BIG DADDY: THERE IS MUSIC AFTER LAOS
Bob Wayne, leader of the L.A.-based group Big Daddy, is ready to junk the Laos story.
Big Daddy, the story goes, was on a USO tour in Laos in 1959 when it was captured by communists, who held the eight musicians prisoner for 24 years. When it returned to the States to continue its career in 1983, the band naturally looked for current hits to perform. And, naturally, they performed them in the only style they knew: 1950s rock ‘n’ roll.
That’s an entertaining premise for Big Daddy recordings like “Jump,” which fits the Van Halen anthem into the slapping rockabilly format of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” and Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” translated into agile street-corner doo-wop.
But, according Wayne, who leads the group at At My Place in Santa Monica tonight, the Laos legend “has become a little bit of a burden. When we do interviews we often find that the story becomes so much a part of the interview that we never get to talk about the music or what the band does now or what we’re trying to do. We’re more interested in talking about the future than what it was like to be tortured in Laos in 1961.”
The real story begins with Wayne’s involvement with various projects for Los Angeles’ offbeat Rhino Records, including recordings by Elvira and Wally George. Wayne was also a member of the label’s infamous Yiddish People, which released the non-hit “Matzoh Man.”
Wayne and Rhino head Richard Foos’ discovered that they had a mutual fondness for an early ‘70s album by Godfrey Daniel, which featured contemporary hits done in ‘50s R&B; and doo-wop styles. Big Daddy broadened the concept to include the entire spectrum of vintage rock ‘n’ roll, recorded the “Unnatural Enquirer” album and started performing around town. A second LP, “Meanwhile . . . Back in the States,” has just come out.
While some cuts seem slight and others forced, the best matches of song and style effectively redefine the material. “Billie Jean’s” sense of mystery is enhanced by its ominous “Be Bop a Lula” setting, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” finds a new sweetness in a “Duke of Earl” format, and “Purple Rain” works surprisingly well dressed up as Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.” Big Daddy’s light, poignant interpretation of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” made the Top 20 in England.
These successes are some reasons why Wayne reacts violently to the term novelty.
“When somebody uses the term novelty , it means it won’t last,” said Wayne, who owns and operates a recording studio in Culver City. “I think when we had the hit in England, that song wasn’t taken as a novelty by a lot of people. They just liked ‘Dancing in the Dark’ as a song.
“We don’t mind it being called comedy music, but the term novelty has a real negative connotation in the music business, meaning it won’t sell. Certainly we want people to have fun with this--it’s obviously got some comedy to it. Then again, there are people that actually prefer our versions to the originals.”
Wayne & Co.'s ultimate goal is to develop the act into a “Sha Na Na"-style TV show. Meantime, there are the local dates, a long-term contract with Caesars Tahoe--and more hits to adapt.
“ ‘The Heat Is On’ (by Glenn Frey) is one of them,” said Wayne, “and that’s done like ‘Fever'--a cross between the Little Willie John and the Peggy Lee. The other one is (Dire Straits’) ‘Money for Nothing’ done like Tennessee Ernie Ford’s ‘Sixteen Tons.’
“We’re working on a ‘60s-'70s medley. It might start with Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ ” and go through the Beach Boys, the Beatles, maybe Jimi Hendrix--go through all the music we missed when we were away in Southeast Asia.”