The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies appeared on Eugene, Oregon music scene in the late eighties. Their brand of swing music took the country by storm while their band name and song titles branded them as rebels. Steve Perry, original founding member, reflects on their roots, growth and new music. They are currently performing at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley in Seattle November 10 & 11th. Don’t miss this swing sensation! Get tickets here!
Rumor has it that you chose the band name just at the last minute so you could get a poster printed for an upcoming concert. Is it true?
It is! We lived in a punk rock house with two other bands. We had our first show with all of the guys that lived in the house. We were the second band of three. We all shared a practice space in this house. We were doing a joint concert and they said ‘Dude we have to get this poster made for this show. You have to freaking decide on a name.’ At the time, we listened to a lot of viper jibe and race records stuff that we found interesting. There was this song on in the background that mentioned cherry popping or something. This chick in one of the other bands said, ‘You should just call yourself the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies.’ We laughed and went with it. We didn’t really think much of it at the time. We played the show and we were an unexpected success on stage. I literally got off the stage and there was a reporter there that wanted to interview me.
There was so much controversy and picketing (in Eugene, OR) about the name; why didn’t you just change it?
It was a similar time to what it is now on college campuses. It was the genesis of politically correct speech. It is just so similar to what we are dealing with now. There was a huge outcry over the name. It was very political. I know their hearts were in the right place but they weren’t listening to the meaning of the songs. Our song, “Drunk Daddy” is about child abuse. I think the people that were raising hell were in a scene that they were never supposed to be part of in the first place. Our scene was not their scene. They did not understand the punk rock sensibility. They just came in and tried to tell us what we are saying here. They didn’t even try to understand our point of view. I agree with the idea that people shouldn’t be sh*t heads and that things happen. I think politically I was in league with them but I just totally disagreed with the way they went about it all.
How would you say that your music has matured or changed since the nineties when you formed the band?
I think in a lot of ways it has stayed the same. We always wanted to be The Rolling Stones of swing, not The Beatles of swing. I was always interested in the social aspects and harder to deal with subjects of the underbelly of society. We just used swing music as the sort of delivery system. In broad strokes that is still what we try to do now. For instance, in music from the twenties and thirties there is coded language. “Struttin With Some Barbecue” from the twenties is a song that just went by people but it is all about interracial dating. “Kickin’ The Gong Around” from the thirties is about drug abuse. I was very interested in all of that coded language. I don’t think most people understand what we do. They don’t see the art behind it. They don’t understand the history of the music. We never really wanted to be orthodox swing music. We always wanted to be a punk rock hybrid.
Could you tell me about your new video?
It is called “Brown Flight Jacket”. It is about this kid who gets handed his grandfather’s World War II flight jacket. His grandfather bequeathed it to him from his deathbed. The grandson is a person of today. He works at Starbucks and has sort of a quiet desperate life. He is not heroic at all. His grandfather was in World War II. He was held in a concentration camp. He gives this jacket to his grandson who he knows is an ant compared to him. The song is about the anxiety in this modern kid being bequeathed these traditions that he is not worthy of. It is kind of a subtle song but you see the imagery in the video.
How do you stay creative?
It is sort of a lifestyle. I guess one of the ways is to sort of look at Pablo Picasso and think about how he does this and that in a certain painting. Then, I think about how to do something like that musically. I could watch a Godard film and think about what a musical version of that would sound like. I like to dig into some of the amazing classic works and try to transform them into a different medium. I like to try to figure out what that would mean. It leads to all sorts of interesting ideas.