Crawdaddy

What in the world is a Squirrel Nut Zipper and where can I get one?

Jimbo Mathus takes time off from the Squirrel Nut Zippers to take a whack at Donald Trump.
Jimbo Mathus takes time off from the Squirrel Nut Zippers to take a whack at Donald Trump.

Jimbo Mathus doubts he’ll be hearing from Donald Trump any time soon, even though the Mississippi singer-guitarist tweaks the GOP nominee in a new video.

“Man, I’m so down on the radar that’s not going to happen,” he said. “It’s hard to make a splash these days.”

“Gringo Man” is hardly the harshest criticism Trump has had to endure the week of the Democratic National Convention. It’s not all that political. In fact, it wasn’t political at all until the last minute. It debuted earlier this week on Glide Magazine, although Mathus was singing a version of it back in March at The Shed in Ocean Springs.

“I had a song that wasn’t necessarily political but I went back and added the ‘red, white and blue, don’t like me, don’t like you. I thought it might come in handy.’

“You have to be nimble and fleet of foot to be an artist.”

The video was mostly his partner Don Evans’ idea.

“He’s the one who got the pinata and the Mexican kids to attack the pinata out in California,” Mathus said.

The symbolism is clear: “I think that’s the whole persona (Trump has) created. Take a whack at me and see what happens.

“When he spoke at the (Republican) convention, he said, ‘I will do this, I will do this and I will do this,’ ” said Mathus. “I think a pinata is an appropriate image. We should have had dollar bills, hundred-dollar bills, flying out. That’s my only regret.”

This may be Mathus’ most overt political message but there’s more than meets the ear in most of his songs.

“I just like to interject comedy and satire in all my stuff,” he said. “Even with the Zippers, there’s a ton of satire and commentary. I call it subterfuge. I like to keep it on the entertainment side but you can also have darker messages, deeper messages, in the poetry.”

The Squirrel Nut Zippers is the band formed in North Carolina that brought Mathus fame in the 1990s. That was the height of the Swing Revival, when the Zippers, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies mixed swing, jump and blues with rockabilly and ska. The music’s popularity faded by the early 2000s.

The Zippers came undone about the same time when Tom Maxwell and Ken Mosher quit. Mosher and Maxwell, who wrote “Hell,” which became the theme song of “Dead Like Me” and brought the band its greatest success, sued over royalties. That case was settled for $150,000.

“We had quite a bit of success, but there are quite a few buzzards out there,” Mathus said. “I didn’t walk away with anything. When I moved back to Mississippi, I came back penniless.”

He played gigs around the state, including The Shed, but now he’s bringing back the Zippers for the 20th anniversary of the band’s best album, “Hot.” He’s clearly moved on even if Maxwell hasn’t. He’ll be very busy the next three months, and, he hopes, forever after that.

The new band, Mathus said, isn’t a reunion. Only he and Chris Phillips remain from the original lineup.

“It’s a re-imagining,” he said. “We’re doing material that people are familiar with but with new horn charts, top of the line players from New Orleans. A lot of real young blood horn players and rhythm.”

The big question is how will he replace ex-wife Katharine Whalen, the original vocalist.

Ingrid Lucia of New Orleans and the Flying Nutrinos. That’s the band started by her parents, David Pearlman and Betsy Terrell. She joined at age 11.

You can see for yourself how well the reboot matches the original on Saturday night at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. Showtime for the Zippers is 11 p.m.

“It’s a late town,” Mathus explained.

Paul Hampton: 228-896-2330, @JPaulHampton

What is a Squirrel Nut Zipper?

According to online sources and common knowledge, a Squirrel Nut Zipper is:

A Southern Term for bootleg whiskey that Mathus said led to a newspaper account of a man so intoxicated he climbed a tree and couldn’t be coaxed down.

The name of a carmel candy that originated in Massachusetts. You can get yours here.

  Comments