• Follow us

Entertainment

The Stray Cats are ready for a comeback 40 years after the rockabilly band became MTVS stars | The Star

Getting back together may sound easy enough but, for decades, the Stray Cats usually sniffed at reunion talk. Or at the idea of talking at all.

In the aftermath of the band’s initial split, in 1984, Brian Setzer hung up his Gretsch for a 12-string acoustic and tried to recast himself as a Johnny Cougar-meets-Bruce roots rocker. Drummer Slim Jim Phantom married Swedish actress and former Bond girl Britt Ekland, posed for People magazine and, eventually, delivered a chatty memoir that laid bare the friction between the Cats. Bassist Lee Rocker started a family and released more than a dozen albums of his own.

But now, with each of them pushing 60, the conflicts seemed ancient and downright silly. Their own projects could wait. The Stray Cats, who sold millions of records during Ronald Reagan’s first term by playing greased-up rockabilly, were ready for a comeback.

It actually began last year when Phantom, in a phone call with Setzer, mentioned that the trio played their first gig in 1979.

“That’s 40 years,” Setzer says now. “That got me. I said, ‘Shoot, it’s time.’”

But he didn’t want to just play old songs. Phantom agreed.

The drummer asked for one of those Gene Vincent, swinging things. Setzer delivered a demo for a song called “Three Times a Charm.” How about some Eddie Cochran? No problem. Setzer banged out “Rock It Off.”

“Once you get two or three, you start rolling,” Setzer says.

Which is how the Stray Cats got to Nashville late last year and, over 11 days, recorded a new album titled 40, their first since 1992. Next month, Setzer, Phantom and Rocker will embark on their most ambitious tour in years, starting with dates in Europe before returning to the States in August.

Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt, a longtime fan, saw the band play a show late last year meant to test the waters. He talked to Rocker afterward and couldn’t believe the Cats had practiced so little before the gig.

“They really knocked it out,” Dirnt says. “I would love to see how great they’ll be after they get a couple of shows under their belt.”

One way to start explaining the Stray Cats is with a photo. It was snapped as they played their hit “(She’s) Sexy & 17” at the huge Rockpalast Festival in Germany in 1983. The image, black-and-white and blurry in spots, features Setzer, the singer and leader, swinging his Gretsch, eyes closed, air between his white shoes and the ground below. Rocker isn’t wearing a shirt and has his back to the camera, suspended in the air as he balances one boot on a standup bass adorned with the word “Dangerous.” Phantom is out of the frame, but we know what he’s up to. He’s standing — the drummer always stood — pounding his snare like Joe Frazier on the heavy bag.

The look, the chops, the total package. It’s why Rocker, now 58, can reasonably declare, without pause, “We are the best band that has ever played this music.”

If you weren’t around, it may be hard to understand the rise of the Stray Cats. It’s as if they appeared from outer space, or at least a Pomade-speared time machine packed with hot rods, tattoos and Eddie Cochran licks. That a rockabilly trio could top the MTV stable in 1982, the same 1982 stuffed with leg warmers, Members Only jackets and synthesizers, would seem not merely unlikely, but impossible.

“I wasn’t prepared,” says Jeff Beck, the British guitar hero who first saw the Stray Cats as an unsigned band at a London club in late 1980. “Slim Jim had one snare drum, Lee Rocker on bass and then Brian. I’m not putting down other rockabilly bands, but so many of them sounded great, but the lead guitarist isn’t really special. Brian was. Right in the face of silly clothes and one-finger synthesizer, they came and just upset the apple cart.”

They came from Massapequa, a small town on Long Island. Lee Rocker was born Leon Drucker, the son of Stanley, the longtime principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic. Years later, Leonard Bernstein would approach Rocker and tell him how much he loved the descending bass line in the Cats’ “Runaway Boys.”

“Growing up, there was really one rule and very little discipline, but the rule was that you took music lessons,” Rocker says. “Whatever you wanted, but you had to take them.”

