I haven’t seen Titanic. Sheer perversity and not wanting to be part of a fad stops me. That same feeling kept me from purchasing Zoot Suit Riot. Then the need to know if the rest of the CD was as good as the title track came over me. I bought it. I don’t know what is up with the Swing Thing? The movie Swing Kids was released quite a few years back without starting any discernible fad, but maybe there was an underground movement of dirty boys playing swing so that other dirty boys and dirty girls could dance. This of course is just a theory, but suddenly Swing is every where.
Despite this, the Daddies do not seem to be on a nostalgia trip. Instead they have taken the best of the Big Band sound, hot horns that punch, and melded it with the energy of punk, and the lyricism of the 60’s. Lyrics in early Swing were secondary and often as goofy as a toad on Mary Jane. Check out the poetry in the song “You’re a Heavenly Thing” recorded by Benny Goodman, written my Young & Little:
The took the moonlight out of the sky
And put the moonlight right into your eyes
Like a June night you’re a heavenly thing.
â€“ Benny Goodman The Birth of Swing 1935-1936
The Daddies don’t go to that silly place. The Daddies are careful with the lyrics and the words aren’t there to make you feel good. They are there to make you think, such as the song “Master and Slave” about a troubled father and son:
If the boss asked you to jump you know
You’d find the nearest cliff
That man talks down to you
And you talk down to me too now.
The band has three other CD’s, Ferociously Stoned, Rapid City Muscle Car, and Kids on the Street, none of which originally had national distribution. Incessant touring pushed them to the forefront of the burgeoning Swing industry. With, of course, some help from MTV. Lets tell it like it is, their MTV video is in heavy rotation. MTV has the power to push an artist to the top, (how else can the Mariah Carey phenomena be explained?). But the Daddies came from a grass roots movement of fans that wanted more than three notes and a flash of smoke. Fans that were won over with energized and polished live performances, rather than fancy sets and lip-synching. Fans that wanted more than to stand and bob their heads and sway to the music.
The Fans wanted to Swing, daddy-o.
Current top 40 music has been severely restricted by how record companies invest. Radio time is paid for, spaces in chain stores are paid for, artists are expected to pay for half of their videos. With videos running upwards of a million dollars, what the American public listens to is what the record companies wants to sell. And lets not forget that some of these corporations are being run by fellows in expensive sports gear rather than suits. Does anyone remember when Rap had dangerous energy rather than just being crude and lame? After seeing a hundred and fifty-two rap videos with some idiot flapping his arms in a long hall with lights flashing, I had to say “What the hell?” When a artist hits the cover of a magazine nine out of ten times chances are the artist is connected with the parent company, just as with the movies. The Daddies, on the other hand, are not a band being pushed on the public by a corporate marketing plan. Swing is and has always been on the fringes.
Swing traces its roots back to Jazz, for whatever reasons. And I do not think it unkind to infer prejudice, but Jazz has never received the acceptance that it deserves in America. No disrespect to Benny Goodman, but in many ways Swing is a White Man’s Jazz. The Big Band sound of Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Fletcher Henderson and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, because of Jim Crow laws, was relatively unknown to America audiences. Benny Goodman took that swinging sound to middle America with out watering it down â€“ much. The Daddies pull from those roots and add Ska that goes back to the more upbeat Jamaican tradition.
What Swing and Ska share are roots in Rhythm and Blues. What all these forms have in common is beat. It’s music that is meant to be moved to. It’s heard in the drums that open up “Zoot Suit Riot”, it’s in the wailing horns on “Ding Dong Daddy,” When done badly horns can sound harsh and tinny â€“ which they never do on this CD. Often in Swing horns are used in short bursts of accent rather than to backup the melody. This is most clear on the overtly sexual third track “Here Comes the Snake.” In many ways it is the horns that give the music the power. Tim Donahue, however, does his part as well, giving a super human effort on drums with the assistance of Hans Wagner, Sean Oldman, and W. Sean Wagoner. There is a sense that the Daddies are in complete control of the material and that they know just how they want to sound. In fact, Zoot Suit Riot is a compilation of all the swingin’ hits of the previous three CD’s with four new tracks, “When I Change your Mind,” “Brown Derby Jump,” “No Mercy for Swine,” & “Zoot Suit Riot.”
Cherry Poppin Daddies do not take one false step in Zoot Suit Riot. From the strange Frank send up, “Come Back to Me,” which is backed up by The First Church of Sinatra, to the mercilessly brutal “Drunk Daddy”:
Momma married a big asshole
whiskey bottles on the floor
he just keeps on watchin’ T.V.
stepchild tired of being poor.
This is not a band that is trying to sell pants, but a serious band that is interested in traditional forms of American music and, according to Steve Perry, the front man, “to use the stuff that can’t be denied and create a new thing…”
Hey, style is back in style.