A year and a half ago, we had a chance to chat with John Magnie and Steve Amedee to get a little background on their work with singer/songwriter Rebecca Folsom, who was just getting ready to release her new album Reunion. During the course of that conversation, we asked Amedee what was happening with the subdudes, the swamp-roots-folk outfit that he and Magnie led for several heady years from the late ’80s to the late ’90s, and again in a slightly modified lineup from about 2002 to 2011.
We kind of knew what the answer would be.
“Aw, man,” Amedee lamented, “the ’dudes are in a deep freeze, about as close to absolute zero as you can get. That’s as close to an observation as I can give you on it.”
Amedee sounded pretty glum about it, too, as if he missed that band as much as their fans did.
But sometimes the good stuff thaws out, and the announcement this past January that the original four-piece lineup — Magnie, Amedee, Tommy Malone and Johnny Ray Allen — were going to put the thing back together for a series of live gigs glowed across the wires like a minor stroke of divine redemption.
Now, band reunions are tricky propositions — fans may clamor for them, agents and PR-types start counting the nickels, but they’re almost never as easy as that. Bands break up for a reason, members go off and establish new musical identities, and interpersonal chafe marks from years of ceaseless road and studio work can take a long time to heal. Sometimes they don’t. And truth be told, most bands that do it just for the money really aren’t having much fun.
Players move, they have ongoing commitments with new bands, some start or grow families, some just retire from music altogether. Some lose interest. Life happens.
In the case of the subdudes, according to Magnie, it took one of those circle-closing life events to get the band back together.
“Well, you know, it usually is like what you said,” Magnie explained. “But actually, this one was really easy. It was just one of those things; the time seemed right.
“We’d been off for a while, and we got together for a party — sort of a party — a friend of ours in New Orleans was dying, he had a brain cancer operation the next day, so we had a party for him. He was a big subdudes fan, so we played some songs right there in his living room, with our original bass player Johnnie Allen. And it just felt really good, so we said, ‘Let’s do some gigs.’ It was actually pretty easy.”
Bassist Jimmy Messa, who took over for Allen when the band split for the first time in 1996, is sitting this reunion out (“…for right now, ” says Magnie), while Tim Cook, who also stood in on bass for spell, is reprising his original role as band manager and business guy.
Malone and Allen both live in New Orleans, while Magnie and Amedee collect their mail in Fort Collins. Geographic challenges are a minor deal, though, as the band plans to hole up for a couple days of rehearsal time before the Boulder Theater show.
The mention of actually rehearsing, though, gave Magnie a bit of a laugh. The stuff ’s in the DNA at this point, right?
“Yeah, I got a little studio in my house, and we’ll get together.
I think we’ll be able to pull ’em off…Between us, some people like Steve have this photographic memory and they just remember everything. And others, like me, have a mind like a sieve. But yeah, I’ll learn ’em enough to get over. As usual.”
One defining virtue of the subdudes’ music was a kind of limber immediacy, a relaxed band tightness that gave the material a unique and unforced loft. But all songs travel through time differently, especially if you played them a million times, years ago. We asked Magnie how the subdudes’ material has aged for him. Do they sound fresh, or aged, or merely voices from the past?
“What’s great is when you can get away from it a little bit and see the thing. I really like the whole subdudes repertoire over the years. And that’s kind of what this is about, is just us enjoying playing all those tunes. There’s no plan for doing more tunes or making records — we have other projects going.”
“When you put it all together, we just have a nice collection to draw from. And we want to get out to play some of it.”