Big DaddyIt was August 1959, and the Los Angeles-based musical group known as Big Daddy had finally wangled a recording contract. Their manager, wanting to give the waxing as much of a push as possible, got the band booked on a USO tour of Southeast Asia, hoping for some positive publicity. Unfortunately, the United States had no military involvement in Southeast Asia in 1959, or so the official story said, and therefore the publicity value of the tour would have turned out to be nil had the band come back at all, which it hadn't.

Given up for dead after their vehicle was found mired in quicksand, the band spent the next twenty-four years in the custody of Laotian revolutionaries. Rock and roll musicians being at least as unpopular with the U.S. government and its official radio service as were the Communists, the Laotians more or less adopted Big Daddy as Fellow Travelers. The war, of course, went on, and during the Sixties and Seventies, returning US troops told tales of an American band being held captive. Special Forces were eventually able to piece together the story, and after the usual interminable delays, a rescue attempt was mounted in 1983, under the guise of a British motion-picture production.

Finally back in the States, Big Daddy agonized about that first recording session they had missed. Of course, during the intervening years, their record company, like so many little diskeries, had folded, and worried that the band might become a burden to the taxpayers, government officials brought in some sheet music and arranged a recording session at Camp David. The sessions were startling; although the band still had its chops, having been allowed to play by their captors all those years, the cultural isolation of northern Laos meant that Big Daddy had heard virtually none of the last two decades' worth of popular music, which meant that their recordings of Seventies and Eighties material, all that could be found in the nearest sheet-music store, were perforce arranged for Fifties performance styles. The record, of course, was unreleasable, so naturally it fell to Rhino Records to release it.

A second album followed in 1985, posing the following question:

"Is the Big Daddy saga the most amazing news story of the decade, or a ruthless PR man's shallow scam to exploit the sympathies of an unsuspecting public?"

Well, duh. Actually, the Big Daddy band had been formed in southern California in the Seventies, under the distended monicker "Big Daddy Dipstick and the Lube Jobs", playing the oldies straight; one of their regular gigs was a floating houseboat at the Redondo Beach pier. Then again, "straight" is perhaps the wrong word. One of their tapes, a smirky rewrite of Willis Alan Ramsey's "Muskrat Love", replacing muskrats and love with hamsters and lunch, found its way to the Dr Demento radio show, and while "Hamster Love" never got a formal release as a 45, it was a regular entry on the Doctor's Funny Five.

But truth or cruel hoax, it didn't matter; Big Daddy was putting out some startlingly funny records in its strange hybrid genre, and two and a half more would follow during the next decade, poking fun at all manner of musical trends, from complete album remakes to Gregorian chant. The tracks are reviewed in the discography. If there's a lesson to be learned in all of this, it's that rock and roll has changed a lot less than some of the pundits would have you believe. Perhaps that's why it's still around after half a century or so: its verities are just this side of eternal. Unfortunately, recordings are more ephemeral, which may have something to do with why Carl Caprioglio, cool rockin' daddy of the Oglio label, and the Rhino Brothers were talking reissues, which yielded up (yes!) The Best of Big Daddy. With some previously unavailable tracks, yet.

And it might have stopped there, but it didn't:

[F]or this album we've decided to tackle some of the most memorable songs of Broadway Stage and Silver Screen ... smash'em apart, then mash'em back together with some of the most memorable sounds of the fabulous fifties. A orchestral overhaul, so to speak ... a musical makeover.

This Kickstarter was funded in October 2012, backer copies of Smashing Songs of Stage and Screen were shipped in early 2014, and retail versions appeared in October 2014. I think it's safe to say that we still haven't seen the last of the Band of '59.

Further exploration:   There is now a Big Daddy Wikipedia page and an official Big Daddy site. For your enlightenment and delight, the semi-unofficial and sort-of-complete Big Daddy album discography is just a click away.

Updated 11 October 2014

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