Squirrel Nut Zippers

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Squirrel Nut Zippers
Performing in San Francisco, 2008
Performing in San Francisco, 2008
Background information
OriginChapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S.
Years active1993–2000, 2006–2010, 2016–
  • Jimbo Mathus
  • Dr. Sick
  • Cella Blue
  • Leslie P. Martin
  • Eddie King
  • Dave Boswell
  • Henry Westmoreland
  • Tamara Nicolai
  • Neilson Bernard III
Past members
  • Tom Maxwell
  • Ken Mosher
  • Katharine Whalen
  • Chris Phillips
  • Don Raleigh
  • Stacy Guess
  • Stu Cole
  • Je Widenhouse
  • Robert Griffin
  • Dave Wright
  • Tim Smith
  • Adam Lake
  • Reese Gray
  • Andrew Bird
  • Will Dawson
  • Tim Kendt
  • Christopher A. Scott
  • Kevin O'Donnell
  • Laura McIndoe
  • Ingrid Lucia
  • Charlie Halloran
  • Colin Myers
  • Kris Tokarski
  • Kevin Louis
  • Steve Suter

Squirrel Nut Zippers is an American swing and jazz band formed in 1993 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, by James "Jimbo" Mathus (vocals and guitar), Tom Maxwell (vocals and guitar), Katharine Whalen (vocals, banjo, ukulele), Chris Phillips (drums), Don Raleigh (bass guitar), and Ken Mosher.[1]

The band's music is a fusion of Delta blues, gypsy jazz, 1930s–era swing, klezmer, and other styles.[1] They found commercial success during the swing revival of the late 1990s with their 1996 single "Hell", written by Tom Maxwell. After a hiatus of several years, the original band members reunited and performed in 2007, playing in the U.S. and Canada.

In 2016, Mathus and Phillips reunited the band with a new lineup to tour in support of the 20th anniversary of their highest selling album, Hot.[2]

The Squirrel Nut Zippers continue to tour, and released their new album, Beasts of Burgundy in March 2018, and singles "Mardi Gras for Christmas" and "Alone at Christmas" in November 2018.


Swing revival[edit]

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."[3][4] It is also the name of a caramel and peanut candy dating back to 1890.[5]

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.[4]

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 appearances included such notables as the 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.

Zippers unzipped[edit]

By the early 2000s, the Zippers were inactive. Mathus and Katharine Whalen had divorced, and the band members went their separate ways.

Whalen released her debut album, Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad. Mathus toured and recorded extensively with Buddy Guy and has released 18 solo records on various labels, and under various names, while keeping a hand in numerous other projects. Je Widenhouse and Reese Gray recorded and toured with Firecracker Jazz Band. Chris Phillips spent two years with the Dickies and William Reid from the Jesus and Mary Chain. His band The Lamps included members of the Bangles and The Connells.


In early 2007, the band's official website announced tour dates with a lineup consisting of Jimbo Mathus, Katharine Whalen, Chris Phillips, Je Widenhouse, Stuart Cole, and Will Dawson. With the proclamation "Ladies and Gentlemen...They're Back," the band performed concert dates throughout the U.S. and Canada in the spring and summer of 2007 and through 2008.

In late February 2009, Phillips sent an e-mail announcing a forthcoming live album called You Are My Radio, recorded in Brooklyn in December 2008.[6] The album title was later changed to Lost at Sea and was released on October 27 through Southern Broadcasting/MRI. They also announced plans for a studio album in 2010. The band taped a performance for NPR's Mountain Stage, which aired in mid-November.

Following renewed interest at the approach of the 20th Anniversary of Hot, Mathus began assembling a revival band, focusing on musicians in the New Orleans area. They began touring in June 2016, with the initial line-up including Mathus, Dr. Sick (fiddle, vocals), Ingrid Lucia (vocals), Kris Tokarski (piano), Charlie Halloran (trombone), Dave Boswell (trumpet), Henry Westmoreland (saxophone), Tamara Nicolai (upright bass) and Kevin O’Donnell (drums), with original Zippers drummer Chris Phillips managing, and Alex Holeman as road manager.[7]