James McDonnell (a.k.a. Phantom) lived just down the block, the son of a firefighter. He met Drucker in fourth grade at Fairfield Elementary and the friends started jamming. The Druckers pulled their cars out of the garage and replaced them with an upright piano and drum set.

McDonnell loved music, whether the Beatles or the Stones. But as he got older, he started noticing the song credits. That Aerosmith adapted ’50s rocker Johnny Burnette’s “Train Kept a-Rollin’” and that the Beatles played a killer version of Carl Perkins’ “Honey, Don’t.” Humble Pie did Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody.”

“Lee and I had always played,” Phantom says. “We had some older guys that we played with, and we knew all the blues and Jimmy Reed and those kinds of songs. But at the same time, we were trying to find something that was a little bit different.”

Enter Brian Setzer. He was two years older and had been taking guitar lessons since he was 8. By his 16th birthday, Setzer already had the look. He could play the guitar better than anybody they knew. He could also write music. And if he wasn’t quite the loner reported in some of the early Stray Cats stories, Setzer did want out of Massapequa.

“I knew what I liked and it wasn’t anything around me,” he says.

Sometime in the mid-’70s, Setzer heard Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-a-Lula” playing on a jukebox at CBGB, a punk rock club in New York. That got him hooked on the music that had emerged in the 1950s by loosely combining R&B and the raw energy of hillbilly music. He would play local bar gigs with his younger brother, Gary, on drums. One night, they had a fight and Gary stomped out. Setzer noticed Phantom standing there.

“He’s leaning on a post with his sticks and a cowboy hat,” Setzer says. “Nobody looks like that. He looked like Johnny Cash. I go, ‘You play drums?’ He had his kit in the trunk of his car.”

They were the Tom Cats and then the Stray Cats, and then, in 1980, they decided to go overseas after seeing how the British music magazines pushed rockabilly when American club managers seemed confused by it. They slept on benches in Hyde Park and squatted in crowded flats, but soon created a buzz. Beck, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, the Clash’s Joe Strummer and the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde saw them. So did Dave Edmunds, the Welsh guitarist and singer and Rockpile member.

“They were so young, looked so good, and it wasn’t just a revival band,” Edmunds recalls. “It was new. They made it new again. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

Record labels began to hover. The Cats picked Edmunds, a rockabilly lover best known for his top-10 cover of “I Hear You Knockin’,” to produce them.

On their U.S. debut, 1982’s Built for Speed, the Cats are standing in front of Setzer’s ’57 Chevy at an auto body shop in Massapequa. Side 1 kicks off with “Rock This Town,” driven by a slap bass line straight out of 1950s Memphis and a video that highlighted their distinctive look. The song would crack the Billboard Top 10. “Stray Cat Strut,” also on the record, was an irresistible, slinky jazz ballad that would rise to No. 3 early in 1983 and include a Setzer solo ranked by Guitar Player magazine as one of the top 100 ever. The Stray Cats would open for the Rolling Stones, tour the world and become video stars during the glory days of MTV.

“There was nothing like them,” says bassist Johnny Bradley, who today plays in Gary Clark Jr.’s band and remembers seeing the Stray Cats on his TV as a kid in Texas. “And Brian Setzer, he was kind of like a rockabilly prince. No one else played or looked like that dude.”

As long as its been since the Stray Cats were genuine rock stars, they still act like them, operating with a kind of friendly caginess reserved for celebrities who have learned, too many times, how a dramatic quote can be taken or repurposed out of context.

In person, Setzer is respectful, shy and sometimes evasive. He lives in Minneapolis with his third wife, Julie, and will talk endlessly about the music he loves, take out his Gretsch and even let you hold it. But he’s not about to invite you over to meet the dogs. In an interview in a Minneapolis hotel, Setzer didn’t want to go into much detail about the dynamic described in Phantom’s book, in which the drummer flat out states that Setzer and Rocker didn’t get along and described himself as the peacemaker. In the decade after the original break, the Stray Cats would occasionally regroup to make a record, but the tensions remained.

