Steve Perry of Cherry Poppin' Daddies talks about the Daddies, the Swing Revival and the Original Swing Area

"Make sure that you like the song making itself, because if you want to be a musician just because you want to be famous, you wont last."

The Cherry Poppin' Daddies are an American band established in Eugene, Oregon, in 1989. Formed by Steve Perry (vocals) and Dan Schmid (bass guitar), the band has experienced many membership changes over the years, with only Perry, Schmid and Dana Heitman (trumpet) currently remaining from the original line-up.

The Daddies' music is a mix of swing, ska and rock, characterized by a prominent horn section, heavy guitars and Perry's sardonic, often morbid, lyricism. While the band's earliest releases were rooted predominantly in punk rock and funk, their subsequent studio albums have since incorporated influences from many diverse genres of popular music and Americana into their sound, including rockabilly, glam rock, psychedelia, rhythm and blues, country, soul and world music.

In spite of years of extensive touring within the third wave ska scene, the Daddies ultimately broke into the musical mainstream with their 1997 swing-based compilation Zoot Suit Riot. Released at the onset of the late 1990s swing revival, Zoot Suit Riot sold over two million copies in the United States while its eponymous single became a radio success, launching the Daddies to the forefront of the retro-swing genre, a perceived pigeonholing the band openly denounced in favor of their ska and punk influences. By the end of the decade, however, the Daddies' mainstream popularity declined with that of the swing revival's, and the resulting commercial failure of their ska-flavored follow-up Soul Caddy led to an abrupt hiatus in 2000.

The Daddies officially regrouped in 2002 to resume touring, independently recording and releasing their fifth studio album Susquehanna in 2008 before signing to indie label Rock Ridge Music the following year. Their most recent album, Skaboy JFK, was released in September 2009. At this time in studio Duddies working for the new album “White Teeth, Black Thoughts”

The Daddies lead singer Steve Perry was a chemistry major. A mashup of Punk Rock and Jazz with a subversive streak (see the explanation of their band name), they built up a local following and released 5 independent albums that completely ignored the Grunge movement in the Pacific Northwest. When the trend shifted to Swing, they were right in the sweet spot with "Zoot Suit Riot," which got them a record deal, and as Steve explains, got them off government cheese.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Steve, when was your first desire to become involved in the MUSIC?

I started the Cherry Poppin Daddies in 1989. Before ‘89 I was in a few bands that played Punk Rock and Psychedelia.

Who were your first idols? What have been some of your musical influences?

The first real idol that I had as a kid was Little Richard. I saw him on TV and he was so wild and  flamboyant that I remember thinking “I wanna do that!” Influences were mostly rock before 1987. Bands like: the Stooges, The Wipers, The Meat Puppets, Elvis Costello, Bad Brains, Fishbone, Captain Beefheart, Jackie Wilson. Then when I started listening to jazz: Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford, Fletcher Henderson, Ornette Coleman, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie.

What were the first songs you learned? What was the first gig you ever went to?

I started writing my own songs right off the bat. I was part of that punk rock Do It Yourself movement so we just started a band and writing songs barely after we learned to play. The first gig I saw was a benefit for the prison reform movement in the late 60’s with Steppenwolf on the bill. My mother was volunteering so I tagged along.

Which artists have you worked with & which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best?

We have recorded with: Tony Visconti, Dewey Redman, Mark Volman of the Turtles and Flo and Eddie, Buckwheat Zydeco. We have done shows with: No Doubt, Fishbone, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Ozomatli, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Cake… Too many awesome bands to list J. Its really hard to say who is the best at music since it is such an objective thing. Like for instance I really admire the uncompromising stance regarding genre of Suicidal Tendencies. I like that they play hardcore and funk (Infectious groove songs) at their shows. They seem very interesting and have a lot of integrity. 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

The best moments are always when I new album is done, its always a lot of work getting there and then when you finally put it together that’s a great feeling. The worst is when we don’t play enough gigs to stay sharp.

What does the SWING mean to you? What does MUSIC offered you?

I think swing is a very optimistic “can do” style of music. Because its dance music its very inclusive, there are a lot of women in the scene as opposed to some kinds of music that are a complete sausage party. I think being swing influenced has been a blessing mostly but also a bit of a curse because we have been somewhat marginalized in the publics mind.  

How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?

I just try to have a good time myself regardless of the situation. I hope that this is disarming to people and they realize that they can just relax and listen as opposed to worry about things like coolness or what everybody else is wearing. We have fun and laugh amongst ourselves onstage so there is no reason to be so serious.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

I think the years when I struggled the most (probably my mid 20’s to early 30’s) were the most interesting and actually the most fun. The journey is always more fun than finally arriving at the destination.

Are there any memories of all these GREAT MUSICIANS which you’d like to share with us?

We recorded a song with Dewey Redman called Saddest Thing I Know at Sears Sound, and I can remember being really impressed with the way that sort of hunckerd down in order to get his jazz ballad sound. He sort of rolled his shoulders forward and sat back like he was collapsing into an old sofa and this beautiful airy ballad sound came out of his Tenor Sax. Very Moving to witness.

