On Friday, March 21, the Suffolk Theater will present the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies in a salute to the music of the Rat Pack. While the name of the band may not sound familiar to some, you’ll likely know their 1997 smash hit “Zoot Suit Riot,” a modern swing single that penetrated the Billboard charts and earned an MTV Video Music Awards nomination.
“It was a total surprise,” says founder/lead singer Steve Perry of the song’s rise to popularity. “We didn’t think people would respond to it on the radio. We had horns…we always got [paired with] ska bands. We toured for years with a ska band. I think after the song, people have a misconception about what we do.” While “Zoot Suit Riot” rocketed the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies to stardom, Perry was nervous the jazzy song’s popularity would water down the band’s ska roots and force them to change their edgy image. “After the hit came, we wanted to make the next record more of what we were,” Perry explains. “We knew we’d be banished to the wayback machine; it wasn’t going to work. So there was a period of that.”
But Perry realized over time that the Daddies could still maintain their unique sound and find success in the mainstream. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that compromise is not a dirty word…The weird thing about the [swing] material is that young people really react to it,” he says, noting that the majority of the audience is “not so much people from that era—they’re old and might remember it from their youth.” Young people have come to enjoy the retro flavor of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ music. “First of all, it’s great music. What’s not to like?” Perry says. “And I think that our audience really appreciates it; it’s in the retro world, it’s not computers, it’s people really playing, the music is smart and the ideas are universal.”
Audiences at the Suffolk Theater can look forward to an eclectic mix of genre and style from the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Their new album, Please Return the Evening, is a tribute to the Rat Pack. Perry, who has always been a fan of that era, decided to do a tribute-style album after realizing how well audiences responded to it at concerts. “It’s 15 songs. Over the years, we’ve played more rockin’ shows and people would sort of get out of hand, so we’d play ‘I Got You Under My Skin’ to calm them down,” he laughs. “It was interesting to see everyone [in the band] try a different style. For a small band, to mock up the sound to do big band…it sounds really great. We’ve [gradually] added more of that material into our set. We’ll play dancing stuff then stuff with a slower tempo, more showtune-like. It works
Perry notes that the Daddies will also play some of their older songs, like “Zoot Suit Riot,” and hopes audiences take to all of their material. “People come up to me and say, ‘Wow, that brought me back’ and ‘I didn’t know what to expect when I saw you guys.’ For instance, we have this song that’s a high-speed punk rock swing tune about a kid who’s getting beaten by his father; it’s more rockin’ than the swing music. But then right after, we’ll follow up with ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’ Not only do they like classic sound and arrangement, they also understand that the first tune was a choice. We can do both.” Perry hopes audiences will let loose and have fun at the concert. “We’re a dance band, so dancers are definitely welcome,” he exclaims.
The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies come to Suffolk Theater on Friday, March 21. Tickets are $45. Door, bar and restaurant open at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m. Suffolk Theater is located at 118 E. Main Street in Riverhead. Call 631-727-4343 or visit
suffolktheater.com for more information on this and other events.