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"When most people think of psychedelic, they think of the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix," says Steve Perry, the singer-songwriter for Eugene, Oregon's Cherry Poppin' Daddies. "But to me, that's not psychedelic at all. To me, that's real run-of-the-mill. Psychedelic is much subtler. Like, I see Sammy Davis Jr. as being psychedelic. [His music] just has this weird quality to it. If you listen to it really hard, it starts to change, metamorphose. It's like when you say a word over and over again. It starts to become really horrid and bizarre."
Perry and his bandmates (guitarist Jason Moss, bassist Dan Schmid, saxophonists Adrian Baxter and Brooks Brown, keyboardist Chris Azorr, trumpeter/trombonist Dana Heitman and drummer Brian West) are quite familiar with these qualities. After all, the Daddies are notorious for injecting traditional musical arrangements with surrealistic twists and turns. On Ferociously Stoned, the band's 1990 debut, the Daddies mix everything from jazz and metal to be-bop and ska into their funky, horn-drenched sound. Yet below Stoned's festive surface, there runs an underlying current of corruption and mayhem. "Drunk Daddy," for instance, is an agitated, big-band ditty about alcoholism and child abuse, while "Cherry Poppin' Daddy Strut" and "Dr. Bones" explore the topic of infidelity. If you've ever wondered what Raymond Carver would sound like fronting an octet featuring members of Parliament-Funkadelic and the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Stoned provides the answer.
With Rapid City Muscle Car, a new CD on the band's own Space Age Bachelor Pad imprint, the Daddies take their musical novellas in an entirely new direction. Even so, Perry feels that the record's tone is no less creepy. "There's lots of references to South Dakota on this record," he explains. "We wanted to get across a sort of dark, angry feeling. What I see as being scary are two kinds of polar opposites. One is that really bright, anxiety-provoking feeling you get when you go into a casino. And the other one is this kind of deja vu, murky, swampy, South Dakota-in-the-rain sort of feeling. [With this record], we tried to strap those two ideas together."
Although Muscle Car is the Daddies' first album in more than four years, the disc is every bit as diverse as its predecessor. Highpoints include "The Search," which Perry describes as a "basic, retro-y" kind of number, and "Bobby Kennedy," a metallic ode to the bums in Eugene that Perry describes in his typically discursive manner. "Bobby Kennedy is like this liberal with fists--a tough guy," he says. "So when I think of Bobby Kennedy, I think of heavy metal...And you know how you see bums walking down the street? How they amble? To me, that's like the sound of heavy metal, too. That `clunk, clunk, clunk.' So I decided to put Bobby Kennedy's `over-the-topness' together with the bums' `over-the-topness,' and we came up with `Bobby Kennedy.'"
Funkified scenarios such as this one may be too unusual for many listeners--especially those who have been weaned on more homogenous alternative styles. But if the Cherry Poppin' Daddies don't become tomorrow's MTV darlings, Perry doesn't seem to mind. As he puts it, "The alternative thing isn't very sexual. It's very sad. Very Oprah. It doesn't have wiggle and it doesn't have exuberance. It's not glad-to-be-here.
"When I think of alternative," he continues, "I think of white, upper-middle-class grungy kids that never move around. They just stand there with their hands in their pockets and look down at their shoes and try not to think anything that's different from what they've been told in Forced Exposure or Spin. To me, that doesn't reflect reality."
The Daddies take an odder approach. On a good night Perry attacks the stage with more energy and enthusiasm than a gymnasium full of grunge acts. Once his feet hit the boards, he flails about with the spastic intensity of a punked-out Jerry Lewis impersonator. It's not surprising, then, that the singer is a great admirer of the buck-toothed comedian and MDA Telethon impresario. "[Jerry Lewis] is the most fucking psychedelic guy ever!" he exclaims. "He emotes a lot of what we've been talking about just in his physical being. It's hard to quantify what it is, exactly. It's ballsy. It's brassy. It doesn't give a shit about you. It just goes, and you can't stop it. He would murder Henry Rollins in a one-on-one. He's like a fucking blender, man."
And what about the flannel-garbed musicians who claim to represent psychedelia's next wave?
"I think a lot of today's psychedelic players just press the `sad' button and play an A-minor chord and scream about how upset they are," Perry suggests. "To me, that's not creative at all. We're trying to get [those feelings] across in a different way." Laughing, he adds, "I guess, in a way, that makes us even less marketable."
Unless Sammy Davis Jr. suddenly becomes hip again, that is.
The Cherry Poppin' Daddies, with Shootyz Groove. 9 p.m. Wednesday, September 14, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $5, 447-0095.