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Sparechange Dishes With Big Tubba Mista

The Belvedere Hotel, 13th Floor
Baltimore, MD
June 12th, 1999

Rare indeed is it that Mez Cat turns her delicate paw to musical matters. However, when the opportunity arose to dive into the minds of the seven hottest young gods of swing alive, I begged for the privilege. Swing fans and swooners alike have found plenty to rave about in Pennsylvania’s newest heroes, the cats known as Big Tubba Mista.

Lady K introduced Sparechange to the band’s publicist, Ben "The Smuggler" Silverman, via email, and Mr. Fabulous sent us off a press kit before you could blink. K spun the disk for me during a dinner meeting, and when we looked at each other across the pasta, we knew we were witnessing the birth of a legend. Smooth rhythms, a blast of solid horns, solid drum lines and great bass and guitar features blend with John’s liquid vocals to create a cocktail that’s part swing, part rock, and part pure bliss.

So cute it hurts!!!Tank Gyrl, Lady K, and I arranged an exclusive interview with these beautiful boys at The Thirteenth Floor in Baltimore, but were fortunate enough to score a sneak peak when they blasted out Murph’s in York, PA. We were utterly blown away. As "The Smuggler" told us, "The CD is only half of the band", and never were truer words spoken. The boys throw a show the likes of which I, at least, have never seen. Energetic, charismatic, and full of jump and verve, the seven Valentinos of BTM give their all and keep right on going. Thoroughly impressed and eager for the next weekend’s show and interview, we trucked home, feet sore from dancing and fingers still tapping out the beat.

It was with high expectations that Tank Gyrl and I took off for Baltimore the next weekend. Lady K had a fiance 911, and had to bolt to Ohio, so she, unfortunately, missed the excitement. We were met at the elevator by "The Smuggler" himself, who recognized us from emailed photos and sent us upstairs. The Thirteenth Floor is, quite possibly, the definition of the word "swank". Mirrored columns, leopard print carpet, and deep red walls make this place a playground for the hep and happening. The boys had yet to go on, but we saw Jonny Victor, lead singer, whom we’d met the week before, and said our hellos, got a drink, and nabbed a couple of seats.

Please Mista', may I have another?The show was breathtaking. These seven strapping young bucks have an energy and charisma all their own, and their on-stage chemistry is so good that they actually improv several parts of songs while performing live (personal favorite: the battle between trumpet and clarinet during a rendition of Sing Sing Sing). Live performances are truly a showcase for the fabulous connection between amazingly talented musicians, and these boys did it up brown. Each set was powerful, foot-tapping, and inherently danceable, and as the night went on, the boys just got stronger. The floor packed up and the band jumped on, their potent, flashy swing even luring private partiers up from downstairs.

Big Tubba Mista (who got their unusual nommicker from a small friend’s tendency to poke overweight gentlemen in the abdomen while yelling "You Big Tubba Mista!!") has a sharply original sound, with a heavy emphasis on drums and horns that seems to pour out of a strong rock background (the bassist, guitar player, and drummer are all ex-punk band members, and guitarist Erik "The Brain" Keptner has some of the fastest fingers you’ll ever see in swing), yet still produces the classic swing feel and tone. They play off of a blues influence with a lot of heavy minor keys and smooth sax lines, and their horn section, the world famous "Wall of Flesh", is not only physically beautiful, but probably the tightest, most powerful trio I’ve ever seen perform.

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn!It was not suprising, then, that by the time the show was over and the boys were ready to chat that both Tankie and I were a bit sweaty and breathless. Jonny Victor rolled on over to us and chatted about the band. The internet has played a large part in the size of the Harrisburg, PA natives’ success. "It’s wild, because we get these emails from people in Norway and other countries, saying things like "I love your disc, you cats swing", and that sort of thing. It’s a wonderful feeling, and we’re enjoying a lot of success right now, especially for a relatively new band."

BTM has been together just under a year and a half, but have managed to release two CD’s (The Sting That’s Swing and the most recent Knock One Back) and have already achieved two landmark personal goals. Drummer Big Bob Brechbill told us of their success at New York’s fabulous Supper Club, and Jonny filled us in on all the details of the band’s trip to CA in August to play the joint of all joints, The Derby in LA. "When we started this band, we wanted to play two clubs, the Supper Club in NYC and the Derby. Now we’re there, and it’s amazing." When questioned about their debut trip to the West Coast, Jonny grinned. "We’re gonna go out there, shake ‘em up, give ‘em a taste, and leave ‘em hanging, and we’ll go back when they beg."

Despite exhaustion and four-hour drive still ahead of them, the band stayed and slipped us some dirt after Jonny, beach-bound, bolted off. Grinning and yawning alternately, the boys laughed it up while regaling us with stories of one of their favorite shows (a college show in Lebanon, PA, that ended in a barrage of women’s scanties that now decorate the inside of the band’s van "It’s a nice reminder, when we’re out there on the road for so long, that we’re loved", piped Jonny on his way out the door), and how they envision stardom. "I want bowls of M&M’s. Just the red ones, in my dressing room." voted Erik. "Jellybeans. Some candy – anything we can chuck at each other," grinned sax god Mikey Malone, "we’re notorious for food fights." Girls, of course, were a granted. Bassist Rick Gadd, who promised to answer any question I could cook up in under three words, looked me deep in the eyes and said "Beer."

Tank Gyrl, Mez Cat, and their new BTM friends.I asked the boys about their intense chemistry on stage. The band was pieced together in chunks, Erik, Bob, and Rick coming in from a punk band called Last Call, and two of the three members of the Wall of Flesh, Shawn (alto sax, clarinet) and Matt (trumpet & piano) were a previous pair. Jonny Victor, who’s been in bands since the tender age of 15, although never as a singer until now, was a group invitation, and apparently Mikey came from a Sears catalog, although that theory’s still being researched by Sparechange staffers (primarily because if it’s true, I want one). However haphazardly they came together, together they are, and I can’t rave enough about the playful, clean, and just plain amazing way these guys play off of each other.

We released them reluctantly, and they politely shook hands, offered future show invites, and slipped off to drive home. Tankie and I left in high spirits, looking forward to our next opportunity to chat with the boys. California will certainly be begging to have these boys back after it gets a taste, but they’ll have to fight me to keep them. Final ruling: this is one band whose destiny looks like it’s written in stardust. See ‘em, love ‘em, throw panties at ‘em, and, when you do, send ‘em our love.

Visit the Boys of BTM at their website now!


Check out the band further and order CD’s and merchandise from their incredibly hep site:

--Mez Cat