Along with bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies was part of the 1998 swing revival.
The group’s hit single “Zoot Suit Riot” was a mainstay on radio stations and the album Zoot Suit Riot went double platinum. For lead singer-songwriter Steve Perry, the mainstream exposure and impressive record sales were largely a burden. “There was a period of time when my relationships, even with my friends, changed due to ‘success,’ and random people wished me ill,” Perry recalls. “I found that depressing.”
Part of the problem is the Cherry Poppin' Daddies has never been strictly a swing band. Punk, ska and funk hurl themselves into nearly every one of the group’s albums. Zoot Suit Riot is a compilation of many of the band’s swing songs and doesn’t reflect the more disparate elements in the Daddies’ repertoire.
Many of the fans who snatched up the major label smash avoided the Daddies’ next release, Soul Caddy, because it didn’t sound like the album they fell in love with two years earlier. It sounded more like a Cherry Poppin’ Daddies studio record--varied, difficult to predict and unbeholden to any one genre.
The album’s disappointing sales fueled a semi-hiatus in which the group performed sporadically. In 2005, the band picked up steam again and began touring the country with more fervor. This year, the Daddies created Susquehanna, which boasts a heavy Latin influence alongside all the other genres.
“If people call for a particular song, we play it ... if we still remember it.”
In the midst of the Daddies’ European tour, Perry put down his guitar and replied to our e-mail.
What's the reception been like on your European tour?
The response has been great. There is a big swing and rockabilly scene in Europe and the following is loyal and enthusiastic.
Are you OK with being linked to the swing movement of the late ’90s?
Yeah, it’s OK, but as a songwriter, it’s a little limiting. Usually what we do is we write a diversity of songs for our recordings, and when we play live, we concentrate on the swing and roots rock aspects. If people call for a particular song, we play it ... if we still remember it.
Were you relieved at all when the mainstream success ended, even though it meant selling fewer records?
Somewhat. Of course, the financial success helped all the members of the band, and when it stopped, we had a hard time making ends meet. But, like I said, it was nice to be a regular guy again and have people like me for myself.
You used to have fairly raunchy stage shows where you’d come on half-naked and ride a lawn mower shaped like a dildo (the “Dildorado”). What made you want to tone that down?
Aging, mostly. Now we concentrate on playing the music as well as we can. That is difficult enough.
When you went on hiatus briefly, did you ever worry the band would never get back together?
No. We never stopped playing, though we played sparingly. I think the break helped us stay together.
What got you recording and touring again after the break?
I just got an itch to create a new thing and I asked the band if they would be interested. We slowly got it done.
What made you want to inject a Latin influence into Susquehanna?
There were a couple of style threads that go through the record: swing, ska, glam and Latin. I just wanted to make something West Coasty. The Latin influence, as well as the roots rock thing, are big out here, so I wanted to reflect that.
Do you think you'll ever do an all-swing record again?
Yes. There will probably be some roots-rock and psychobilly influences as well, but it will be primarily swing. I don’t know if it will be the next one or not, but it will be relatively soon.
I love New Mexican food. It’s the best in the country by far. I can’t wait.