“Put it in this order,” Setzer says. “Youth, success, separation, alcohol. All of that. I don’t really need to get into it.”

Setzer says he hasn’t read Phantom’s memoir and, these days, the drummer downplays the tension. It’s as if his pals were listening when he also wrote, “Now, more than ever, the need to be friends with someone in your band is unnecessary. There has never been a problem on the stage and, at this point, everybody loves it, and we have nothing left to prove.”

“I think the bigger picture really has come into focus,” says Phantom, who lives about two hours from Rocker in Los Angeles. “If we scrutinize it, the ‘why’ will become we love this music. We’re still the torchbearers for Eddie Cochran.”

That comes through on 40, which includes plenty of rockabilly but also a driving handclapper (“Cry Danger”), written with longtime Tom Petty guitarist Mike Campbell, and a Setzer instrumental (“Desperado”) that could have been plucked from one of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns.

Rocker says the reunion got rolling last year when they decided to play four gigs. They had no way of knowing whether the fans would return. Their last hit was six years before Taylor Swift was born. They also didn’t know how it would feel to play together again.

In April 2018, the Stray Cats performed at the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend festival. Rocker, who may be the most emotionally restrained of the three, admits that he felt something as he stood in the wings.

“It was just me, Brian and Jim,” he says. “‘C’mon Everybody’ on the sound system and 20,000 people and the sound of that crowd. That was really something that I won’t forget. And I don’t even know what it was. But it definitely, it hit me. It was one of those moments that you know you just swallow and you go, ‘Wow.’”

Read More



Leave A Comment

More News

Just Jared

Drake Belts Out 'O Canada' at Game 5 2019-06-10 23:51:30Drake has a blast at Game Five of the 2019 NBA Finals! The 32-year-old “God’s Plan” rapper shared a chat with sports announcer Doris

Meghan Markle's New Ring Has a Special Meaning! 2019-06-10 23:44:30Meghan Markle debuted a new ring and it has a special meaning! The 37-year-old royal was spotted with the new piece of jewelry while attending the Tro

Sam Rockwell Will Star in Clint Eastwood's 'Ballad 2019-06-10 23:19:51Sam Rockwell is joining forces with Clint Eastwood in his upcoming film The Ballad of Richard Jewell! The 50-year-old Fosse/Verdon actor is in final n

Britney Spears Calls Out Paparazzi For Altering Her 2019-06-10 22:58:11Britney Spears is trying to prove her conspiracy theory about the paparazzi. The 37-year-old entertainer, who is currently enjoying a vacation in Miam

Joshua Jackson Joins Ciara & Winnie Harlow at 2019-06-10 22:36:37Joshua Jackson, Ciara, and Winnie Harlow team up at the 2019 ACE Awards! The 41-year-old When They See Us actor, the 33-year-old “Level Up&rdquo

Samuel L. Jackson Brings 3 Generations of 'Shaft' 2019-06-10 22:15:17Samuel L. Jackson suited up for the premiere of Shaft! The 70-year-old actor hit the red carpet at the event on Monday night (June 10) at AMC Lincoln

Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, & Adam Driver Attend 2019-06-10 21:51:32Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, and Adam Driver hit the red carpet at the premiere of their new movie The Dead Don’t Die on Monday night (June 10) a

Allison Mack Allegedly Starved Dynasty's Catherine Oxenberg's Daughter 2019-06-10 21:45:32Disturbing new details have emerged about Allison Mack‘s involvement in Nxivm’s secret sex cult. The 36-year-old former Smallville actress

'Queer Eye' Fab Five Open Up About the 2019-06-10 21:21:40The Queer Eye guys strike a pose in their shoot for Bustle, online now. Here’s what the guys – Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk, Jonathan Van Ness

Vanessa Hudgens Supports Austin Butler at 'The Dead 2019-06-10 21:11:13Vanessa Hudgens poses for photos with boyfriend Austin Butler at the premiere of his movie The Dead Don’t Die on Monday (June 10) at the Museum

