On Wednesday, Aug. 17, the Granada Theater will come alive with the explosively lively return of the swing-jazz revivalist band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the Ventura-based nine-piece who many Santa Barbarans count as their favorite act to help them in the swing of things. The band visited town last year for a fundraiser honoring legendary local teacher Ike Jenkins at La Cumbre Junior High, and have been a continually welcome presence in our town since their founding. I spoke on the phone with drummer and co-founder Kurt Sodergren, who opened up about the swing revival, the band’s charitable spirit, and the three Louie’s.
How are you? I’m hot. I’m in Dallas right now. We’re playing Food and Wine Festival.
Is it in the 100s? It feels like it.
What inspired this year’s tour? Well, we’re actually out on the road right now this whole month. We’re coming home for a little two day break. We tour all the time, you don’t make a lot from selling records. Not to say that we’re not working on new material – we have a brand new record, but we decided not to release it until next year. We have a Christmas tour planned in December and we don’t want to take anything away from that.
Christmas is a special time for you guys, huh? Yeah, we have two Christmas records, so it’s a blessing and a curse. They’re great records, but we have to take off time from Thanksgiving until the 22nd of December.
Do you have any favorite Christmas songs? Well, we do a pretty great version of “Winter Wonderland,” and Chuck Berry’s got great Christmas songs that we do, and, believe it or not, we do “Two Front Teeth.” Which is me, Josh [Levy] and Scott [Morris], bass, drums, piano, it’s pretty fun.
I remember seeing you guys play at San Marcos High School maybe a decade ago, it was a great show. How have the live showed evolved over the years? Well, we’re always adding on new material, and so for instance the show we’re doing right now – we’ve been together 23 years and we’re planning another record to celebrate our 24th year – but for right now our shows are really a retrospective of our career. We play something from every single one of our records.
And the music itself, how has it changed? When we first started playing this music, the band started as a trio, and we played a lot more loud, electrified blues. We did a lot of Hendrix, Tom Waits, and originals, then Scott wanted to add horns and play swing, and for me that was a new style of playing. It’s been a big learning curve, we injected elements of playing swing almost immediately but also met with a Stratocaster. It’s become a lot more nuanced, I’d say. The music has improved drastically, we’re still playing a lot of the original songs we wrote, and we inject a lot of energy into songs. We do play swing music but it’s seen through our lens, which ahs got a lot of punk rock influence.
Back in the 90s, did you guys get the sense you were are part of a bigger swing movement, or did you feel set apart from it? Well, I guess when we started playing at the Derby Club every Wednesday, which was probably back a little before ‘96, we knew about the Royal Crown Review and obviously about Brian Setzer, but then a bunch of other bands came onto our radar. It was all happening at the same time, without us really knowing it, but then we’d run into the other bands and definitely knew something was going on. We weren’t fully aware of it till Swingers came out, and that movie allowed us to play across the country, and that’s really when we saw what was really going on and that there was an excitement for this style.
Yeah I remember in the ‘90s, a lot of kids my age were into swing, and would teach the rest of us steps during theater productions. Yeah, it’s pretty wild. Even in San Antonio, there were a lot of people that were swing dancing, and they were dressed up. Maybe the rage for that kind of thing has died down a little bit, but there’s really a great support for this kind of music still. We’re still playing sold out shows.
Why does swing music continue to endure to this day? It’s American music, I think people might be excited about that, but I think that might be too deep. Really, I think its’ a lot of fun. There’s an acoustic piano, an acoustic bass, guitar horns, and drums, and that’s where all the sound is coming from. I know it’s possible to see music now where you might not even know where the sounds are coming form. This is what you see is what you get. It’s exciting music kids can like and parents can like and even their parent’s parents. It’s not unheard of for us to have three generations at our show. Last night, a woman came to the show, and her daughter was probably 16. Her mom said that she saw us before she had a baby, and now her 16 old was seeing the show, and she likes us too. You don’t often see parents liking same music as their kids do.
Music runs in your family, yes? Your grandfather played in bands? My grandpa played saxophone in bands his whole life. He was drafted into WWII thee weeks shy of his 38th birthday, he almost escaped but just couldn’t quite make it. He was drafted and spent a year playing on a train car for soldiers on R&R. After that, he came home and settled in St. Joseph, and he made a living playing music until he couldn’t read the sheet music anymore.
Was he a big musical influence on you growing up? By time I met him, he really wasn’t playing anymore, but he had his record collection. The first one I think I listened to was Dad’s Benny Goodman record. Hearing Gene Krupa was right around the time I started picking up on drums. It was really exciting for me. I was involved in playing with kids in high school, they played guitar, bass, and we played a lot of songs and whatever. I grew up in San Fernando Valley, we didn’t have a music program, so that I had to shape myself. A reason we did San Marcos High School and Ventura’s 150-year anniversary were benefits for music program. We made $60,000 at that one, and we made a lot of money for San Marcos. It’s really important to us. I wasn’t able to take advantage of that in my school, and we all want to make sure students are take advantage of it.
