Cherry Poppin’ Daddies
Space Age Bachelor Pad Records
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies daddy, Steve Perry, is an Oregon icon and should surely be in the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. His unrelenting musical vision, which has always fused elements of Funk, Ska, ‘30s Jazz, Swing and basic raunchy Rock, has now spanned almost twenty years. Since the band’s inception as a controversial frat-rock band, the Daddies have never been far from the local forefront, while continuously playing music that sounds strangely recycled- as if five radios from long ago eras were all blaring (harmoniously) together at once.
As with the Daddies’ contemporaries in the early ‘90s, the Crazy 8’s, the Daddies sported a horn section, when horns (during the era of Grunge) were not typically being employed by rock bands. The reason this melange worked at all was attributable to the genius of Steve Perry. That is not a euphemism, the guy is a real genius (he has a degree in molecular biology, fer chrissakes). Steve was the glue that held the band’s productions together- even when the execution did not fully meet the musical vision.
The Daddies have been a popular local band for over fifteen years. I remember seeing them at Larry Hurrwitz’s Day For Night in 1991 or 1992, Steve with a brightly colored mane falling halfway down his back, his head half-shaved; maneuvering a giant plastic penis around the stage and into the crowd. This might have been during their brief period as the “Bad Daddies” after their hometown of Eugene erupted in civil uproar over the name “Cherry Poppin’”. Those days were oh so quaint.
I remember seeing the band again, maybe a year later, playing to a packed house at Belmont’s Inn. They were far tighter by then, with the horn section better integrated into the mix and with Steve sporting close-cropped hair and a more suave stage presence. Within five years, the band had a national hit with “Zoot Suit Riot,” one of four new songs presented with several of the band’s previous Swing masterpieces in the album of the same name.
And for quite some time the Daddies were unfairly lumped into the “Cocktail Nation” pile that was momentarily popular in the late ‘90s. This almost became the death of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Their attempts to escape that Zoot suit motif were met with a collective yawn. It has taken the band almost ten years to free themselves from that albatross and return to being the band they once were- not locked into any particular style, but fully capable of deftly maneuvering through any of them.
“Susquehana” is an ambitious project, which Perry likens to a musical version of James Joyces’ “Ullyses,” wherein (as Joyce did, literarily) he employs different styles and arrangements to flesh out each musical chapter among the thirteen songs proffered. Longtime Daddies fans will hear all the various musical styles to which they have become accustomed to hearing performed by the band. But here, the tasteful application of various World music shades, color many of the compositions as well. It is the same old Cherry Poppin’ Daddies- yet somehow different.
For one thing, the band has sonically never sounded better. The horn section fairly shimmers. Perry still maintains his Sammy Davis Jr. approach to vocals, but a certain mature suavete that is all his own has crept into his delivery. The Thin White Duke meets the tuxedo-clad coolness of Bryan Ferry.
Jason Moss’ spaghetti western guitar is backed by Mexicali salsa brass (provided by Dana Heitman, who has been with the band since its inception) for “Bust Out.” Steve employs a creaky lower-range vocal for the verses and choruses, sounding more like himself in the bridge. Moss’ sterling nylon string guitar solo adds a smooth Jalapeno touch to the proceedings. Moss also stands out with expert whammy bar coloration on the nocturne that is “The Mongoose And The Snake.” The Ska-flavored “Hi And Lo” calls to mind a Mighty Mighty Bosstones sort of arrangement.
“Blood Orange Sun” is an uptempo Reggae number, with a number of autobiographical references to Perry’s childhood. The title of “White Trash Toodle-oo” references Duke Ellington, while the song itself is a hopped version of other songs the Daddies have produced over the years. Meanwhile, the rocky “Julie Grave” is a bit different for the Daddies, with none of the aforementioned musical references to be found, closer to something Ziggy Bowie might have done back in the early ‘70s. A catchy handclapping rhythm accentuates the tale of childhood lust.
With castenets a-clicking, hands a-clapping and flamenco feet a-tapping, “Roseanne” is a taste of Espagnole; a righteous send up. Moss’ highly stylized guitar, obviously influenced by African pop music, is the highlight of “Tom The Lion,” another departure for the Daddies; a direction heretofore unraveled for the band. Infectious. Moss returns with jazzy comping on “Wingtips,” a song Sammy Davis Jr. would have enjoyed singing. A sassy bossa nova, replete with flutes, “Breathe” is a quick trip to Brazil, with a lovely chorus.
An acoustic guitar makes an appearance, along with French horn accompaniment and a sonorous cello, to dress up “The Good Things,” a song few would guess to be performed by the Daddies. Delightful. “Arra’ncate” utilizes many of the earlier Latin themes in a send-up that would do Pink Martini proud (unless the translation of the Spanish lyrics would fail to meet Pink’s highly PC standards).
A true tour de force, the Daddies have produced an album that takes the listener around the world. While some of the material sounds like classic Cherry Poppin’, about half of the songs are a real stretch for the band- yet fully within the breadth of their talents and ambitions. And, while every member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame is fully deserving of their induction- the list of honorees will not be complete until Steve Perry and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies are included in the ranks. They are some of the best musicians the state has ever seen. And certainly twenty years is enough indentured musical servitude to warrant inclusion.