Brad Pitt Steps Out for Solo Errand Run 2019-06-10 20:59:56Brad Pitt takes care of business in Malibu, Calif.! The 55-year-old Fury actor was spotted making his way into a building on Monday (June 10). PHOTOS:

Selena Gomez Looks Gorgeous at 'The Dead Don't 2019-06-10 20:41:26Selena Gomez stuns while walking the red carpet at the premiere of The Dead Don’t Die on Monday (June 10) at the Museum of Modern Art in New Yor

Arts & Entertainment -

Rapper Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys dies 2019-06-10 01:35:00A publicist for rapper Bushwick Bill says the founder of the iconic Houston rap group the Geto Boys has died. Bill's publicist, Dawn P., told The Ass

Tony winners: ‘Hadestown’ racks up 8 awards including 2019-06-10 00:20:00The Tony Awards sank deep into the underworld Sunday as “Hadestown” took home a leading eight statues and made Broadway history as the fir

Tony Awards: A critic celebrates Broadway's unabashed idealism 2019-06-10 00:00:00At a time in America when lies are rampant in public life and alternative truth has been adopted as a winning political strategy, the 2018-19 Broadway

What’s on TV Monday: ‘Good Witch’ on Hallmark 2019-06-09 23:00:00SERIES Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader John Cena hosts this revamped version the popular quiz show. 7 p.m. Nickelodeon Good Witch On his wedding day

Reactions to Ali Stroker's historic Tony Awards win 2019-06-09 22:45:00When Ali Stroker rolled onstage in her wheelchair to accept the Tony Award for featured actress in a musical, audiences at home went bananas. As Ado A

Tony winner Rachel Chavkin of ‘Hadestown’ on being 2019-06-09 21:50:00Rachel Chavkin was glad to win the Tony Award for best director of a musical for “Hadestown” at the Tony Awards on Sunday night, but made

Why 'The Prom’ wanted that same-sex kiss to 2019-06-09 21:35:00When the cast of “The Prom” performed at the Tony Awards, it drove home the show’s themes of acceptance and inclusion with a same-se

Ali Stroker wins a Tony Award and makes 2019-06-09 21:20:00The Tony Awards cain't say no to Ali Stroker, who made history Sunday by becoming the first actor in a wheelchair to win the biggest honor in theater

André De Shields just won his first Tony 2019-06-09 20:50:00André De Shields capped a 50-year acting career by scoring his first Tony Award on Sunday, winning best featured actor in a musical for his rol

Why a ‘Dark Phoenix’ movie could never do 2019-06-09 14:40:00“Hear me, X-Men! No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever I am Phoenix!” These are the words Jean

‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ tops ‘Dark 2019-06-09 13:45:00Both of the weekend's new wide releases, Fox's "Dark Phoenix" and Universal's animated sequel "The Secret Life of Pets 2," failed to entice mov

What time are the Tony Awards? It’s (ridiculously) 2019-06-09 11:00:00The 2019 Tony Awards can be seen live at 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS — unless you live in the fourth dimension known as the West Coast. For theater fa

Reuters: Entertainment News

'Hadestown,' Cranston win big at Tonys, 'Ferryman' best 2019-06-10 00:38:16"Hadestown," a folk opera about a young couple's dark trek to the underworld, topped Broadway's Tony awards on Sunday winning eight honors, includ

Factbox: Key nominees for the 2019 Tony awards 2019-06-09 23:34:40The Tony awards honoring the best of Broadway theater take place in New York on Sunday, hosted by James Corden.

Factbox: Key winners at the 2019 Tony awards 2019-06-09 23:34:00The Tony awards honoring the best of Broadway theater were handed out in New York on Sunday, hosted by James Corden.

