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neo-rockabilly

Rattlers (the)

The Rattlers – I Don’t Want You

Lost Moment LOM003 [1984]
I Don’t Want You – Hey Baby

Rattlers

Debut single for the Rattlers (Mark Carrington on vocals, Steve Davey on lead guitar, Nick Peck on slap bass and Graham Woodside on drums.) Both songs are originals.
A side is a good Rockabilly number with powerful slap bass and clean guitar, while B side shows some Psychobilly influences in the structure and the vocals.


The Rattlers – Scare Me to Death

Lost Moment Records – LMLP 001 [1984]
Scare Me To Death – Little Red  Mine All Mine  Kat Krept In  Hey Baby  Always Yours – Your my Baby – The Rattlin Boogie

Scare Me To Death

The Rattlers were formed in the early 1980s around Mark Carrington (vocals), Nick Peck (double bass), Steve Davey (guitar) and Graham Woodside (drums). In 1984, the group signed with Lost Moment Records and, in the wake, released their first 45 rpm. Shortly after, the Rattlers released their first album under the guidance of Boz Boorer (Polecats). Musically, the Rattlers sound like the turbulent little brothers of the Polecats (for Carrington’s voice) and the Deltas for the energy. The influence of the emerging Psychobilly scene can also be heard on their cover of You’re My Baby (also covered at the same time by Guana Batz). The group does not hesitate to cover songs more associated with the Glam scene (Cat Crept In by Mud or Always Yours by Gary Glitter). The Rattlin Boogie is an excellent instrumental with a second Les Paul-influenced guitar that bears Boz Boorer’s mark. Even though the band has an excellent guitarist and a powerful bassist, it’s sometimes a little chaotic, even shaky, but it always remains new and exciting, which is what Rock’n’roll should always be.


The Rattlers – Take A Ride

Lost Moment Records – LMLP 007 [1985]
Shake Your Money Maker  Knife Edge Baby  Life In A Coffin  Bloo Zoot  Gona Rock  007 Theme  Take A Ride  Mine All Mine  Bad Moon Rising  Blow Up Baby  She’s The One  Love Me  Bare Foot Nelly

Take A Ride

For their second album, the Rattlers are now playing as a trio. Steve Davey and Graham Woodside have both left the band. Robert Clarke is now the Rattlers’ guitarist, and Mark Carrington has moved to drums while continuing to provide vocals.
But these changes in no way affect the group’s energy and ability to play and compose excellent Neo-Rockabilly numbers.
Additionally, the band is produced by Paul Stewart, who knows how to get the most out of the trio. The production is perfect. The stripped-down quasi-acoustic sound of the double bass and drums (almost played without cymbals) contrasts wonderfully with Clarke’s inventive electric guitar. The group gets closer to the Deltas on certain songs (Bloo Zoot, Shake Your Money Maker) to switch, the next moment, to an instant Psychobilly classic (Life In A Coffin) before moving on to a Rockabilly Pop song (Gonna Rock) which, with a bit of promotion could almost have been a hit. The trio also offers an excellent version of the 007 Theme, recorded at Stewart’s suggestion because the group lacked songs to complete the album. Along the same lines, Blow Up Baby was composed in the studio, with each group member contributing to the writing.
Many Psychobilly and Neo-Rockabilly groups, from Meteors to Swamp Dogs via Stage Frite or Voodoo Dolls, have covered Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater Revival). Still, the Rattlers’ version is undoubtedly one of the best. Unfortunately, like many other bands before them, in fact, all except the Cramps, the Rattlers fail to recreate the energy and urgency of The Phantom’s Love Me. The album ends with Barefoot Nelly, a hillbilly/skiffle with banjo.


The Rattlers – Never Say Die

Nervous 052 [1989]
Crazy Love CLCD6494
Gone Forever – Cruisin` Around – For Your Love – She`s The One – Savin` It All For You – Loaded Dice – Leavin` You Behind – Never Say Die – The Man With The Twilight Eyes – For You No More – Forbidden Love – October Moon – Never Catch Me Again

The Rattlers - Never Say Die - Nervous
The Rattlers – Never Say Die – Nervous

The Rattlers formed in 1984. the band released various albums, singles, ep’s before splitting a couple of years later. Nick Peck (slap bassist) joined Paul Roman (Quakes) in Paul Roman and the Prowlers for a short time but soon re-frormed the Rattlers, with Doug Sheperd on guitar (formerly in Something Shocking and one time member of the Rattlers for the stage) and Doug McCarthy on drums. A deal was concluded with Nervous Records and they recorded “Never Say Die” with Pete Gage in 1989.
This album is really excellent and though the previous one were good it’s by far a more accomplished work (I believe that Gage is no stranger to that).
The core of the album is made of a majority of self penned neo-rockabilly numbers very well written with tight arrangement and a special care on the vocal harmonies. Peck is a more than competent singer too. A couple of songs border on psychobilly like the title track (superb) and Forbidden Love. At the exact opposite October Moon and Leavin’ You Behind find the band in a jazzy-rockabilly style similar to the Nitros.
The original pressing is now long out of print but it’s been reissue on cd by Crazy Love records and is also available as mp3 download.


The Rattlers – Face The Fact

Raucous Records RAUC 012
Face the Fact – Running / I Feel Fine – Waiting for You To Call

face the fact

After the resounding success of “Never Say Die,” the Rattlers continued their momentum with a new EP the following year. Produced by Boz Boorer (Polecats), the EP featured a new line-up with Alistair Dick on double bass, allowing Nick Peck to focus solely on vocals. The EP is well-produced and features fast-paced beats and catchy songs. “Face The Fact,” a composition by Boorer, showcases a melodic Neo-Rockabilly style, while “Running” leans more towards Psychobilly with its intense rhythm, raspy vocals, and contained rage.
Despite Peck’s somewhat imprecise singing, “I Feel Fine” works very well. It demonstrates how well the Beatles’ music lends itself to Neo-Rockabilly, following the likes of the Nitros, the Stringbeans, the Polecats, and Dave Phillips.
The EP concludes with “Waiting For You To Call,” driven by the lively drums of Doug Mc Carthy.


