Q&A: Scotty Morris of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy singer Scotty Morris calls his band's latest album, "Rattle Them Bones," a loving mix tape for fans of the group.
"Back in my day, we used to make mix tapes for our friends," Morris said during a recent interview at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, AZ.
"If you had a girl you really liked, you gave her a mix tape, or you told a friend 'Check out this mix tape of music I made.' People don't listen to records any more. They don't put records on and listen from song one to song 12. I do.
"I still try to make records like that. This record is sort of a mix tape of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy music. It's everything that we do, from the jump swing of the early '90s, the New Orleans jazz of the 2000s. It's all the big band stuff we messed around with. It's the early Cab Calloway stuff that we did. It's an assortment of all of those different kinds of things that we've done over the years. It's sort of a mix tape of all those different genres and all those different styles of music of American swing music that we play, all in one package."
Founding members Morris and Kurt Sodergren, plus the five other original members, continue to keep their sound fresh, coming off the 2009 release of their tribute to Cab Calloway. Produced by Morris and Joshua Levy with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, "Rattle Them Bones" shows the band has honed its musicality to a fine point.
The California group features Morris (vocals, guitar, banjo), Levy (piano, arranger), Sodergren (drums), Dirk Shumaker (acoustic bass, vocals), Glen "The Kid" Marhevka (trumpet), Karl Hunter (soprano, alto, tenor saxophones and clarinet) and Andy Rowley (baritone saxophone, vocals). Savoy Jazz released "Rattle Them Bones" Sept. 4.
Morris spoke to SoundSpike about "Rattle Them Bones,"
This is an exciting time for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. You have a new record. It's your 20th anniversary. You have a lot to look forward to.
Yes, what you said alone [is exciting] -- the 20-year anniversary coming up and a new record. The thing that's amazing about both of those things is that it's the same band. It's not one member or two members that have continued on with the name. It's the entire band that's still on stage. The band that played on "Swingers" is the band that is still on stage tonight. Not a lot of people can say that at all. This is the band. This is who we are. This is what we've done. We were kids when we started, now we're adults. It's an amazing thing to happen.
That's so cool.
We never took a break either. We've never done, like, a five-year hiatus where we went, "Well, this band thing isn't working out. Maybe we'll let the smoke clear a little bit and try to make a comeback." We've made records. This is our ninth record. It's been for better or for worse. It's always been for better. This is what we do.
You're also on a new label, Savoy Jazz.
It's the first time we've signed with a major label in more than 12 years. It's scary. We've been on our own for so long. We've learned it from the inside out.
Why was now the time to do so?
Because the record was so good. We wanted people to have a chance to hear this. It would be better to gamble on ourselves and try to get it out to as many people as possible and try to expose it to people. I think there's a lack of good entertainment and good entertainment for a certain age group. I think that that age group wants that entertainment. It doesn't have to be something that has to be their favorite band or favorite music, but there's a lack of intelligent interaction musically and performance wise that's missing out there. I think it needs to be out there.
To what do you attribute Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's staying power?
I think maybe because we weren't chasing any brass ring. We weren't really chasing the big trophy. We weren't chasing to be famous. None of us started playing music because we thought we were going to be famous or any of those kinds of things. Everyone in the band shares the same kind of idea. We play music because we love to play music. You get a group together that sounds good together, and then on stage you sound good together. You get along on stage, off stage you get along really well together too. That's unusual to have that type of situation. We've never played under 150 shows a year. That's a lot of time with a guy on stage. If you're not going to like him, you're gonna know pretty quick about how much you dislike those guys. It's really one of those situations where that's been our thing. We get along so well.
While I was waiting upstairs for you, I was talking to my 15-year-old niece on the phone. She said that her art teacher used to play your albums in class to introduce the class to your music.
I like that kind of stuff. I hear cool things like that all the time. I used to get emails from ER doctors all the time saying your music is so upbeat I play your songs in emergency operations all the time. During surgeries, it keeps the vibe so up that everyone feels good. That's kind of a cool thing.
Tell me about your songwriting process.
I pretty much write all the time. Songs go off in my head. I hear music in my head. I don't know if it's something somebody else has written, sometimes I don't know. I can't tell. Sometimes it's a cross between the two. I just write it up as much as I can, I get it out as quick as I can and then Josh and I, our pianist, he and I will sift through these things and see what's really good and what's not so really good, and what's somebody else's song.
