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Poppin’ Daddies to perform at The Tremont House 30th Annual Mardi Gras Ball

TremontBall_002“You can’t fake something that’s fine,” says Steve Perry, founder and frontman of the one and only Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.

Masters of both extraordinary elegance and bird-flipping fury, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies are indeed the real deal. Ever impossible to pigeonhole, White Teeth, Black Thoughts sees the Eugene, Oregon-based big band pushing themselves to the outer limits of inspiration and invention, resulting in two-count ‘em-two distinctive collections. The primary album marks CPD’s first jazz and swing-powered outing in more than a decade, while the exhilarating bonus disc is built upon a twisted frame of guitar-slinging rock ‘n’ roll. Perry once again affirms his standing as a songwriter, bandleader, and bomb thrower of the first order with songs like the defiant “I Love American Music,” utilizing deeply embedded textures of the past to directly and provocatively face up to our present and future. As brave and articulate as it is boisterous and celebratory, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ White Teeth, Black Thoughts is the souped-up, swinging sound of America’s dance band playing as the ship goes down.

“We’re a modern band talking about modern problems,” Perry says. “This is not a nostalgic record. If anything, it’s a record about nostalgia. I’m not interested in old things, I’m interested in how old things function now.”

Despite scoring a 2x RIAA platinum certified smash with 1999’s cutting “Zoot Suit Riot,” Perry and the Daddies never made another swing record, choosing instead to try their hand at Motown soul, R&B, psychedelia, funk, and country, not to mention Latin, Caribbean, and other world musics.

“’Zoot Suit Riot’ allowed us to continue to do our art,” Perry says. “None of this would’ve been possible without it. I didn’t make a record like this new one then because I didn’t want to. A lot of the other bands did and that’s what I didn’t like. It was so orthodox.”

Perry spits the last word like a slur, confirming the contrarian principles long entrenched in the Daddies aesthetic. The band has kicked against the pricks since day one, inspired by iconoclasts from Marcus Aurelius to Frank Zappa and driven by a committed anti-establishment bent forged in the fiery crucible of punk.

“Punk rock to me was about doing whatever you want,” Perry says, “and there’s not a lot of that in today’s music. Everyone’s trying to suck at the teat of commercialism. Everything sounds like it’s made to go in a movie.”

That revolutionary spirit has impelled Cherry Poppin’ Daddies forward for nigh on two decades. The turn of the century saw the band taking a momentary hiatus but it’s been full steam ahead since their return to the fray. After touring hard behind 2009’s Skaboy JFK: The Skankin’ Hits of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, the band – including founding members Dan Schmid (bass) and Dana Heitman (trumpet) as well as the full touring compliment – convened at Eugene’s Gung Ho Studios in March 2011 and set to work. The always-prolific Perry had something big in mind, a double album of songs penned as the Great Recession wreaked havoc upon the heartland, held together by swing’s timeless beat.

“I wanted to be fully ambitious,” Perry says. “I wanted to hit the home run. I don’t ever want to just get by. Because then why do it?”

Though the initial concept was to simply “jam it all together,” it eventually became clear that Cherry Poppin’ Daddies had crafted two divergent song cycles. Total cohesion comes via Perry’s lyrical knack for vivid vignettes and telling moments, all in one way or another lighting upon an aspect of our
national makeup. Where much of the contemporary swing scene is built around what he decrees as “dumb-ass clichés and b-movie ideas,” White Teeth, Black Thoughts dares to apply the form in an effort to scrutinize contemporary culture. Songs such as “Huffin’ Muggles,” an elegantly untamed tribute to Warholian transgression, see Perry – who freely admits to holding “a very dim view of current human beings” – adeptly carving out more detailed narratives and complex characterizations than usually found in popular music, let alone classic swing and jump blues. “The Babooch” – which bookends the two halves of White Teeth, Black Thoughts – is a Gatsby-esque tale of “the most American character, seduced by luxury but pricked by conscience” while “Brown Flight Jacket” and “Concrete Man Blues” points towards what the songwriter views as “the anxiety of influence” and our tragic lack of grit.

“We are haunted by our past,” Perry says. “We’re about to be second class in the world, so it’s a very interesting time to make a political record.”

Which isn’t to say White Teeth, Black Thoughts is anything less than a full-blown blast. Among its many highlights are a number of Cherry Poppin’ covers – the band’s first since 1994’s Rapid City Muscle Car – including irresistible takes on little-known classics by Louis Jordan (“Doug the Jitterbug”), Hank Penny (by way of Wynonie Harris’ own cover of “Bloodshot Eyes”), and Bull Moose Jackson (“I Want A Bow Legged Woman”).

“Dance music is a great way to reach out to everyone,” Perry says. “I love the universality of it. We can go to China and people will feel the beat. I like that there’s at least one aspect to Cherry Poppin’ Daddies that’s going to hit you in the gut, whether you understand the lyrics or not.”

The second disc of the complete White Teeth, Black Thoughts is just as jubilant as the first, only here Perry and the Daddies engage a slew of sonic styles spanning New Orleans swamp rock to hardcore hillbilly boogie. Raucous readings of The Barnyard Playboys’ “Flat Butts and Beer Guts” and “Subway Killer” – originally recorded by Perry’s own mid-‘00s glam rock side project, White Hot Odyssey – sees CPD twisting psychobilly into their own skewed image.

The bonus recordings are further marked by guest appearances from founding CPD guitarist John Fohl (currently serving in Dr. John’s Lower 911), the legendary accordionist/bandleader Buckwheat Zydeco (“Tchoupitoulas Congregation”), and tellingly, Perry’s good friend and neighbor, Zoot Horn Rollo. The Magic Band guitarist’s iconic riffola on “Flat Butts & Beer Guts” accentuates Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ place in the long continuum of cracked artists distorting and deconstructing the American songbook.

“I’ve known him for years,” Perry – a lifelong Beefheart obsessive – says. “He’s a great guy and just a motherfucker of a player.”

Like the good Captain himself, Steve Perry and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies have always held to the bohemian ideal, vagabond outsiders merrily pranking and poking at the mainstream. Contrary to the core, with White Teeth, Black Thoughts, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies have simultaneously cooked up an epic statement of scathing, thoughtful social critique that is – of course! – their most engaging album thus far.


March 2013