The fans known as Fish-heads were out in force on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise because the Radiators were one of the featured acts on the "Bluesin' On the High Seas" program.
Also along last week were Chubby Carrier, John Mooney, Pinetop Perkins, Terrence Simien, Taj Mahal, Koko Taylor, Bernard Allison, Kim Wilson, Bob Margolin, Kim Wilson, Curtis Salgado, Lonnie Brooks and Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials.
Things got off to a wild start in the Blue Riband Lounge when promoter Roger Naber gathered the bands together for a meeting to decide who was going to host and perform at the first few nights' jam sessions.
Rads' keyboardist Ed Volker immediately sat down at the grand piano and began playing. Volker finished, got up and Kelley Hunt sat down for a tune. Then Taj Mahal played a blues, got up from the piano and asked "Next professor?"
Mitch Woods stepped in and played "Mess Around." The ref to the New Orleans canon was enough to convince Volker to ask Woods to jam with the Radiators that night. During their set Woods sat in on several songs, highlighted by a burning "Carnival Time."
The late Luther Allison's son Bernard Allison was one of the bigger hits on the blues cruise with his high-intensity guitar work and his trademark double rattler hat.
"I was here a couple of years ago replacing my daddy," he told the crowd. "I used to wear a hat with one rattlesnake in it but I buried that hat with my daddy. Now I've got this one. I'm gonna send this out to Stevie Ray Vaughan but I'm also gonna respect the late great Albert King as well."
Allison followed with a fierce slide guitar boogie highlighted by a duet with the drummer as he stood at the lip of the stage and the crowd gathered around him. He then jumped off the stage and walked through the audience, playing slide unaccompanied.
He encored with "Voodoo Child," playing the familiar "wah wah" intro, then threw in some James Brown guitar funk and chicken scratching, then a call and response series of phrases with himself, Led Zeppelin riffs, "Smoke On the Water" and finally "The Star Spangled Banner."
Rod Piazza and His Mighty Flyers, multiple Handy awards winners as "Best Live Band," played a tight, efficient set on the pool deck, with Piazza's harp and his wife's keyboards closely matched throughout. Radiators guitarist Camile Baudoin stood in front of the stage, soaking it all in, having a great time watching the show.
Just before the Rads played their set on the pool deck, rough waters made the boat pitch and roll in a lurching moment. Bassist Reggie Scanlan surveyed the scene with a grin. I asked Scanlan if the pitching of the ship will interfere with the groove.
"Man, that IS the groove," said an enthusiastic Scanlan, who got up and played a duet with Volker of Joseph Spence's "Out On the Rolling Sea" as the band set up.
Sure enough, two songs into the set Scanlan and drummer Frank Bua locked into the rotating pulse of the ship's motion and the band soared into "Everybody Ought to Treat A Stranger Right," "Sea Cruise" and "Keep a Knockin'." The band was smoking as it headed into "Sparkplug," "Jump Back Baby" and a killer "Murder In My Heart for the Judge," which featured an amazing guitar interchange between Malone and Baudoin.
After a beautiful "Wild and Free," a new song, "Lost Radio" and an old favorite, "Papaya," Bob Margolin joined in on guitar and Chubby Carrier on accordion. "Further On Up the Road" featured both Margolin and Carrier soloing. On "Crawling Kingsnake" Malone and Margolin traded fierce fours while Baudoin played Meters-like rhythm fills.
Woods joined in, freeing Volker to sing, and the band climaxed with a stirring version of "Got My Mojo Working."
Later, when Woods took over the piano jam in the lounge, Malone stopped in to sing "Sea Cruise." Woods had copies of a terrific New Orleans session he's shopping as his next album, "Big Easy Boogie," produced by Dave Bartholomew and backed with Fats Dominos's band and featuring special appearances by Jon Mooney, Maria Muldaur and Charmaine Neville. Malone went on to sit in with Carrier's group for a long chunk of that set.
Pinetop Perkins, the 89-year-old king of boogie woogie piano and longtime member of Muddy Waters band, sat in for a special set at the piano lounge and participated in a Muddy Waters tribute with Margolin, another former Waters bandmember, and Curtis Salgado on harmonica.
One of the staff members of the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, Peter Horak, summed up the event with his comment to the crowd: "This is the Dodge City of blues festivals."