What do you listen to these days?
I listen to everything. I have such a wide variety of music that I listen to. I listen to a lot of great old New Orleans jazz still. I love Pandora. I put on New Orleans jazz on Pandora. Of contemporary music, the music that I like is more retro-sounding. I love Mumford and Sons. I think that's a great band. I love their spirit and feeling. I really like Jack White of the White Stripes. I love Jack White's new record. I just love him as an artist, everything he does. I love that he uses aesthetics to tell his story through music. I think Big Bad Voodoo Daddy does the same thing. We went and saw him in Memphis. He's got a place in Memphis now. A studio and the whole thing.
What can fans expect from a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy show?
From the show, you can expect a bunch of new music all the time. One of the biggest things is that it's fun for all ages. You can just experience a good show. I don't know that there's that many places that you could go and bring your kids, bring your parents, bring your grandparents and everybody feels like they got something out of it. That's kind of what we shoot for. We don't need the gimmick of anything negative to fuel our fire. We do the exact opposite. We try to accentuate the positive and bring up the highest level of musicality that we can. We're only given a certain amount of ability. And we try to [heighten] the peak of our ability every single night. That's what our audience comes to expect from us.
Do you think there's a misconception that you only play swing?
I don't know. The only thing we've been fighting now, with putting out a new record, is they want to classify the band as an alternative band or a pop band. I don't know how that even fits in the category at all. We're a jazz band. We're a pop band. We're a rock band. We're a blues band. We're anything on any given song. To try to classify us to what we really are, it's pigeonholing. To us, that's why we try to avoid as much, like, classification as we could. I don't want to think that I have to write one kind of song, one kind of style. On this record, we go from the '20s all the way to the '60s. That's a 40-year-span of music. That's a lot of music that's happening in that span. You got Louis Armstrong in that period and you also have The Beatles in that period. There's a lot happening between that spectrum, with Sinatra and the big band era, R&B. We've seen music going from making LPs to making DVDs and DVRs, CDs, and then everything changed to downloads. You used to go to your favorite record stores to buy your favorite records, and now you go to website that gets you the records for free. We try to fight through it. The motto's always been "You take care of music and the music will take care of you."
6 - McLean, VA - Ritz-Carlton Tyson's Corner
7 - Catalina, CA - Avalon Casino Ballroom
19 - Rochester, NY - Rochester Riverside Convention Center
20 - Niagara Falls, NY - Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel - The Bear's Den
22. 23 - Annapolis, MD - Rams Head on Stage
26 - Florence, SC - Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology
27 - Clayton, NC - The Clayton Center
2 - Treasure Island, FL - The Club at Treasure Island
3 - Tampa, FL - Lowry Park Zoo
7 - Stuart, FL - Lyric Theatre
9, 10, 11, 12 - Lake Buena Vista, FL - Walt Disney World -- Epcot Center
16 - Troy, NY - Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
17 - Hartford, CT - Mortensen Hall at Bushnell Center
18 - Lebanon, NH - Lebanon Opera House
24 - Rancho Cucamonga, CA - Lewis Family Playhouse at Victoria Gardens Cultural Center
25 - San Ramon, CA - Dougherty Valley Performing Arts Center
27 - Modesto, CA - Gallo Center for the Arts
29 - Wickenburg, AZ - Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts
30 - Las Vegas, NV - Orleans Hotel and Casino - Orleans Showroom
1 - Las Vegas, NV - Orleans Hotel and Casino - Orleans Showroom
3 - Provo, UT - Covey Center for the Arts
4 - Durango, CO - Fort Lewis Community College - Community Concert Hall
6 - North Kansas City, MO - Harrah's North Kansas City - Voodoo Lounge
7 - Carmel, IN - The Center for the Performing Arts - The Palladium
13 - Rahway, NJ - Union County Performing Arts Center
14, 15 - Uncasville, CT - Mohegan Sun - Wolf Den
16 - Huntington, NY - The Paramount
21 - Los Angeles, CA - Walt Disney Concert Hall
31 - Jackson, CA - Jackson Rancheria Casino and Hotel