Big Bad Voodoo Daddy wants to swing you
As a swing band with their own hot spin that includes jazz and Dixieland sounds, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s full-tilt songs regularly rouses audiences out of their seats to dance. As twenty-five-year icons of the music scene, they’ve appeared live on Dancing With the Stars, Late Night With Conan O’Brien, NBC’s Christmas in Rockefeller Center, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the 2014 Grammy Award and 2015 and 2016 ESPY Awards. And that’s a minimal roster. But you can see them next at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts this Friday, Feb. 23.
Kurt Sodergren (drums) and Scotty Morris (lead vocals and guitar) are the co-founders who lead the core group; Dirk Shumaker (double bass and vocals), Andy Rowley (baritone saxaphone and vocals), Glen “The Kid” Marhevka (trumpet), Karl Hunter (saxaphones and clarinet) and Joshua Levy (piano and arranger). Alex Henderson on trombone and on Mitch Cooper on trumpet are the latest additions.
Drummer Sodergren spoke to the Long Island Advance on Sunday while the band was packing up for their next gig.
Long Island Advance: I watched the band’s “I Wanna Be Like You,” video with its Latin licks, saw couples dancing at the venue, and started dancing myself, especially when the Woo! Woo! Woo! was sung. It looks like that dancing reaction is a given when you perform.
Kurt Sodergren: It’s a Louie Prima song, and yes, they were dancing last night. We played in Kalamazoo at the State Theatre (they were heading to Chicago next) and people were out of their seats. The music is called swing for a reason and makes people want to get up and dance and move.
LIA: In “Big Time Operator,” the vocals include scat (jazz singing with nonsense syllables) like trumpet great and vocalist Louis Armstrong did all the time.
KS: When we first started out we probably had about 45 minutes of music where we would be expected to play 3 hours, so we started playing covers (new performance of a previously recorded song) for the remaining two hours and some of them really stuck like “Minnnie the Moocher.” We wound up raiding the songbooks of Louis Prima, Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan (one of the inventors of rock and roll). We borrowed their style, so our album (their 11th) “Louie, Louie, Louie” is a tribute to them and a thank you. When we started composing our own songs, it steeped into our music as well.
LIA: Your grandfather played saxophone in swing and jazz bands most of his life including the US Army Big Band. Did you talk to your grandfather and listen to his stories? Did your dad follow his lead or at least play his music?
KS: My dad is not musical but my mom plays piano and is a painter. My grandfather, Elmer Sodergren lived in Michigan, he didn’t talk much, and at the time I was growing up, I was into punk rock. But my grandmother was the storyteller and I heard stories about their adventures during visits. They’d travel to another town for three months, renting an apartment. It wasn’t anyone well known that they played with. They’d have a venue for a few months and do talent shows. That was a lot of what they did.
LIA: You have an amazing amount of gear and instruments you bring to a show to get it right. How early do you arrive to set everything up?
KS: It takes about 3 hours to set up from unloading to sound check. We use monitors to protect our hearing and it helps keep the noise level down. We had our own bus in December for a month but that gets expensive and we generally rent cars and drive ourselves.
LIA: The band is named after an autograph by blues legend Albert Collins. He died in 1993 and your band started up officially around then. Could you elaborate.
KS: It was around 1988 when Scott Morris and I started playing together. We would go to his rehearsal place or mine and play guitar and drum. Scott had seen Collins at a performance and after his show, ripped a poster off the wall and had Collins sign it and he wrote `To Scotty from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.’ We were drinking a little bit when we were thinking of a name for our band and that came up, but the next day we thought it was still a great one. When we were on Jay Leno’s show, Scott told that story and Collins’s family reached out to him.
LIA: Would you chronologically name the players who joined the band; it was you as co-founder with Scotty Morris and then….
KS: As a trio we lost our first bass player, it didn’t work out and you want to get along with the people you work with. We’d heard about Dirk, called, and he played his upright bass on his answering machine. So that was next. Then Glenn and Andy Rowley then Carl and Josh came on board. We loved the music and knew what we wanted and had that punk rock ethic and didn’t think about not being able to get people on board. We have nine now with Alex Henderson and Mitch Cooper. Mitch is 25 and he has pictures of himself with Scott when he was 9 and came to see a show. When people come to our shows we do a meet and greet and take pictures; Cooper has a bunch of them.
LIA: How did you find these guys? Swing hits the heavens with its full-tilt sounds but it was a different era you were living in.
KS: I hate to say it but I will. It was if you had a football and if you could play you were on. We knew Andy had a baritone sax and we said `let’s have him’ and knew a trumpet player in high school. If you had an instrument and things clicked musically and personality-wise you were in. We’ve been together for 25 years; they had a big birthday party for me yesterday at the State Theater.
LIA: You played in six other venues within a week before coming here, and perform over 150 shows a year. What do you do in your down time.
KS: We live in Ventura, California. For me and for Andy, we surf. There are a lot of things to do where we live, hiking and the ocean is right there. And we have families. We try to go out now on tour for a week or a couple of weeks and then come home.
LIA: I understand you do meet and greets as a way to stay connected to your fans.
KS: If there’s room in the lobby usually and if it can be organized, we do it. We’re all music lovers and we all love to see music and to see artists and that’s why we started doing that wherever we go. We have families come, sometimes 20 people. It happened last night; it happened in Cleveland. They bring the matriarch, the patriarch, their kids, their kids’ kids, homemade cookies. It makes being on the road a lot easier. We get to hear stories along the way and some people say `we played your song at our wedding.’
LIA: Any special songs for Patchogue?
KS: Scott comes up with a set list about 10 minutes before show time and he does tailor it. Last night when he saw the dance floor, the list was tailored to a dance party. When we show up we‘ll get a feel forthe audience.
LIA: Will “I Wanna Be Like You” be in there?”
KS: I think that’s going to be a done deal.
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