<I ran a music blog for many years, and during that time I was able to interview some of my biggest musical heroes. Scotty Morris is one of them. Turns out my artwork inspired a song on their album!>
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy blasted their way into my life in 1998 and I have been a HUGE fan ever since. The positive energy and power of their music was so infectious and their live shows were so unparalleled, I didn’t have a chance.
Their music career has taken them everywhere from starring in the 1996 movie “Swingers” to playing theSuperbowl Halftime Show in ’99. From recording the theme to NBC’s 3rd Rock From the Sun to playing live on TV shows like Dancing With The Stars and the ESPY Awards! 2012 has brought the 20th anniversary of the band, and their newest and critically acclaimed album Rattle Them Bones.
Just to give some context to some of the parts of this interview, over the last few years I have had the privilege of doing some t-shirt and poster artwork for the band and I’ve been able to interact with these guys on a professional level. That interaction has only has made my respect for the band even stronger. They are the genuine and awesome guys that you would hope them to be.
For a (now defunct) music blog, I got to sit down and interview BBVD’s singer/songwriter Scotty Morris before a show at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. I would be remiss not to mention that the interview took place in a part of the Zoo that had been closed off from the public. Meeting Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at dusk in an abandoned part of a Zoo felt like I was part of an episode of Scooby Doo (which relates to this interview more that I was expecting.) I was excited to ask Scotty the questions that I’ve always wanted to know as a fan and also the ones that I knew other fans would want to hear as well.
As I talked to Scotty, and a lot of the guys later on, I found them to have a wonderful “zen” peace to them that I hadn’t seen previously. The kind of peace that comes from being in a band for 20 years and coming out the other side …on the top their game.–
Andrew Cremeans: Scotty, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today!
SCOTTY MORRIS: I like the site, man! We were checking it out and we like it a lot. I like what you guys are trying to do. It’s cool!
AC: Thanks! You guys are celebrating a huge milestone, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is hitting the 20th anniversary this year!
SM: Yeah, that’s the best accomplishment we’ve done. People ask us about milestones, “Remember that time… that time… that time” or “I remember seeing you play when…” They bring up all the things that we’ve done that were monumental. For me, it’s that 20 years is just on the horizon in April. To me, that’s the most important thing we’ve done. Period.
AC: What are some of the things that you attribute to the longevity of the band? I mean aside from producing great music…
SM: I don’t know what other people’s secrets are, but with us there’s just a common connection of comfort that happens when the seven of us are together. It’s apparent immediately. There’s just nothing like it. I mean, you could say it’s “family,” but it’s different from family. We’ve shared so many things together, so many highs and so many lows together. It’s just unbelievable how incredible that bond is between us. We were off for about three weeks after making the new record … for the first time in a long time… and we had to do a ‘one-off’ show in Northern California. We ended up rented a van and 5 or 6 of us got in and the SECOND we got in the van after not seeing each other for a couple of weeks… everyone talked the ENTIRE time. It was just 4 hours of talking. ALL the way back from the show, it was just the same thing. It’s just that communication that we have, it fits. Everyone just seems to fit with everyone else’s personality. The quirks, the strong personalities, the quiet ones, it all just seems to work. It’s just this thing, it’s hard to say. It’s just like… “Home.”
AC: People have been extremely receptive to the new album! I have read TONS of great reviews on recently.
SM: Yeah, its been good to hear. I’m saddened that it didn’t come at a different stage in the scope of music history though. That’s the ONLY thing that saddens me, because these days everything is free and streamed online… the amount of time we spent on the record is immeasurable. We worked so hard, and just …how much was given for that record, and to see NO return back is so hard.
AC: That’s such a shame.
SM: It’s just the music industry now, people just go straight to free downloading situations or free streaming situations so record sales are really low. But for us, I don’t care about driving a fancy car or anything like that, I just want to make sure that …since we signed with a major record company… I just want to make sure that they want to give us money for the NEXT record. Because we have even BIGGER plans for the next record. I’m already 14 songs in to the next record!
AC: I was so drawn to live swing music in the ’90s because I was really into heavy metal and hard rock shows. The swing bands at the time had all that ‘raw power’ of those metal shows, but it was so positive and fun …and without all the nose breaking. Do you find that crossover a lot?
