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Big Bad Voodoo Daddy plans to cast a swing spell at dance concert in Irvine

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy plans to cast a swing spell at dance concert in Irvine
Members of the retro swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, from left, singer-guitarist Scotty Morris, trumpet player Glen Marheuka and saxophone player Karl Hunter listen and critique a jazz ensemble during a visit to Iowa in 2005. (File photo)

The latest video of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (more on the name later) shows them doing a semi-choreographed version of “Why Me?” in a very tongue-in-cheek manner that gives the impression this group is a comedy act.

Don’t be fooled. They are a serious swing revival/jump blues band formed in and still based in Ventura, performing authentic swing of the ’40s and ’50s and original music done in that style.

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“That’s just us, that is who we are,” said Scotty Morris, vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, bandleader and founder of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, which will visit the Donald Bren Events Center at UC Irvine Sept. 22 for a dance concert.

“That video was shot in one afternoon, with no plan, in the baritone saxophonist’s garage, with two digital cameras,” continued Morris, whose soft-spoken manner of speaking belies a strong sense of humor evident in the video. “That’s the kind of fun that happens when you see us play. It represents what the band’s really like, the creative energy we produce when we get together.”

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This year marks the 25th anniversary of the band, which first played at a private backyard party in Ventura in April 1993. Now, more than 3,000 performances later, the group is making a stop in Irvine. (The event is being relocated from the original venue, the Irvine Barclay Theatre, to the Bren.)

“I’ve been playing since I was 2, 3 years old,” said Morris, who previously played in other people’s bands and in studio sessions as a hired musician. “I wanted to put together my own band, playing music I really liked with friends. So I and (percussionist) Kurt Sodergren formed this group.

“We play big band, swing, traditional jazz, New Orleans — music I’ve always loved since I was 5 or 6. New Orleans just moves me like no other music; it just has its own thing.”

The audience will have an opportunity to do its own thing by not only listening to such classics as “Go Daddy-O,” “You & Me & the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight (Baby),” “I Wan’na be Like You” — and, of course, “Why Me?” — but dancing to them if so moved, as a dance floor will be installed at the Bren for the occasion.

“If we have a dance floor, then dance music will just take over, and we’ll have incredible fun,” he said. “And we are having fun.”

Although Morris points to such Los Angeles groups as Los Lobos and the Blasters as early inspirations, “There’s an Americana in their music,” he said.

He doesn’t think the band is modeled on any one group.

“When we started, there was nothing else like it,” he said. “We were underground and depended on word of mouth ’til late ’96, then ‘Swingers’ introduced us to the mainstream.” The band appear in the 1996 film, playing several songs.

Since then, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has made appearances on TV (“Jerry Lewis Telethon”) and live events (Super Bowl XXXIII halftime show). But the bulk of each year is spent touring (150 concerts) or producing albums (nine to date), which have sold almost 3 million (about two-thirds of that for their second album, “Americana Deluxe”).

“I like us playing live,” Morris said. “And I’ve written a new record, so we’ll soon be rehearsing for that, which promises to be wilder with a lot of ruckus. We want to see how clever we can be on a really limited budget.”

Although the band has yet to win a Grammy (despite several nominations), Morris is not concerned about it.

“The real reward is to play a concert in, say, Oshkosh, Wis., and have 2,000 people come enjoy our music,” he said. “Music is all I do, and we work so hard to keep our fan base by giving the best show possible. You’re not getting something phoned in, ever.”

Now about that band name.

“I was 17 and went to see blues guitar legend Albert Collins,” Morris recalled. “After his concert, I wanted his autograph and he signed it, “To Scotty, the big bad voodoo daddy.’ I thought, ‘That’s the greatest name ever!’

“What else could I call this group?”

If You Go

What: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 22

Where: UC Irvine’s Donald Bren Events Center, 100 Mesa Road

Cost: Tickets start at $44

Information: (949) 824-5000 and thebarclay.org.

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