Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs, Sapphire Supper Club, March 14, 1998
The swing revolution has given rise to the Royal Crown Revue, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Combustible Edison and droves of other self-styled hepcats. It seems like such a musical renaissance ought to bode well with Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs.
For nearly 15 years, Bacon has taken his roots-loving roadhouse trio from his hometown of San Diego to nightclubs all over America. The portly frontman and his steadily revolving cast of sidemen specialize in a mix of rockabilly, jump blues, Tex-Mex, country, and, of course, the swing that Bacon learned to love from his father, a big-band singer. Surprisingly '90s swing audiences have been somewhat unreceptive to Bacon.
"It's actually closed doors for us," says Bacon, without a trace of bitterness. "Clubs would rather hire a band that can't swing at all but has horn sections. We've been playing swing music from day one. ... We can still swing harder and better. And we'll be here when they're gone."
The band evolved their barroom-blend sound over the course of 30 to 40 weeks a year in a touring van. For the band's first live album, 1997's "13 Years of Bad Road," bassist Bacon, guitarist Jerry "Hot Rod" DeMink and drummer Randy Willert are joined by steel guitarist/trombonist Tim Cook and accordionist/guitarist Chris Gaffney. "We did it in one night, at one club (the Belly-Up Tavern in Solana Beach), and played it as a five-piece band. That way we didn't have to do any major overdubs," says Bacon.
Bacon's trip from local musician to inveterate road hog and indie-label artist began when he was a teen-ager. He soaked up the sounds of border radio, swing, the Sir Douglas Quintet and, of course, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan and the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" album also are on his long list of major influences. The group was signed to Triple X Records by Mojo Nixon, and their 1991 debut, "Una Mas Cerveza," was followed by the next year's "Dressed to Swill" and 1995's "The Other White Meat," produced by the Blasters' Dave Alvin.
"The only other job I'm qualified for is digging ditches, and I don't feel like doing that," says Bacon. "As long as I'm still writing songs that I'm happy with, and playing and having a band that I'm happy with, I'll keep doing it."