The Rattlers – Never A lost Moment

Lost Moment [1991]
Tear It Up – Mystery Train – She’s My Baby – Good Rockin’ Tonight – Rockhouse – Hey Baby – Ting-A-Ling – Little Red – Your My Baby – Walkin’ Whistlin’ Blues – I Don’t Want You – Mine All Mine – Dancin’ Doll – Your My Baby – Rattlin’ Boogie – Life in a Coffin – Take a Ride – Bad Moon Rising – Love Me – 007

The Rattlers - Never a lost moment
The Rattlers – Never a lost moment

What happens when a label wants to cash in on a band’s name? They gather early recordings (very early and much uninspired), poorly recorded live songs as well as a couple of outtakes and alternate takes and the result is a 20 song album that is barely audible. It’s a pity because the Rattlers were a good band and deserved a better treatment than this hastily made compilation. For hardcore fans only (but only them!).


The Rattlers – Live in Europe

Jungle Noise – APECALL 004 [1990]
Rock On – She’s the One – You’re My Baby – Face the Fact – Running – Life in a Coffin – My Way – For Your Love – Twilite Eyes – Waiting for You – Loaded Dice – Bad Moon Rising – I Feel Fine – Forbidden Love – Friday on my Mind – I’m ready – Never Catch Me Again – Little Red – King Creole – Oh Boy

The Rattlers recorded this live album in 1990 with the four-piece line-up of the band, which is the trio of Never say Die with new member Al Dick on bass, allowing Peck to concentrate on vocals.
With 20 songs, it’s a good value for money, though the majority of them are played at the same tempo, which tends to be slightly monotonous after 12 songs. Eight songs are originals while the remaining twelve come from Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Elvis, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Easybeats, Garry Glitter, the Beatles and the Jackals, an American Rock’n’roll band that released one album on Nervous.
The sound is excellent, and the slap bass is very well recorded. It’s a nice addition to your Rattlers collection, though I prefer the studio recordings on which the vocals are better.


The Rattlers – Gangsters and loose Women

Count Orlock R.O.C.K. XII [1991]
Rock On – Change Your Mind – It’s All Over – What Have I Done? – The Chase – Ring On The Other Hand – Back Of My Hand – Through The Curtain – The Race Is On – Haunted Hill – Win Or Lose – Lux Luther Blues – She Don’t Love Me – Beat Out My Love – All The Tears – King Creole

the rattlers gangsters and loose women

With Gangster and Loose Women, the group moves from the neat Neo-Rockabilly of Never Say Die towards a lively and sometimes melodious Psychobilly. The compositions are quite good but, overall, lack a bit of variety both in rhythms and in sound.
Never Say Die benefited from Pete Gage’s presence and experience as a producer. He knew how to get the best out of the group, extending their style while renewing it. Here, the absence of a real producer (the album is produced by Sheperd, Peck, and the sound engineer) is cruelly felt.
Unfortunately, the songs all end up looking a bit similar, although some of the tunes stand out from the rest. We will note the excellent Lex Luther Blues (with harmonica), which recalls the first incarnation of the Rattlers, the acoustic and tuneful All the Tears (although a little weak in terms of vocals), the frantic and excellent The Chase (already released as a single) and a handful of others. But the album, which still contains sixteen tracks, ends up seeming long, which is a shame for a Rock’n’Roll album. The group would have been wiser to leave the often unnecessary covers (Rock On and King Creole being already present on the live album and Beat Out My Love that sounds terribly thin, especially compared to what the Cramps did of that same song) to have a tighter and ultimately more effective record.


Rattlers promo card
Rattlers promo card – first line-up

Polecats (the)

The Polecats – Live’n’Rockin’

Link Records – LINKMLP 069 [1988]
Pink & Black – Blue Jean Bop – Rockabilly boogie – Hip hip baby – We Say Yeah – Runnin Back – Miss Bobby Sox

Polecats - live'n'rockin

It’s a way too short live album from the Polecats. One can wonder why Link didn’t release a whole show, considering the band probably had one in its archive. The sound is good without being overwhelming; the double bass, in particular, lacks a little depth, and the drums are not too present in the mix. That said, it is very well-played and very catchy too. The group overflows with youth’s exuberance, allowing certain vocal approximations to pass (for example, We Say Yeah). The group also knows how to be wild on certain songs, notably their cover of Rock-Billy Boogie by Johnny Burnette. All the songs are covers (Benny Joy, Gene Vincent, Dennis Herrold, Sonny Fisher, Cliff Richard & the Shadows) except for Runnin’ Back, which was composed by Boz Boorer and comes from Polecats Are Go.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

Catfish Trio (the)

The Catfish Trio – Money Makes the World Go Round

Cat Noise 76.13079 [1986]
Money Makes the World Go Round / Nervous Boy

The Catfish Trio - Money Makes the World Go Round

The Catfish Trio formed around 1984 in Augsburg, Germany. Igor Velican (guitar and vocal) teamed with Geza Varga (double bass) and drummer Klaus Miehlich to form a Rockabilly band. Igor Velican previously played in the Rockin’ Rebels and X-Raycats

In March 1985, Miehlich left the band to be replaced by Franz Rieth (drums). The following year, the trio released its debut single. On the A-side, there’s a perfect Neo-rockabilly tune, highly melodic, in the style of Restless, with powerful slap bass and excellent guitar work, but the B-side is even better. Nervous Boy has a jazzy flair (the melody reminds me of Sweet Georgia Brown) that the band has the good idea to mix with a slight hillbilly touch. Excellent!