SM: Absolutely. You see, for me …it’s there. It’s there. Metal is in there. I’m the driving force of what we’re going to sound like. I write the songs and I’m pretty much the drill sergeant on how they are going to be played. Josh [Levy] arranges them and makes them sound great.
I grew up listening to metal, I grew up listening to punk and all these other kinds of music. I STILL listen to metal, I still listen to punk, and all these different kinds of music …so for us it is just there. It’s in us. Kurt [Sodergren] our drummer, came up from the punk rock scene of Los Angeles as well.
AC: The positivity in the music and in your live shows is infectious. I remember the first time I saw you guys play, I loved the fact that you were genuinely cheering each other on during the solos. I had this huge smile on my face.
SM: Well, it’s real though. It’s real. A lot of people have asked us “Who choreographs your moves?” and that’s such a funny thing because I have tried to get those guys those guys to do certain moves, I’ve tried to get them to do things, and it’s like “forget it, man.” I’m lucky that people love the way those guys move, and how it goes down because it’s never choreographed.
AC: Any time I’ve seen you play, no matter the size of the venue, you guys play like it’s Madison Square Garden. Who do you maintain that much energy after 25 shows in a row?
SM: Because our mantra for the band is “THAT is how this music is supposed to be played.” Its not supposed to be played any other way. When I’m writing, I hear these songs a certain way and that’s the way I really want to see them played. Then once people get the grasp of them, that’s the way THEY want them to be played.
Every single night, you have that challenge within yourself to make it better than the night before. That’s just what you do, that’s how you get better at what you do. Challenging yourself every single time. Finding another way to approach it, another way to get inside the groove, to get inside the melody, to make the melody better. You’ve always got to dig deep.
AC: When you play non-stop for long periods of time, do you guys have any strict regimens that you put yourself through to maintain your energy or your voice or…?
SM: I don’t have ANY downtime. If I’m not with the band, I’m working on a new record …or working on somebody else’s record. I’m working on anything.
No matter what, I’ll pretty much sing for 2 hours every day. That’s because, if I do that… my body thinks that it’s what its SUPPOSED to do every single day. And if it thinks it’s supposed to do this every single day… its not going to go M.I.A on me when I’m tired. It’s used to doing that.
AC: Have you ever felt constricted by the expectations of the genre? Like… Do you guys ever feel like saying “Screw it, we’re doing a country album.”
SM: No, not at all. That’s why every one of our records sound different. There was a point for me with writing …right after we recorded the Cab record (How Big Can You Get?) where I thought to myself “I…don’t care anymore. I don’t care AT ALL what critics think. I don’t care AT ALL.” Because I think to myself “How could somebody listening to music… maybe they are musician, maybe they are not a musician… but how could somebody judge my work …or judge my worth as a musician or an artist unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes?” You know what I mean?
I’ve spent my entire life to get to the point where I am at right now, dedicated to music. More than ANYTHING else, music. Especially THIS music. I love this music a lot, and I’ve learned a lot about this music. I’ve spent my entire life to be in this …and to have some critic with fancy words immediately chastise or praise my music … I don’t care. I don’t care anymore.
It’s great to hear that they are good reviews, but JEEZ man, I don’t do it for that anymore. Rattle Them Bones is the first original album that we’ve done where I haven’t cared. So I felt COMPLETELY free to do whatever I wanted to do. I think the Cab Calloway record for me …was the turning point in my life as a musician. It made me realize that the next 20, is going to be different from the first 20. That was a significant point for me.
AC: You’ve kind of jumped back and forth between major record labels and more independent labels over the years. Have you ever felt that being on a major label hindered the freedom of the creative process more than the smaller ones?
SM: Never. I won’t let them do it. There was print in our first contract with Capitol Records that said we were to be left alone completely. I have 100% say over everything and that’s continued throughout our other deals.
AC: One of the main reasons I wanted to do this interview was because I have been a big fan of your music for years, but I have also gotten to know you on the visual arts side of things. I find your music to be incredibly visual. Do you write music that way at all?
