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Squirrel Nut Zippers

The commercialization of alternative music in the '90s resulted in many strange one-hit wonders, but few were quite as unpredictable as Squirrel Nut Zippers. During a time when hipsters were obsessed with swing music in its relation to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin's Rat Pack, the Zippers were fascinated with big-band swing and Harlem, creating a tongue-in-cheek salute to '20s and '30s jazz. For younger listeners familiar with the style but not the content of classic hot jazz, the band was good fun, but purists found the group's vaguely campy sense of humor and amateurish technique off-putting. This debate would never have even been a matter of consideration if "Hell," an incessantly catchy single from their 1997 album Hot, hadn't been able to sneak through loosened alternative airplay to become a novelty hit. "Hell" became a crossover hit on the strength of a bizarrely theatrical vehicle, and Squirrel Nut Zippers quickly became one of the hottest alternative bands of the first half of the year.

Jim Mathus (vocals, guitar, trombone) and Katharine Whalen (vocals, banjo) formed Squirrel Nut Zippers in 1993 after leaving Chapel Hill, NC, for the nearby small town of Efland. As soon as they settled in Efland, the couple renovated a farmhouse, where they pursued various arts and crafts, and eventually the band fell into shape as Mathus and Whalen met local citizens like Don Raleigh (bass) and Ken Mosher (guitar, saxophone, vocals) who shared an interest in hot jazz. Before long, Chris Phillips (drums, percussion), Tom Maxwell (vocals, guitar, baritone saxophone, clarinet), and Je Widenhouse (trumpet) were added to the band, which was now named after an old-fashioned candy bar, Squirrel Nut Zippers. The group soon made its live debut in Chapel Hill and within a few months had developed a large fan base throughout the South.

By the end of 1994, Squirrel Nut Zippers had signed with Mammoth Records, and they released their debut album, The Inevitable, in the spring of 1995. The album didn't make much of an impact, but the group continued to tour. Their second album, Hot, was released in January of 1997. Soon after its release, "Hell" became a hit on such influential radio stations as Los Angeles' KROQ, and MTV soon made the video into a buzz clip. By the spring, "Hell" and Hot had become hits, as the single was a staple on modern rock stations. Although the Zippers were now successful, they received mixed reviews, with many critics claiming that they were mocking hot jazz, not paying tribute. Nevertheless, the album went gold, and a second single, "Put a Lid on It," was released in the summer. Perennial Favorites followed in 1998, as did Christmas Caravan. Two years later, the band released Bedlam Ballroom, showcasing a cut by late bandmate Stacy Guess. Squirrel Nut Zippers went on an extended hiatus in the early part of the decade and eventually reconvened in 2008 for the live concert album Lost at Sea, which saw release a year later . ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Comments