Fred ”Virgil” Turgis

The Graveyard Mutants

The Graveyard Mutants – Afterlife Love Machine

Crazy Love Records CLEP64518
Afterlife Love Machine – Bloodlust / Puzzle Girl – The Witch

graveyard mutants

The Graveyard Mutants are a new trio from Spain. But if the band is new, the musicians are well-known names in the Spanish Rockabilly/Psychobilly and Punk scene.
David (lead vocals and double bass) previously slapped his bass in the Calamitiez and, before that, Smell of Kat. Julio (guitar) also played in the Calamitez, and Miguel drummed for various Punk bands.
Their new venture is one of the best Psychobilly releases I’ve heard in years, along with the Rusty Robots and the Nevrotix. But since the genre has seen many evolutions since its creation, and sometimes not for the best, and to avoid confusion, the term early-Psychobilly would be more appropriate (I also thought about borrowing the term Mutant Rock to Paul Fenech). There’s no trace of Metal or Punk in their music, despite the pedigree of some band members. The Graveyard Mutants play their own style of unhealthy Neo-Rockabilly, dealing with weird themes. But don’t think they’re a retro-sounding band trying to imitate what has been done 30 years ago. Even though you could take one of their songs and include it on any compilation album from the 80s without anyone noticing it, their EP, consisting of four self-penned tracks, manages to be, at the same time, a record that unmistakably sounds like a release from 2023. In other words, their music is timeless. That’s a prowess not given to anybody.

Let’s talk a bit about the music in detail. First, if you expect fast tunes, you will be disappointed. The band is clever enough to know that a song, especially a spooky one, needs breath to create an atmosphere. The four songs here are all mid-paced, some even with a slight country beat. The musicianship is also top-notch. I guess you can’t beat experience. David’s bass and Miguel’s drums work well together, blending to create a perfect rhythm section. Too often, the drums are poorly played and just here to give the tempo, or the band thinks that they have to put the bass and especially the slap to the fore, destabilising the ensemble’s sound. Not here. Then you have an excellent guitar player playing with a clean sound who favours fast licks instead of powerful chords. Then those licks explode into hot solos that are always inventive. Woah! With such a setting, David just has to add his confident and powerful voice, though he never shouts or screams, to these four excellent mutant gems.
Icing on the cake, Crazy Love released it in five different colours (black, green, yellow, red, mixed colors and white).

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

Stray Cats

Stray Cats, neo-Rockabilly legends, formed in 1979, by Brian Setzer on guitar and vocals, Lee Rocker on double bass and Slim Jim Phantom on drums.

Stray Cats – Runaway Boys

Arista – SCAT 1 [1980]
Runaway Boys / My One Desire

Runaway Boys

For a first attempt, the Stray Cats, with their debut single, achieve a masterstroke. Lee Rocker’s hypnotic double bass and Slim Jim Phantom’s powerful, clear beat open the track, quickly followed by Brian Setzer’s razor-sharp guitar. Dave Edmunds’ perfectly adequate production tells us we are in 1980, not 1956. The lyrics also have nothing to do with any nostalgia. The song deals with an adolescent frustration closer to Punk than to the fantasized rebellion of the 50s. The Stray Cats use the codes of their parents’ music but anchor it in their era. In this, the Stray Cats pose as a fiery response to artists like Robert Gordon, who, despite their quality, play in marked territory. That said, tradition is never far away, as proven by the B side, a perfect cover of Ricky Nelson’s My One Desire.
With the passion and recklessness of youth, the Stray Cats take Rock’n’RollRock’n’Roll and Rockabilly, a 25-year-old recipe, and take them to the next level, making this music current and relevant to the generation of Punk and New Wave.


Stray Cats – Stray Cats

Arista [1981]
Runaway boys – Fishnet stockings – Ubangi stomp – Jeanie jeanie jeanie – Storm the embassy – Rock this town – Rumble in Brighton – Stray cat strut – Crawl up and die – Double talkin baby – My one desire – Wild saxaphone

Stray Cats

In the late ’70s, a trio of three young Rockabilly cats dug in their parents’ records collection. Without any complex and a good dose of naivety, they took 25-year-old music and made it sound fresh again (which led to a certain animosity from the purists.) Sure they liked Cochran, Vincent and Burnette, but they also grew up in New York during the heydays of Punk music.

The construction and the progression of the album itself are faultless. A-side opens with the hypnotic beat of “Runaway Boys” and ends with the rockin’ hymn “Rock This Town”. In between, two covers get the Stray Cats treatment (Warren Smith’s “Ubangi Stomp” and Cochran’s “Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie”) and two original songs. Of course, “Fishnet Stockings” is similar to Lew Williams’ “Bop Bop Ba Doo Bop”. That’s obvious. “Storm The Embassy” is a solid rocker but have nothing to do with rockabilly (actually Setzer played it in his previous band “The Bloodless Pharaohs” under the name “Boys Having Babies” and with different lyrics). The song is rather political and refers to the Iranian crisis and American hostages in the late ’70s. With a song so closely linked to the actuality, it didn’t allow them to perform it on stage long after 1981, which is a pity because, musically speaking, it rocks (listen to the live bootlegs issued from this period).

The B-side is more or less built on the same structure. The wild (also with a hypnotic riff) “Rumble In Brighton” opens the show. Depending on the pressing, one can hear Setzer yell “Ein, Swei, Drei, Vier” to open the tune, but you have to listen closely.

