Neo-swing revivalists Big Bad Voodoo Daddy play Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Craterian Theater in Medford. Danny Donovan Photography

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy still swingin'

In the '90s, when alternative rock and grunge bands were flourishing in Southern California, an alternative to the alternative was founded by singer Scotty Morris and drummer Kurt Sodergren.

Joined by their original lineup of musicians — Joshua Levy on piano, Dirk Shumaker on double bass, Andy Rowley on baritone sax, Glen Marhevka on trumpet, and Karl Hunter on saxophones and clarinet — the new band combined sounds from the swing era with modern day rock influences and created a movement called the neo-swing revival.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy had a great following from the get-go, playing to huge crowds at shows in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Calabasas. The retro-hipsters emerged dressed to the nines, proving it is still cool to swing.

"We never really wore zoot suits," Sodergren says during a telephone interview from his home in Ventura. "We would shop thrift or vintage stores and buy authentic double-breasted wool suits from the '30s and '40s. We wear suits because the style of music demands that you dress the part."

That part includes Spectator shoes from retailer Stacey Adams.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will perform a retrospective of hits from its previous albums, along with a few tunes from its soon-to-be-released "Louie, Louie, Louie," at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Joining them on the road are Alex Henderson on trombone and Anthony Bonsera on lead trumpet.

Tickets are $49, $52 or $55, $35, $38, or $41 for age 18 and younger, and can be purchased online at craterian.org, at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., or by calling 541-779-3000.

The swing ensemble released its self-titled debut in 1994 on Capitol Records, and was soon playing clubs up and down the West Coast, including San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. BBVD was playing five or six nights a week, turning what started as Morris's and Sodergren's garage jams into a reality.

"We were well on our way, but we hadn't been out to the East Coast," Sodergren says.

The band played a Wednesday night gig for two years at The Derby in Los Angeles, and the buzz started. Industry types, one of them actor, filmmaker and comedian Jon Favreau, shot a spot for his movie "Swingers" during a BBVD show.

"A crew came one night, and Favreau actually held the camera himself, filmed us playing live, then came back the next week with the actors and had them all dance," Sodergren says.

The film was released in 1996, and BBVD's third studio album, "Americana Deluxe," released in 1998 on Capitol Records.

The national tour to promote "Americana Deluxe" took the band from Los Angeles to New York City. When BBVD arrived at spots on the tour, each show at every club was sold out, with crowds standing in lines that stretched around the corners. The band raged night after night, in city after city.

"That was right after 'Swingers' was released, so as the movie moved across the country, people became familiar with the band. 'Swingers' was instrumental in getting the word out about what we were doing and the scene that was happening in L.A. at the time," Sodergren says. "The film is super funny, and done really well. I think people at colleges liked it. It's got great music, and young people enjoying themselves. It spoke to a generation.

"We had a really, really great time in the early days," he says. "We still have a great time. We're older now, but it's still fun to go to new cities. We just played Kodiak Island in Alaska, and we'll soon play seven days in Hawaii."

New ways of raging have presented themselves to the band, soon to celebrate 25 years together. Such as a five- or six-mile hike in Alaska ... or a trip to the beach.

The band continues to explore and celebrate America's original art form, and will release tribute album "Louie, Louie, Louie" in March of 2017 on Big Bad Records, the band's own label. It's a tribute to American music legends Louie Armstrong, Louie Jordan and Louie Prima, and the album highlights how these remarkable artists revolutionized music and popular culture and influenced nearly all who followed. Their blend of style, substance, deep jazz roots, fun and cultural relevance set the standard for what great entertainment and artistic expression could be.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will play some of the new tunes at the Craterian show. Look for "Basin Street Blues," made famous by Armstrong, and Prima's "Oh Marie," along with stories and surprises from the new album.

“We really want people to know about these great artists that have so deeply influenced us, and perhaps help spark a new creative interest in them and their music," says singer, songwriter and bandleader Morris in a press release. "It's important to educate people about this. If someone doesn't continue to spread the word, it's going to go away, and that's something we can't afford to have happen.” 

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