SM: Yes I do, absolutely. I think our music is 100% totally visual. All the original songs that I write are written visually, completely. As a matter of fact, the song Why Me? was inspired by looking at one of our posters…
AC: Do tell. (laughs)
SM: I have this poster that reminds me of an 1920’s or 1930’s cartoon strip, you might have heard of it. It is called “Zig Zaggity Woop Woop!”
AC: That sounds incredible, tell us all about it. (laughs)
SM: To make a long story short, I have the poster you did for us framed in my studio, and I was looking at it one night. I liked it so much and I was so inspired by the look of it… I wanted to write a song that that little band on this poster would play, so Why Me? is a result of that. There’s a lot of that on this record though, even the songs that were interpreted songs, songs that were written by somebody else, they are so vastly different than the originals… but each one of those I get visuals for them and while Josh and I are molding them into the pieces they become, for me it’s all visuals.
AC: The album artwork of Todd Schorr is almost inseparable in my mind with early Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. I almost see those images in my mind when I’m listening. Can you tell us anything about how that relationship came about?
SM: Our Todd Schorr connection was through the Executive Producer and the owner of Coolsville, the label for the first record. Brad Benedict was the archivist for Capitol Records, and an art collector, a HUGE art collector. His collection is worth millions and millions of dollars, I’m sure of it. He had like five Warhols thick just on the floor of his house. He had Lichtensteins… he had Weasels Ripped My Flesh, he had the original Weasels Ripped My Flesh Zappa Record on his front window. He had all this amazing stuff …and artist Robert Williams was one of his really good friends, they are both L.A. guys. Brad met Todd through Robert and they became fast friends.
So flash forward a few years… when we were making the record, he asked me “Well, what kind of record art are you looking to make? What is going to set you apart in this whole new “cocktail” thing. Let’s make this “cocktail” record, this guy Andy Engel can do the artwork.” I said “No man, I’ve found the greatest artist on the planet… his name is Todd Schorr.” Brad just goes “Are you kidding me?” and I said “What do you mean?” and he goes “Todd Schorr is one of my best friends!” So I said “Lets get a meeting RIGHT NOW” and basically within a month we had a meeting.
I already knew what I wanted the record to look like. I had sketched the whole thing out and gave it to Todd. He laughed and said “You know, I’ve never been commissioned like this before, but ok!” and took my sketch and just went ‘Todd Schorr’ all over it.
From that point on, when the next record came around and we wanted to use that next image of his, he gave us all these other images within that great theme. We were just FLOORED to have Todd working for us because he wouldnt work for anybody!
His wife is awesome too, Kathy Staico Schorr, look at her stuff man! She has this picture for Halloween that I swear I’m going to buy the original someday.
I’m really inspired by the visuals of Todd’s work. I’ve been to a dozen or so of his gallery shows. He’s just one of those guys that goes to deeper newer places every painting.
AC: Disney Artist Andy Engel does quite a bit of your stuff as well.
SM: Yes, I met Andy through Brad Benedict also. Andy does almost all of our stuff now… he has also done a TON of stuff for Disney. He does almost all the packaging for Disney DVDs. He did the logo for the movie UP! …he’s done a TON of stuff. He did a lot of stuff for Cars too. After Brad introduced me to Andy, I had Todd Schorr and Andy Engel and I was SPOILED man. I never wanted to work with anyone ever again!
AC: This might be an odd thing to say, but my first experience to swing music was from cartoons. There is a ‘subconscious happiness’ for swing music from my childhood. Especially Tom and Jerry, with Zoot Suit Cat and of course Tom singing Louis Jordan’s Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby.
SM: 100%. That’s were it grew for me. My brother is 3 years older than I am, and when I was a little kid he came home one day with a trumpet. He tried it out and was just making this awful noise with this trumpet. He’d go off to school and I would steal it, and the first time I blew through the trumpet it didn’t sound like when he blew through it.
I could remember seeing the trumpet somewhere before so I went digging through my Mom and Dad’s record collection, which was very thin at the time, and there was a Louis Armstrong record in there where he’s holding a trumpet. I put two and two together. To hear Louis Armstrong’s music as a 5 or 6 year old, it changed my life. I was like “Holy Christ!”
As I got a little older I started getting into Tom and Jerry, and now I have a 10 year old son and its his favorite cartoon as well. I watch those old episodes with him and just say “No wonder my music sound so much like this era!”
