Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy feature

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performs Saturday at Soboba Casino in San Jacinto; Sunday at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank; Oct. 23 at the Belly Up in Solana Beach

Glen Marhevka was in junior high school when he had a musical epiphany of sorts at Disneyland’s Carnation Plaza bandstand.

That was where the future trumpeter for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy first witnessed legendary jazz man Cab Calloway in concert.

“This was the early ‘80s. Calloway had the whole big band with him and I was blown away,” recalled Marhevka from a tour stop in Peakskill, N.Y. “I was just starting to play trumpet at that time and I was amazed. I had no idea who he was when I got there. I could’ve gone on all the rides, but I sat there and watched both his sets that day.”

Flash forward a few decades and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has paid tribute to the King of Hi-De-Ho with the new album “How Big Can You Get?” After members of the L.A.-based contemporary swing group started sifting through Calloway material in preparation, they gained a new respect for it all.

“Some recordings aren’t that great a quality, so until you really sit down and analyze them, you might not pay attention to everything that’s involved,” Marhevka explained. “If you listen to those arrangements and know when they were recorded, (you realize) they were pretty intricate for the time. It was a crossover from the cornier big band stuff, moving into a little more sophisticated jazz.”

Recorded at the legendary Capitol Records Studios in Hollywood (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin) on vintage microphones and equipment, the septet “didn’t want to do every tune that you’d typically hear from Calloway” on the tribute collection. “We obviously had to do (longtime BBVD live staple) ‘Minnie the Moocher’ because that’s a signature song and ‘The Jumpin’ Jive,’ which is popular. The other tunes are more obscure. We tried to mix it up a little bit.”

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy hopes to simultaneously spotlight Calloway’s successful music from the 1930s and 40s and restore a credibility factor often missing during those eras. Marhevka described Cab as a true showman – “this larger than life character, who was wild and crazy onstage…he encompassed it all. Some of his contemporaries didn’t want to cross those boundaries much, because they didn’t have the same qualities.”

Initially formed in Ventura by singer/guitarist Scotty Morris and drummer Kurt Sodergren in 1989, BBVD’s current incarnation gelled a few years later. Steady gigging through the West Coast and a weekly residency at L.A.’s The Derby helped draw a large following.

Doug Liman’s 1996 indie flick “Swingers” starring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, about the lounge lifestyle, was shot at the nightclub and prominently featured two of the band’s tunes. “You & Me and the Bottle Makes Three (Tonight)” became a modern rock radio hit. Soon after, BBVD led the modern swing revival with similar groups sprouting up right and left.

“All the sudden, this independent film with all our friends came out, it took off and before you knew it, everything snowballed,” said Marhevka. By 1999, BBVD had a couple platinum CDs to their credit and played the Super Bowl XXIII half-time show. Earlier this year, the band was seen on ABC-TV reality show “Dancing with the Stars.”

Now, according to the trumpeter, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is the only band that has consistently toured and explored the genre. Swing/big band music was never a fad for these guys. “It’s what we wanted to do from the get-go. Everybody is still committed 110 percent. That’s why we’ve been able to keep the band together so long with all the same guys - we all love what we’re doing…we just kept plowing our course.”

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