The origins of “Stray Cat Strut”, which became their signature song, were subject to questions. Of course, it’s the same chord progression as “Hit The Road Jack” and some advanced “Icky Poo”, an instrumental by the Nomads or “Lonely Travelin’” by Lonesome Lee as possible sources. But these are somewhat obscure songs, especially in the late ’70s, and it neglects the fact that Setzer grew up in New York and, as we said, was a Punk fan in his youth. That’s why I believe that the origin of Stray Cat Strut is to be found in Richard Hell’s Blank Generation (a band that often had as a support act the Bloodless Pharaohs). Listen to the guitar solo from Robert Quine and the “Woo-Woo” in the middle. It’s all here. Anyway, the band put enough of them to make it a great number and one of the highlights of their shows.

Crawl Up And Die” is a variation on Bill Allen and the Back Beats’ “Please Gimme Something” and shows another side of Setzer’s voice, the torrid one. The covers on this side are Ricky Nelson’s “My One Desire”, Vincent’s Double Talkin’ Baby and Roy Montrell’s “Mellow Saxophone” renamed here “Wild Saxophone.” Slim Jim Phantom provides a solid beat and Gary Barnacle (who played with the Clash) on sax. Brilliant.


Stray Cats – You Don’t Believe Me

Arista – SCAT 4
You Don’t Believe Me / Cross That Bridge

stray cats you don't believe me

After their debut album, the Stray Cats added a solid dose of Blues in their Rockabilly, resulting in Gonna Ball, an excellent but too often underrated album. You Don’t Believe Me, the A-side, comes from the album. It’s an Elmore James-inspired blues with a lot of slide guitar. The band played it on stage briefly, sometimes with Setzer playing a Stratocaster.The flip-side didn’t appear on the album (at least the European version). It features a harmonica and has the same groove as Jimmy Reed’s Shame Shame Shame, then evolves for the guitar solo to something close to Wicked Whisky, which probably explains why the band didn’t include it on the album. The song was used for a TV commercial in Japan to promote the new Toyota Celica and was released with Stray Cat Strut on the B-side and a different cover, which is very sought after by collectors.


Stray Cats – Little Miss Prissy

Arista – SCAT 5 [1981]
Little Miss Prissy / Sweet Love On My Mind – Something Else

Little Miss Prissy comes from Gonna Ball and shows the influence of Chuck Berry. The B-side features two unissued live tracks recorded in November 14th, 1981 in Newcastle: Johnny Burnette’s Sweet Love On My Mind and Eddie Cochran’s Something Else; both played in a wild and punkish manner.


Stray Cats – Gonna Ball

Arista [1981]
Baby Blue Eyes – Little Miss Prissy – Wasn’t That – Good Cryin’ Shame – (She’ll Stay) Just One More Day – You Don’t Believe Me – Gonna Ball – Wicked Whisky – Rev It Up and Go – Lonely Summer Nights – Crazy Mixed Up Kid

stray cats gonna ball

Following the massive success of their debut album, at least in Europe, the Stray Cats took a break in their heavy touring schedule. In August 81, they flew to Air Recording Studios in Montserrat in the East Indies to record their second album. This time the band took over the production duties with the help of sound engineer Heinz Hoven. The presence of prestigious guests augmented the trio. It included veteran Lee Allen (Little Richard, Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and later The Blasters) on sax and Ian Stewart (Rolling Stones) on the keyboard. Helped by that prestigious line-up, they played a bluesier form of rock’n’roll rather than the modern Rockabilly they were known for.

Half of the album consists of blues or blues-influenced songs. “Rev It Up and Go” and, to a lesser extent “, Little Miss Prissy” are obviously influenced by the great Chuck Berry. “You Don’t Believe Me” shows the influence of Elmore James with Setzer on slide-guitar. “Wasn’t That Good” proves that they are more than able to deliver a good jump blues (which they’ll later confirm with “Look At That Cadillac” and Lucky Charms”) and “Cryin’ Shame” features a fine harmonica part. Only “(She’ll Stay Just) One More Day” sung by Lee Rocker sounds weak and artificial. Though it features a nice organ part, the song is not great and Lee at that time wasn’t the singer he is nowadays.

Of course, there’s also some solid Rockabilly with Johnny Burnette’s Baby Blue Eyes and the raw Gonna Ball (actually a remake of the Wheels’ Let’s Have A Ball). The album also features one instrumental titled “Wicked Whisky”, which also cut as a vocal track under the name “Cross That Bridge” as a b-side and on Japan pressings. “Lonely Summer Night” proves that Setzer can top the greatest ballads of the ’50s, and “Crazy Mixed-up Kids” ends this album at a frantic pace.

This blues orientation confused the fans, and the “Gonna Ball” was only a semi-success compared to “Stray Cats”.


Stray Cats – Built For Speed

EMI [1982]
Rock This Town –  Built For Speed –  Rev It Up & Go – Stray Cat Strut –  Little Miss Prissy – Rumble In Brighton –  Runaway Boys –  Lonely Summer Nights – Double Talkin’ Baby – You Don’t Believe Me – Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie – Baby Blue Eyes

stray cats - built for speed

By 1982, the Stray Cats finally achieved success in their own country which led EMI to release this compilation featuring 6 tracks from their debut album, five from Gonna Ball and one new song, the title track, a great country-rockabilly.


Stray Cats – Look at that Cadillac

Look At That Cadillac / Lucky Charm [1983]
Arista 106-271

This is the 7″ that started it all for me. I still clearly remember the day I bought it with my older brother back in 1983 (I was 10, man, how time flies). The A-side is a classic jump blues with saxes and piano. Good song, if not very original, with Setzer talking about how hard he needs a Cadillac. “Look At That Cadillac” pleased me for sure, but the real jewel was on the B side. “Lucky Charm (oh Wee Suzie)” was – and still is – one of the best songs the Stray Cats ever wrote. Setzer’s voice is perfect. It looks like the curse of the great guitar player, as sometimes no one pays attention to their vocals. The song was probably recorded during the same session, as the saxes and piano are still here. This one is more a swingin’/rockin’ tune with every musician taking a hot solo each, especially a very inspired boogie-woogie part by Geraint Watkins (Crazy Cavan, Shakin Pyramids, and many others) and at the end, a short slap bass break. And at this moment I thought, “Woah! That’s what I want to hear!!!”. And now, more than 20 years later, I still listen to this single with great joy. I guess this is the power of the 45.


