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Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Still Swinging

Lexington, Ky. — Want a crash course in everything that makes the music of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy such grand, unspoiled fun? Give a look and listen to the music video for Why Me?, a vigorous original tune from the band’s newest album, Rattle Them Bones.

The song is steeped in the revivalist swing sound that has long been the bread and butter of this Southern California troupe. But the video, available on YouTube, also warps the retro approach by shifting gears into what can be described as garageland vaudeville. You witness singer Scotty Morris crooning with a live chicken on his shoulder, a fake mustache on his lip and a comedic gleam in his eyes that makes him look like a stunt double for Will Ferrell.

“That video encompasses pretty much what we are,” said Morris.

For more than two decades, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has reveled in the swing sounds of the ’40s and ’50s. That might come as a surprise to those who thought the band was solely a product of a swing revival that made rapid rounds on the pop charts in the mid-’90s. The lasting popularity stems from an ability to both embrace and deviate from its swing-era smarts.

But before Rattle Them Bones, the ensemble decided to refresh its own scholarly swing with the 2009 album How Big Can You Get?, a tribute to the ’30s and ’40s music of bandleader, singer and swing stylist Cab Calloway.

“I had a handful of things ready for our next record when the Cab Calloway project came up,” Morris said. “And I’ve been wanting to do a Cab Calloway album since 1998. So when we got the green light for that, me and Josh (Levy), our pianist and arranger, jumped in full force.

“The Cab record was such a high learning experience for both of us, and for the whole band. It just opened the doors to I was tapping into, the ’20s and ’30s inspirations coming from New York, Harlem and Kansas City. And it all opened up on Rattle Them Bones.”

That might explain why Big Bad Voodoo Daddy peels back the years to 1928 by kicking off Rattle Them Bones with one of the cornerstone tunes of the Prohibition era, Diga Diga Do. “I had been having a hard time figuring out where Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was at the time, so what better way to find out than with a song from that era,” Morris said. “Everybody and his brother has covered Diga Diga Do. So I thought, Why not take one of the most popular songs from that era and do it our way? I’m not daring anyone, but I am saying, Judge it. See what you think. Play it against any other version out there and see how ours holds up.”

Rattle Them Bones later plunges forward some 50 years for Randy Newman’s wickedly ironic portrait of stardom, It’s Lonely at the Top, and an arrangement that sounds more like back alley ragtime than swing.