Celebrating 20 Years of Swing @ The 3rd Annual, Rhythm, Wine & Brews Experience
Along With Buddy Guy and Aaron Neville.
by Lisa Morgan
This year’s Rhythm, Wine & Brews Experience will be showcasing the high energy, original swing band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. You may recognize this band from the 1996 movie, Swingers, wherein they played themselves, the house band that the characters frequented. The movie catapulted the band and the swing genre itself, into commercial popularity. With the rigorous touring schedule that their new fame afforded them, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was able to play a hugely significant role in the mid-nineties resurgence of their vintage style of music. 10 albums and 20 years later, all of these original members are as much family as they are bandmates. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy continues to create and perform passionately, and they expect to do so for many years to come. While their success may have come suddenly, it did not come easily or by any means, overnight.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Cinderella-esque success story begins in 1989, in the early part of the “Grunge Era”. It was a sub-rock culture known for its angst-ridden lyrics, dirty, guitar sounds and heavy drums. Grunge, largely born out of Seattle, was on the rise in popularity and would eventually hit its commercial stride with the mid-ninety’s success of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten. In Ventura, California, however, a band was in the initial phases of blazing a trail completely retrograde of its contemporaries. Scotty Morris, band leader, guitar player and vocalist, along with drummer/percussionist and friend, Kurt Sodergrenin, left punk and alternative rock projects to launch a swing revival band at a time and place where it would have been easier to book a cover band, much less an all original band inspired by a musical realm that hadn’t seen mass popularity for over 40 years. But it was the music they loved. Morris named the band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy after meeting blues guitar legend, Albert Collins. “He signed my poster ‘To Scotty, the big bad voodoo daddy’. I thought it was the coolest name I ever heard on one of the coolest musical nights I ever had. So when it came time to name this band, I didn’t really have a choice. I felt like it was handed down to me.” The two piece grew to a three piece that ultimately evolved into a nine piece band by 1995. It was a hand-picked group made up of friends of friends in and around the Ventura and Santa Barbara area. Not only did the players have to have the chops, but they also had to like being in the same room together. Clad to the nines in era appropriate threads, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy showcased an incredibly energetic and well-orchestrated horn section, piano, and rhythm section. With simple yet catchy lyrics delivered with smooth, clean vocals, the band turned empty dance floors into high swinging traffic areas.
Lisa Morgan: I asked trumpet player, Glen “The Kid” Marhevka how they managed to keep this unique and rather large band booked and fed?
Glen “The Kid” Marhevka: There were so many obstacles along the way. It’s amazing that we pulled it off. There weren’t many groups, especially at our age (early 20s), doing what we were doing at the time. Grunge was popular. Rap was popular. And with the name Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, well…nobody knew what that meant. When we first started out people asked us, ‘Is that a rap group? What is that?’ Clubs were a little reluctant at first. But, we just started doing our thing, and when people would come, they would dig it and tell their friends. We built up a local following that way.
LM: That was before Facebook and social media.
GM: Yeah, it was. We actually sat down and did mailing cards. We had a mailing list and would get together every other week to hand write and mail out post cards. We were playing music we loved so we didn’t care about being popular, but that was the only way to let people know what we were doing. That’s just what we had to do back then.
LM: How did the band land the part in the movie, Swingers, launching you into international fame?
GM: We developed a following in Santa Barbara and Ventura, and then started playing places in LA, like the Viper Room. When the Derby decided they wanted to do a retro/vintage-night, we got the Wednesday night spot. After playing there for about a year, there was a huge following. Every Wednesday night there were a lot of the same faces. I had no idea what Jon Favreau did; he was just a friend from the Wednesday night scene. He was really into swing dancing, so I knew every Wednesday, Jon would be there. One night, he approached us and said, ‘Hey, I wrote this movie. You guys are my favorite band, and I really want you guys to be in this. Here’s the script.’ He gave it to Scotty, but at the time, we were playing 5 to 6 nights a week, so Scott just threw it in his truck and we went about playing our gigs. When we came back Wednesday night, Jon asked, ‘What did you think of it?’ Scott, hadn’t even read it, but he said, ‘It’s cool man! it’s great! We’ll do it!’ We were just willing to do anything for exposure at that point.
