Big Daddy

This was originally a piece on Big Daddy for Toppermost. When I started the “Cover versions” section on Around and Around, this was an essential band to have. I’ve placed it under artists, with a link from the Cover versions section.

With parody and satire bands, often the fun is changing the lyrics, as done by The Barron Knights (Call Up The Groups), or Allan Sherman (You Came A Long Way Old King Louie), then later by Weird “Al” Yankowitz (e.g. Like A Surgeon, Eat It, Another One Rides The Bus). Stan Freberg was doing it in the 1950s. The Rutles created new Beatlesque songs. Spinal Tap was a parody band with new songs too. The Book of Mormon does it on stage with a potted history of the musical and new(ish) songs.

Big Daddy don’t do it that way. They keep the lyrics of well-known songs but change the musical style completely. This kind of treatment brings out aspects of the original that hadn’t struck you before. Later bands that do this, owe a debt to Big Daddy. A favourite example is Run C&W who did two albums of bluegrass versions of soul classics, and The Gourds who put an Appalachian spin on Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Gin And Juice, as well as giving Ziggy Stardust the same treatment. Hayseed Dixie specializes in bluegrass versions of heavy metal, like A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC and Kiss My Grass: A Hillbilly Tribute To Kiss.

The King does later post-1977 songs as Elvis would have done them if he’d lived.  The King fooled me the first time I heard him.

Big Daddy started in 1983 with a back story, or as they would say in the 18th century, a “conceit”. The conceit is explained at length on the rear of their first Rhino album:

In August 1959, in preparation for the recording of their first album, Big Daddy’s manager arranged for the band to appear on a USO tour of South-East Asia to entertain US troops. He felt that it is not only a good opportunity to try out the songs for their forthcoming record, but that the publicity would be invaluable to the boys’ career. Unfortunately what their manager didn’t realize was that there would be no publicity since the US government was claiming no military involvement in the area. The band were captured by Laotian revolutionaries and held for 24 years. Since the Laotians only contact with the outside world was the US sponsored Radio Free Asia which regarded rock & roll as a communist plot, the band were regarded as fellow revolutionaries and well treated, until 1983 when a rescue bid freed them. (By the way, they were rescued on the pretext of making a movie in Laos, a plot line revived in Argo in 2012!) They had signed that recording contract in 1959 which had never been fulfilled, and they had kept going as a band entertaining their Laotian captors with renditions such as Peggy Lee’s “You Give Me Yellow Fever.” So they obtained the sheet music for some current hits and recorded them … but not having heard any music since 1959, and never having heard any of the records, they played the songs in 1959 style.

The conceit gets expanded a bit (early parodies borrowed styles up to about 1962, and later ones to 1967). The band had begun as a rock and roll oldies band around LA in the late70s as Big Daddy Dipstick and The Lube Jobs. The term mashup was not known at the time, but on quite a few tracks they mashed riffs or ideas from oldies onto current records. They use a lot of doo-wop, a lot of rock and roll classics. I find them far more creative than the other parody artists.

What Really Happened To The Band of 59? Big Daddy, Rhino LP 1983
side one side two
I Write The SongsYou Don’t Bring Me Flowers
Bette Davis EyesHit Me With Your Best Shot
Super FreakThe Rose
Star WarsJust What I Needed
Whip ItHotel California
Ebony & IvoryEye of The Tiger
What Really Happened To The Band of 59?


Marty Kaniger- lead vocal, acoustic & electric rhythm guitars, backing vocal
David Starns – lead vocal, electric lead gitar, keyboards, xylophone, backing vocal
Bob Wayne – lead vocal, piano, Hammond organ, backing vocal
Tom Lee- bass vocals, lead vocal, electric rhythm guitar, , backing vocal
Gary Hoffman – backing vocals, drums, percussion, RCA Theremin

Ray Campi- upright bass
Dan Bolen – electric bass guitar
Sam ‘Black Magic’ Franklin – tenor and baritone sax
Stevie Lee ‘Fingers’ Kaplan

The first album was Big Daddy aka What Really Happened To The Band Of ’59? after the fake National Inquirer (sic) headline on the album cover. The selections included Super Freak (done like the Everly Brothers), Star Wars (like Duane Eddy), Hotel California (like Del Shannon with Runaway organ), Ebony & Ivory (as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis). Eye of The Tiger was the single. Star Wars manages to combine aspects of The Tornados Telstar with Duane Eddy’s Because They’re Young.