What mistake of music you want to correct? Give one wish for the music

I think music is headed in a direction where the arrangements are too boring. The melodies are like 5 note repetitions that go nowhere but stick in your head like a musical booger. I wish that the world was ready for more development musically.

Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet?

Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Beethoven, Mozart, Babs Gonzales, Slim Gaillard.

What are some of your favorite standards tunes?

I like “Oh Holy Night” the Christmas song. “Romaria” by Elis Regina. “Nuages”- Django Reinhardt, “Get Back in the Line” by the Kinks

What are some of the memorable gigs you've had?

We played a gig for the titans of Silicon Valley with Dana Carvey and Colonel Colin Powell on the bill. The show took place in an enormous blimp hanger… Weird.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music?

From my good friend and recording engineer Bill Barnett.

Tell me about the beginning of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. How did you get together and where did it start?

It started in 1989 in Eugene Oregon. The idea was to play a mixed variety of material with Swing and Soul music being most emphasized.  A little like a Swinging Fishbone I would say.

How did you choose the name “Cherry Poppin' Daddies”?

We needed a name before the poster for our 1st show was printed and with the deadline approaching we settled on Cherry Poppin Daddies because it was kind of Punk Rock and kind of Viper Jive

Three words to describe the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Which of your work would you consider to be the best?

Energy, Experimental, Good. I think the newest recording will be our best. Its going to be called “White Teeth, Black Thoughts” It’s a swing/ psychobilly record.

You've worked with Dan Schmid over twenty years. Is he still a key person in sound realization of your ideas?

Yes Dan is very important. He is like the free spirit of the band I would say. He is super talented and it comes easy to him. He has great feel.

How do you get inspiration for your songs & what musicians have influenced you most as a songwriter?

Inspiration comes from a concept that I have usually. Something abstract often like a film director like say Jean Luc Godard or a painter say Balthus and then I try to imagine the elements that a song would have to accomplish something similar to what they did. Or I ruminate on something like Bertol Brecht’s idea of Epic Theatre and I imagine how that would work in a set of pop songs in 2012. I think Ray Davies would be a big influence. I quite like Suede and Jarvis Cocker as well.

What advice would you give to aspiring  musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Make sure that you like the song making itself, because if you want to be a musician just because you want to be famous, you wont last.

Do you think the younger generations are interested in the swing?

Yes I see it every day. I just wish that we would evolve a new modern swing society that is less slavishly attached to nostalgia elements. I would like to see us make something new and vital.

What’s you poison? What turns you on? If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?

Money concerns are poison, Artistic surprises turn me on, I would love to have been a filmmaker, a professor of French literature or film, an Olympic track and  field athlete, novelist (if I could be a good one like Phillip Roth or John Updike).

Is there any similarity between the swing today and the swing of the 30s – 50s?

There is some similarity. The swing beat is the same obviously. Today is more rhythm and blues based because it costs too much to have a big band. The musicians of that era were so much better that it is crazy. I think modern swing is really a potentiality more than a reality. It could be really cool but there are too many people in the scene who are content to just revel in nostalgia for a bygone era without encouraging the evolution of something modern and wildly different. I think that Steampunk is potentially a little more interesting a subculture. We will see where that goes, but I do know that there are too many forces of the status quo out there that will protect materialistic ultra adolescent boy centered styles like Rap that have a vested interest in squelching anything too weird or too female from developing.

From the musical point of view is there any difference between the East and the West Coast?

I would say West coast is a little slicker, possibly a little more plastic, and East coast is rougher and more blues based. But that is really being pretty damned general.

What do you think were the reasons for the swing ska revival at the mid of the 80s?

I think it had to do with the preceding decades being dominated by guitar rock for so long. People longed for a break. The media gave in for a few months before they closed ranks against horns once again. In the US power chord worshipping dudes will always rule ultimately.

How was your relationship with the other bands of swing ska?

Bad, I would say. Because we weren’t seen as orthodox enough for either scene, we tend to exist in a nether region. Also we had a huge hit so that didn’t help.

Do the media help the swing, ska? Do you think the younger generations are interested in the swing?

The media helped for about 8 months and then went away back to their normal musical obsessions…. whatever those 40 year old men believe interests 12 year old girls and 16 year old boys.

What is the “think” you miss most of the “original swing area”?

The innocence and energy that came from people in a pre irony pre deconstructionist era.

Why did you think that SWING continued to generate such a devoted following?

I think that Swing allows both men and women to share in the scene and I think that is big. Its less sexist.

Who are some of your favorite swing musician of today? What was the last album you bought and was the worst?

Maybe Wynton Marsalis is my favorite jazz musician of today, if I could work with him on trying to create something that had that hot jazz feeling but addressed modernity… a true hybrid something like what Miles tried to do with Rock, that would be like I died and went to heaven. I try not to buy records when I am working so that it doesn’t influence me but

Cherry Poppin' Daddies website

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