AC: The guys who scored those original shorts were unbelievable!
SM: Yeah, Scott Bradley! The guy who does the stuff that you and I like a lot …his name is Scott Bradley. There’s Raymond Scott also, but Scott Bradley stuff is just phenomenal!
AC: What’s amazing about that is… you guys went on to do stuff with Scooby Doo, Phineas and Ferb and the Jungle Book cover. It’s all very ‘full circle’ bringing swing to a new generation!
SM: Yeah, we also did some stuff for Disney’s The Wild. I’m stoked every time we get to do that stuff!
The very first video we ever made that had a budget was for You & Me & The Bottle Makes 3 Tonight, and it had animation on the front and back of it. A lot of people didn’t get to see it because I pulled it right away. I am an animation guy, I LOVE animation, and the animation was just not good. I was really disappointed so I made them yank it. They played it on MTV for a while and then the second version came out with no animation. Maybe we’ll post it someday.
AC: I’m always intrigued by other people’s creative process. “Artistic Fatigue” creeps into every artist’s life at some point, how do you fight that off?
SM: Yeah, it’s a battle. It’s a battle of mental health is what it is for me. I battle ‘ups and downs’ like crazy just because of what I do. As a singer, I get on stage and my job is to make a thousand, 5 thousand, 10 thousand people pay attention to what I’m doing, to pay attention to my tunes. I have to get myself in such a ramped up position for the show, play the show and then I get off stage and then …’Now what?’ Go sit on the bus for 10 hours? Go to a hotel? You just have to figure out ways to do it, and for me its now just really strict diet and really strict exercise. When I do that, I notice that I’m sharp as a tack.
AC: Well, creative people tend to be even more sensitive to ups and downs as well…
SM: I’m COMPLETELY sensitive to it all, it’s madness. But doing all the regular human things is how I stay engaged in the real world.
AC: Do you find that it’s impossible to force creativity or do you have to schedule time to be creative in order to make it happen?
SM: I can write ALL the time. I write all the time.
We are discussing our mission right now because we are really changing things within the structure of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy LLC., the company. We’re asking different demands from our management, from our publishing agent, from our business people, from ourselves… we’re really getting involved right now and we’re making this 20th anniversary into the second part of our career. We’re really cleaning things up and really tightening the ship up. We’ve been talking about doing …and I mean we’re just kind of flirting with the idea, this is no “done deal” and no exclusive, but we’re thinking about doing a Halloween record…
AC: Ooooh, awesome!
SM: Glen [‘The Kid’ Marhevka] and I were talking about it yesterday …and this is all tied in to creativity …we started talking about it and we immediately went over to Amazon and started downloading some old Halloween tunes. We were listening to this stuff and making list of tunes that we like, and ideas that we like, and then eventually we had to stop and go to sound check. So I jump in the shower and as I was in the shower an ENTIRE song came into my head. An entire song, all the parts.
So I run and grab my phone and dictated it into my phone while I was in the shower, I get out …get dressed and come out and say to Glen, “Dude, I’ve got a Halloween song.” and he said “What? Right now? Let me hear it!” and I sang it for him and he’s like “Oh my God, Dude! That’s GREAT! You just did that in the shower?”
So for me, that’s what happens. I get hit with like a bolt of lightning. It’s like a song comes on in my head and I hear all the parts and then I just have to connect the dots.
AC: Well, swing has always mixed in a cool way with spooky music in my opinion. You guys did that song for the Casper movie…
SM: Oh, that’s right! Wow! Spooky Madness, right? Have you heard that song?
AC: Yes, of course! It was you guys and Danny Elfman, right?
SM: Yeah, I think it is! What did you think of that song?
AC: I thought it was great, I think I found it randomly when I was searching through a bunch of Danny Elfman stuff. I love his movie scores and I was a big Oingo Boingo fan for a while. I saw something randomly that said “Danny Elfman and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” and I thought “What? that can’t be real” so I clicked on it, and sure enough…
SM: I think we need to re-record that song because we didn’t really know what we were doing when we originally recorded it. I think that song has got a little more meat on it’s bones than what we were able to give to it on that recording.