Eye of The Tiger: Big Daddy, Rhino 45 1983
I Write The Songs: Big Daddy, Making Waves 45 1984

It’s all brilliantly performed, and perhaps it’s your affection for the original version of the chosen song and the style of the parody that counts. Also the larger the original song looms, the more audacious the radical treatment seems.

Meanwhile … Back in the States: Big Daddy Rhino LP 1985
side oneside two
I Want To Know What Love IsJump
Always On My MindGirls Just Wanna Have Fun
SussudioSafety Dance
Dancing In The darkDo You really Want To Hurt Me
I Just Called To Say I Love YouEvery Breath You Take
Billie JeanPurple Rain
FlashdanceAll Night Long
Meanwhile … Back in the States


The band had expanded:
Marty Kaniger- lead vocal, acoustic & electric rhythm guitars, backing vocal, percussion, banjita
David Starns – lead vocal, electric lead guitar, classical guitar, cranial percussion, backing vocal
Bob Wayne – lead vocal, backing vocal, percussion
Tom Lee- bass vocals, lead vocal, electric rhythm guitar, backing vocal
Gary Hoffman – backing vocals, drums, percussion
Happy John Hatten – string bass, electric bass, violin, African slit drum, string arrangement
Vince Ciavarelli – piano, Hammond organ, backing vocal
Jim Reeves – tenor and baritone sax
John Viviatinne- tenor and baritone sax
Gary Pickus- chimes
Jeannie Perkins- vocal cascade, I Just Called To Say I Love You
Joel Goldsmith- harp on Flashdance

The follow up in 1985 was Meanwhile … Back In The States. Again we expand the story: the subtitle is Big Daddy: Truth or Cruel Hoax? It tells of a TV exposé, 59 Minutes, which discovered high school graduation photos of the band from 1969, as well as five women who claimed to have married band members in the 1970s. We’re told that the Laotian “former POW camp commanders” who testified and “fondly remembered the capture and torture” of Big Daddy turned out to be gardeners for Rhino Records executives.

Dancing in the Dark (EP): Big Daddy, 45 Making Waves 1984

That album led with a UK #21 hit (actually a hit EP) when they did Dancing In The Dark, but taken just as Pat Boone had done Moody River.  Add a short reference to Bruce Channel’s Hey Baby at the end.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is mashed with Duke Of Earl, with a chorus of Do Do Do, Do the girls? Two favourite songs combined. Purple Rain is in the style of Not Fade Away/Oh, Boy! , and

Billie Jean is as Gene Vincent might have done it, with a nod to Green Onions in the instrumental break, only to finish with a quiet Be Bop A Lu Lu … It’s not my baby.

Purple Rain is set to a Bo Diddley beat. Sussudio is Dion in Runaround Sue mode. Van Halen’s Jump uses Eddie Cochran’s C’mon Everybody which switches when the sax solo quotes Summertime Blues, as does the deep voice at the end (I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to jump). Better than the Van Halen original to me!

Cutting Their Own Groove: Big Daddy, CD 1991
Greatest Love of All
Like A Virgin
Once In A Lifetime
The Living Years
Money for Nothing
Hold On
Ice Ice Baby
Welcome To The Jungle
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Born to Run
I Want Your Sex
Nothing Compares To You
Help Me Make It Through The Night
Cutting Their Own Groove

Cutting Their Own Groove was the first on CD in 1991. I never found a vinyl copy. Who would you expect to sing Graceland? Elvis Presley of course with The Jordanaires and a Scotty Moore solo.

Like A Virgin is done as soppy poppy puppy-love boy idol (think Frankie Avalon) with chorus, and works in a way Madonna never contemplated. The middle lyric goes:

Madonna, material girl that you are
come to me like a prayer
Please be my lucky star

Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime gets Harry Belafonte calypso (Day O …). The calypso treatment of Once in Lifetime not only reveals their range, but works freestanding as a terrific and powerful calypso song.

Ice T’s Ice Ice Baby is Johnny B. Goode, with a pointed touch of Subterranean Homesick Blues. Money For Nothing revives Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Mike & The Mechanics’ The Living Years is The Shangri-Las Leader Of The Pack at the start. Help Me Make It Through The Night is a mashup with Yaketty Yak. Born To Run nods to Ricky Nelson’s Travelin’ Man. I love the two Springsteen parodies. I suspect that reveals my affection for the originals as well as the treatment. Wilson Phillips’ Hold On shows that Big Daddy can do straight Motown (they channel Ain’t No Mountain High Enough) absolutely convincingly.Bringing in 1966 Motown is outside their normal rock and roll groove. This is the best of the first three albums.

