Looking back, the ’90s was a bit of a strange decade for music. Various styles had their moment in the sun, from grunge and alternative rock to gangsta rap and nu metal.
What often goes overlooked from the decade is the swing revival. Acts like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Squirrel Nut Zippers were the forerunners of the unlikely musical movement.
Another band that had its part in that swing revival was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and it will be performing at the Park Theatre in Cranston on Sept. 26.
Ahead of the show, I had a talk with frontman and guitarist Scotty Morris about the band’s beginnings, how its name came to be and the new album in the works.
ROB DUGUAY: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy started during an interesting time in popular music, in 1989. Hair metal was on its last legs, alternative rock was burgeoning, while hip-hop was in its golden age. With all of this going on, what made you want to start a swing band?
SCOTTY MORRIS: I just followed my gut, really. I was always looking for something interesting and I’ve always been a music guy. Since I was a kid, I would play anything that was laying around and then I would buy what I could get with the money from my paper route. I just did it, and I was in the punk rock scene early on. I played jazz in elementary school, junior high and high school.
I played trumpet and I learned how to write during that time. When punk rock was starting to fade out, I started to adapt. I was going around and I knew that I wanted to play music. Swing was always in my head, so to get it out of me, I followed my gut and I graduated from music school. Like you said, hair metal was kind of a thing where if you didn’t sound like certain guys, you weren’t going to get any gigs.
I did the country route for a while, toured with national country bands for a bit until I realized that I wanted to do my own thing because this is what music is about. I wanted to make cartoon music come to life, like the soundtrack to “Tom and Jerry.” I thought that it was an original idea.
RD: That’s really cool and interesting. You actually got the band’s name after meeting blues guitarist Albert Collins after a show of his. How did this all come about?
SM: The show was in Santa Monica, California, at this place called the Music Machine that used to be around. I was underage, to be honest with you. My brother was three years older than me, so I took his ID because I was pretty obsessed with his guitar playing. I found a song of Albert’s on a Rounder Records compilation with Robert Cray and all of these other great guitar players. He just blows me away, and I was focusing my attention on the guitar at that point, so I went to go see him play.
I still have never seen anything like it. He went out to the stage moving around everywhere with a 60-foot cord attached to his guitar. He was standing on tables, it was incredible. After the show, I wanted to say hi, and before he went back to his tour bus I asked him for an autograph on the poster I got from the wall. And he signed it saying, “To Scotty, the big bad voodoo daddy. Love, Albert Collins.” That was awesome, and I didn’t really think about it for years. When I was putting the band together and we were trying to figure out a name, I approached our drummer Kurt Sodergren about it.
Kurt comes from an alternative rock background, and to get these guys on board, I had to come up with an interesting name, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy popped in my head. I almost said it with my tongue in my cheek. I didn’t even really think about it. He had a big smile on his face and he said, “That’s a great name dude, I’m in.”
RD: When Big Bad Voodoo Daddy hits the road, there are as many as nine members, including you, that join in on the expedition. How difficult can it get to manage so many people in one band?
SM: There are nine of us on stage, and we also have a couple crew guys. With the way we set things up, we use a tour bus and we also fly on planes. The first five guys I asked to be in the band are still in the band now, and nobody was really playing jazz before or anything like that. I started this band because no one was playing the kind of music we play back in the early ’90s. I just wanted to get guys involved who were cool and fun.
I didn’t take it seriously at first, I just wanted to have fun with an idea I had. After the first core five, the rest of the members got involved because they were someone one of us knew and we liked them. That’s really how it happened – everyone is a friend of a friend, and we all have that same kind of mentality, which really helps because we’ve become such good friends. So it doesn’t get difficult to manage the band at all.
RD: You mentioned earlier how before you started Big Bad Voodoo Daddy you were involved in punk rock. When it comes from the energy and rhythms that resonate from swing music, do you find a relationship between the two styles?
SM: Yeah. I go to thrift stores sometimes to buy old music and stuff from back in the day … Especially in the early ’80s, you could buy traditional jazz, Dixieland and so much of that kind of music for 45 cents. I would go through and peruse those places and I came across Jelly Roll Morton and some of his crazy recordings that have never been heard other than through these old records. The energy on these records is scintillating, so when I first heard punk rock, it was the first thing that I heard that reminded me of this energy. I really identify with old New Orleans jazz, the really wild stuff.
When I first started getting into punk rock, I felt a connection between that and this old jazz music. Then when I wanted to do Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, I knew that I wanted to have that kind of energy. Swing music is really good for dancing, but our early material was not good for dancing (laughs). We were really fast and when dancers discovered us, they asked us to slow it down.
RD: After the show at the Park Theatre, what do you have planned next?
SM: We’ve had two weeks off and I needed the time to write the next record. Our pianist, Josh Levy, is arranging all the ideas. We’re working on the tunes until December, and in January we’ll go into the studio and make a new record of all originals. We’ll also be on the road all the way until we start recording as well.
To learn more about Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, visit bbvd.com. For more on the Park Theatre and the upcoming show, visit parktheatreri.com.