IN 1989 in the midst of grunge’s heyday, two California musicians swung onto the scene with precision, polish, and pinstripes. Scotty Morris and Kurt Sodergren made the right choice in stepping forward to form a band and revive the classic big band sound: soon, their group, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, was leading the way for the 1990s swing revival.
With a vibrant show, vintage flair, and remarkable musicianship, the band has set the tempo for countless dancers with songs like “You & Me & The Bottle Makes Three,” “Minnie The Moocher,” “Mr. Pinstripe Suit,” and more. Over the course of the band’s career, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has appeared films like Swingers, provided music for Third Rock From The Sun, Despicable Me, and more, appeared live on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, NBC Christmas in Rockerfeller Center, The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and even performed with Stevie Wonder and Gloria Estefan at the Super Bowl XXXIII Halftime Show.
On June 16, 2017, the band released a record paying tribute to three of their biggest influences: Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima, and Louis Jordan. On Louie, Louie, Louie, listeners hear fresh takes on the history of jazz, swing and jump blues, the music that paved the way for rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s.
We spoke with drummer Sodergren on the band’s origins, honoring their idols, and how the crowds keep jumpin’, jivin’, and wailin’ for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
What was it like taking on the music of the Louies? Are these songs you’ve been playing for a while?
When we first started, we didn’t have a lot of original material—this is a long time ago—but we started getting booked for weddings and parties, so these were really big influences on us. Obviously, we did a lot of covers, so we played a lot of Louis Jordan and Louis Armstrong, even a bit of Louis Prima, to fill out our songbook.
They influenced our original songs, and that style of music has a big imprint on us. After a while, we decided it’d be a good idea to make a record to show where our influences came from and spread the word. Most of the world have heard Louis Armstrong, but maybe not Louis Jordan or even Louis Prima.
Was there a song you were particularly excited to record?
Everything Louis Armstrong we did I particularly look forward to. I’m crazy about his drummer. “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” and of course, we’ve been doing The Jungle Book songs for a long time.
What's it like delving into that material as a percussionist?
A lot of the stuff is quieter. It's a small band. Many of our records we record with a big band and rearrange the horns for our live performance. A few of these songs, one just has one trumpet and one sax so, live, some of these guys step offstage and get a drink. And I look over with jealousy because I'm so thirsty!
What kind of music were you playing before forming Big Bad Voodoo Daddy?
I had a job and I played in more of an alternative punk band back in the mid-'80s. I met Scott and we started playing together and we just really clicked. We played in a blues band for a while, and he asked if I wanted to play this kind of music. Which was a surprise, but I was down for the challenge. It was a pretty good choice.
The '90s swing revival was huge for y'all and the trend has fluctuated over time. How has that impacted the band? How have you seen people react to the music over the years?
There was definitely a big revival. For a while, people would show up dressed in full costume—that doesn't happen very much now. But we just have a really big fan base, and this music just really connects with people. The original sensation when we came across the country really helped us to establish an even wider fan base. We still have a lot of loyal followers year after year, and we're just trying to extend that. People come and bring friends. It's been a slow, dare I say, grassroots movement. Each show, people bring more friends out.
When you record, do you follow in the steps of the traditionalists? Is it live, analog, digital?
We used to record to tape, but now it's digital. But we do release anything we make on vinyl record. We record the rhythm section first, then the band. We try to use old mics and have a pretty good selection now, and we try to copy the mic setup that they used back in the day.
What do you have planned for the future?
We have our 25-year reunion coming up! We're planning to record a new album of originals and go on our 25th anniversary tour. Right now, we're in the midst of the Louie stuff, and in December, we have our holiday tour—that takes up a whole month. We'll get home from that in January, and we'll get to working on new plans.