Sgt Peppers: Big Daddy, CD 1992

Their masterpiece was the complete Sergeant Pepper’s in 1992, yes, the entire album in chronological order. The one and only Billy Shears appears for your dining and dancing pleasure with a cocktail trio at the start of With A Little Help From My Friends when strings and 50s backing vocals gently appear.

Half the fun is matching the parody, though it’s not always song or artist specific. Within You Without You becomes cool avant garde jazz with dramatic poet voiceover. Lovely Rita uses the riff from His Latest Flame. Fixin’ A Hole is Dion’s The Wanderer. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band visits Poison Ivy by The Coasters. A Day In The Life is Buddy Holly complete with plane crash. They start like That’ll Be The Day, then switch in the middle section to a pastiche of Everyday. It’s the best thing they ever did.

I don’t think it was ever on vinyl. I’d love one so I could frame it along with the original Sergeant Pepper and The Mothers of Invention We’re Only In It For The Money.

Chantamania: The Benzedrine Monks of Santa DoMonica, CD 1994
Losing My Religion (Tokapi’s Radio version)
Theme From “The Monkees”
We Will Rock You
Losing My Religion
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?
Theme From “The Monkees” (Tokapi’s Radio Edit)
Losing My Religion
The Monks’ Vow of Silence

Chantmania in 1994 saw them switch the band name to The Benzedrine Monks of Santa DoMonica for an a cappella album in monastic chant style: The Monkees Theme, We Will Rock You, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Losing My Religion, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.

The Best of Big Daddy: Big Daddy CD, Rhino 2000
The Best of Big Daddy: rear with track list

The Best of Big Daddy in 2000 was a compilation with three new bonus tracks. There’s an Elvis-inspired rockabilly look at My Heart Will Go On from Titanic. The Hawaiian guitar, and the fade out “drip drop, goin’ down on a sinkin’ ship” followed by gurgling water then a sax solo is inspired. Little Red Corvette is live from 1989 (think Beep Beep). Sukiyaki had been a bonus track on the Japanese CD of Cutting Their Own Groove. It becomes a dramatic ballad, owing a debt to Don’t Worry Baby. It’s such a lovely tune and from the charts of 50 years ago so the interference from the original is minimal, and this works as a song in its own right.

Smashing Songs Of Stage And Screen : Big Daddy, Mash King CD 2013
I love the 45 rpm Not really on the CD
Song Film
Over The RainbowWizard of Oz
The Music of The NightPhantom of The Opera
Everybody’s Talkin’Midnight Cowboy
As Time Goes ByCasablanca
Stayin’ AliveSaturday Night Fever
I Could Have Danced All NightMy Fair Lady
Try To RememberThe Fantasticks
What Kind of Fool Am I?Stop The World – I Want To Get It Off
I Dreamed A DreamLes Miserables
Don’t Cry For Me ArgentinaEvita
New York New YorkNew York, New York
SummertimePorgy & Bess
SupercalifrailisticexpeialidociusMary Poppins
When You wish Upon A StarPinocchio
Tara’s ThemeGone WithThe Wind
Smashing Songs Of Stage And Screen

Smashing Songs Of Stage And Screen is a 2012 Kickstarter project, reviving the band for 50s musicals and “silver screen”. It hasn’t been issued in the UK. The first two albums have never been on CD, but the four first albums are all on iTunes.

Doing this article revealed how well the albums work as straight good music, regardless of the parody. The band can play and sing all of it and every song has a melody strong enough to take messing with. The songs that are not on my other existing playlists like Jump, Super Freak, The Living Years, Hold On, Memory (Barbra Streisand), The Safety Dance (Men Without Hats), Ice Ice Baby, Sussudio made me want to hear the originals with greater appreciation too.

Cruisin’ Through The Rhino Years: Big Daddy 2013

This later compilation has 21 tracks and is on iTunes. New tracks include Addicted to Love, Baby Got Back and Don’t Worry Be Happy.

Don’t Worry Be Happy meets Twistin’ The Night Away (with other Sam Cooke references … Don’t worry be happy, a change is gonna come …)

Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back (1992) gets a banjo driven version.

It has the three bonus tracks from The Best of Big Daddy too. Best starter buy as single tracks are 99p v £9.99 for 21 tracks..


While Rare Record Price Guide 2022 has no entry for Big Daddy, the easy affordable UK route is downloads. When I did this for Toppermost, copies of Sgt Pepper’s were going for £197 on amazon resellers. Now it’s a modest £88 with a few “used” at £8.50 up. Discogs has a few under £10 (from the USA).

Check out the band website:

Thee are promo videos and some albums are currently on sale.


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