I remember we were given that song like on a Thursday and we had to record it on Monday or something, so we never rehearsed it. We just went in to the studio and kind of made this thing go down. We didn’t have the machine like we do now, where Josh and I organize things, the horn players organize their parts, and then we get it all together and make it happen, you know.
AC: Well, maybe if you guys do the Halloween album you can get that Halloween picture from Kathy Staico Schorr you mentioned earlier as the cover!
SM: Definitely! Unless you do up something better!
AC: (laughs) DEAL! Speaking of albums… I was really moved by the overarching theme of the album Save My Soul, which was about kind of finding creative/spiritual renewal in the music of New Orleans. Do you feel that there is a theme to Rattle Them Bones?
SM: You know what? It’s TOTAL optimism. I feel that it is just an optmisitic record. We’re in such an un-optimisitc time right now. I was writing these tunes as we were coming in to an election year and just …the way the world is going right now, you know… the songs that were coming out of me were love songs, songs of happiness and optimistic approaches to things and that’s sort of what kind of happened, you know?
Now, this next record… I dont know. It’s hard to say what the next record is. I’ve got some many topics for this next record. I’m not seeing any specific shaping yet.
We decided a month ago that we are going to make a record to hopefully come out by February 2014. Like I said, I’ve already got 14 songs for that, so if I continue the way I’m going there’s going to be a LOT of different things to choose from and really dig deep in.
I just LOVE concept records. I wish that I could somehow garner up an entire concept album that would REALLY work as a whole piece.
AC: I have heard mention over the years of some of your musical influences …Cab Calloway of course, Louis Armstrong and then later The Blasters …but is there anyone that inspires you musically that some people would find surprising?
SM: I think maybe something that people would find interesting …because they think I’m more of a swing or jazz guy, …Rage Against the Machine is one of my favorite bands of all time. Jane’s Addiction is also one of my favorite bands…
AC: Jane Says was just on the radio when I was pulling in…
SM: I saw them do that song in a barn when they were like 6 months old. I saw them SO many times back in the day.
I listen to EVERYTHING though, that’s the thing. I’ve listened to punk rock bands forever.
Something that might surprise people too … certain records influenced me to be in a swing band, and influenced me to do what we are doing today… but they probably aren’t the records that people would think they would be.
The two records that I could say are PIVOTAL in my career, as far as liking this music and feeling confident that I could do it as a young guy, was… Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive …and Don Byron, he’s a jazz clarinetist, he did a record called Bug Music. Bug Music is a record that is the music of Raymond Scott. It’s cartoon music. It’s PHENOMENAL, its the most incredible record. So if you listen to Jumpin’ Jive, and you listen to Bug Music and you blur those together, you really kind of get where we are now.
I’ve been trying to narrow it down because I throw off Cab Calloway and I throw off Louis Armstrong a lot …but to be very specific, there are ingredients in those records that changed me as a person. It made me want to do this music and give me the confidence to do this music.
AC: How did Duke Ellington’s Blue Pepper become the song that the band takes the stage to?
SM: The band was about a month old and we were going to do an ‘in-store’ for our first record … our VERY first record, our indie record…it was September of ’94. It was in Santa Barbara, I think at a Barnes and Noble or something, and we had a GIANT underground following at the time in that area. We were walking into the store and walking through the crowd, and it felt just like Rocky walking into a prize fight or something, everyone was around us like ‘There’s those guys!” it was real mysterious. The DJ, that was playing music at the event just thought “Oh, it’s a swing band better throw something on” because at that point, nobody had anything to compare with. So he threw on the Duke Ellington record that I guess was just reissued at the time… and all of the sudden Blue Pepper comes on as we were walking through.
That song came on and I was like “Holy SHIT, man! This is the BADDEST TUNE I have ever heard!” And as we’re walking through, it became our walk on! And I just go back and ask “What song is that?” and we’ve walked on to that song ever since!
AC: That whole “Far East Suite” album is amazing…
SM: The thing that just trips me out about that record, and that artist, Duke Ellington is that record was probably never rehearsed. It was probably written on the road, and they probably went in a studio ..they probably recorded each song maybe three times …and what you hear is what they did …they might have played those songs once or twice at some other period in their career and that was it! They moved on SO FAST with everything. Blue Pepper is probably my favorite song even still… it’s one of my favorites.
