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SWING! (RE/Search Guide to “RETRO” Culture & Music)

(1 customer review)


with roots in Hot Jazz, Jump Swing, Western Swing and Rockabilly. Over thirty interviews: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Royal Crown Revue, Lavay Smith, Big Six, Flyin’ Lindy Hoppers, Sam Butera and more! Hundreds of photos of the bands and dancers, hairstyles, furnishings, vintage cars, exciting retro clothes and other relics saved from extinction by cutting-edge visionaries. Full of informative directories, lists of recommended recordings, books, films, etc. this is the first comprehensive guide to a new state of mind being pioneered on the West Coast.


Product Description

SWING! A trusted guide to not only swing, Western Swing, rockabilly, French nightclub but other rollickin’ music that inspires partner dancing, plus a guide to the clothes, cars, hairstyles — even interior decor! This book is a cultural snapshot of America circa 1940-1965.

1 review for SWING! (RE/Search Guide to “RETRO” Culture & Music)

  1. V. Vale

    “Hipsters and swing kids rejoice: Swing! The New Retro Renaissance is your bible.”


    “The newest book from SF’s fave source of sedition, RE/Search Publications, has everything your zoot-suited little heart desires: jump-blues, rockabilly, big-band swing; dancers, hairstyles, cars, and clothes; directories to recordings, books, and films. Most important, it’s got fabulous photos and interviews with everyone from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to the New Morty Show to Lavay Smith to the Royal Crown Revue to just about any West Coast swinger who matters.”

    —SF Bay Guardian

    “Extensive reference material, photos galore and fascinating interviews. Open the book to any page, start reading, and you’ll be hooked.”

    —Request Magazine

    “Swing! is a social document as valid and valuable as any other in V. Vale’s catalog, and maybe even more so.”

    —Alternative Press

    “Swing! The New Retro Renaissance is a good textbook for those seeking knowledge into the swing scene.”

    —Dancing USA

    “A gift from heaven landed in our hands, a killer book titled Swing! The New Retro Renaissance, chock full o’ information and tasty pictures for all the cool cats and kittens that are into the swing/rockabilly/twang thing.”


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Royal Crown Revue Eddie Nichols

R/S: You’ve written some of Royal Crown’s songs?

EDDIE NICHOLS: Uh-huh. And some music, but not all of it. I can’t take credit for this: the reason why our band’s gotten so much better is because we’ve got a very good horn arranger in the band now, Bill Ungerman. If it’s one of my songs, I’ll tell him my ideas and he has to arrange it. This is something I regret: I can hear the music in my head, but I don’t have the skill to write it down. If I had f*****’ three weeks or a month to start learning how to do it, fine, but I don’t have the time right now. Sometimes when I try to explain, musicians don’t get it because they’re thinking in proper terms and I’m thinking: “Boo-bop-a-doo-bop.” [laughs]

You know why “standards” are great and why they still last? I realized that a lot of my early songs were very wordy with a lot of consonants. Old songs are so great because they’re all written around vowels. Like “I’ve got the world on a string . . .” You know what I’m saying? That’s why they were great and great to sing.

R/S: I never knew that—

EN: Yeah, it’s something to think about. They were words that were singable and said something. When I first started writing I would think, “Goddamn, these songs are so hard to sing!” And it was because I had 50 f*****’ syllables in the words.


R/S: Herbert White is described as the originator of the Lindy Hop and the Suzi Q. In Life magazine, there’s photos of you and Ann doing the “Congeroo,” a cross between the Conga [a Latin American dance] and the Lindy Hop. Is the “Congeroo” a name that Life made up?

FRANKIE MANNING: Actually, I coined that phrase. At the time, the Latin dance, the Conga, was very popular, and the swing world used the term “swingeroo,” So we invented a dance that was a combination of “conga” and “swing.” I just put the two names together; instead of saying “congeroo-swingeroo” I just said “Congeroo.” So it’s a swing and conga.

Herbert White was like our teacher, our mother, our father, our brother, our benefactor and everything — he actually got the group together, picked out the dancers, helped the dancers to better themselves, and I was very close to him — I was like his right-hand man. I did most of the choreography for the dancers. He would do all the booking for us. It was his group; that’s why they called it “Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.”

