Checking in with the subdudes

Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2009

New-Orleans based band the subdudes will be the final act for this year's Jazz & Classics concert series, performing at 8 p.m. Sunday at Centennial Hall. The band has a sound that's hard to corral into any one genre, and includes elements of blues, funk, Cajun, R&B and roots.

The Empire checked in with Jimmy Messa, bass and guitar player and vocalist in the band.

Do the subdudes try to avoid being categorized in any particular genre?

We don't consciously try to avoid it but it just works out that way. First off, we have an unusual line-up - a tambourine for a drummer, two bass players - and we have a tendency to kind of cross-pollinate different musical styles, so it just turns out (luckily!) that we are, dare I say it, a genre of our own.

Have you ever been to Alaska?

No, but I've always wanted to go. I'm not sure if any of the other guys have been, except our accordion player, John Magnie. It just so happens that he took a cruise there recently, and he had nothing but great things to say about it.

I've always envisioned it as a really wild, pristine, beautiful (and of course cold!) place.

Some of the band's songs are fairly political (such as "Thorn in Her Side"). Do you feel that the change from Bush to Obama will influence the band's music?

'Thorn' was written while the country was in the grip of the last administration, when we were all pretty well fed up with what was going on in Washington. I think that anger we felt is kind of fading away, thank God, and we can get back to writing about deeper, more spiritual and meaningful subjects.

Can you talk a little bit about how New Orleans has changed for you as a band since Katrina?

No doubt about it, Katrina changed a lot of things, at least for me. Only Tommy Malone (our lead guitarist and lead singer) and I were living in New Orleans at the time. His house was pretty destroyed, mine was severely damaged, as were thousands of other unfortunate people's, and it does change you in a way. It makes you realize that possessions are fleeting and what really matters are the people in your life. Check out that tune from our CD 'Behind The Levee' called 'Your Home Is Right Here Next To Me' it addresses in a really poetic way what I'm talking about.

As for local music in New Orleans, after the storm there wasn't any! Half the clubs and bars and music venues had either blown away or been flooded so badly that there were only a handful of places left for musicians to perform. But it's getting back to normal slowly but surely.

Then the subdudes dissolved and reconvened in 2002. Can you tell me a little bit about why you chose to come back together under the same name (with different musicians)?

After the subdudes broke up, a few years later Tommy was on the road again. His bass player and drummer left kind of abruptly, and he called me to ask if I would like to take over the bass position, and if I knew of a drummer. So I recruited our fantastic drummer, Sammy Neal, and off we went to begin playing with Tommy. That lasted for a little less than 2 years, I think. Anyway, The Tommy Malone Trio was playing a gig in Denver, and John Magnie (the subdudes' accordion player) dropped by to sit in. He and Tommy had not played together for a few years at that point, but when we started doing subdudes songs, the crowd went wild. It was then that we started discussing the possibility of getting the subdudes back together.

Since Johnny Ray (Allen) was no longer involved, and it obviously was not exactly the same band, we decided to call ourselves 'the dudes' instead of the subdudes. We merged the Tommy trio (Tommy, myself and Sammy), with John's trio, John, Steve Amedee (the subdudes percussionist), and Tim Cook. This made us a six piece band. We played some experimental gigs to see how things would go and the response was tremendous!

A little while later we were informed by our managers and booking agents and such that it would be to our advantage if we just went back to the 'subdudes' name, which we did. And we parted ways with our drummer, Sammy, going back to the signature subdude sound of Steve Amedee's 'drumborine' for our main percussion.

Do you all write music for the band? Do you often collaborate?

Yep, we all write, but it's mainly Tommy & John. Writing is a pretty mystical process, it can happen any which way. Mostly Tommy or John will come in with a fairly completed idea and we all assist in fleshing it out. Sometimes, however, we all get together and sit in a room on some comfy chairs and make something up out of thin air!

Who are some of your personal influences ?

I really really love '50s and '60s music, such as The Beatles, The Stones, Motown, true Blues music, old New Orleans music, that kind of thing. My favorite bass players? Paul McCartney, James Jamerson (the guy on all the Motown hits), Pete Cetera (from the band Chicago), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), etc. Guitar players? So many! George Harrison, Keith Richard, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, way too many to mention.

You all have beards, goatees or soul patches in the promo photo, is that by design or by personal preference?

The thing is, we're all just too lazy to shave!

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