AC: I have read that we all owe the awesome Big Bad Voodoo Daddy moniker to blues musician Albert Collins?
SM: Yep! Albert Collins. I was in punk rock bands early on but my foot was always in jazz, and I was always into the blues. I was playing trumpet and playing bass and keyboards in different bands and recording other bands, and kind mini-producing little things without really knowing what I was doing. I started taking guitar lessons because eventually I started to think I needed to play the guitar. I was 17 or 18 at the time and my guitar teacher, Mike Fishel, used to make me mix tapes of GREAT music. He put a song on one of the tapes called “Iceman” and I LOVED that song, it was so badass. It was KILLING me, man.
So I found out Albert Collins was playing in Santa Monica, not far from where I grew up, so I went down to see him play. He was playing in this venue that had, like a 75 person capacity, and there were probably about 150 people in there. He just walked all over the room with this long cord, just RIPPING… just crazy Texas ripping blues guitar playing, man. It was SUCH a great show, and I was so floored by the whole thing. At the end, I just grabbed the poster off the wall and I waited for him to get on his bus. I was like “Mr. Collins, will you please sign my poster?” and he was like “Yeah kid, what’s your name?” “Scotty.” and he wrote “To Scotty, THE BIG BAD VOODOO DADDY. Love, Albert Collins” I was like “Wow, man. That’s IT!” He handed that down to me, man.
AC: Are there any modern Swing/Rockabilly bands that you are really enjoying or are you always just diving back to the classics.
SM: Man, …I don’t really know of anybody doing anything right now. I’m trying to think.
Every once in a blue moon I’ll go back to Squirrel Nut Zippers first record, or second record… I like some of the stuff that those guys were doing. I love how reckless and wild and creative it was. It was really unique and had some cool stuff to it.
Jeez, I can’t think of anybody that’s doing anything right now that’s really kicking my ass with it.
Arturo Sandoval just did a record for Dizzy Gillespie, he’s got a few tracks on there… there’s a few that Gordon Goodwin arranged that are just burning to pieces. I love some of the stuff that Harry Connick Jr. will do when he’s doing the real creative big band stuff because he’s got a great unique ear, but he’s so busy doing different things.
AC: Cool! So, whats next for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy?
SM: To be honest with you, we are in the midst of releasing videos. We’re releasing a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Youtube Channel… We’re organizing it to the point where you can go on the channel and see “T.V. Interviews” and under that will be as many T.V. interviews that we have, right at your fingertips. We’ll put our favorites at the top. And then it will be “Fan Favorites” where fans can vote on their favorite ones, we’ll put the top fan choices there. Then there will be the “Official” videos that the band has done… you’ll be able to get those. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find the [You & Me & The Bottle Makes 3 Tonight] with animation, post that. Now we’re making our OWN videos.
Glen, our trumpet player, The Kid, …we just finished a video for Why Me? and it’s unbelievable! It’s SO GOOD, he did SUCH a great job on capturing Big Bad Voodoo Daddy with it. We’re going to release that on November 14th, I believe.
AC: I saw that “making of” clip of the new record, kind of a ‘behind the scenes…’
Glen did that also, he does all those little “Making Of…” things. He does all that stuff, that’s his ‘inner job’ in the band. He and Andy [Rowley] really stepped up on the Why Me? video, it’s really great!
So, what we have coming up … the video channel on Youtube… then at the end of January, February, or March we’re doing a new Live DVD/CD.
After that …we are going to do unplugged series on our own. We’re going to take 6 or 7 songs and we’re stripping them all the way down. There will be nothing electric at all, it will just be really small, no drums. He will just be hitting on boxes and stuff, and we’re going to record a series of these tunes. So just really showing different sides of what we do, and we’re going to film them because we’re all learning how to do that now.
So that will happen, and then February of 2014 will be the new record. Then maybe that Halloween record!
AC: Scotty, I wish you guys the best of luck, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. More importantly, thank you for all the incredible music!
SM: You bet, man! Thanks!
Pick up Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s newest album Rattle Them Bones at Amazon.com!
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