R/S: Is this a fair description: “From the Cuban Conga, the new Congeroo retains a good deal of Latin shoulder-shaking and heel-clacking. From the old-time Lindy Hop it retains the improvised solo cadenzas and general yanking around of one partner by another”?

FM: [Chuckles] Yes . . . The Savoy did open in 1926, but I didn’t start going to the Savoy Ballroom until the early ’30s.

R/S: Well, you were young—

FM: But also I was afraid. There was a bunch of us, and we felt we weren’t good enough to go to the Savoy, because the Savoy had a name for having the best dancers in the world there, and that was true. We were just youngsters and we didn’t think we were good enough to go up there. Finally we got up enough nerve.

R/S: In this photo, you’re wearing pants that go up very high, with suspenders—

FM: They were part of the pants. We started out wearing low-cut pants, and our shirts were coming out of our pants all the time. So we started to wear these high-belted pants with built-in suspenders, and that kept the shirts in. It was both an innovation and a costume.

R/S: What kind of shoes were you wearing? They almost look like tennis shoes—

FM: They were. We wore them because we would go to hotels and dance, and most of the hotel floors were very, very slippery. Before that, we just wore ordinary shoes — we didn’t know anything about dancing, you see, and we’d be slippin’ and slidin’ all over the place! For what we were doing, throwing a girl over our shoulders, if you can’t stand up on the floor, you can’t be doing those kind of steps. That’s when I decided to wear tennis shoes with rubber soles.

None of the girls wore big necklaces or that type of jewelry during a performance, because it would be dangerous. Your hand could accidentally catch, and that would be disastrous.

R/S: You’re wearing a shirt with larger collar points—

FM: Well, all you have to do is get a shirt made like that, that’s all! Then somebody else might see it and go, “Man, that’s cool!” and they go and get themselves one, and before you know it, they’re back!

Vale: How do you pick songs?

CONNIE CHAMPAGNE: For the lyrics and how I relate to what they say. I think the audience knows real quick if you’re being fake. I’m not saying everyone should get a shitty boyfriend and go to jail . . . I mean, I did, but I wouldn’t recommend it! But it helps to experience that if you’re singing a sad song and want the audience to feel the emotions involved.

Suffice to say, the stupidest thing I ever did was get hooked up with this guy who ended up dumping me on Valentine’s Day for my best friend. [laughs] It sounds like a bad Country & Western song. He asked me to meet him at the Cafe Flor, and my former best friend showed up five minutes later. A big fight ensued and afterwards I was sitting on the street crying. The police came and I asked them to take me to the hospital—I had a black eye and bruises all over. It was really sick; it was so Billie Holiday, and stupid. Mind you, I’m not even 21 years old at this point. So, the police take one look at my dyed black hair and weird make-up and go, “We’re taking you in because you don’t have any identification” (I didn’t have any). I got hauled away to jail by San Francisco’s finest for sitting on the sidewalk crying with no identification. [laughs] Whenever I think of the lowest point in my entire life, I think that would have to be it.

R/S: That’s the kind of experience you turn into songwriting—

CC: I was always writing songs. During the early Tiny Bubbles period, I was trying out the Tin Pan Alley approach, talking to songwriters and asking them to help me out. I’ve been fortunate because some really good people wrote songs for me: Mark Eitzel, John Flansburgh, J.C. Hopkins, and others. Plus, I was doing my own songs as well.


R/S: Do you have any advice for musicians?

SAM BUTERA: To find work today is difficult. If they want to get work, they better know how to sight-read, and itÕs not easy. I would say, if a young cat is coming up, if he gets an opportunity, “Be ready!” And don’t say, “Oh, gee.” No, say, “Put it out there and I’ll read it.”

R/S: What about with contracts?

SB: All you gotta do is read it! Don’t sign nuthin’ without reading it — that’s all I can tell you. If you don’t understand it, take it to somebody who can explain it. Pay a few dollars. Then you won’t get in trouble. Be ready and be prepared! Somebody gives you a job, man, just walk in there and don’t be afraid.