Stray Cats – Rant n’ Rave

Arista / EMI [1983]
Rebels Rules – Too Hip Gotta Go – Look At That Cadillac – Something’s Wrong With My Radio – 18 Miles To Memphis – Sexy & 17 – Dig Dirty Doggie – I Won’t Stand In Your Way – Hot Rod Gang – How Long Do You Wanna Live Anyway

Following the success of Built For Speed, the Stray Cats reunited with Welshman Dave Edmunds in 1983 to record “Rant & Rave” in London. They opted to return to what made their success and went back to their rockabilly roots (with an exception or two) after the blues-inspired “Gonna Ball”.

Rebels Rule” is an excellent choice to start the selection. With a strong Diddley Beat, Slim Jim playing like a madman on his toms, and Setzer yelling, “Rock’n’Roll is never too loud!” the pace is quickly set. The Stray Cats are back!

The next one, “Too Hip Gotta Go”, is a good rockabilly and shows Setzer ability on the strings. A fun one to play (see the time Setzer takes to explain it on his instructional video), it’ll remain in their live setlist for a very long time. “Look At That Cadillac” is a fine jump blues with juicy saxes and piano. Though it’s more a “sax” tune, Setzer plays an exciting rhythmic pattern in the background.
Sexy & 17” opens the b-side. It’s a good song with a solid solo, and it’ll make its niche in the charts. Inspired by Roy hall’s Diggin’, the Boogie, “Dig Dirty Doggie”, is one of their most rockabilly effort with huge slap bass.

The style changes with “I Won’t Stand In Your Way”, a delicious ballad with a doo-wop arrangement. The band is joined by the vocal group 14 Karat Soul for this song. An acapella version exists too.

Hot Rod Gang” was undoubtedly written with Gene Vincent in mind and features a fine Cliff Gallup influenced solo. The album ends with “How Long You Wanna Live Anyway?” the closest thing to Psychobilly the Stray Cats ever played with heavy guitar and pounding drums.

With ten songs and not a weak track, the Stray Cats star rose high. Sadly one year after the release of Rant & Rave, the band disbanded, and though they made different come-back with some solid songs and albums, this is the end of the golden age of the Stray Cats.


Stray Cats – Rock Therapy

EMI [1986]
Rock Therapy – Reckless – Race With The Devil – Looking For Someone To Love – I Wanna Cry – I’m A Rocker – Beautiful Delilah – One Hand Loose – Broken Man – Change Of Heart

stray cats rock therapy

By 1986 each member of The Stray Cats was deeply involved in his solo stuff. Setzer had released his first solo album, “The Knife Feels Like Justice”, in a John Cougar vein at the beginning of the year. Lee and Jim teamed with David Bowie’s guitarist Earl Slick in Phantom, Rocker and Slick for two albums if far to be exceptional contain some interesting things if you’re curious or nostalgic of the ’80s (and dig crazy hairdos). But the three of them were tied to EMI with, according to Setzer, a bad contract. The best way to solve it was to record this album.

So from the start, it wasn’t really a “new” Stray Cats album. One can suppose that they logically wanted to keep their best material for their solo career. This also explains why half of the songs are covers. But this album has its good moment, and even a half-successful Stray Cats album is better than 90% of the rest. The five covers are very well done, the best being Gene Vincent’s Race With The Devil. But it’s true that, except for Charlie Feathers’ One Hand Loose, the band is in a well-known territory with Johnny Burnette, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry (the trio often played “Beautiful Delilah” on stage around 1982).

Things are a bit different when it comes to the band’s songs. Setzer’s own “Reckless” shows the influence of his solo stuff and announces with an advance of 5 years how the Stray Cats would sound on Let’s go Faster. “Broken Man” is far better with its banjo. Setzer had already toyed with the banjo on stage, playing tunes like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”, which can be heard in the solo part. Phantom and Rocker provide “I Wanna Cry”, sung by Lee, that owes more to their solo stuff than the Stray Cats. And when I listen to the guitar solo (a crappy heavy metal mush), I wouldn’t swear that Setzer plays on it but blame Earl Slick for it. Finally, the three join forces to write “I’m A Rocker”. Nothing original here, just a solid rocker with a strong train rhythm and two wild guitar solos, but that’s enough. “Change Of Heart” is different from what the Stray Cats ever released, more pop, but eventually very pleasant. After this session, they returned to their respective solo career but quickly reformed the Stray Cats, this time for good, in late 1988.


Stray Cats – Bring It Back Again

EMI 12MT 62 [1989]
Bring It Back Again – Runaway Boys (live) – I Fought The Law

Stray Cats – Bring it Back Again 7″

Bring It Back Again” was co-written with Jonnie Barnett (real name Jonathan Barnett Kaye – 1946-2002). Jonnie Barnett was a singer and songwriter who began his career as a solo guitarist opening for Cheech and Chong, Frank Zappa, Eric Burdon of The Animals, Ronnie Milsap, Dion, Tom Rush, Hank Williams Jr. and others. For the last 18 years of his life, he became a well-known songwriter on the Nashville music scene. He wrote songs for Etta James, Johnny Adams, Dobie Gray, Clay Walker, Hank Williams Jr., Eric Burdon, Irma Thomas, Dan Penn and many more.

