Velvet Revolver. The Traveling Wilburys. The Highwaymen. The Justice League.
Every once in a while, the stars align to bind together some of a genre’s biggest names in a supergroup ensemble. About 4 ½ years ago at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans, a group of artists assembled for an informal jam session with a collective resume that gives them a strong claim to being about as supergroup as it gets in the bustling Big Easy music scene.
The New Orleans Suspects, as they came to be known, consist of expats of huge names in the funk/jazz/R&B world, including The Neville Brothers (drummer Willie Green), The Radiators (bassist Reggie Scanlan), Dirty Dozen Brass Band (guitarist Jake Eckert), Outformation (pianist CR Gruver) and James Brown (Jeff Watkins).
“We did have an advantage in that everybody came with a resume that was pretty good,” Scanlan says, adding that the group was able to ease into playing higher-caliber shows much earlier, as a result of name recognition. “It did pique people’s curiosity early on to come see what we were up to.”
Not that there haven’t been some growing pains for the artists, some of whom, like Scanlan, had 30 years or more experience playing with other groups.
“Everyone is having to adjust a little bit to how everyone else plays,” he says. “[It’s] like going out with a new girlfriend or something, except you have to do it with a bunch of people.”
Saturday, Aug. 10, the Suspects will take the stage as this week’s Riverfront Nights headliner.
Despite the power of their experience and reputations, the Suspects still had to pay at least some of the dues every band is burdened with starting out.
For years, Scanlan says, they weren’t able to land a slot performing in the prestigious New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival because organizer Quint Davis wasn’t convinced they were more than just a side project. Last year, the band set out to disabuse him of the notion by recording a pair of albums, a self-titled studio piece and a live recording from the Maple Leaf.
Both releases showcased the band’s groovy, high-energy brand of signature New Orleans funk and, Scanlan says, convinced Davis that they were a worthy addition to the festival lineup in 2012.
“We had to make a statement to show him that, ‘This might be people from other bands, but those other bands are gone, so this is the real band,’ ” Scanlan recalls.
Although they are comfortable in the studio and soon will be returning there to work on a second project, Scanlan says the musicians are most in their element onstage, where their exuberance can work its magic on an audience.
“We don’t do a lot of slow songs,” he says. “[The Suspects are] the kind of band that people usually don’t like sitting down for. It’s basically music that’s designed to hit you below the belt.
“You have to be doing something that nails them to the back wall.”
<em>Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @Phillips CTFP.</em><em></em>