Should the LaSells Stewart Center carom moon-ward this weekend, deactivate PulsePoint and reholster your phone: It’s just the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies reshaping the joint into the swankiest speak in town.
Their 7 p.m. Saturday performance caps the three-day da Vinci Days festival while also serving as a fundraiser for the event, which returned last year after falling dormant in 2013.
Spirits proffered by Lumos Wine Company, 2 Towns Ciderhouse and Block 15 Brewing Company will slake dance-floor thirsts, chased by appetizers and desserts from Forks & Corks Catering. The evening is sponsored by Oregon State University, Hewlett-Packard, the city of Corvallis and Benton County.
Doors open at 6 p.m., followed an hour later by the blown-out walls and roof. Entry is $45 in advance, $60 on the day and site, and $20 for students with valid/current student ID. Tickets, which cover the performance, appetizers and dessert, are available at http://tiny.cc/lzm7ky or at the door.
Of course, the evening would be incomplete sans swag, and patrons have opportunities to score T-shirts and two Daddies slabs, signed and sealed: 2016’s “The Boop-a-Doo” and the deluxe 20th anniversary edition of fate-changer “Zoot Suit Riot” (1997), both on vinyl. Interested parties should visit the da Vinci Days Facebook page (http://tiny.cc/bym7ky) and either “smash that ‘like’ button,” as the moppets say, or share the event for a chance to win.
When The E last spoke with CPD frontman Steve Perry, he was approving mixes for what became “White Teeth, Black Thoughts” (2013), which was issued in two editions: the first marked the Daddies’ long-awaited full return to swing; augmenting the second were forays into other American styles.
At the time, Perry, an assiduous student of music and sociology, called it the soundtrack for the Great Recession. Since then, the Daddies have stuck with jazz, in part because Perry enjoys exploring its breadth and because, well, our times, in a way, demand it. We’ve been here before, and the music of rebellion got us through.
Released last year, “The Boop-a-Doo” represents yet another departure of sorts for the Eugene-based collective. But it aligns with Perry’s credo, the questions he’s posed since establishing the group in 1989, when the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies moved to conquer the Northwest with defiant concoctions of swing, rock, funk, punk and ska: “What would rock ’n’ roll sound like if the Beatles hadn’t happened? Or Elvis? What would punk rock be if we were doing it today?”
When it came to swing, the Daddies were best known for sweat-shelled firebursts; “The Boop-a-Doo,” however, drinks in the intoxicating Jazz Age of the early 20th century. Although the nascent form was indeed considered wild, fast, and dangerous — musicians were often arrested for playing it and adults feared their kids were skidoo-ing to Hell — early jazz made do with more primitive recording conditions, gear now considered antique, and instruments alien to the Daddies sound, like tubas and banjos to keep time. But Perry loves a challenge and remains pleased with the results.
“I went around town and visited friends with vintage gear,” he recalled last week in a telephone interview. “I have a lot of vintage gear, too. We picked up things like temple blocks, old cymbals that were still playable, some lovely drums and the banjo. We also used tuba on certain tracks to get the bass sound. We reached back and put up these old rhythm mics to record with.
“What happens in recording, usually,” he continued, “is that the guitar eats up a weird amount of space in a mix. It’s a little large and sometimes it makes a mess. Modern hi-hats and guitar sounds are just too big. Whereas the banjo has a nice little slot — it’s percussive and it sounds strong. When I brought in the old drum kit, everything bloomed. It’s a great-sounding record, overall. Everything’s little — the notes are smaller and go by faster, with tons of physicality. If America was a person, from a musical perspective, this music would be a 7-year-old with lots of energy. The songs fly by and sound good going down.”
Perry calls “The Boop-a-Doo” a bookend of sorts in a planned jazz trilogy. It was preceded in 2014 by “Please Return the Evening: The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies Salute the Music of the Rat Pack,” familiar territory since the “Sammy Davis Jr. at the Coconut Grove” vibe in “Come Back to Me” on 1994’s “Rapid City Muscle Car.” However, the disc presented another challenge: transforming eight people into a leviathan equal to the bombast required for the Rat Pack’s outsized showmanship.
“That was another test of our studio chops,” Perry said. “Those records were made with huge bands, so we wanted that huge coloring, too, with giant sections. We needed the studio to sound larger, more lush, which is quite a task for every player. They all had to play more parts. It was a very different task.”
Perry remains mum on the trilogy’s final chapter, discussing instead his holiday plans: “The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies Christmas Canteen,” which he envisions as the spiritual descendant of a Christmas 1944 USO show in the South Pacific, with band members in period fatigues interpreting wartime standards “with a slightly kinky vibe.” “We’ve never tackled that era,” Perry said. “And that could be the third part. But I might attack other types of jazz, too, like the beatnik/bebop era or Western swing.”
The Daddies have even made room for dance, collaborating with Eugene Ballet director Toni Pimble on a show centered around their repertoire. Although she titled the resulting 2014 production “Zoot Suit Riot,” Pimble wisely cast wider than the swing material, pulling from every hue of the catalog.
“It worked out well,” Perry said. “Each piece was performed to a different song. Dance is good that way; you can really tailor it. That really fits us, to be honest, because I look at my albums in a similar way. They’re like a grand hotel with different guests and vibes. Room 1 is nothing like Room 2. Room 3 is funny; Room 4 is tragic. It wasn’t just one style of music, and it made for a better show.”
As most people know, “Zoot Suit Riot” is both the title of a Daddies album and the band’s most visible hit, peaking at No. 41 on the Billboard Pop chart in 1998. Those with long memories will recall that this success came with frustration. “Riot” was intended as a stopgap between releases, a swing-themed collection of songs culled from the Daddies’ diverse canon with four new recordings — all the band’s budget then allowed — attached.
It arrived during a storm of luck and circumstance. Swing bands were suddenly in vogue. Scenesters adopted their grandparents’ slang. Music by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Squirrel Nut Zippers poured from every convention hall. Your square friends donned Homburgs and took Lindy Hop classes through the Parks & Rec. It was simultaneously glorious and maddening. The Daddies, sadly, were considered just another act capitalizing on a fortuitous time in popular culture.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Perry recalled. “It was fun, though. I didn’t like being hemmed in that much. I’m a prickly person. I want to do what I want to do. But I don’t begrudge the album. It’s allowed me to have a long career and given me the ability to make the records I’m making now.”
“Riot’s” recent 20th anniversary allowed Perry to revisit the album and shape it into the perfect document of its era and the music’s potential. Instruments and bits were rescued from the void (example: a once-lost Theremin on “Here Comes the Snake”), and “Zoot Suit Riot” itself was recalibrated to the correct speed. Perry also added live performances from the resulting tour. “We weighed everything to make the definitive reissue,” he said.
But the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies were never much to linger in their own past. Perry’s already deep into another album of originals, mixing the topical and personal, reflecting on the passage of time.
It’s really just about us and now,” he said, “some of the things we’ve been dealing with as we get older. I’m getting to that age [he’s 53] where I’m thinking back on things. For instance, I grew up on the East Coast, New York state, but I’ve lived most of my life in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. But there’s a weird part of me that will always be an East Coaster. I’m still asking myself, ‘Why do I not fit in out here?’ If you ever grow up in a place, leave it and go back, that feeling of familiarity runs deep in your blood. It sits with you. I’m thinking a lot about that lately. I have children and you see yourself in them. You think about stuff like that.
“I love this record. It has an urgency. It’s certainly an interesting time to write, and I have good grist for the mill.”