MANHATTAN, NY—Following his high school graduation in 1981, Steve Perry left his hometown of Binghamton, New York, for Eugene, Oregon, to pursue track and field and a chemistry degree at the University of Oregon. Perry started a punk trio called The Jazz Greats in 1983, followed by the garage rock group Saint Huck and the funky Mr. Wiggles, until finally establishing the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies in 1989. Originally a punk, funk and ska band, the Daddies now embrace big band swing.
The group’s sixth studio album, a swing/rockabilly double album entitled White Teeth, Black Thoughts, was released in 2013. A tribute album to the music of the Rat Pack entitled Please Return The Evening will be released in 2014. Presently, the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies consist of Perry on vocals, William Seiji Marsh on lead guitar, Dana Heitman on trumpet, Willie Matheis on tenor saxophone, Joe Freuen on trombone, Andy Page on alto saxophone, Dan Schmid on bass guitar and Paul Owen on drums. Only Perry, Schmid and Heitman remain from the founding lineup.
Throughout the 1990s, when the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies were a cutting edge punk and third wave ska band, their name drew controversy and even protests. The group fueled the protests with provocative stage shows, sometimes featuring a mock crucifixion, flag burning and go-go dancers.
Opening for Rusted Root at the Gramercy Theatre on Jan. 10, the Daddies featured nothing cutting edge or controversial. Perry, smiling and dancing in his white tuxedo jacket, simply led the group through a collection of original songs and big band swing classics.
This was the problem: The band played well as a unit, but had little space for the jazz improvisations that make swing great. Likewise, if the vocalist was going to sing Frank Sinatra, as in “Luck Be A Lady,” “The Lady Is A Tramp” and “That’s Life,” he should be an outstanding vocalist, and Perry is not even close. While the audience enjoyed the novelty of hearing a swing band in a rock venue, the Daddies failed to meet the musical standards of even a lounge band. Unless it is going to try to do swing better than the average lounge act, the ensemble needs to get back to ska and skip the shtick.