Cherry Poppin’ Daddies got its start from singer Steve Perry’s desire to be different.
“When I was coming up in punk rock and alternative rock, the idea was do it yourself and don’t be a follower … do something that is your own music,” he said.
That sentiment stuck with him. When he’d play shows in pre-Daddies punk bands, however, he felt many of the bands in the scene around him fell short of that ethos.
“I’d see all the bands trying to be like Black Flag or Minor Threat or whatever. … I thought, well, you’re being a follower. You’re not doing your own thing, you’re just copying Minor Threat,” he said.
Swing music was Perry’s vehicle for forging his own path. His mom had sent him a collection of jazz cassette tapes that he neglected because he wasn’t interested in it.
“One day I put it on and it just blew my head off how great it was,” he recalled. “I started researching not just jazz, but the swing era. And I thought, wow, dance music that has these kind of roots, that would be really cool if I could somehow mix punk rock and swing music. That would be something that nobody does.”
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies formed in 1988 in Eugene, Ore. “What was weird about us, I guess, was the fact that we had a number of styles that we played, like, funky stuff and ska,” Perry said. “But the thing that really set us apart, I think, was our swing influence.”
The band’s first four songs or so were all swing songs, Perry said. They branched out into other genres, such as punk and ska, but people seemed to connect with the swing songs. “We noticed that people liked that part of our set more and more,” he said.
On the heels of the ’90s ska revival, swing music saw a resurgence. Acts like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Brian Setzer Orchestra blew up seemingly overnight, and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies saw huge success with their album Zoot Suit Riot. The album hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart in 1998, and hit No. 17 on the Billboard 200, propelled by the popularity of its hit title track.
Although it might have seemed like that success came out of the blue, in reality, it was the culmination of years of hard work, Perry said.
“We had been touring for 10 years at that point nationally,” he recalled. “And our thing had been growing and growing and the swing scene had been growing and growing. It just sort of was the right record at the right time.”
The album was produced on a small budget; Perry recalled that the album’s title track was recorded in a single take.
“That’s why at the end of it I’m saying, ‘I think I’m ready to sing it,'” he said. “Because I literally sang it, and I was just getting the mic tested. And he [the audio engineer] said, ‘You know what? That sounded pretty good.’ … I said, ‘Hey, that sounds great. We saved some money. Let’s move on.'”
The swing craze eventually died down, and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies returned to its roots playing a diverse mix of musical styles, Perry said. The band’s show in Bremerton will feature an all-swing set, however, including some songs off a new swing album the band has coming out soon. But Perry enjoys the freedom to explore whatever sounds the band wants to explore, while still respecting the sound that made the band famous.
“Sometimes we make a swing record entirely; sometimes we make a ska record; sometimes we make more punky-type stuff, but we’ll always play the swing music,” he said.
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies at Bremerton’s Redwood Theater
Cherry Poppin’ Daddies performs with Cockaphonix on Sept. 24, at the Redwood Theater at Tracyton Movie House, 15320 NE Riddell Rd, Bremerton. Doors open at 8 p.m., show is at 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 day of the show. Buy tickets here. All ages, bar with ID.