If it were a movie, you might call this story “Hey Dude, Where’s My Band?”

It centers on a pack of New Orleans groove merchants called the subdudes. That’s right, the music was so cool the band had to lowercase its name. While commercial success didn’t exactly erupt, the subdudes mixed percussive grooves, melodies set to tasty guitar-keyboard leads and singing that referenced R&B, gospel and Cajun music.

The original intention for mainstay members John Magnie (piano), Steve Amedee (percussion) and Tommy Malone (guitar) was to play a show together at Crescent City’s famed Tipitina’s. What emerged was a decade-long tenure that yielded four studio albums, a devout but cultish following among fans of roots-based music and enough touring to drive most bands into madness.

The latter largely explained why the subdudes dissolved in 1996.

“We were fed up with each other,” Amedee said in a phone interview last week. “After being cooped up together, going up and down the highway for 10 years, it just wasn’t fun anymore. Everyone wanted to go and do their own thing. So they did.”

After the release of a post-breakup concert recording called “Live at Last,” Malone returned to New Orleans to form a band called Tiny Town. Magnie headed to his Colorado home base with Amedee and eventually enlisted subdude road manager Tim Cook for a Fort Collins ensemble called 3 Twins. When Malone brought a new band that included bassist Jimmy Messa to the Denver area, a revival was triggered.

But the five players chose to dub their ensemble the dudes. As far as Amedee was concerned, life as a dude was just fine.

“We would have been quite happy to go on as the dudes,” he said. “Everyone that came to see us in the old days called us the dudes anyway. So we couldn’t understand why booking agencies were making such a big deal about us calling ourselves the dudes. But going back to subdudes was the right move. It was a name people loved and remembered.”

If the original band name has a familiar ring, the music on a new studio recording called “Miracle Mule” makes it seem as if the subdudes never went away.

The opening “Morning Glory” rings in with a ripe pop-soul strut. “The Rain” sets up shop in a slight but affirming acoustic melody. And on its finest tune, “Known to Touch Me,” the band serves up R&B harmonies peppered with accordion and tambourine that boast an almost spiritual zeal.

“That one was recorded around one microphone in one take,” Amedee said proudly. “We wanted to get that live feel.

“You see, there’s just no denying that New Orleans influence. It’s something that’s born into people down there. It’s in the air. If you’ve been around the streets during Mardi Gras, there is this rhythm that permeates the whole region. Everybody is kind of osmosed by it. That rhythm supercharges every sound that comes into our music.

“That little jump is what put the rock “n’ roll into rock “n’ roll. Listen to the early records of Little Richard and Fats Domino. It’s undeniable. Before you know it, your toes just start tapping.”

(c) 2004, Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.).

Visit the World Wide Web site of the Herald-Leader at http://www.kentucky.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-05-20-04 1146EDT

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