As has been the case for a hundred years in New Orleans, musicians of various backgrounds are always coming together for one-off gigs, creating pairings that might or might not ever be repeated.
In the early 80s after the Percolators broke up, John Magnie and Tommy Malone continued to play together. Sometimes they would be joined by former band mates, sometimes by friends from other bands. If something worked, another gig might be arranged. If not, it was simply an experiment that hopefully garnered the musicians a few extra dollars.
You know, we were all kind of a musical family that moved around between a few different formations, Magnie says. But the first time we actually got together (after the Percolators) and took a picture and took a name was the Continental Drifters.
The core of the Drifters initially was three former Percolators, Malone recalls.
Me, Kenny (Blevins) and John became the Continental Drifters, he says. Then Johnny Allen got involved, and we had rotating drummers and bass players.
Magnie adds, So that band also included Johnny Ray Allen as a songwriter and, believe it or not, as a lead singer. He was more of a lead shouter he would kinda rap.
We would have some choruses and a lot of real loud playing, Magnie says.
In addition to Blevins, the drum seat was also occupied at various times by Damon Shea, Barry Flippen and Carlo Nuccio. Gary Hirstius sang with the band for a time. And bass players included Vernon Rome, Marc Hoffman and finally Jimmy Messa.
Carlo Nuccio was the last drummer so hes the one that kept the name with him when he moved to L.A, Magnie says. He called up one day and asked if he could use the name and continue on with it. (After the Drifters had fallen apart, Nuccio had moved to Los Angeles, where he and another New Orleanian, Ray Ganucheau, organized a loose aggregation of musician friends who took to calling themselves the Continental Drifters. That band, now again based in New Orleans, still occasionally performs.)
In the mid-80s, the Magnie-Malone incarnation of the Continental Drifters played raucous rock n roll at clubs across New Orleans.
I think we were trying to be edgy, and we just ended up being loud, Magnie says
Messa agrees with the volume assessment.
It was kind of the same (as the subdudes now), but turbo, Messa says. Great singing, great writing but more typical instrumentation: a drummer, bass, plus two guitars. Very little accordion, if any. More keyboards.
We were one of the loudest bands you ever heard, Messa says with a laugh. We were LOUD, and I like it loud! We had big old amps, and we would play extremely loud. But at the core, not that much different. Same harmony of course, you couldnt hear it.
The guys wrote their own material including many of the songs that would become the subdudes early repertoire and attracted a core group of fans. But success was proving elusive.
We had a cult thing, Malone says with a laugh. It was just very scattered it wasnt that organized.
Particularly toward the end, gigs were becoming rare, Messa recalls.
It was really hard to work nobody wanted us. As now, its so hard for original bands to find work in New Orleans. Nobody is really open to it they are more now, but back then it was really tough. There werent many places to play youd play the same three or four clubs, again and again. We had our little following, but it wasnt enough, Messa says.
They didnt know it at the time, but the dissatisfaction and frustration they were feeling was setting the scene for the subdudes.
After one particularly disappointing performance several people complained about the volume Magnie and Malone decided, what the hell, theyd give folks what they apparently wanted: soft, acoustic music! Then the Drifters would go back to playing rock n roll. But it didnt work out quite like that.
When they finally tried the night of subdued, acoustic music, the subdudes were born.
The Drifters didnt last long after that. We dropped it, pretty much, right away and then went into the subdudes, Magnie says.
(Click here to read more about the birth of the subdudes.)
Article by Richard Russell; © 2004 Richard E. Russell.
Top photo source is not known. Second Continental Drifters photo is courtesy of Tommy Malone.
Archival recordings are courtesy of Jimmy Messa.