The B-side features a live version of Runaway Boys (recorded at the Ritz on October 18, 1988.) and a studio version of I Fought the Law. According to some early promo sheets, I Fought the Law was considered for the album (Blast Off) but didn’t make the final list. This version, produced by Dave Edmunds, is far superior to the slicker one recorded a couple of years later at Virgin Convent Studios in Los Angeles for “Original Cool”.

Bring It Back Again” was performed live during the 1989 tour, the 2004 reunion tour, some dates in 2007 and during the 2008 farewell tour (and this time Lee sang it lead).

Lee Rocker also performs this one during his live shows.

The single peaked at #35 in the US Rock charts and #64 in the UK.


Stray Cats – Gina

EMI USA – MT 67 [1989]
Gina – Two Of A Kind – Stray Cat Strut (live)

gina

Though it seems written explicitly for the Stray Cats by the Paine Brothers (who wrote several songs for the Rockats), this song had a long journey before ending on the band’s fifth album.
Then, three years later, in 1984, Josie Cotton recorded it for her second album, “From the Hip”, also produced by Bobby and Larson Paine. Eventually, the Stray Cats finally covered it in 1989 for “Blast Off” and slightly adapted the lyrics. They accentuated the Buddy Holly feel with Slim Jim adding a tom to his drumkit to emulate a Jerry Allison pattern.It remained a favourite of their live set, sometimes performed acoustically.

The B-side is one of the Stray Cats hidden gems. It’s a superb rocking ballad and proves that the band’s B-sides are often superior to the others’ A-side. The first EMI promo sheets show it was considered to be included on “Blast Off”, though it was later dropped, maybe because it was too similar to Nine Lives.

The maxi version also featured a live cut of Stray Cat Strut, recorded at the Ritz in October 1988, and a poster.


Stray Cats – Blast Off

EMI [1989]
Blast off – Gina – Everybody needs rock n roll – Gene and Eddie – Rockabilly rules – Bring it back again – Slip slip slippin in – Rockabilly world – Rockin’ all over the place – Nine lives

stray cats blast off

In 1988, after respective solo careers not entirely convincing – to say the least – Setzer, Phantom, and Rocker reunited and returned to what they do the best: rockabilly. Even the fourth Stray Cat (like George Martin could be the fifth Beatle) Dave Edmunds was back in the producer’s seat. Slim Jim Phantom said, “It’s probably our most rockabilly effort”, and he’s right. Rockabilly with a modern edge and a 90’s sound, but the backbone is here. They cover Eddie Bond’s “Slip, Slip Slippin’ In”, and half of the songs borrow from 50’s rockabilly tunes. “Gina” is a Buddy Holly influenced song with Phantom adding a floor tom to get the Jerry Allison pattern. “Blast Off” sounds like “Jungle Rock” on speed but has good enough lyrics to be original. “Everybody Needs Rock’n’ Roll” bears more than one common point with Glen Glenn’s Everybody’s Movin. And of course, “Gene And Eddie”, Setzer’s tribute to these two pioneers, is very effective if not very original (the song is made of various verses from Vincent and Cochran songs). “Rockabilly Rules, Ok” – the title says it all – and “Rockabilly World” reinforce the rockabilly orientation. You also have a clear attempt to chart with the more commercial “Bring It Back Again” lifted as a potential single (sadly, it’ll fail to climb very high). The best track is “Nine Lives”, a jazzy variation around “Stray Cats Strut”, with clever lyrics, outstanding guitar solo and vocal from Setzer. Indeed this album marks a turning point in Setzer’s vocal. He seems more confident in his talent as a singer, and his voice has gone more profound and more mature. This album may suffer the lack of powerful hits (like Stray Cats Strut, Rock This Town or Runaway Boys) and originality (four songs with the word Rock in the title might sound a bit cliché).

Nevertheless, it’s a solid rock album, very well produced and most of all, the listener can feel the fun and the joy to play together. The gigs to promote this one were good, energetic and fans had big hopes for the next album. Alas, a big disappointment was waiting for them.


Stray Cats – Let’s Go faster

Liberation records D30519 (AUS) [1990]
Toshiba-EMI TOCP 6520 (JAP)

Cross of love – Town without pity – Shotgun baby – Struck by lighting twice – Thing about you- Baby don’t drag me down – Tight black leather – Give it to me – Let’s go faster – Keep on running – Runaway train – Gonna be your rock (Japan only)

stray cats - let's go faster

We wanted to try something new” is what Setzer said in 1991 about this album. Probably disillusioned by the lack of success of “Blast Off”, the Stray Cats hired producer Nile Rodgers (Chic, David Bowie, Madonna…). On the paper, this association sounded quite weird. In reality, it was even worse. At best, the result sounds like Setzer solo stuff (and some songs come from his solo period: Cross Of Love, Thing About You), and at worse, you have bad and already out of fashion 80’s new wave. Very little can be saved from this wreck: “Let’s Go Faster” (nothing original but a solid rock song with a riff ala Eddie Cochran), “Give It To Me”, another one written with Buddy Holly in mind and on the contemporary side “Keep On Running”. The remaining songs are mostly weak, and the production is weaker. Looking for a modern (and a chart appealing) sound, the band has lost its identity and specificity. The result is the absence of the slap bass (replaced by an electric bass), a key element of their sound the same way the Gretsch and the stand-up snare are. The band was probably disappointed by the result and issued “Let’s go Faster” only in Japan and Australia. Later a bootleg album appeared with the demos. The lame songs stayed lame, but at least the good ones weren’t wasted by the production.

The Japanese edition has a bonus track called “Gonna Be Your Rock”, which is, in my own opinion, in a good place for the title of “Worst Stray Cats song ever”.


