Sunday, July 8, 2012

July 8: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, "Mr. Pinstripe Suit"

Artist: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Song: "Mr. Pinstripe Suit"
Album: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Year: 1994

While many wish to overlook the reality due to the rise of the so-called "grunge" scene, as well as the dominance of the "gangsta rap" sound, the fact of the matter is that the first half of the 1990's were some of the most musically creative in terms of what the buying public pressed to hear.  Everything from new-age hip-hop and dance music to a ska/punk revival to heavy metal to "jam band" tunes could be found within the mainstream along with more "standard" strains of rock music; and it seemed that if your band had energy and originality, there was an open market for your success.  Along with this massive range in popular sounds, for a brief period, the swing-based "big band" sound found a revival, and one of the most well-known and accomplished groups of this rebirth were Ventura, California's own Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.  Managing to take all the energy of the swing-era, and also find ways to make their songs softer and slower from time to time, the group quickly proved that even though it was an "older" sound, it had just as much appeal and power as the most recent developments in music.  All across their 1994 debut, the band swings and sways, deploying an extraordinary amount of energy and outright fun, and there are few songs that better show the bands' brilliance than the track, "Mr. Pinstripe Suit."

From the moment that "Mr. Pinstripe Suit" begins, the listener is completely captivated by the song, as the opening rhythm from drummer Kurt Sodergen is outright infectious.  His playing brings a swift bounce and skip that quickly inject an upbeat mood into the track, and yet at the same time it is his performance which gives the song a bit of a smoky, "old school" feel.  As the horn section joins the mix, the descending scale they play creates the ideal lead-in moment for dancers, and at the same time it is a great "set up" for those just listening.  It is the almost "formal" sense that one can hear within the orchestration that becomes so unique, and it is also the fact that this is one of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's somewhat slower-paced tracks that allows it to appeal to a far wider audience.  Trumpet player Ralph Votrian creates almost a second vocal line all across the song, and it is the way he uses his mute from time to time, as well as the "cry" he creates that further engages the listener.  It is also the contributions on saxophone from Andy Rowley that gives "Mr. Pinstripe Suit" a very full sound, and the additional horns from Stan Middleton and Bob Ayer create the ideal "throwback" sound.  However, it is also the way that the guitar from Scotty Morris and bassist Dirk Shumaker work in perfect harmony with the horns that gives "Mr. Pinstripe Suit" such excellent musical presence, and there's no question it's the highlight of the album.

Along with his guitar work, Scotty Morris handles the vocals throughout a majority of the music of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and in both his sound and image, he became one of the icons for the resurgence of swing-style music.  There is a slight grit in his singing that makes it outright perfect for the style, and one can easily hear these songs ringing out of a nightclub on a hot summer night, as the dance-floor is filled with spins and throws.  It is the attitude one can hear in Morris' voice that is so intriguing, as there is a sense of mystery or mischief that one can detect, and yet at the same time there is no question that the entire band is having a great deal of fun creating this song.  Furthermore, the idea of "Mr. Pinstripe Suit" plays perfectly into the bands' musical image and sound, as one can see this character as the ideal person to be at one of their shows.  As Morris sings, "Mr. Pinstripe Suit" takes on his own persona, bringing within him a certain stride and swagger, and there is no question that the person about which he sings is the very essence of "cool."  It is the fact that the protagonist is so clearly described, yet can be seen as virtually any person who would be a fan of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy that makes the song work so well, and Morris' persona and vocal style serves as the ideal delivery system for this upbeat, exuberant track.

Looking back at the way that various musical forms have found their way into the mainstream sound, it was beyond impossible to predict that the swing-sound would have found a resurgence after nearly half a decade out of the spotlight.  However, perhaps due to the overall attitude of society, many bands found success with this sound in the first half of the 1990's, and the truth of the matter is that an overwhelming majority of the songs and albums made during that time still manage to hold up just as well to this day.  Among the most impressive of this new wave of bands was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and their self-titled major-label debut is an exceptional continuation of the work they'd done on their previous releases.  The "trick" behind this band was their ability to capture their live sound and energy within a studio environment, and this not only set them aside from a majority of their peers, but also from most bands from any other genre.  The songs all across Big Bad Voodoo Daddy simply jump off of the record, almost commanding you to dance along, as the rhythms and melodies are both captivating and invigorating.  It is in this reality where the reality can be seen that the "big band" sound has perhaps a wider appeal than any other genre in history, and there may be no better modern representation of the sound than what one can hear in Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's superb 1994 track, "Mr. Pinstripe Suit."

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