Brian Wilson postpones summer tour, says he feels 2019-06-07 20:17:42Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson has indefinitely postponed a U.S. summer tour that was due to open on Friday, saying he felt "mentally insecure"

In Harlem and on Broadway, The Temptations get 2019-06-07 18:08:01The Temptations, whose string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s are being celebrated in a Tony-nominated show on Broadway, got a star on the Apollo Theat

Remains of former 'Mickey Mouse Club' actor found 2019-06-07 15:10:33The body of former actor Dennis Day, who was a member of popular 1950s television show "The Mickey Mouse Club," has been identified in Oregon almost

Presenter Jeremy Kyle asked to give evidence to 2019-06-07 09:16:45Presenter Jeremy Kyle, whose tabloid talkshow was canceled last month by broadcaster ITV after a participant died following a recording of the program

Grammy-winning New Orleans musician Dr. John dead at 2019-06-07 09:00:42Dr. John, a six-time Grammy winner who in his incarnation as the "Night Tripper" brought the New Orleans voodoo vibe to America's music scene and b

K-pop's BTS gets coveted Recording Academy membership invite 2019-06-06 22:18:46Korean pop sensation BTS have been invited to join the Recording Academy as part of a drive to diversify the group that chooses the annual Grammy Awar

AT&T eyes $16-$17-a-month streaming service: WSJ 2019-06-06 15:02:51AT&T Inc's WarnerMedia may price its streaming service between $16 and $17 per month, instead of a multi-tiered plan, the Wall Street Journal rep

R&B Singer R. Kelly pleads not guilty to 2019-06-06 14:16:41Singer R. Kelly pleaded not guilty to 11 new felony counts of sexual assault and abuse at a Chicago court hearing on Thursday, after prosecutors expan

Obamas jump into booming podcast business with Spotify 2019-06-06 13:07:43Former U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle entered the booming podcast business on Thursday, announcing a multi-year partnership with st

TORONTO STAR | ENTERTAINMENT

Creatives call for more pop culture with Indigenous 2019-06-10 00:00:00Indigenous directors, musicans and journalists are pushing out new narratives of First Nations’ experience, but find old stereotypes are all too

The Full Light of Day sometimes finds message 2019-06-09 13:25:22The marriage of the material realities of live theatrical staging and the formal conventions of screen media clash because audiences’ familiarit

Elisabeth Moss wanted Season 2 ending of Handmaid’s 2019-06-09 11:47:16Spoiler alert: Actress talks about why June made the choice she did and the ‘shocking’ things she’ll do in Season 3, starting June 9

Tabloids: Duchess Kate must be pregnant if a 2019-06-09 07:00:00A thin story about the Duchess of Cambridge, and some heavy news from the Spice Girls.

Taylor Swift and Marilyn Manson in ‘Sweet Things 2019-06-09 07:00:00This week: Nic Cage is a loser again.

Cindy Williams says Grand Bend production is Shirley 2019-06-08 18:25:09Cindy Williams — perky, lovable Shirley Feeney on the 1970s sitcom Laverne & Shirley — is at the Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend

Ronnie Burkett’s Forget Me Not at Luminato is 2019-06-08 12:51:05It’s we who illuminate Burkett’s marionettes with flashlights. It’s we whom Burkett entrusts with handmade hand puppets. And it&rsqu

He the North: FxckMr makes his Toronto debut 2019-06-08 12:00:00Inuk rapper was one of the biggest highlights of the second Nunavut Music Week, writes Ben Rayner.

Toronto actress Nonnie Griffin dies at 85 2019-06-08 11:45:06Canadian stage, TV and radio star was weeks away from debuting a one-woman show about Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell.

Monday Nights teams basketball and drama 2019-06-08 00:00:00The 6th Man Collective, whose weekly basketball games have grown into an interactive play that weaves the sport with their personal stories, are happy

Luminato festival drums up the divine with KIRA 2019-06-07 17:04:58Cultural tradition of African drumming underlies KIRA, The Path | La Voie, which is described as a celebration of humanity “as one village and i

Vinay Menon: Beyoncé needs to restrain her Beyhive 2019-06-07 15:55:00How much effort does it take to tell your unhinged fans to knock it off already? asks Vinay Menon after outraged Beyoncé worshippers drive Curr


Disclaimer and Notice:WorldProNews.com is not responsible of these news or any information published on this website.