When swing-style music made a comeback in the mid-1990s, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was on the frontlines. With a modern take on the Big Band sound of the ‘40s and a memorable name, the band hit at the right time, but they did not just ride the wave of a passing fad.
If You Go
Who: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
When: Oct. 28, 8 p.m.
Where: The Lounge at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, 15406 N. Maricopa Road
How much: Free
Drummer Kurt Sodergren, who co-founded the band with lead vocalist/songwriter Scotty Morris, said they started the conversation in the late ‘90s to orchestrate BBVD’s approach to longevity if and when the retro swing craze passed.
“We knew our fan base wasn’t fickle, and we always reach out in the meet-and-greets after shows,” Sodergren said. “Our music makes them happy and keeps them coming back.”
BBVD has also branched out, performing with symphonies and in performing arts settings.
To keep their hardcore fans and create new ones, the band has the motto of “Yes.” They accept most invitations to perform that they can fit in their schedule of 150 shows a year.
“We’re trying to play in a lot of new venues,” Sodergren said.
That now includes Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, where Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will be playing in The Lounge on Oct. 28 at 8 p.m.
Morris, who has a lifelong love of swing and jazz and plays a mean blues guitar, originally started the band in 1989. He named it for a signature he received from guitar legend Albert Collins, whose autograph included the phrase “To Scotty, the big bad voodoo daddy.”
After Morris joined forces with Sodergren, BBVD was re-launched in 1993 in Ventura, California. They were part of an underground swing movement in the Los Angeles area, where they called the Derby nightclub home.
Sondergren, originally from Pontiac, Michigan, mainly grew up in Ventura. His grandfather was a saxophonist in big bands in the ‘40s, including with the U.S. Army during World War II. Kurt’s father had an impressive record collection that exposed young Kurt to the bands of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.
He started playing drums with the school band because “it was the only thing that wasn’t being played.”
After hearing the Benny Goodman Orchestra’s renowned 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall, Sodergren was floored by Gene Krupa’s work on the drums. “They didn’t even need to have the music,” he said.
Krupa always remains an influence, as do others like John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, who himself was influenced by Big Band-era drummers.
The deep well of swing and jazz comprehension from Morris and Sodergren combined with the classical training of their bandmates gave BBVD a well-balanced attack.
With its music highlighted in the cult film Swingers, BBVD leaped onto the national stage in 1996. At the same time, bands like Flying Neutrinos, Squirrel Nut Zippers and the ska band Cherry Poppin’ Daddies were using a retro sound on the rising tide of neo swing.
BBVD parlayed that into more than 2 million album sales, starting with their eponymous album in 1994. Sodergren said they have finished recording their 10th studio album, a tribute to the music of Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan and Louis Prima. It is due out next year.
The touring band is filled out by Joshua Levy on piano, Antony Bonsera on lead trumpet, Dirk Shumaker on bass, Glen “The Kid” Marhevka on trumpet, Karl Hunter on tenor, alto and soprano saxophones and clarinet, Andy Rowley on baritone sax and Alex Henderson on trombone.
They make a point of staying after a performance to meet with the crowd.
“We have really friendly guys in the band who are fun to hang out with,” Sodergren said.