Disneyland was the place of a musical epiphany for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy trumpeter Glen “the kid” Marhevka. Unlike most 11 year-olds, it wasn’t Mickey or Donald that made a lasting impression and he didn’t even go near the rides; instead, it was seeing jazz legend Cab Calloway in full swing that captivated him. “He’s definitely been a big influence on the band, and for myself,” Marhevka says. “We just love his style and energy.”
Decades later and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy have succeeded in capturing some of Calloway’s energy on a tribute album, “How Big Can You Get?” While they were determined to still sound like BBVD, they covered a swag of Calloway songs including “Minnie The Moocher”, Calloway’s most famous track that gained him the nickname the “Hi De Ho man”. “We started doing the song ‘Minnie The Moocher’ when the band first started out,” Marhevka says.
But, surprisingly, that’s one of the few well-known songs on the record. The rest are fairly obscure, even to Calloway fans. “We didn’t want to do a typical album of Calloway songs, we always try and do stuff a little bit different,” Marhevka says, “we wanted to add in some of the lesser known songs that would still have his style and energy and that would just turn people on to maybe a few different things that you wouldn’t typically always hear from Cab Calloway.”
“How Big Can You Get?” is BBVD’s ninth album, and they’ve been together for nearly 15 years. But, the band is still powering forward and their loyal fan base isn’t waning. As each member individually strives for perfection of their instrument, the group as a whole is continuing to forge their own sound. “We all kind of push each other all the time and we’re all really great friends…and we have a pretty large group so I think that kind of keeps it fresh,” Marhevka says. As far as The Kid is concerned, being in the band is “really cool”.
They formed just as the ‘swing revival’ of the nineties hit off, and are in fact credited, along with Royal Crown Review, of prompting the surge in the vintage music. BBVD singer Scotty and drummer Kurt initially started the band, which soon snowballed with members. “We sort of handpicked the band as we were forming. We brought in guys, like, one guy was a friend of this other guy and he brought in a friend. We have great, really cool guys that all love the style of music that we play,” Marhevka says.
The style of music that they play is of course swing. Although BBVD received airplay on alternative radio in the nineties and received their big break in the movie Swingers, the genre isn’t on the top of most lists these days. “It’s not part of the pop culture anymore,” says Marhevka, “but fortunately for us, we’ve built up such a big following, and we’ve been touring so much for so many years that we’re able to go and do concerts all over. But other than that…the media does pretty much overlook it.”
Although, Marhevka concedes that popularity isn’t what they’re seeking. As long as they’re playing their music, the way they like it, they’ll be happy. BBVD get a kick out of pleasing their fans and, says Marhevka, “a lot of us are happier than when it [swing] was so popular. I kind of like the fact that the people that come out to hear us play come out because they’re big fans,” he says. “I think it’s more rewarding now than when it’s just so popular that people come out whether they like it or not, because it’s the cool thing or whatever. I think it’s actually cooler when your usual fans come out that really love what you do.”
In Australia in April last year, the band is already returning this January. “We were totally blown away last time we were there, the fans are so great,” Marhevka says. “We’re really, really excited to come back to Australia too.” When they do return, it will be in their usual groove. They’ll blow us away with their music and then come out to party with us afterwards, until everyone gets kicked out of the venue. But, BBVD are used to that.
“We made that a point from day one, to always go out and talk to the fans after every concert. I think it’s been a part of building up our fan base over the years,” says Marhevka. “We usually come out after every show. We love to do that. We’ve actually been kicked out of every place we’ve played because we stay too long. They’re like ‘OK, everybody has to leave now.’”
For now, the band that’s known for their vintage clothes and energetic performances is content to remain on their Calloway tour for a while. But, Marhevka hints at a new album that’s already underway. “We’re talking about doing another fully original album so we’re actually playing a few songs live already that will be on our next album,” he says. “We’re starting to talk about recording some of them and doing some other new tunes. I would think some time in the next year or so we’re going to start recording the next album.”
For “The Kid” who’s idolised Calloway since that fateful day at Disneyland in his childhood, the “How Big Can You Get?” album and tour is a dream come true.