Stray Cats – Struck By Lightning

Liberation Records – K10340 [1991]
Struck By Lightning / Give It To Me

stray cats - struck by lightning

This 1991 single was released in Australia only. Struck By Lightning is a heavy rocker, with a threatening riff, maybe closer to Setzer’s solo stuff than the Stray Cats, but that remains a solid song. The B-side is Give It To Me, a lighthearted love song, that sounds like a modern version of Buddy Holly. Both songs were played by the trio during its 1990-1991 tours. One can find on Youtube an amazing live version of Struck By Lightning in Tokyo and of course Give It To Me was captured on video for Rock Tokyo.


Stray Cats – Choo Choo Hot Fish

Pump Records – 50286 [1992]
Elvis On Velvet – Cry Baby – Please Don’t Touch – Sleepwalk – Lust’n’Love – Cross Of Love – Beautiful Blues – Can’t Go Back To Memphis – Jade Idol – My Heart Is A Liar – Let’s Go Faster – Mystery Train

Choo Choo Hot Fish

“Choo Choo Hot Fish” can be seen as the successful version of “Let’s Go Faster”. It is innovative yet still with a feet in the tradition and is their most ambitious effort to date. It also sees the return of Dave Edmunds behind the glass.

The opening track is representative of that mood, pumping sound, modern drums mixed with rockabilly elements for a tribute to Elvis. Next is “Cry Baby”, a non retro melodic rockabilly tune. It is an instant Stray Cats classic and has that timeless sound that makes the trio so special. And with Edmunds on second guitar and on duet vocal it reminds the good old days of “The Race Is On”.

Johnny Kidd’s Please Don’t Touch rocks like hell in Setzer and Rocker setlist in their respective solo careers. Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” appears here for the first time, long before the orchestra and the Grammy Award. Though I grew rapidly tired of the heavy orchestra version, this one still sounds fresh today.

Both “Lust’n’Love” and “Can’t Go Back To Memphis” harden the sound with heavy guitar and Jim hittin’ the drums as hard as he can. “Lust’n’ Love” keeps the backbone of rockabilly while “Can’t Go Back…” is not that far from ZZ Top and it’s very interesting to listen to this album today and compare it with Setzer’s most recent albums (“Nitro Burnin’ Funny Daddy” and “13”). Many elements were already presents 15 years earlier. In the same vein is “Cross of Love”. I suppose that Setzer saw a lot of potential in this one as he recorded it twice before this album (once on “Let’s Go Faster” and once during his first solo stint between 86-88).

The best song to appear on “Choo Choo Hot Fish” is “Beautiful Blues” co-written with Larson Paine. It’s a splendid jazzy song with rich gipsy chords, astounding solo and superb brushwork from Slim Jim. Don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of his drumkit this guy can really play. “Jade Idol” proves it too. This is a stunning atmospheric instrumental that would fit a James Bond movie to perfection. My definition for this kind of tune is “Music to drink Martini with…”. “My Heart Is A Liar” is a fine acoustic ballad in the vein of Chris Isaak with once again a rich assortment of percussion. The last two numbers are solid rockers.

A new version of “Let’s Go Faster” far better and richer than the previous one (courtesy of Dave Edmunds and his good sound) and a “Hey we have 5 minutes left in the studio how about doing a Elvis song?” version of Mystery Train. They clearly recorded this one live and it perfectly captures the feel and the excitement of the band. It also features a yodel part from Mr Setzer. Funny to see an album opening on Elvis On Velvet and ending on Mystery Train.

Sadly, “Choo Choo Hot Fish failed to reach a large audience.


Stray Cats – Original Cool

Toshiba [1993]
Somethin’ Else – Oh Boy – 20 Flight Rock – I Fought The Law – Lonesome Tears – Your True Love – Be-Bop-A-Lula – Blue Jean Bop – Can’t Help Falling In Love – Flying Saucers Rock ‘n Roll – Train Kept A Rollin’ – Stood Up – Let It Rock – Trying To Get To You – Chet Ditty (Hidden Charms)

original cool

The Stray Cats last studio album was a bit of a disappointment. Of course, Setzer gives some of his best vocal performances (listen to Ricky Nelson’s Stood Up), and the band is on top form (with Jeffrey Baxter guesting on steel guitar). Even the production, though a bit slick, is not that bad. But why, at this point of their career, release an all cover album, especially of songs that one has heard a zillion times. This incredible band deserved a better career-ending than this “not-good-nor-bad” album.


Stray Cats – Live From Europe

Surfdog Records 44045 to 44059 [2004]

stray cats live from Europe

Neo-rockabilly kings, the Stray Cats produced some mighty fine records but were mainly known for their wild and furious Rockabilly live shows. Strangely, they never issued an official live album, letting the door open to a bunch of bootleggers. When they reformed in summer 2004 for a European tour, the Stray Cats must have thought that they wouldn’t let bootleggers make money on their back this time. The result is here, 17 gigs and 15 CDs. Don’t look for booklets, photos of the show etc. The covers design is the same for all, except the colour. The sound is not top quality, they manufactured them very quickly, and they didn’t take time to produce them. I know many bootlegs that sound better than that. So depending on the records, you can’t hear the drums, have too much bass etc. Also, why didn’t they include the whole show on the cd’s (only 17 songs, no more, no less)? This is the first question one will ask. But the answer seems evident when you realize that the songs not on Paris CD are on the Bruxelles one, and so on… It really looks like an economical choice as they know that many fans will buy a maximum number of records to have all the songs.

On the other hand, it’s good to hear tunes the Stray Cats rarely performed live (18 Miles to Memphis, Rev it up and Go), a few covers never played on albums (Unchained Melody, in french for Paris; That’s All Right, Blue Moon Of Kentucky celebrating the 50 years of rock’n’roll; Red Hot). But I think these records concern primarily those who attended the shows. But if you weren’t there and want to buy one, I’d recommend the second part of the tour as the band is getting better and better as the tour progresses. I suppose they used the first shows as rehearsals (too bad that I went to Paris, the opening show).


