Eclecticism has been the mission of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies from the beginning. The band came together in the gray light of the late 80’s pre-grunge dawn, when singer/principle songwriter Steve Perry – then chemistry major at the University of Oregon – proposed an experiment to fellow musician friends: what if a punk rock rhythm section joined forces with jazz-schooled horn players and a keyboardist? The beaker-busting result made a stellar EP, sold out local clubs, and soon drew comparisons to contemporaries like Fishbone, Faith No More, and Bad Brains.
It also irritated the local PC police. When the moniker hit the streets of “liberal” Eugene, OR, an angry group hired a lawyer who proceeded to hamstring any hope of a case by physically removing the band’s fliers – a practice known as censorship (apparently in violation of an obscure constitutional provision). Not ones to count their blessings, the Daddies then employed a kinetic sculpture of an ejaculating male member, affectionately called the “Dildorado,” as a stage prop.
Musically, the Daddies were equally out of step with a regional scene that Mssrs. Cobain and Vedder had come to define. Even on ska bills, they distinguished themselves by incorporating big band swing into their eclectic mix (one fan likened them to a David Johansen backing group that could play New York Dolls and Buster Poindexter tunes). “Drunk Daddy,” the first song on their first full-length release, careens through a blazing horn chart to a chilling climax, in which Perry assumes the quavering voice of an abused boy staring down his approaching father:
Okay, Dad. You can beat me.
But you´ll never beat me.
The tenacity these lines imply carried the band through two more indie releases and into 1997. As the phrase “swing scene” rolled off the critical number of tongues necessary for mass acceptance, Universal subsidiary Mojo got behind an already-available compilation called “Zoot Suit Riot: The Swingin’ Hits of...,” which combined swing tunes from the back catalogue with four new recordings. When Los Angeles’ KROQ put the eponymous lead-off track into rotation, it became clear that modern rock radio was stretching its format to include sounds about as disparate from Nirvana as one can imagine.
Caught in a perfect storm that included indie hit film “Swingers” and an iconic Gap ad set to Louis Prima’s “Jump Jive ‘n’ Wail,” “Zoot Suit Riot” would sell two million copies. Heavy MTV rotation of a video directed by porn legend Gregory Dark – who told the band before shooting to imagine “a club in Germany between the two wars” – boosted sales and lead to an MTV Award nomination for Best New Artist (they lost to Natalie Imbruglia).
By the time a new swinger called “So Long Toots” landed in the soundtrack to the Brendan Frasier/Alicia Silverstone comedy “Blast from the Past,” Perry and Co. were tiring under the weight of their zoot suits and wanted to resume their tradition of experimentation and eclecticism in the studio. So they recruited notables like glam legend Tony Visconti and the late free jazz icon Dewey Redman (the sublime tenor solo from “The Saddest Thing I Know”) for “Soul Caddy.” The fact that a T.Rex-inspired single called “Diamond Light Boogie” failed to reach the chart heights of “Zoot Suit Riot” surprised no one, especially since radio was now under the spell of a certain boy band the Daddies had shared an Oklahoma City stage with the previous year: ´N Sync.
Following the “Soul Caddy” tour, Perry re-enrolled at the U. of O. and completed his molecular biology degree, while the band spent time with families and imagined how they might respond to an increasingly orthodox, cynically-targeted pop landscape. By 2006, rotation of “Zoot Suit Riot” on shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” sparked new interest in the band, and they began work in 2007 on what would become “Susquehanna.”
“Susquehanna” was released on the band’s website in 2008, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies went on to regain their place on stages around the states and abroad. In winter of 2008, they completed a successful tour of Europe, drawing sell-out crowds in places as far-flung as Sofia, Bulgaria. Named after a muddy, flood-prone river in upstate New York on which front man Steve Perry grew up, “Susquehanna” revels in the group’s West Coast and Latin influences: flamenco, greaser rock, swing, ska, glam, and soca – to name a few. "My prediction is that in 30 years, American pop will owe a huge debt to world sensibilities,” Perry says. “These I wanted to explore and potentially boil down to some fundamental building blocks that might lead toward a new, more international style.”
One of the standout tracks is “Blood Orange Sun,” a mid-tempo ska effort that grooves like Sublime, with aching, summer harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys. Its narrative follows a creepy, coming-of-age story that weaves together several vignettes, separated by time; a playmate’s violent death by motorcycle accident leads to an act of redemptive adolescence outside a So Cal punk rock club, complete with knowing references to the Suicidal Tendencies’ street gang of the mid 80’s. As does the whole of “Susquehanna,” the song rolls by like a muddy river – murky, disturbing, and beautiful.
In an effort to celebrate their 20th year of making music, the band’s own label, Space Age Bachelor Pad Records, teamed up with Rock Ridge Music to release “Susquehanna” nationally, as well as something brand new: ska compilation “Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.” Both albums will hit store shelves on September 29, 2009.
Just as “Zoot Suit Riot” was a celebration of their swing side, the new album will also emphasize a single genre, this time the 60’s era up-tempo form of pre-reggae Jamaican Soul known as ska. “Skaboy” will combine four new recordings with tracks from the group’s earlier catalogue, reflecting all the waves and varieties of ska: Traditional/Bluebeat (“2:29,” “Soul Cadillac”), Two Tone (“Hammerblow,” “Skaboy JFK”), Third Wave (“Hi and Lo,” “Sockable Face Club”). There are even funky Fishbone-esque hybrids for good measure (“Slapstick”). “We toured with many of those ska bands when we were coming up,” Perry said: “Mighy Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, The Specials. But at that time, we were really touring behind ‘Zoot Suit Riot,’ so we didn’t play a ton of ska in our sets. Now we will.”
“Just as our swing fans did before ‘Zoot Suit Riot,’ fans of our ska sound have been suggesting for years that we release all our ska songs together,” Perry explained, “so they wouldn´t have to press the skip button over a country swing song with a lap steel or a flamenco track. Now they can just throw it on at a party without having to explain, and possibly apologize for, our eclecticism."