The band has continued to tour; a new studio album, Beasts of Burgundy was released March 23, 2018 via their own label Southern Broadcasting. Performers on the album include Mathus (guitar, vocals), Dr. Sick (fiddle, banjo, various instruments, vocals), Cella Blue (vocals), Vanessa Niemann (vocals), Tamar A. Korn (vocals), Dave Boswell (trumpet), Kevin Louis (trumpet), Aurora Nealand (clarinet), Charlie Halloran (trombone), Colin Myers (trombone), Henry Westmoreland (tenor and baritone saxophone), Kris Tokarski (piano), Leslie P. Martin (piano), Tamara Nicolai (upright bass), Neilson Bernard III (drums) and Chris Phillips (percussion).


Studio Albums[edit]

Live Albums[edit]

  • Lost at Sea (2009)




Title Year Peak chart positions Album
Modern Rock Tracks[8] US Air[8]
"Hell" 1996 13 72[9] Hot
"Put a Lid on It"
"Suits Are Picking Up the Bill"[10] 1998 Perennial Favorites
"Ghost of Stephen Foster"[11] 1999


As of 2019, music by the Squirrel Nut Zippers has appeared in 25 films or television shows.[12]

Song Work Year
"Hell" Epic 2013
"Poor Boys Blues" Burlesque 2010
"That Fascinating Thing" Burlesque 2010
"Verdi Mart Shuffle" Burlesque 2010
"Curly's Blues" Burlesque 2010
"Suits Are Picking Up the Bill" Burlesque 2010
"Sitting Pretty" Burlesque 2010
"Ghost of Stephen Foster" Tears for Sale 2008
"Hell" Sigma Die! 2007
"My Drag" You Kill Me 2007
"Hell" Banished 2007
"Baby Wants a Diamond Ring" Happily N'Ever After 2007
"Put a Lid on it" Fido 2006
"Anything But Love" The O.C. 2004
"Good Enough for Grandad" Comic Book: The Movie 2004
"Moon Over Parma" The Drew Carey Show 2003
"Hell" Dead Like Me 2003
"Hell" Monkeybone 2001
"Blue Angel" The Last Kiss 2001
"Trou Macacq" Three to Tango 1999
"Got My Own Thing Now" Fifty 1999
"Hell" Blast from the Past 1999
"Trou Macacq" Blast from the Past 1999
"Hell" Dead Man on Campus 1998
"Meant to Be" Sex and the City 1998
"Hell" Millennium 1997
"Put a Lid on It" A Life Less Ordinary 1997
"Hell" Squirrel Nut Zippers: Hell 1997
"Hell" Dream with the Fishes 1997
"Blue Angel" Dream with the Fishes 1997
"Meant to Be" Just Your Luck 1996
"Anything But Love" Flirting with Disaster 1996
"Istanbul" Black Magic 1992


  1. ^ a b Colin Larkin, ed. (2000). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Nineties Music (First ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 372/3. ISBN 0-7535-0427-8.
  2. ^ Gensler, Andy (June 6, 2016). "Squirrel Nut Zippers Reissuing 'Hot' - Listen to Unreleased 1991 Song 'The Puffer': Exclusive". Billboard. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  3. ^ Jimbo Mathus of The Squirrel Nut Zippers Explains the Band's Name Archived 2009-07-02 at the Wayback Machine Accessed: August 12, 2009
  4. ^ a b Yanow, Scott (2000). Swing. San Francisco, California: Miller Freeman Books. pp. 478–479. ISBN 0-87930-600-9.
  5. ^ History of Squirrel Nut Zippers on the NECCO Candy Company website
  6. ^ "Topspin Media :-: Login". App.topspin.net. Retrieved December 20, 2019.
  7. ^ Cohn, Alison (13 January 2017). "Review – Squirrel Nut Zippers Revival Celebrates 20th Anniversary of "Hot"". 303magazine.com.
  8. ^ a b "Squirrel Nut Zippers - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 2014-08-21.
  9. ^ "Squirrel Nut Zippers". Billboard.com.
  10. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 925–926. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
  11. ^ "Squirrel Nut Zippers Unveil New Video Online". Mtv.com.
  12. ^ "Squirrel Nut Zippers". IMDb.com. Retrieved 25 October 2019.

External links[edit]