Swinging ’90s? The Decade That Brought Back the Music & Movies Style of the Big Band Era

Brian Setzer of the musical guest The Brian Setzer Orchestra performs on May 10, 1996
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Fashion, music, and other pop culture phenomena from an earlier decade come back in trends every decade or so. The 1990s were no different. In the ’90s, swing music got its revival. People began wearing fedoras and suits and listening to bands such as the Brian Setzer Orchestra (their iconic album The Brian Setzer Orchestra turns 30 this year!).

Yet as swiftly as it reappeared, the ’40s music fandom died down and by the end of the 1990s, it was relatively unheard of once again. So, what sparked this revival in the first place? It can all be traced back to the band Royal Crown Revue, founded by former Youth Brigade punk rock artists and brothers Mark and Adam Stern. The group featured Daniel Glass, Scott Steen, James Achor, Veikko Lepisto, and Bill Ungerman. Mexican-American sax player Mando Dorame inspired them and their sound was very reminiscent of ’40s jump blues.

Swing Band Royal Crown Revue performs at the Boomer Esiason Foundation's "Booming Celebration" on March 3, 1999 in New York City

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The band got on the radar of director Chuck Russell and he asked them to appear in the Jim Carrey classic film The Mask. A few years later, in 1996, the comedy Swingers starring a young Vince Vaughn and John Favreau, featured a performance by a similar band called Big Bad Voodoo Daddy which is credited with ushering in the swing-era revival even more. This was their big break, leading to a performance with Stevie Wonder and Gloria Estefan at the 1999 Super Bowl.

Other big bands during that time period were Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and of course, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, yes Brian Setzer from The Stray Cats. Both bands had hits on the charts, including covers from the original swing era. The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s cover of the Louis Prima song “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” hit No. 23 on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40. Swing music gave teens a break from the alternative, grunge music that had bombarded the ’90s and was a little more reserved than ska music. While swing music had its revival in the ’90s and seemed to go out of fashion as quickly as it came in, it truly is timeless and many people still enjoy the tunes today.

As they said in Swingers, “It was so money.” What was your favorite song or band from the ’90s swing revival? If you’re still rockin’ out to the music, singer and guitarist Brian Setzer, bassist Lee Rocker, and drummer Slim Jim Phantom are touring this summer as Stray Cats.

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