MODESTO — You don't have to be a jazz or big-band fan to appreciate the sound of modern-day swing group Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The retro group draws fans of all music genres because of its high-energy live shows and standout recordings.
The Southern California band performs its holiday party Tuesday at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto, returning for the second time this year following a sold-out January show.
While the seven-piece band is no longer on MTV and the radio like it was in its heyday during the swing revival of the 1990s, it continues to attract a loyal following in frequent concerts around the country.
"We've played 2,700 concerts now and the band keeps getting better and better live," said trumpeter Glen "The Kid" Marhevka. "Nobody phones it in. There are people that come that don't have any idea who we are and are blown away."
The group's members wear dapper suits and hats, dance with abandon and make sure they put on a show, not just stand there and rattle off songs.
People who attend the Gallo Center show can expect to hear almost all the songs off the band's 2004 holiday album, "Everything You Want for Christmas," plus the group's hits like "Go Daddy-O" and songs from other albums, including its new Prohibition Era-inspired release, "Rattle Them Bones." They also can expect to hear a lot of commentary from lead singer and guitarist Scotty Morris.
"He's a great entertainer and showman," Marhevka said. "He tells funny jokes in between songs. He always has the right thing to say to keep the audience entertained."
The band was founded 20 years ago in Ventura County by Morris and percussionist Kurt Sodergren, who wanted to perform something completely different than the grunge and hip-hop that was popular at the time. They grew up listening to big-band jazz and began recruiting other players who appreciated the music. Morris took the band's name from the moniker that blues guitar legend Albert Collins used when he signed an autograph.
Marhevka, 41, said he knew there was something special about the band the moment he joined. He remembers telling his father at the time that he thought the band was going to take off. Marhevka had played with a lot of bands at that point and he saw that there was a vibe and chemistry among the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy musicians that he hadn't encountered before.
The group started playing the lounge circuit in the Los Angeles area, performing in the 1996 Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn film "Swingers," which showcased the swing scene of the time.
"Anytime we played in front of anybody, it was such a positive thing," Marhevka said. "People loved seeing the band live. We loved feeding off of that energy."
By 1998, the band was signed to Capitol Records and released its major-label debut, "Americana Deluxe." The band hit its high point the following year when it performed at the Super Bowl halftime show with Stevie Wonder and Gloria Estefan and had music featured in numerous films and TV shows.
The band has continued to perform together all these years later because the musicians love what they're doing and are constantly trying to improve, Marhevka said. They all listen to new music and see shows as much as they can and share what they learn with one another.
"You have to be inspired to keep playing music or otherwise it's stagnant and you phone it in and you get bored," he said.
The new release, "Rattle Them Bones," is influenced by one the band's favorite cities, New Orleans. "That city has been very influential since the beginning of our travels," Marhevka said. "It's a magical place. We've had so many great nights there. That's our music -- the quintessential jazz heritage."
Unfortunately, it's become virtually impossible for the band members to make much money from recordings because people have grown accustomed to listening to music for free online. The band recently took to its Facebook page to protest a move by Internet music site Pandora to reduce royalty fees.
"We make our money by playing concerts, really," he said. "You're almost expected to put music out there for free."
But no matter what happens with online music, Marhevka and the other members of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy will continue to do what they do.
"Everybody's fairly young in the group," he said. "I'd be pretty happy to keep playing for another 20 years. We're a real band that plays real, live music, and I think it's good music and it should be heard."
Modesto Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2313.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's Holiday Party
WHERE: 7 p.m. Tuesday
WHEN: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
TICKETS: $20-$50 CALL: (209) 338-2100 ONLINE: www.galloarts.org