Was there a moment where you guys as a band decided to give back to your listeners? That took place right from the beginning. I know Scott and I in the beginning, and I can speak for everyone else – we were going to see music all the time and loved to meet bands afterwards, and once people started to get interested in listening to us, it was a no brainer to do the same thing. We’re so grateful to have people hang and see us, it’s a tradition now to have a meet and greet after the show, and hang out until they kick us out.
Have you formed any long-lasting relationships from these meet and greets?Oh, totally. We just came back from Cleveland, and we have a couple out there, Gene and Greg, and they always come to our tour bus with a big bin of cookies. She bakes them, and always brings them at the sound check. The two of them bring their extended family, and Gene’s sister comes out and her children come out, and they’re about the same age as my kids. That’s just Cleveland, and in almost every city there’s people that we recognize. It’s like having a family on the road, which is great because I get homesick on the road.
What’s your stature like in Ventura? Are you widely noticed or do you get to keep a low profile? When I was on the bus riding over to the fair, a woman recognized me with her son, and then when I was at the Fair, a couple people said hello, and at the farmer’s market, and Trader Joe’s… We’re definitely a mid-level band. I can still go out. It’s not anything crazy, and that’s not what we’re after. It’s nothing that keeps anyone inside, I can’t even imagine not being able to go out. But it’s not that there’s anything bad about the recognitions I’ve received, it’s pretty great talking to people. I made some pretty good friends and met some other musicians that way.
Does the band bring back swing culture into your daily lives, besides the music? Any slang or cultural pieces from back in the day that you guys live out? Not really. We definitely appreciate the music of the time. Our newest record Louie Louie Louie is a tribute record to some of our biggest influences: Louie Amstrong, Louie Prima, and Louie Jordan. It’s a pretty traditional record, not as much of a super loud, bombastic record that we’re used to making, it’s very traditional.
How was it for the band to play that kind of more traditional style? It was pretty fun, and at this point it’s nice to do all sorts of different kinds of shows. The upcoming Louie Louie Louie shows will be a little more stripped-down, with fewer logistics and technical issues surrounding them. But to get back to the first question, I was just gonna say, no one in the band really dresses like we’re from the 40s. We’re just guys that really appreciate the music. I know when the swing craze hit there was a lot of that going on. We played a show in Long Island band that opened wore a bunch of costumes, they were a good band but I don’t appreciate that as much, it seems a little silly to me. We wear suits because the music’s classy and we think it’s all parts of the show, but these were costumes and it seemed a little forced. We didn’t say anything, that wouldn’t be cool. It was a little silly, but they had a great time, so I appreciate that as well. But that’s not really where we come from. We’re just musicians and we really enjoy this music, but once we’re off stage we’re the same guys we were when we showed up. No lingo, no chains hanging from the pocket.
Did you ever see the movie Whiplash? Oh yeah, well, I like it. I personally didn’t know a music teacher like that, but a couple guys in the band were reminded of people they knew who weren’t quite as intense but still pretty gnarly. I wouldn’t have enjoyed stuff like that. I really liked the movie and I liked the actor, he’s great.
Who are your rhythmic influences? I’m influenced by a lot of people. Gene Kruper as a kid, and since then I’ve been able to see a lot of great drummers. Sam Moore from New Orleans, he’s super great. I also like a lot of rock, and I have son that’s 17 and one of our favorite bands is Tool. I love Danny Carey, and he has a jazz band and they play here…We have DW Drums here in Oxnard, that’s my drum company that I’m endorsed by, and they have a studio called Drum Channel, so a lot of times I get invited over just to come and watch and I’ve seen a lot of amazing drummers there. My drum teacher, who lives in Camarillo, his name is Al Velasquez. He had about 60 students, and a lot of them go on to college. He’s a great teacher and kind of my mentor, and now he’s teaching Scott’s son the drums, and he’s playing with my son and they’re in a band together. We started playing together 26 years ago and now our kids are playing together. It’s pretty cool… at Scott’s house we have instruments all over and it’s pretty funny.
Anything else you’d like to say? We’re really excited to play at the Granada. I remember whenever we would play at SOhO, we would change clothes at the Independent, and I remember leaving notes for Maren Lamb at her desk. Our baritone sax player, Andy Rowley, he used to work for the Independent, he had keys and had a big crush on Maren.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy play The Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on WEd., Aug. 17 at 7:30pm. For more information, visit granadasb.org