Not too long after that, we filmed the movie inside The Derby. We started at about 7 am on a Wednesday, and went all day until 10 pm, and then we played our gig until 1 am. They kept filming afterwards – the part where he and Heather (Graham) were out on the street. It was gorilla style filming. Afterward, we didn’t think too much of it. About 6 months or so later, Jon invited us to the screening of the movie. I was blown away! I thought it was going to be a dance movie. It turned out to be really great. The very next morning Favreau called to say, ‘We sold the movie to Miramax for 5 million dollars.’ Jon was so great at doing what he did. He brought in the right people to come see it, and they loved it.
Swingers was released in theaters six months later. The Wednesday after the movie came out, we showed up at The Derby like we usually did: to set up around 5:00, eat, and then play at 10:00,” Glen shared. “At 5 o’clock, there was already a huge line waiting outside to get into the club. I remember thinking, ‘Wow! This is a total game changer.’ From that point on, wherever we’d play, we were THAT BAND that played in the movie Swingers.
LM: How did you feel about the closing of The Derby in January 2009 when the current landlord chose not to renew the lease, not long after a shooting inside the club?
GM: It’s kind of sad that it’s closed. But I’m glad it lives on in the movie. Locals lobbied to keep the building preserved as a national landmark so it wouldn’t be bulldozed. The weird thing now is that it’s actually a Chase Bank. I drove by there and it was really bizarre to see the Chase Bank sign on the building. So I took a picture and sent it to Favreau saying, ‘Check out The Derby! It’s a Chase Bank.’ He wrote back (referencing a famous line in the movie), ‘Well, it really is money’.
LM: On Saturday, March 1st, those in attendance will hear music from this inexhaustible band’s huge arsenal of upbeat music, including songs from their newest album, Rattle Them Bones.
GM: I think Rattle Them Bones is one of our best albums. Musically, it’s great. It’s a very unique and cool sounding album that shows our growth musically. Everybody’s gotten better at their craft after playing the past 20 years; we play intensely, and we never just ‘phone it in’. On our first couple of albums, we were pretty raw and still finding out who we were. Surprisingly, after doing so many concerts, I still don’t get tired of it. I’ve played with other bands where after playing the same songs day after day after day, I’ve been ready to jump off a bridge. There are nights when I’m just tired, but I never get tired of the music. We still have fun on stage, goof around and even push each other. I think the comaraderie keeps it exciting and fresh.
This year, the Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience offers a longer line-up of bands than years prior, along with an expanded list of handcrafted beers and wines. There will also be a themed art exhibit, adding to the unique atmosphere patrons have come to love at this annual event. Tickets range anywhere from $60 for general admission, to $5000, the latter including a private cabana, 10 ultra passes, complementary snack, beer, and soft drinks. Tickets can be purchased online at rwbexp.com or at the entrance the day of the event. Rain or shine, guests will enjoy an afternoon of wine and beer tasting at one of the most beautiful venues in the Coachella Valley. Wine and beer tasting will be held from 2:00 – 6:00 pm. During this time, you’ll be serenaded by local favorites, Penny Unniversity, Caxton and Strangers You Know. Blues legend, Buddy Guy, will perform at 6 PM, followed by R&B crooner, Aaron Neville at 7:40 PM. Starting at 9:40 pm, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is sure to close out the night with music few will be able to sit still to, sealing the deal on a musically historic night that all in attendance will talk about for years to come.
For answers to any of your questions visit the website rwbexp.com. RV Camping is available for purchase as well. Any questions can be submitted to the email address, email@example.com.
You can follow Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and purchase albums at www.bbvd.com/theatre_home.html