Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

THE PROBLEM WITH THE UNDERGROUND SWING movement is that unlike punk rock, kids’ parents and even grandparents may want to join in. It’s a phenomenon Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has been witnessing for about five and a half years touring around the country playing everything from nightclubs to retirement parties to high school proms.

While the swing scene may carry the same kind of vibe as the early punk movement, it looks a whole lot different. Ripped jeans and combat boots have been swapped for zoot suits and spectator shoes while slam dancing has been replaced by the Lindy Hop. It’s all about big cigars and big bad cars, Daddy-O.

BBVD saxophonist Andy Rowley told POLLSTAR the band gets a kick out of seeing kids experience its brand of high-octane nitro jive swing for the first time. It’s like a lesson in a historic American art form, he said. Then with the more mature crowd, there’s an air of remembrance. “It’s familiar to them — the dress, the excitement, the energy, the crowd and the dancing one-on-one again,” Rowley said. “It’s really cool to be able to have your feet in both the past and the present and have three different generations getting a whole different take on it.”

The Big Bad Voodoo Daddy trio that frontman Scotty Morris launched in Ventura, Calif., has grown into an eight-man little big band. As the guys were introducing swing music to their hometown, they discovered a scene popping up about an hour away in Los Angeles. Fellow swing band Royal Crown Revue had sharp-dressed dancers stepping out every week during its regular gig at the Derby. When RCR got its record deal and moved on, the Derby asked BBVD to fill those patent leather shoes.

“Once we got that, then it was like, ‘Wow, this thing is for real. There’s people coming out and really into it,'” Rowley said. “Then we played our first couple of shows in San Francisco and the scene was really starting to go up there. Guys were coming out in ’40s-like General MacArthur wear with pipes and the hats and the whole bit. It was crazy.”

BBVD got to the point where it would play the Derby every Wednesday and then hit the road Thursday through Monday. The band had become very hot on the underground scene. As it was, the guys could barely keep their two independent CDs in stock. But their appearance in the movie “Swingers” would take things to a new level — a crossover to the mainstream.

With a whole new audience wanting a piece of BBVD, the eight musicians — while each had their own management duties — were not enough to handle the overwhelming amount of business anymore. It was time to get outside help. The only problem was, most concert industry professionals that wanted in didn’t understand what the band was all about.

Several management teams saw the ball was rolling with BBVD and wanted to be a part of it. But they had to go through the band’s rigorous screening process first. “We would sit down and say, ‘OK, you’re gonna take 20 percent and you’re gonna do what? Tell me something we’re not already doing that you’re gonna do.'”

Apparently, manager Gary Stamler passed the test. He went on to help seek out the right label for BBVD — Coolsville/Capitol. Though the label turned out to jibe nicely with the band, the “understanding” didn’t come without a little Big Bad schooling.

“When Coolsville approached us for this deal, at first, they wanted to market us in this lounge scene,” Rowley explained. “We said, ‘If that’s as wide as your market’s gonna go, then you’re missing the whole thing. You guys don’t get it.'” BBVD invited label reps to an all-ages show to make its point. What they saw was certainly unexpected — punk rock kids jumpin’ to swing music. “They had no idea that audience even existed. And that’s what we’d been doing for four years prior. We knew the audience was there.”

Dirk Shumaker
(upright bass, vocals)

BBVD is a different kind of band and marketing techniques must reflect that but at the same time, “it’s the easiest band in the world to market because people have fun with the stuff,” Rowley said. With that philosophy, the band members continue to take an active role in planning business and marketing strategies because they’ve done it. And apparently, they know what works when it comes to building a swingin’ career.

With little radio or MTV play as of yet, BBVD is selling out shows in advance in towns they’ve never played. The band built that word-of-mouth fan base partly by collecting about 4,000 names for its mailing list. “That was a big core of it right there,” Rowley said. “We had people all over the country that were on that mailing list.”

The men of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are tooling around the U.S. in a 15-passenger van, all taking turns driving. But they’re not complaining (except when it’s time to decide where to stop and eat) because each one knows this is a dream gig. With a single off their self-titled Coolsville debut ready to hit radio and a video on the way, who knows? They may be wearin’ those fedora hats and smokin’ those fat cigars in the luxury of a tour bus next time around.