Old Becomes Neo

The Sugar Daddys call themselves “neo-rockabilly,” which is funny because founding Daddy Chuck Daniels (standup bass/vocals) started playing in greaser swing bands back in the ’80s when the Stray Cats made the hair-piled-high sound “neo” the first time. He even turned down an offer to play guitar for a pre-Wicked GameChris Isaak to pursue rockabilly.

Daniels formed the Sugar Daddys in the mid-’90s, and they’ve gone through lineup changes, booking agents and a few records (and deals) before coming full circle to their current incarnation, a once-again self-managed, streamlined trio. Everyone, Daniels says, has equal billing and shares in the day-to-day responsibilities of running the band. Brothers Aaron (drums) and Al Martinez (guitar) are former members of the legendary “cumbiabilly” band Moonlight Cruisers. Together, their playerly approach to rockabilly makes their latest album (and first with this lineup), I’m Bad for You, more than just a bunch of 1-4-5-in-G exercises. On it, Sugar Daddys Neo.0 emerge as a pompadour democracy having just enough fun with rockabilly conventions to convey a profound respect for the genre while making it interesting for fans—and themselves.

OC Weekly: You’re hardly a new band, though this lineup is relatively new. Talk about how a rockabilly band stays relevant. Is it easier or harder in 2010?

Chuck Daniels: Both. I’ve been doing this long enough to see how music happens in cycles, and every time rockabilly comes back, it’s a little bigger and there’s always someone doing something new—psychobilly, punk-a-billy, whatever-billy. To us, it just means there are going to be more new people to play for.

How do you guys keep it interesting as a band? I’m calling you on a Wednesday night—and you’re rehearsing. How many times do you have to practice 1-4-5-in-G?

[Laughs.] Well, it isn’t just 1-4-5-in-G. We like to throw a key change in there [laughs]. But we’re influenced from, like, the ’30s all the way up through the ’60s and ’70s.

Like what?

Like the Beatles. It’s like we all know rockabilly well enough that we’re really open to incorporating elements from other music.

Talk about your current lineup. Aaron and Al Martinez kind of seem like they’d want to go off on some Primus-billy or something.

I don’t know about Primus. But we do have a song on the album [“Walking Away”] on which Al’s playing a mandolin through a Marshall. Aaron and Al are like family—I mean, we all barbecue together, we have families, we all pull our share as far as doing all the non-musical band stuff. I can honestly say being in this band feels like being in my first band again. We all love the music; we don’t get bored. We have a new sound, I guess, and it just feels like we can do pretty much anything we want. There are a lot of bands in our genre that sound the same. We don’t.

How exactly?

Well, there’s humor in everything we do. I mean, people have called us the Rockabilly Blink-182. We have a secret track on our album that’s like AC/DC. We keep saying we could do a whole comedy record.

But you’re primarily a live band . . . 

We’ve had points where we’ve done 200 or so shows a year. But we’re actually writing our next record right now. We already have the hidden track—“Herpes Simplex 2,” a Flight of the Conchords-type thing.

So what is it about rockabilly that keeps it around? I mean, more than punk, ska or swing, it just doesn’t seem to age.

When I first got into music when I was 12, I was listening to Louis Jordan and Elvis records along with the Police and the B-52s. And the Stray Cats. The rockabilly scene was where you could listen to those old records and still be into punk and new wave. I mean, to me, the Ramones were just longhaired greasers who didn’t cuff their jeans.

The Sugar Daddys perform at OC Weekly’s Locally Grown series with Faraway Boys and the Trash Monsters at the Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700; www.grove-of-anaheim.com. Thurs., Aug. 19, 8 p.m. $10.


Hey, Orange County/Long Beach musicians and bands! Mail your music, contact info, high-res photos and impending show dates for possible review to: Locals Only, OC Weekly, 2975 Red Hill Ave., Ste 150, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Or e-mail your link to: lo********@oc******.com.


This column appeared in print as “Neo-Rockabilly Becomes New Again.”

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