional reunion shows in recent years (for deservedly handsome fees), Allen's absence is regrettable.
"I'm not willing to go on the road for 200 dates a year," says Allen. "I bought half my family's business a few years ago, and I'm enjoying doing that. And I'm getting to watch my kids grow up, which I wouldn't be able to do if I was touring. Ten years of playing 200 nights a year is hard -- it's hard on everything and everybody. I love the subdudes; that was my life story. But I can understand Tommy and John wanting to explore their own thing, and I can respect that. I have no ill feelings."
With his departure an amicable if awkward one, all parties involved raise the possibility of future songwriting and/or recording contributions with Allen. For the immediate future, however, the Dudes offer Magnie, Malone and Amedee a measure of name recognition -- no small matter considering the subdudes' sizable fanbase. Before the band packed it in with a 1996 farewell tour, the subdudes were one of New Orleans' most popular bands, with television appearances on The Tonight Show and Late Night With David Letterman, sold-out shows at prestigious national venues such as San Francisco's Great American Music Hall, and sales for albums like 1996's Primitive Streak exceeding 100,000 copies.
"I've been really pleasantly surprised at the way people remember the subdudes," says Magnie. "We see the music is still getting quite a bit of airplay and selling records, and really feel lucky to have that as part of our legacy."
Now the challenge is to add to that track record. The logistics of the Dudes are still being mapped out, since the band is essentially three groups in one. There's the core of the subdudes, Malone's solo band, and Magnie and Amedee's band. Having two drummers and two bassists sounds like a possible train wreck, but the collective talent of the Dudes allows for some vocal and instrumental swapping reminiscent of The Band's heyday. "It seems like the songs Tommy's been writing and the ones we've been working on fit together for a new repertoire," says Magnie. "We're ready to do whatever it takes on each song. The 3 Twins material is drawn from same roots as the subdudes -- blues and even some country, with maybe a little more gospel influence. Tim Cook is a really good bass singer, so we've done a lot of three-part harmonies, and we're planning on using all these voices. We want to be the Jordanaires to Tommy's Elvis.
"Steve will be quite interesting on this set, too," Magnie continues. "He's doing some of his patented tambourine style on some songs, then he also plays a kit that he stands up at. Then he does some hand percussion. And from what I hear, he's going to play mandolin on a couple of songs. Anything is possible."
If history is any indication, the music will match Magnie and Malone's strong bonds, which stretch back to the first incarnation of the Continental Drifters. As time has passed since the subdudes' dissolution, the two longtime friends have realized the power of their partnership. "I've been thinking about playing again with John for a long time," says Malone. "I feel a very strong musical connection to him, ever since the first time we played together. I went up to Denver about two months ago with my band for a week, and John came by and sat in. We got a chance to see what it felt like again -- and it felt right."