“I knew what I was going to do three days after the Radiators decided to call it quits,” says tactile master Reggie Scanlan. In the summer of 2011, he and Neville Brothers drummer “Mean” Willie Green cemented the rhythm section of the New Orleans Suspects, a sort of Big Easy super band. The Radiators still get together for an annual reunion jam each January and continue to release archival material, but Scanlan’s focus is on the Suspects. He and Green deliver a hot-rodded version of the classic New Orleans groove that reflects Scanlan’s impeccable touch and Green’s Neil Peart-like precision.
Can you compare your bass texture in the Radiators to the Suspects?
The Radiators had a rounder touch, like the Grateful Dead. The Suspects has more of an edge. I switched from using a Fender Precision Bass with D’Addario medium-gauge Chrome flatwounds in the Radiators, for that big sound, to a Jazz Bass with D’Addario EXL160 nickelwounds with the Suspects because I needed more bite—especially playing with Willie, because his drumming is so tight. I like to change basses every so often just to shake things up. I am currently using a custom A Bass made by Albey Balgochian. It’s similar to a Jazz Bass, but with a bigger, more spacious sound.
Your sense of touch is always very palpable.
Since I don’t use effects, I have to get everything from my right hand. How and where my finger contacts the string is important. I use the side of my fingers for a bigger, rounder sound and the fingertips for a more clipped sound. This seems ridiculously simple, but it takes time practicing with a metronome to develop consistency. Release is important, too; depending on when and with which finger part you use for release, you can get any number of dynamic effects, from very percussive to soft and fat.
“Pocketful of Grits,” “Cigarette Smile, “and “Yo Flambeaux!” are good examples of a sharp, clipped attack. “Walk of Shame” is a good example of a fatter sound. Those are all on the latest Suspects CD, Ouroboros.
Whose touch and feel influenced yours?
Jerry Jemmott and Chuck Rainey both had me totally mesmerized for the first several years I played. Jemmott was awesome on Freddie King’s My Feeling for the Blues—especially “Woke Up This Morning.” B.B. King’s Completely Well album was another treasure chest of classic Jemmott lines. Chuck Rainey’s Coalition album, and his work with Margie Joseph, Percy Mayfield, and Lowell George, were also huge influences.
How did you develop your own thing?
Necessity. When I started out, I had no library of chops; I played pretty much what I heard on records. That changed when I started working with Radiators keyboardist Ed Volker. He’d bring in rough version of his songs, and I had to come up with my own bass parts. At first, I refitted bass lines I had learned. Over the years I figured out parts that were more my own.
New Orleans Suspects, Ouroboros [2014, Louisiana Red Hot], Caught Live at the Maple Leaf [2012, NOS]; The Radiators, Wild & Free, Pt. 2 [2015, Radz], The Last Watusi [2012, Radz]
Live rig Ampeg SVT- 4PRO through Hartke 410XL 4x10 cabinet
Studio rig Ampeg B-15 Heritage