The SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS began their musical journey in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the mid 1990’s, as a musician’s escape from the cookie cutter world of modern rock radio at the time. Jimbo Mathus along with drummer/percussionist Chris Phillips formed the band as a casual musical foray among friends and family in the area. It wasn’t long before the band’s quirky mix of Jazz chords, Folk music, and Punk Rock leanings spread out of the region and attracted a national audience.
Squirrel Nut Zippers
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The band was founded by James “Jimbo” Mathus, formerly of Metal Flake Mother and Johnny Vomit & The Dry Heaves, and his then-wife Katharine Whalen in Carrboro, North Carolina, with Tom Maxwell, Chris Phillips, Don Raleigh, and Ken Mosher. The group made its debut in Chapel Hill a few months later. Stacy Guess (formerly of Pressure Boys) joined shortly after.
“Nut Zippers” is a southern term for a variety of old bootleg moonshine. The band’s name comes from a newspaper story about an intoxicated man who climbed a tree and refused to come down even after police arrived. The headline was “Squirrel Nut Zipper.” It is also the name of a Squirrel nut caramel candy dating back to 1890.
The band is credited for contributing to the swing revival that occurred during the 1990s. The band was influenced by Johnny Ace, Cab Calloway, Django Reinhardt, Raymond Scott, Fats Waller, and Tom Waits. The breakthrough single “Hell”, with its calypso rhythm, more closely aligned the band with the neo-swing movement.
The Zippers’s debut album, The Inevitable (1995), received airplay on National Public Radio, and its second album, Hot (1996), was certified platinum. Hot was also one of the first enhanced CDs, containing an interactive presentation created by filmmaker Clay Walker. In support of the album, the band toured with rock singer Neil Young. Perennial Favorites (1998) followed, then Christmas Caravan and Bedlam Ballroom.
The Squirrel Nut Zippers performed at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and at President Clinton’s second inaugural ball. Their numerous appearance included such notables as radio show Prairie Home Companion and on television shows The Tonight Show, Late Show with David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and Sesame Street. Their music has also been featured in numerous television shows and films, including “Dream with the Fishes” and “Burlesque.”