Dishes With Big Tubba Mista
The Belvedere Hotel, 13th Floor
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 Pennsylvanias newest heroes, the cats known
as Big Tubba Mista.
Lady K introduced Sparechange to the bands 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 Johns liquid vocals to create a cocktail thats part swing,
part rock, and part pure bliss.
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
Murphs 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 weekends 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 wed met the week before, and said our hellos, got a drink, and nabbed a
couple of seats.
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 friends 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 youll 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 Ive ever seen perform.
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. "Its 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. Its a wonderful feeling, and were
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 CDs (The Sting Thats 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 Yorks fabulous Supper Club, and Jonny
filled us in on all the details of the bands 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 were there, and its
amazing." When questioned about their debut trip to the West Coast, Jonny grinned.
"Were gonna go out there, shake em up, give em a taste, and leave
em hanging, and well 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
womens scanties that now decorate the inside of the bands van "Its
a nice reminder, when were out there on the road for so long, that were
loved", piped Jonny on his way out the door), and how they envision stardom. "I
want bowls of M&Ms. 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, "were 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."
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, whos 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 theorys still being
researched by Sparechange staffers (primarily because if its true, I want one).
However haphazardly they came together, together they are, and I cant 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 theyll
have to fight me to keep them. Final ruling: this is one band whose destiny looks like
its written in stardust. See em, love em, throw panties at em,
and, when you do, send em our love.
Check out the band further and order CDs and
merchandise from their incredibly hep site: www.bigtubbamista.com.