Rhythm and blues band
The Subdudes’s signature sound was always rooted in a gospel-inspired, relaxed R&B rhythm that was ignited by the music of New Orleans. In the decade they were together, their music stretched from simple harmonies to hard-hitting tunes, running the instrumental gamut from tambourine to accordian to mandolin. The band initally developed a cult following in New Orleans and throughout Colorado, then garnered a larger audience through their eclectic albums.
Three of the members grew up in the small sugarcane town of Edgard, Louisiana, while John Magnie hailed from Denver, Colorado. All four migrated to the musical mecca of New Orleans. Malone, Allen, and Amedee began working with bands like Lil’ Queenie & The Percolators. Their original band, the Continental Drifters, was formed in 1981 and performed mostly covers in New Orleans bars. The Subdudes emerged there in 1987, taking their name for a gig at Tipitina’s. At Mag-nie’s prompting, the group headed to Denver in late 1987, where they played ski resorts and area clubs. They were discovered when they placed second in
Original members include Johnny Ray Allen (born in Edgard, Louisiana), bass; Steve Amedee (born in Edgard, Louisiana), tambourine and other percussions and vocals; John Magnie (born in Denver, Colorado), vocals, accordion, and keyboard; and Tommy Malone (born in Edgard, Louisiana), vocals and acoustic/electric/slide guitars.
Group formed in 1987 in New Orleans; signed with Atlantic Records, released first album, Subdudes, 1989; signed with High Street Records, 1994; disbanded, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —High Street Records, 1540 Broadway, 33rd Floor-Times Square, Dept. 290, New York, NY 10036-4021. Internet site—www.the-subdudes.com. Fan club —305 W. Magnolia, #217, Ft. Collins, CO 80521.
Musician magazine’s “Best Unsigned Band” contest, after which Atlantic Records signed them. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1989.
This first recording effort revealed the band’s distinctive mix of blues, country, and New Orleans soul. In an age of music reflecting upon issues of the time, the Subdudes instead focused on simple, passionate love songs. Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote in New york magazine, “…a New Orleans band that creates joyous, sexy, full-bodied songs that are so good, they sound like classics even though they’re brand-new.” The music indeed stood the test of time, as the album was re-released by High Street Records in 1996.
By the time they released their second album, Lucky, the Subdudes had developed a cult following. This 1991 release coincided with their proven success in Colorado. The “Dude-heads” were likened to Deadheads-ardent followers of the band The Grateful Dead—dancing wildly in the front rows at their concerts. The band’s sound took a new direction, as drummer Amedee fervently played tambourine. Their move toward a more acoustic performance on Lucky was a definite deviation from their earlier electric bar sound. The New Orleans blues was still very much evident, but a stronger country twang and Southern soul rang in their songs as they broke into a genre all their own. Gil Asakawa stated in Rolling Stone, “Lucky was recorded in New Orleans and is imbued with the city’s rhythmic pulse, but it defies typecasting. Malone’s, Allen’s and Magnie’s original tunes mix R&B and country, and the best of their efforts sound familiar in the best sense of the word.”
Unfortunately, the Subdudes were dropped by Atlantic Records in 1992. However, they remained busy in 1993, touring in Europe with Bonnie Raitt and performing with Steve Winwood on the Traffic tour. That same year, they also recorded with Shawn Colvin.
High Street Records, a subsidiary of Windham Hill Records, picked up the Subdudes and released their third album, Annunciation, in 1994. The album was named for the street on which it was recorded, specifically at Chez Flames Recordings in New Orleans. In religious terms, the Annunciation refers to the angel Gabriel’s proclamation that the Virgin Mary would give birth to the Christ child. In regards to this biblical reference, Adele Sulcas stated in Rolling Stone, “The four Subdudes have more modest ambitions, but the album does delve into spiritual territory and does so without, mercifully, a hint of preachiness and with an abundance of high spirits.”
This album marked the resurrection of their recording career and took the Subdudes beyond their previous cult status in New Orleans and Colorado. Annunciation has also been credited with generating a new celebrity following, including Huey Lewis & The News, Joni Mitchell, Rosanne Cash, and Shawn Colvin.
Guest musicians on Annunciation added new depth to the Subdudes’ R&B sound. The band was joined by guests Howard Levy on harmonica, harp, and mandolin, Willie “Bootsy” Williams on electric guitar, and David Torkanowsky on crank organ. Alanna Nash wrote in Stereo Review that “the playing here is uniformly fine, with affecting slide-guitar work, memorable harmonica solos from guest Howard Levy, and the astonishing tambourine work of Steve Amedee.”
Their next effort, a musically ambitious album titled Primitive Streak, was released in 1996. The album’s eclecticism reached from the Subdudes’ earliest simple sound to a dark and moody beat. Several songs, such as “Sarita” and “Love Somebody,” sounded more mainstream, which led to more play on the radio and further popularity outside of their cult following. Lead singer Tommy Malone said in High Street Records’ promotional material, “We cover a wide range on this record…. So I really feel that this album represents some kind of expansion away from that original feel that we had on the first couple of albums. I personally like this more eclectic approach.”
Once again, the addition of guest musicians enhances the Subdudes’ sound. Bonnie Raitt lent her voice on “Too Soon To Tell,” while “fifth Subdude” Willie Williams joined in the music on his Zion Harmonizers. Reminders of New Orleans legend Professor Longhair are evident in the rumba-intoned song “Why Do You Hurt Me So.”
The recording session for Primitive Streak at the Egyptian Room in New Orleans was preceded by a period of isolation. The band spent a week in a cabin in the picturesque town of Red Feather Lakes in Colorado putting the finishing touches on the album’s 13 songs.
Although members of the Subdudes live in different cities, they claimed the magic of their music bridged the geographic gap. Amedee said in a 1996 High Street promotional piece, “We find it a little harder to collaborate now because of where we all live, but whenever we do get together to work on new material, whether it’s in New Orleans or Colorado, it just instantly clicks. It’s all very intuitive and natural.” The distance may have inevitably proven to be too much for the band to endure, however, as the Subdudes disbanded in September of 1996. Things had changed since the times when they lived in two houses on the same block in New Orleans.
Subdudes, Atlantic Records, 1989, reissued, High Street Records, 1996.
Lucky, Atlantic Records, 1991.
Annunciation, High Street Records, 1994.
Primitve Streak, High Street Records, 1996.
New York, January 8, 1990.
Rolling Stone, June 13, 1991; June 30, 1994.
Stereo Review, October 1994.
Subdudes’Official Internet Site, www.the-subdudes.com, 1997.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from promotional material for the Subdudes’ album Primitive Streak, released by High Street Records.