R/S: When you were young, you engaged in “cutting contests” with other players—

SB: Oh yeah. I’d go look for jam sessions and musicians to challenge. “You got another saxophone player — I’m gonna cut him a new ass, man!” And I was prepared; I’d go look for them muthas. That helped me develop as a player — absolutely it gave me confidence in myself and my playing.

R/S: Maybe cutting contests will come back—

SB: [doubtfully] I don’t know.

R/S: You pioneered a genre which combined Rhythm & Blues, rock ‘n’roll, Dixieland, and also personality—on-stage—

SB: And it all comes together and that’s what people enjoy. It’s a broad scope of music. People don’t wanna be pushed with the same bullshit.

R/S: Your music appeals to all ages, from little kids to senior citizens. Whereas if you played music like Charlie Parker, only a few would understand—

SB: Yes. An isolated group of people like Charlie Parker; mostly musicians. The average layman didn’t understand what he was playing, because he never played the melody. There you go. Even today you got cats coming out with stuff that my wife or the average layman doesn’t understand, even though he’s playin’ fantastic.

R/S: You emerged at a time when a number of saxophone players were coming out with a very thick, almost distorted tone—

SB: I enjoyed the playing of cats like Illinois Jacquet; he’s one of the guys I learned a few things from. Coleman Hawkins — I loved the way he played. I listened to Charlie Parker a lot, I listened to Lester Young and Wardell Gray. I listened to so many guys, man, it’s hard to say, “I like this guy better.” Because each guy plays different; they got their own style. You can’t say, “He plays better than him,” because that’s the way he plays. I play the way I play. And that’s it.

R/S: But that wonderful, thick tone—

SB: Well, you see . . . [chuckles] Let me tell ya something about that sound. When I was a kid and went to this music store for a mouthpiece, the salesman said, “This just came in from England.” I said, “Let me try it.” I went “Toot!” and said, “That’s it!” I’ve played it ever since. That’s the sound I wanted to hear. That completely changed my tone, and that’s the truth.

R/S: What sax do you play?

SB: A Selmer Mark V or Mark VI — I can’t remember. But it ain’t the sax — the mouthpiece is the thing.

R/S: There are people who play a million notes in one minute like Charlie Parker, whereas your sax solos sound more like the human voice—

SB: My approach to jazz is to create something that people can understand. I can play far out, but I don’t because I know they want to hear something they can relate to. I play a lot of melodic things. That’s what I feel in my heart, so that’s what I play.

I can’t explain how I create these things; it just comes out. When you’re playing jazz you can’t go, “Well, I’m going to play this; I’m going to play that.” No — it’s gotta happen. You can’t plan. And that’s it.

R/S: Do you almost go into a trance state?

SB: Oh yeah. Yessir. But you gotta be playing with good musicians — that’s Number One. If you don’t have good players, then forget about it!

Vale: What do you think of the wild dancing being revived?

SCOTTY MORRIS: A lot of times, in certain settings, the dancers are the stars, not whoever’s playing. I think it’s great when the audience aren’t just spectators. But I didn’t even know that swing dancing and our music went together until about a year-and-a-half into the band’s life. We were playing, and a couple (Lee and Terri Moore from Ventura’s Flyin’ Lindy Hoppers) came in and just started swing-dancing as crazy as we were playing it. We started a relationship with them, and built up this giant swing movement in the Ventura area.

When we started playing the Derby in Los Angeles, that already attracted a more swing-oriented crowd. Royal Crown Revue had played there weekly and staked a claim; they were much more hip to the right dance tempos. They’d been doing it longer and had figured it all out, whereas we hadn’t put the two together yet. At the Derby we learned how to work our craziness into the right tempos. That meant bigger crowds, and bigger crowds meant we could continue doing what we wanted. We really developed as a band.

