Their music hearkens back to the era of hepcats and zoot suits. The tempo compels one to jump, jive and wail. But they are not a Swing band.
That is the emphatic insistence of Dave Brown, longtime local musician and frontman of Big Bill Pickle and the Legendary Jerkin Gherkins.
"To just call us a swing band is an oversimplification," says Brown, longtime erstwhile member of local legends The Warsaw Falcons. "We are out to bring to bring in all of the fans of different splinter genres of Rock and Roll. We dropped the swing label a while ago."
"I call it jitterbilly," Brown says, chuckling.
Big Bill will release their new CD, playfully titled Size Doesn't Matter, and commemorate the event with a release party at York Street Cafe in Newport on Saturday.
York Street's second floor stage has hosted Big Bill for about two years' worth of Thursday nights.
While the early shows were frequented by only a few devotees, recent gigs have attracted a larger following. Swing dance lessons, provided by Valentine, are given just prior to shows, providing the Gherkins a ready-made and ready to Swing crowd.
"Of course, I am very pleased with the turnout we have had at recent shows," Brown said. "I love seeing music fans of all different generations. We have college age kids just discovering the style of music that gave birth to Rock and Roll, as well as older folks who were there the first time this style came around."
Brown has assembled a talented composite of local musicians: Mark Leshner, an ex-Falcon himself, on drums; Pete Beaer on bass; Todd Hepburn on piano; Rob "Scoot" Jacobs as the horn section leader; David Traylor on trumpet; Mark Bolin on trombone; Bill Hawkins on trombone; and John Hatley on tenor sax.
"We have a great deal of versatility on this stage," Brown says, pointing to his bandmates. "We all have a lot of different projects going on, and are in a lot of bands. But this feeds what we do in other bands, and we have a lot of fun. This is almost like our night-off gig."
Brown says his favorite track on the album is "Brand New Man." He says, "It was produced to sound very tinny, like the audio quality of an old recording. We have worked to recreate the sound of old-school Roots Rock, but I think the end result is very cool on 'Brand New Man.' "
A special appearance is made on the CD by Bobby Keys, longtime tenor sax player for the Rolling Stones. He appears on three of the album's tracks: "Rock de Bop," "Skinny Ankle Bone" and "Can't Help It." Keys met Brown when he passed through Nashville several years ago as a member of the Black Mountain Daredevils.
"I immediately liked Dave as a musician. We got to talking and we just hit it off," Keys says. "He told me about what he was doing with Big Bill, and I was excited to be a part of it. This music is simple, unpretentious, the kind of music everyone can relate to."
While Keys may be accustomed to throngs of adoring fans while playing sold-out arena dates with the Stones, he says he enjoys these types of shows as well.
"You don't need to be in arena to hear great music," Keys says. "In fact, most of the time the best music is played in little places."
Big Bill has another unique gig in the weeks ahead. On April 1, they'll play at Top Cat's in Clifton. All proceeds from the show will go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The donation will be made in honor of John Arcady, a musician and friend to many band members who died in October while doing his day job of driving a cab.
"He was a really special guy, the kind who would do anything for you and always had a great attitude," Pete Baer, bass player in the band, says. "He was a big supporter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and we think it is the least we can do to play one show every quarter where we give every penny to such a great cause."
BIG BILL PICKLE AND THE LEGENDARY JERKIN GHERKINS perform Saturday at the York Street Cafe.