Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Retro swing, an upbeat celebration of jump blues, big-band dance, and lounge music, emerged as perhaps the most unexpected fad of the 1990s. Along with the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and Brian Setzer, who pioneered the movement with his big band, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, or BBVD, are veterans of the scene. This non-elitist pack designed good-time party music for their twenty-something followers, who preferred dressing in zoot suits, dancing the jitterbug, and sipping martinis to listening to grunge-rock, wearing flannel shirts, and thrashing about in mosh pits.
However, acts like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy don’t consider themselves as simply a Glenn Miller or Cab Calloway revival band. In fact, they owe as much to punk, ska, and other styles as to the traditional big-band sound. “We play swing from the standpoint of how a band like X might play it, because more than half of us don’t have classical training,” said BBVD drummer Kurt Sodergren to Mark Binelli of Rolling Stone. “I’m not a jazz drummer, but I know how to swing.”
Members include Jeff Harris, trombone; Karl Hunter, saxophone, clarinet; Joshua Levy , piano; Glenn Marhevka, trumpet; Scotty Morris, lead vocals, guitar; Andy Rowley, saxophone; Dirk Schumaker, upright bass; Kurt Sodergren, drums.
Group formed in Ventura, CA, 1989; landed Wednesday night gig at the Derby in Los Angeles, 1995; appeared in film Swingers, 1996; released major-label, self-titled debut, 1998; released This Beautiful Life, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Interscope Records, 10900 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1230, Los Angeles, CA 90024, phone: (310) 208-6547, fax: (310) 208-7343, website: http://www.interscoperecords.com. Website —Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Official Website: http://www.bbvd.com.
indie film Swingers, starring Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau and featuring a performance by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the movement swiftly spread throughout the United States and, to some extent, Canada and Great Britain. Subsequently, a swarm of next-generation swing bands were signed to both independent and major labels, though none, say longtime fans, play with the same finesse and musicianship as the originals.
The members of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are vocalist and guitarist Scotty Morris, pianist Joshua Levy, saxophonist Andy Rowley, saxophonist Karl Hunter, trumpeter Glenn Marhevka, trombonist Jeff Harris, upright bassist Dirk Schumaker, and drummer Kurt Sodergren. Although they point to 1970s and 1980s punk groups like Black Flag as significant influences, the band members nevertheless share a passion for big-band music, such as that of Count Basie, dating from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Sodergren, for one, grew up listening to the style, as his grandfather had played saxophone in a swing band. Morris, a former studio musician, also discovered swing early in life. “When I was about 8 or 9, I heard ‘Minnie the Moocher’ on a Betty Boop cartoon,” he said to Billboard magazine’s Chris Morris. “I couldn’t believe how cool that stuff was—incorporating all the stuff that Louis Armstrong did, but it was a big band and it was wild, and it just seemed really out of control. That music had always stuck with me, and finally when I was disillusioned with music, I decided to play it from the heart and play it with friends.”
Forming the group in 1989 in Ventura, California, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy spent a few years playing local clubs in and around Los Angeles. In 1993 they released an independently produced, self-titled album on the Hep Cat label. “When I left our first rehearsal, I felt so alive,” Morris later told Carrie Bell of Billboard. “I was finally playing music I loved. But we aren’t a purist band by any stretch of the imagination. We want to push swing into the next millennium. It’s more than music. It’s a life of dressing up, going out, romance. For the first time in years, men and women are dancing together.”
The band’s first big break arrived in 1995 when they inherited a regular Wednesday-night gig at the Derby, the club at the center of the burgeoning Los Angeles swing scene, from the jump-style combo Royal Crown Revue. Also that year, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy released a second indie album entitled Whatchu’ Want for Christmas? Meanwhile, through their performances at the Derby, the band members met and became friends with actor/screenwriter and club regular Jon Favreau. Unknown to the band at the time, he had written a screenplay about a comedian bachelor struggling to find work, and love, in Los Angeles.
The film adapted from Favreau’s script, entitled Swingers, was directed by Doug Liman and included a live performance by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Three of the band’s songs—the original “Go Daddy-O,” a cover of the 1966 Disney samba classic “I Wan’na Be Like You” (from Jungle Book), and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s signature song, “You & Me & the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight (Baby)”—were included on the movie soundtrack, which was issued on Hollywood Records in 1996 and sold in moderate numbers.
Brad Benedict, co-owner with Gary Stamler of the imprint label Coolsville, took notice of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, offering the group free studio time at Capitol Records’ famous Studio B. Eventually, the group signed with Coolsville, and Stamler became BBVD’s Manáger. In February of 1998, BBVD made their major-label debut with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The album, all original compositions except for Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher,” included the band’s signature song from Swingers, reached certified gold status, and received a Grammy Award nomination the following year.
As evidence of the group’s mainstream success, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy joined superstars Stevie Wonder and Gloria Estefan as part of the National Football League’s (NFL) Super Bowl halftime show in January of 1999 in Miami, Florida. Other major entertainment events, post-Swingers, for BBVD included a New Year’s Eve party hosted by Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, the Billboard Music Awards, the Cable Ace Awards, and the opening of the Getty Center art museum in Los Angeles. In addition to videos on cable television networks MTV and VH-1, the group performed on such television shows as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.
In October of 1999, the band released their follow-up to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The album, entitled This Beautiful Life and also issued via Interscope Records, features a version of “I Wan’na Be Like You,” as well as a bluesy rendition of “O1 MacDonald.” By now, however, the swing scene was less popular with the mainstream. “We knew the backlash was coming,” Morris told music writer Fred Shuster of the Daily News, Los Angeles. “Swing as a genre was getting bashed badly. We knew no matter what we did—whether our new album was going to be great or just typical—it would get pulverized. Only our true fans would stick with us.”
Although Big Bad Voodoo Daddy had yet to release a new studio album as of summer 2002, they continue to concentrate on their live act. The group was also inspired to encourage younger musicians. Teaming with the Selmer Company, a subsidiary of Steinway Musical Instruments, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy participated in a contest in which high school bands were invited to submit a version of “I Wan’na Be Like You” and a song of their choice on cassette tape to win an appearance by and music clinic with the BBVD horn section. In June of 2001, the Kentlake High School Jazz Band, located about 20 miles south of Seattle, Washington, won the prize. “We’re endorsed by Selmer,” explained Marhevka, who came up with the idea for the contest and clinic, to Down Beat contributor Paul de Barrow, “so we approached them about doing something creative with kids. If you spark one kid’s interest, even if they’re not going to be a pro, that totally makes it worth it.”
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Hep Cat, 1993.
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Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Coolsville/lnterscope, 1998.
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Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), January 26, 2001, p. G12.
Guitar Player, November 1998, p. 64.
Los Angeles Times, August 2, 1998, p. 85; March 23, 2001, p. B8.
Rolling Stone, December 24, 1998-January 7, 1999, p. 139.
Washington Post, March 20, 1998, p. N14; August 5, 1998, p. C8; June 23, 2000, p. WW12; August 21, 2001, p. C2.
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“Selmer and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Announce Contest,” Selmer, http://www.selmer.com/press/voodoo.html (May 17, 2002).
"Big Bad Voodoo Daddy." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/big-bad-voodoo-daddy
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