Zoot Suit Riot

Album: The Swingin' Hits of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies (1997)
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Songfacts®:

  • The album Zoot Suit Riot: The Swingin' Hits of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies was originally released independently on the band's own Space Age Bachelor label, but re-released on the Mojo Records label. This song helped kick-start the swing revival movement when it received heavy play on both MTV and the Los Angeles radio station KROQ. It followed the independent 1996 film Swingers and the iconic Gap commercial featuring Brian Setzer's version of Louis Prima's "Jump Jive 'n' Wail" in fueling the swing revival.
  • In our Songfacts interview, lead singer Steve Perry confirms that there is a deeper meaning to this song: "I wrote it inspired by the Zoot Suit Riots. I guess it seemed like a Pachuco rallying cry that could double as a dance anthem for those of us interested in swing music and culture at a time when nobody else was. It was an expression of a proud marginalism. That's not that deep, but there you go." For the history buffs, the Zoot Suit Riots began in Los Angeles in 1943, sparked by rising tensions between the American servicemen stationed in Southern California and the Los Angeles Mexican-American community. The event sparking this was the murder of Jose Diaz in 1942, a case referred to as the Sleepy Lagoon murder case. (Check out the full Steve Perry interview)
  • Like many bands that came to be labeled "Swing," the Cherry Poppin' Daddies were more of an Alt-Punk band with Pop sensibilities. From Portland, Oregon, they bucked the Pacific Northwest Grunge trend of the early '90s, but got their big break when labels went feverishly looking for "Swing" bands the same way they gobbled up "Alternative" acts just a few years earlier. They got a record deal and great promotion for the Swingin' Hits album, but had to stick to a pretty tight format when they had broader musical interests, including Ska. When we asked Perry if "Zoot Suit Riot" was a blessing or a curse, he replied: "It was a blessing. I didn't have to go to get a box of food at the church poverty outreach anymore. No more blocks of government cheese."
  • Weird Al Yankovic turned "Zoot Suit Riot" into "Grapefruit Diet," a song about a radical new diet consisting only of grapefruits.

Comments: 1

  • Tom Reichner from Pacific Northwest U.s.a.I came here hoping to see the meaning of the part of the lyrics that says, "pull a comb through your coal black hair", but was disappointed that there wasn't more expansive commentary and analysis about this song's lyrics.
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