Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five are a modest yet earnest band that truly embodies the spirit of all-star local bands here in Champaign-Urbana. Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five, steered by the personable Dave Pride, exemplify the hardworking, do-it-yourself ethos of the area’s music scene. This band isn’t riding the wave of massive popularity yet, but they’re diligently working away at their craft, with each other and a few other bands as well, offering music that’s straightforward, genuine, and reflective of their collective journey.
Pride isn’t your typical frontman; he’s approachable and grounded, qualities that shine through in both his personality and the band’s music. Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five’s tunes aren’t about flashy production or chasing trends. Instead, they offer a sound that’s honest and true to their experiences — a blend of various influences coming together in a way that’s uniquely their own.
Pride’s musical journey is marked by his involvement in a diverse array of bands, each distinct in style and genre, showcasing his versatility as a musician. His tenure with The Fights introduced him to the realm of country-ish music, where his songwriting skills grew amidst a group of free-spirited, talented songwriters. His venture into Cajun rhythms with the Occasional Cajun Band highlights his affinity for New Orleans music, a passion further explored through his admiration for Dr. John. Playing with Colonel James Presents and the Clayton Burke Band, Pride continued to diversify his musical portfolio, delving into rock and more experimental genres. His involvement with Neoga (formerly Neoga Blacksmith) adds yet another layer, expanding his musical expression in the realm of indie rock and blues. This variety of musical experiences not only reflects Pride’s broad range of musical tastes but also his adaptability and eagerness to explore different musical landscapes, making him a compelling figure, among many, in the Champaign-Urbana music scene.
The band’s story begins with its name, Big Daddy Pride, a playful moniker that Pride, often affectionately called “Daddy” by friends, adopted. To this writer, it was a name that conjured images of a larger-than-life persona fronting a rhythm and blues band with a horn section the size of Rhode Island. I couldn’t have been more off, visually. Yet beneath Pride’s playful exterior lies someone rooted in the DIY ethos, their music a testament to hard work, passion for music (and life), and the sheer joy of creating and walking the onstage wire sans net with his bandmates.
The band’s eclectic mix of psychedelic roots, 90s alt-country, and New Orleans rhythms, peppered with R&B, is a labor of love. It’s a sound not born in high-end studios but in the garages, basements, and local venues of C-U, a testament to their blue-collar approach. Each member brings their unique flair — Sarah Cramer’s bass skills and business savvy, Matt Wade’s soulful guitar and songwriting, Theo Long’s groovy drum beats, and the occasional infusion of harmonica and sax by Doug Schroer and Louie Papas, respectively. It’s a collective where camaraderie and shared musical passion are as crucial as the notes they play.
Mark Peaslee, their producer and the “fifth member,” of the East Side Five, played a pivotal role in the early days of this ensemble. His guidance is not just technical but spiritual. Snake Jazz, Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five’s first album, was recorded live at Rose Bowl Tavern during the pandemic. Pride wanted to give the bartenders a shift while they recorded, so Rose Bowl Tavern bartender Pealee stood back at the bar and told Pride when it sucked and kept quiet if the take was good. The recording of Snake Jazz is a perfect example of the organic, spontaneous process that defines their music.
Pride revels in the lack of perfection in the studio and onstage. Their live performances, described as “dangerously unrehearsed,” are not just shows but experiences — raw, unpolished, and real. It’s in these moments, when things teeter on the edge of chaos, that the true spirit of Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five comes alive.
Looking forward, Pride sees the band evolving organically, driven by his evolving approach to songwriting. Their upcoming album, differing from Snake Jazz, promises to be a richer, more layered production. It’s a project reflective of their journey, marked by an array of guest musicians and a deeper exploration of their diverse musical influences.
The C-U music scene, with its myriad of venues and a diverse array of talent, has been a nurturing ground for the band. Places like Rose Bowl Tavern have offered not just a stage but a home, where the band’s sound could mature and resonate. In this community, Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five have found their groove, their sound a reflection of the scene’s eclectic and supportive nature. Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five are literally from, of, and for the C-U music scene. An amalgamation of some of its finest musicians, and an embodiment of how musical camaraderie and imperfection can combine to delight audiences and sustain the band itself.
Pride’s vision for the local music scene is one of unity and collaboration, akin to the spirit of festivals like the Hogchute Opry. He dreams of more events that bring together varied local talents, creating a melting pot of musical styles and stories. It’s a vision that speaks to the heart of what makes the local scene special: its communal spirit and shared passion for music.
Amid the challenges of a DIY approach, where practice time is scarce, and each member juggles multiple projects, Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five have embraced their ‘dangerously unrehearsed’ identity. It’s a testament to their commitment to keeping the music honest, raw, and true to themselves. Pride’s leadership, driving the band while leading the troupe out onto the tightrope onstage, is a reflection of his gratitude for every opportunity music has provided, tangible or not.
In the end, Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five stand as a symbol of what the Champaign-Urbana music scene is all about: passion, perseverance, and a deep love for the art of music-making. Despite their humble appearance, their music speaks volumes of their journey, their character, and their unwavering commitment to their craft. In a world where success is often measured in likes and follows, Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five remind us of the beauty in the grind, the joy in the creation, and the heart in every note played.
Big Daddy Pride and the East Side Five
Rose Bowl Tavern
F Jan 19th, 8:30 p.m.
$10 – $15 suggested cover