R/S: Compared to the old swing band recordings, the contemporary bass and drums seem a lot heavier in the mix—

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy with Vise GripSM: I think that’s really my punk rock influence! On the new recording I’m going for a much more in-your-face bass and drums style. I don’t try to sing like a crooner; my voice is another instrument that makes up the sound that gives you the “vibe.” I try to be more of a character than a “nice vocalist.” I torch my throat every night of the week, but I really like the way it all works together.

R/S: Part of why people like swing is in reaction to “digital” sound—
SM: More than that, it may be a direct reaction to the “grunge” thing. Those people spoke very openly about sadness, depression and hard times, and people could relate to that. But then everybody got on the bandwagon. For people who have had enough of depression and angst, our music is providing the opposite: feelings that are positive and up-and-up.


JOHN COPPOLA: There was a shoeshine parlor in Oakland called the Hollywood Shoeshine Parlor, with 22 shine stands. You had to wait in line because the military, especially the paratroopers, all wanted their shoes spotless. The bootblacks would get 10 or 15 guys up on chairs, put on “Rockabye Basie,” and they’d all pop the cloth at the same time, catching all the accents, and the room would just be swingin’!

When I was 11, Arthur Peoples took me to Sweets Ballroom for the first time. Basie was playing and his band included Harry Edison, Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis and Al Killian on trumpets, Lester Young on tenor, and Jo Jones on drums. That’s when I realized the power of the trumpet section to carry the band. Shortly after, he took me to see the Gene Krupa Orchestra with Roy Eldridge on trumpet, and that made me want to play trumpet even more. By the time I was in Tech High School, I was going to Sweets three or four nights a week!

Once the war got rolling and these young guys were being drafted or enlisted, I began working professionally as a musician. At age 13, my first job was a one-nighter with Rudy Salvini’s band, and in the summer of 1945 I played at Camp Curry in Yosemite with the Buddy Stone Band. I’d had a good teacher; he had a physical disability so he didn’t go into the service. He began to hire me for jobs he would contract. I didn’t have much experience, but I had the endurance; I could play loud and high and that seemed to be enough. When I started high school I began to drift away from my poor uncle and began concentrating on music, and by my senior year I was steadily working nights at Sweets Ballroom.

So, I got to hear and see all the great swing bands of that period; everyone came through Oakland. It was segregated. The bands would come in to work two nights, and if Monday night was “Colored Night,” that’s when I would go, of course. All the hip young white cats would be there, because on that night the bands wouldn’t play the commercial stuff. In those days bands had to play waltzes, polkas, dances of every kind of everything. But when you caught Basie or Lunceford on colored night, they would play just swing and would stretch out more; the soloists got to play longer. That was the premium night. Hardly anybody danced; you’d look back and see people just deeply listening to the band. Way in the back some people might be dancing.

When a band like Basie came to town, every aspiring musician would be there early. The house band would play from 8-9, and the main band would come on at 9. So if you were really hip, you’d be there at 7:30 and listen to the house band, which was good. By the time Basie or Lunceford or whoever it was came on, there’d be 20 young cats grabbing their spots up front so they could study the band and try to pick up on stuff.

R/S: What were some of the other venues?

JC: Earl Hines had a big band for months at Slim Jenkins’ old place on 7th St. The bands played movie theaters too. Most theaters were set up for stage shows. In Oakland they had the T&D (which ran movies and had big bands), The Orpheum, the Fox Oakland and the Paramount. Sometimes it was hard to choose. There was one night when Basie was at the Paramount, Ellington at the Orpheum, Lionel Hampton at the T&D and someone else was in town, too. Another night, Harry James was at the Auditorium, Dave Matthews at the Scottish Rite, Basie at the Fox Oak, Benny Carter at the old Orpheum, and Charlie Barnet at Sweets. Oakland had a lot more live music than San Francisco. Remember, there were 100,000 servicemen in town who knew they were about to go overseas, and they just wanted to party. And the ballrooms were the place to be.

R/S: What was the situation with ladies?

JC: By the late part of ’42, people were flocking in from all over the country to work in the shipyards. People came from down South and the Midwest. The shipyards paid well and you could work as many hours as you wanted. America was coming out of the Depression and all of a sudden people had money, but there was nothing to spend it on! You couldn’t buy a car— they didn’t make them during the war.