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Hell on the Hot album fondly reminds me of A Night in Tunisia by Dizzy Gillespie.
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graylaurenr
awesome band
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Awesome..jus t amazing
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avocadolemon
I agree with Heather. The only thing that's to wonder here is wonder why they only had one big hit. And it just plain has more to do with the style of music they play. Just amazing stuff; some of their songs sound like they stepped right out of the 30s. Very few acts can pull this off convincingly and play more modern tinged stuff too.
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Outstanding. . . . . . . . . .
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These guys were not one hit wonders, all their music is just amazing.
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Love these guys. Saw them in San Diego just after they released Perennial Favorites and seeing Ghost of Steven Foster and The Kraken performed live was amazing! Blue Angel is still one of my favorite songs.
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Jeez, what a condescendin g bio.
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Went to a little club in NC When I worked there 94 -96. Saw these knuckleheads a couple times. Fun fun fun! Was still young enough to dance til my whole body hurt. Sweating made the hangovers more tolerable.
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Read my bio if you like it follow me
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ginkabob
cooooooooooo o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o l ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
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Some people.....p u r i s t s . . . need to lighten up...this music is about having a good time....tale n t e d musicians with a great sense of humor...grea t party tunes.
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markle.jacob
I love their songs "Bad Businessman" and "Blue Devil" in the album "Hot".
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philhult
Another band in the same vein - Matuto
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Nutty
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bigjakejt
Hit the road jack??
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True that jjuddles
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The words *nuts* and *zippers* should not be used together....
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libunnyfoofo o
Grew up around Raleigh so me and my friends were in love with them in High School. Got to see them live with all my friends and still have great memories.
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Squirrelly
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My favorite band. Period. Tis a shame that I never got to see them when I was a teen. Now that I have monies and they aren't playing anymore, I don't know what to do with myself. :(
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Love this band . They were the last concert I went to with my brother who passed away a few years ago . We had been to hundreds of shows together over the years ,ELP ,Yes , Floyd , Moody Blues, Kansas ,etc. But the Zippers will always have a special place in my heart . Miss You Brother..... .
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lorialun
One of my favorite bands. Perennial Favorites is a fantastic album!
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dcrawford774
I bought Hot a long time ago and enjoyed them so much, I used to call into my college radio station just to get them in the top 10 requested list for the week.
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godaddy hold music! love it!
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Wow, what a wonderfully insulting review. I love their music as much now I did nearly 20 years ago.
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cwheels47
I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Squirrel Nut Zippers!! Went to see them in Boston at the Paradise and again at a smaller venue Tupelo's in Londonderry, NH last year! Awesome band........ a w e s o m e vocals by Kathryn! It doesn't matter what anyone else writes about them, I totally love this band and because I love them, I've been turned onto other similar bands ...thanks Pandora! :)
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anna.dsenis
Pandora please grant my christmas wish and add the squirrel nut zippers Holiday album!!! Thanks! and Happy Holidays!
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arg! won't let me add good enough for granddad on my station.... wtf ... its listed here but not in the music genome project?
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Who writes these biographies? Not very impartial. I agree with Stephen, you don't devote that much of your life to a particular style of music to make fun of it. The Squirrel Nut Zippers and other swing revival bands of the 90s really opened a gateway for me to listen to big bands of the 30s. I love this band.
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I'm thoroughly familiar with Prima (and Keely Smith), the King Cole Trio and many, many hot clubs (including but beyond Django), and I thoroughly enjoy listening to new bands (well, not so new now) interpreting / c o v e r i n g older styles. Try Levay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. I thought Hot was a very enjoyable album, and enjoyed Bedlam Ballroom.
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northjetty10 1
Though the music sounds like they're having fun with it, I never really got the impression that they were mocking 20's and 30's hot jazz (as described above). It seems to me to be a tribute. Why else would anyone poor that much effort into the music? It seems more the case of a group of people who grew up liking Louis Armstrong and similar sounds. Some of the instrumental jams on their alblums are very similar to the feel you get at the end "Basin Street Blues" and I think they've done a really
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if you like them listen to Louis Prima.
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sechlerparen t s
I like it!!! Very unique sound!!!
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jeff1773
Play the Hot CD on your computer- it's got video !
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erinpiddy
pore me another and take my hand...it's good stuff
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Love it, want to hear more
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gurlldv8
they're the best i remember rocking out to hell in junior high!
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They can catch my Squirrels Nuts in a Zipper all they want!
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ssssssssmoki n !
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gotta be Norah Jones & Melissa Muldur roots influence.Ni c e
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never heard of em before WOW thanks Pandora. At the library with headphones and can't contain my enthusiasium . People look at me like I'm nutz, squirrel or otherwise
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loafinc
squirrel nutz is sooooo gangsta!!!
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ngetty40
Haven't heard SNZ for a lonnng time. Thanks for including this in my station.
This music genome thing really works!
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I never heard this band before . But right now I think they have the touch of swing.
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jakuz4
i do agree with you Leslye.
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I Like Andrew Bird's bowl of fire too
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Definitely a fun and unique band! I could listen to them all day.
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They also, some forget, that the played Dick Clark's Rocking New Year's Eve Show. I knew all these cats back in Chapel Hill. Great, creative and amazing friends. I've seen them play more than 20 times. :)
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libbytripp
did they forget that the Zippers played Bill Clinton's inaugural ball
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