According to Galactic keyboard player Rich Vogel, the decision stemmed from DeClouet's recent health problems. "He'd been hospitalized in the spring right at Jazz Fest time due to several things, really. Basically, complications as a result of diabetes which were causing other concerns." In fact, DeClouet says, "I had high sugar, high blood pressure. They put me in the hospital and I was threatening congestive heart failure and kidney failure. I almost died, in other words. Everything almost shut down on me."
The band continued touring with Latrice Barnett and Tricia "Sista Teedy" Boutté filling in while DeClouet took time off to work on his diet and quit smoking -- "all the things his doctors told him he should do," Vogel says. Being on the road without him, however, forced Galactic to think about its future. "We're in the situation of wondering if House can ever really come back out on the road," Vogel says. "His doctors said three months, but if he comes back out on the road, is his health just going to deteriorate again? We were wondering what our plans for the future might be if that might be the case."
DeClouet has been associated with the band since the early 1990s when guitarist Jeff Raines and bassist Robert Mercurio started hanging around with him at Bennie's, the long-time Uptown late-night club where he performed with Michael Ward and Reward. Considering a future without him provoked what Vogel called "soul searching."
"We were also being honest with ourselves and realizing we're not the greatest singer-songwriter types," Vogel admits. "We wrote the best vocal tunes for him (we could), and Ruckus is probably our best attempt at vocal music, but there really is nobody in the band who writes pop-type vocal tunes every day. Part of this decision was coming to grips with that."
"I don't think they wanted a singer from the beginning, but we hooked up and it worked, so we tried to keep it going as long as we could," DeClouet says. Galactic began as an instrumental band, and DeClouet only sang lead vocal on one song on the band's 1996 debut, Cooling Off. "When we started doing this, we were really interested in playing really authentic-sounding, old-school funk and groove," Vogel says. "Doing that, it made a lot of sense to have an old-school R&B singer come sing on a few tracks. Over eight years of playing on the road and playing a hundred shows a year, the music has changed, gravitating toward stranger pastures instrumentally -- working with loops, expanding our sonic palate. You can hear on the last couple of records there's an urge to take it out a little further from traditional, old school grooves. When we started contemplating that, we started thinking, Yeah, that's what we all want to do and tend to do naturally.'"
While recuperating, DeClouet asked himself similar questions about his future with the band and reached similar answers. "He agreed he'd love to leave the door open to work together some more, but the hardcore touring thing may not be for him," Vogel says. "He shouldn't be living on the road 70 percent of the year, given the way we live out here. It's hard for us to eat right and live healthy."
Now, DeClouet insists, he's in the best shape he has been since he was 17, and he's far from retiring. He has been approached with a number of theatrical opportunities including one in Charleston, S.C., The Duke and the Duchess, based on the life of Duke Ellington. He's most excited by his second solo album, The Truth Is Out, which he hopes to release in October. "I started it last June, and when I got out I used that as a rehab thing," he says. Recorded with June Yamagishi, Mark Pero, Raymond Weber, Alfred "Uganda" Roberts, Ivan Neville and Thaddeus Richard, the album is "just good ol' New Orleans R&B, and I think it's some of the best work I've ever done." At this point, Galactic plans an all-instrumental tour starting in October, and though plans for a new album are vague at this point, "I wouldn't be surprised if it was instrumental," Vogel says. "We're not ruling out future songs and vocal content on future records. We're acknowledging the true nature of the band."