There was rationing, although it was a bit of a joke. People couldn’t buy more than four pairs of shoes a year, but who buys that many shoes, anyway? There was gas rationing, and if you did have a car, that was a problem. You had an A, B or C card, and if you were working in defense you could get more gas coupons. There were also meat and butter coupons, but the rationing was generous compared to England; I didn’t see any skinny people.

There were a lot of young ladies coming in to work the shipyards; those were the days of “Rosie the Riveter” — remember that song? You had an influx of people who were either 4-F, or if they were really skillful, they got deferments because they were more important to the war effort in their work. The women came in and started taking over; this was really the breakthrough for hiring women in all industries: the military, the airplane industry (when women began working on electronic parts). They actually hired dwarves or midgets to do the welding at the bottom of ships, where it got very narrow. Everybody worked back then because there was a lot of work.

They let seniors in high school, or 16-year-old guys work in the shipyards if their parents okayed it. A lot of guys went to school only a half a day and did that . . .


ROBERT WILLIAMS:: Now the dancing is filtering down to school kids. When we play all ages shows, 14-, 15-;, and 16-year-old kids are coming out, and they’ve got all the moves down and they’re dressed up. I think, “How did it reach to them?” Teenagers are trying to play this music and put on their own shows at pizza parlors or other places, because they can’t get into clubs.

People are dressing ’40s style and in other styles like rockabilly. One point I would like to make is: I think any cliquishness that divides the “swing” and “rockabilly” scenes is a shame, because personally, I like it all! I meet a lot of people on the road, and those who know the most about the music are generally “regular-looking,” while others who are “decked out” don’t know much.

A few people started out dressing in this older style to be different. But as more and more people do it, it becomes like the norm. So now, if you don’t go along with it, you’re kind of being a rebel against this trend. [laughs]

R/S: Everything goes through cycles—

RW:: And trying to be too “authentic” can make you stale. Musically, there was a period of time when I thought, “Man, I’m going to recreate this period of sound and get it down exactly — even down to the little mistakes they made — everything.” Then I started realizing, “This music I like — why do I like it? Because they were innovating at the time.” So why stop that process? I’m going to take what I can from that and try and come up with something new.

I’ve seen a melding of punk, ska and swing all into one thing, and I wonder what’s going to happen with that. There are bands that call what they play “ska music,” but it’s got a punk drive to it and they’re dressing ’40s.

R/S: I like the clothing in the ’40s—’50s Sears Roebuck catalogs—

RW:: Certain clothes you can find all the way through them: classic styles. The way I dress is my choice, and I’m not going to write somebody off because they’re not dressed that way.

There was a time when I was never gonna buy a CD player [laughs] and I finally had to give in. I still prefer the sound of vinyl, but I actually almost enjoy the convenience of CDs. I do allow myself some modern conveniences, but they are just that: conveniences. In any aspect of life where there’s a “new” innovation, I usually prefer what came before.

Getting back to fashion, I go to vintage shops and just can’t find XL or XXL sizes. I’m thankful there are repro companies making new clothes in old styles — now I can buy them off the rack. They’re making shirts that look like ’40s Hawaiian shirts — to me, at least — and they’re for sale at the mall. With some of the repros, the companies are even attempting to reach that earlier level of craftsmanship. You buy a new shirt and the buttons fall off practically the first time you wear it. Why do people put up with that? How did it get to this point? People just accept that if you buy something new, it’s going to fall apart within a couple of wearings. I think that’s crazy. It makes me mad!

R/S: Well, it makes them more money.

RW:: In Yosemite, I ran into an older acquaintance, and we started talking about the beginning of the whole vintage “thing.” In the ’60s, people bought clothes at thrift stores because that’s all they could afford. THen they started recognizing what was what, and began collecting this and that. Other people followed suit, not to save money but because they started trying to dress that way. So it began out of necessity and then became fashion.

R/S: In a way, I’d like the clothes corporations to start making more repro vintage clothes—

RW:: It’s bound to happen, but then that also kills it. And besides, you know the buttons are gonna fall off! [laughs]