Jimbo Mathus says he never planned to make money playing music. That’s a good thing, because by the time the first lineup of his band Squirrel Nut Zippers folded, it was all gone.
The Zippers’ unlikely 1996 hit, “Hell,” a wildly horn-driven, Dixieland jazz romp, earned them a Platinum record for their album Hot. But to their dismay, they were mistakenly swept into the retro-swing fad popularized by the movie Swingers, stamping an unfortunate commercial expiration date on the band’s greasy, brassy brand of vintage Americana.
When the juju ran out — following the divorce of Mathus and bandmate Katharine Whalen, and a lawsuit over royalties from two former bandmates — Mathus retreated to his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi, broke and broken down, to regroup.