About a week ago, I started a poll on LA Lindy Hop where I posed the question, “if you were stranded on a desert island, which ten Southern California Swing bands would you want to be stuck there with you?” Literally hundreds of you voted! There were some results that I expected, as well as some complete surprises. So, without any further ado, here are the top ten Swing bands in Los Angeles and Orange County as voted by you, the Swing dancers!
No surprise here, and no argument from me either! Jonathan Stout and His Campus Five Featuring Hilary Alexander have always been a dancer favorite, playing small-group tunes from the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. The band caters to Balboa dancers and performs at Swing camps around the nation. The musicians are absolutely top-notch. If you want to have some great songs to dance to, and a lot of people to dance with, then show up wherever they may be playing, often at Happy Feet Mondays at Joe’s Bar, PBDA, Strutter’s Ball, Camp Hollywood, Inspiration Weekend, and other events. You won’t be sorry! The band consists of Chris Dawson, Jim Ziegler, Albert Alva, Josh Collazo, Wally Hersom, Jonathan Stout, and Hilary Alexander.
2. Stompy Jones
Despite the departure of their beloved lead singer, Pops, Stompy Jones proved they are still popular with the fans with a strong #2 showing on this poll. With a danceable up tempo jump-blues sound from the 40’s and 50’s, Stompy Jones is actually based in San Francisco, but plays in Southern California pretty often (and nationwide). Look for them at
PBDA, Rusty’s Rhythm Club, Disneyland, and other local venues!
The Jonathan Stout Orchestra is the highest-ranking Big Band in this poll. Like the Campus Five, this band has great musicians and plays dancer favorites, so it’s no wonder they’re in the top ten! Look for them at Camp Hollywood and other venues.
Playing since before I started Swing dancing in the late 90’s, MMR have really earned their spot on this list. I remember they were the Derby house band on Monday nights, which was a “must go” night. There are many incarnations of this band, from a 20-piece big band to trios, but I think that they are most known for music from the 20’s and 30’s, and are great for Balboa and Swing. Look for them at the Cicada Club. They also played at the Battle of the Big Bands this year with the George Gee orchestra.
Orange County is in the house! The Ellis Island Boys play regularly at Disney’s California Adventure, and feature sounds from the 20’s and 30’s (are you sensing a trend here?) John Reynolds plays guitar and his brother, Ralf Reynolds is “considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest living washboard players” according to their Facebook page. :-) They are definitely a dancer favorite and not to be missed! Hopefully they’ll play some gigs where more dancers without Disney passes can see them. [Note that I originally had John Reynolds as a separate band, but Lorenzo pointed out that he should be combined with Ellis Island Boys. They ranked right next to each other in the poll (at #7 and #8), which indicates that Lorenzo was right – many who voted for one voted for the other, so I have combined them at #7.]
OK, now for something totally different: Western Swing. I was skeptical the first time I went to see these guys but I immediately got hooked and bought their CD. With very danceable, twangy tunes and self-deprecating lyrics, these guys are a hit with the Swing crowd. They don’t play very often, but when they do, the fans show up. I am so glad that they made it to the top ten. The last time I saw them live was at the Fairfax Farmer’s Market, but they have been known to play at Joe’s Bar as well. When they do play, just go!
Proving that traditional Big Band music is still alive and well are the Fabulous Esquires Big Band. If you want to take a break from all of the Balboa going on these days, this band is great for straight-up Lindy Hop. They play frequently at Rusty’s Rhythm Club and PBDA.
I am glad this band made it to the top ten, because they are definitely under-appreciated. I saw them recently at the Cicada Club and they were fantastic, playing classic big band and Swing favorites. They have another incarnation known as “Tim Gill’s Gin Mill Grifters” which plays hot jazz and Dixieland from the 20’s and 30’s, and they are equally good. Look for the Tim Gill All-Stars at Disneyland, the Cicada Club, and Hip Kitty Jazz.
Coming in just after the top ten were some other great bands. The Jonathan Stout Rhythm Busters came in at number eleven. Next was the George Gee Orchestra. They are based in New York, but recently played at the Battle of the Big Bands and at Catalina Island. They are a dancer favorite and bring much energy to the big band genre. I love 50’s music, so Lil’ Mo and the Dynaflos and Big Sandy and His Fly Rite Boys are two of my favorites. They came in next. After that is the veteran band, Steve Lucky & the Rhumba Bums, based in San Francisco, but a dancer favorite here. Then we have a group of 20’s and 30’s style bands including the Hi-Fi Honeydrops, the Bonebrake Syncopators, Carl Sonny Leyland, and the revamped Icy Hot Club tied with Johnny Boyd, former lead singer of Indigo Swing (for you old-timers). All of these are great bands!
To see the complete list, click the link or the image to the left.
If you haven’t noticed, this poll showed that music from the 20’s and 30’s is really hot right now compared to 40’s big band music. Five out of the top ten bands on this list, including the #1 band, primarily play music from the 20’s and 30’s (or music in that style), whereas only three bands in the top ten play primarily big band music, and they ranked lower in the top ten. In general, the 20’s and 30’s bands ranked very high on the rest of this list.
I remember back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when the Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra was probably the most popular band, and big bands in general were all the rage (heck, even Brian Setzer had a big band). Times have changed!
Swing dancers in LA and Orange County have always valued authentic sounds over “neo-Swing” and that was reflected in this poll. With a few exceptions, neo-Swing bands didn’t score very highly with the Swing dancers.
One of my favorite types of music is 50’s/rockabilly music. Unfortunately, rockabilly bands don’t seem to be playing as often these days (at least not a Swing dance venues). Factoring in how rarely they play, I think the Lucky Stars, Big Sandy, and Lil’ Mo and the Dynaflos did quite respectably in this poll. I hope we hear them and other rockabilly bands more!
How Accurate Is This Poll?
This is by no means a scientific poll. For one thing, there wasn’t much from preventing someone from voting multiple times and ruining the poll (luckily, I didn’t see that happen). Furthermore, Facebook had a big influence, with bands encouraging people to vote for them online. But, that is quite okay and what I had hoped. The fact that each person had ten votes hopefully mitigated the effect of band and fan lobbying (i.e., people would vote for that band, as well as other good bands).
What About the Bands That Didn’t Fare So Well?
There were some awesome, amazing bands on this list that didn’t get a lot of votes. Part of the issue is that we have so many great bands to choose from. It was hard for me (and a lot of other voters) to pare it down to ten votes. There some great bands I would have liked to have voted for.
Second, some of these bands don’t play that often and don’t have much publicity, so even if they’re awesome, people don’t know about them.
Third, in the poll, I actually didn’t ask which bands were the best musicians. I asked which bands you’d like to be stuck on a desert island with. So, people might have voted for bands that their friends play in, or with a cute lead singer, or whatever, not necessarily the band with the best musicians. (People would probably vote that way regardless of how the question was worded). It was all part of the fun though. This is not meant to be a scientific poll of who the best musicians are, but rather a rough gauge of band and music genre popularity. So, just because a band finished low in this unscientific poll doesn’t mean they’re bad!
Let’s Appreciate All of our Swing Bands!
Let us remember that playing in a Swing band doesn’t pay a lot of money. These musicians do it for the love of the music. How much enjoyment have you gotten from dancing to these bands? Let’s give a hand to all of the great bands we have here in Southern California! Support live music!
And I want to thank YOU for taking the time to thoughtfully fill out this poll!! Did your favorite band make it to the top ten? Please leave a comment below.
More polls will be coming in the future! What kind of polls would YOU like to see?? – Brian