Stray Cats – 20\20

Arista – 74321131172
Runaway Boys – Rock This Town – Can’t Hurry Love – Rumble In Brighton – Stray Cat Strut – Double Talkin’ Baby – Cross That Bridge – Baby Blue Eyes – Built For Speed – (She’s) Sexy + 17 – Lookin’ Better Every Beer – Cruisin’ – Lucky Charm (Ooh Wee Suzy) – I Won’t Stand In Your Way (a cappella) – Look At That Cadillac – Rebels Rule – Looking Out My Backdoor- Drink That Bottle Down -Sweet Love On My Mind -Something Else

Stray Cats - 20/20

20/20 is probably one of the best (if not the best) Stray Cats compilation or best-of ever released. Not only it contains the well-known and best songs from the first three albums (the Arista years) but what makes the difference with the other releases is that it also contains the b-sides and some rarities, most of them being unavailable on cd before.

It includes covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Supremes, Gene Vincent but also originals like the excellent jump blues “Lucky Charm” (b-side of Look At That Cadilac), the a Cappella version of “I Won’t Stand In Your Way”, the country-tinged ballad “Looking Better Every Beer”, and “Built For Speed” the original that gave its name to the compilation album gathering Stray Cats and Gonna Ball for the American market.


Stray Cats – 40

Surfdog / Mascot M75895
Cat Fight (Over A Dog Like Me) – Rock It Off – I’ve Got Love If You Want It – Cry Danger – I Attract Trouble – Three Time’s A Charm – That’s Messed Up – When Nothing’s Going Right – Desperado – Mean Pickin’ Mama – I’ll Be Looking Out For You – Devil Train – Cry Baby (Live) (Bonus Track – Deluxe CD only) – Double Talkin’ Baby (Live) (Bonus Track – Deluxe CD only)

Stray Cats - 40
Stray Cats – 40

The first three Stray Cats albums blew me away. Maybe Gonna Ball had some fillers but these initial trilogy was perfect. After that, and the 1984 split, their albums were either good (Blast Off, Choo Choo Hot Fish thanks to the Edmunds touch), forgettable (Original Cool, Rock Therapy) or almost plain bad (Let’s Go Faster.)

However, on stage, they were still one of the best rockin’ band on the planet. So when the trio announced that they would record a brand new album full of original material, though I tried not to be too excited, the teenager inside me was smiling from one ear to another.

The name of Peter Collins to produce the forthcoming album surprised me. Even if he produced Setzer’s Dirty Boogie and Rockabilly Riot, Peter Collins was notorious for his work with Bon Jovi, Rush and Nick Kershaw to name but three. Nothing to make me feel that he was the ideal guy to replace Dave Edmunds. Most of all he was the producer who sabotaged the Stargazers’ Ain’t Nobody But Here but us Chickens.
The cover design also came like a warning. Here came guys who didn’t release anything for 25 years and to celebrate that they used the laziest design and ugliest cover possible. Hum…

I carefully changed my mind little by little and came to the conclusion that I would be happy with a basic Rockabilly album.
Then Cat Fight the first song was released. Nothing too original. A rock’n’roll song like you’ve heard a thousand times before. At that moment I was kinda resigned, this is not gonna be great, maybe good, at least average. But both Rock It Off, a rip off of Eddie Cochran’s My Way and Cry Danger a recycling of the riff of Aztec on Setzer’s debut solo album almost sealed the fate of that album for me: don’t expect anything.

I finally received the album and my fears were soon confirmed. It’s a shame that a band that returns with a new record after such a long hiatus didn’t put more work in it. The compositions are at best average (Mean Pickin’ Mama which is at least a Rockabilly number) but most of the time the term ‘lazy’ pops to mind. From the boogie blues riff of the aptly named That’s messed up that you’ve heard a zillion times to Three Time’s A Charm which is nothing but a variation of Setzer’s Hot Rod Girl, or I’ve Got Love that borrows its intro to Ubangi Stomp and its melody to You’re Humbuggin’ Me (Lefty Frizzell, Fabulous Thunderbirds…) and Desperado an instrumental which is a carbon copy of the Shadows’ Apache, it’s hard to believe Setzer when he says in mumerous interviews that he started writing these songs one year ago. Actually many songs sound like an embarassing caricature of Setzer’s Live Nude Guitar or Let’s Go Faster when trio tries to venture into unfamiliar territories (I Attract Trouble with – what a surprise – a quote of Pipeline).

It’s kinda weird to have Lee Rocker say “We are the best band that has ever played this music.” and find so few Rockabilly (even with a wide definition of it) on ‘40’.

And the production doesn’t help either. The drums sound buried and muddy and the fans of Lee Rocker will be surprised to find barely no slap on that album.
A couple of years ago I regretted that the Stray Cats ended their recording career with the uninspired Original Cool, but listening to this poorly written and badly produced effort, it was not that bad, after all.

PS – Don’t expect the so called “deluxe” version (two live tracks, two stickers, two coasters and a postcard) to save things.


Stray Cats – Rocked This Town From LA To London

Surfdog records 85968-2 [2020]
Cat Fight (Over a Dog Like Me) – Runaway Boys – Too Hip, Gotta Go -Double Talkin’ Baby -Three Time’s a Charm – Stray Cat Strut -Mean Pickin’ Mama -Gene & Eddie -Cry Baby -I Won’t Stand in Your Way -Cannonball Rag – Misirlou – When Nothing’s Going Right – (She’s) Sexy + 17 -Bring It Back Again -My One Desire -Lust ‘n’ Love -Fishnet Stockings -Rock This Town -Rock It Off -Built for Speed -Rumble in Brighton

Rocked This Town From LA To London

Despite what its title may suggest, “Rocked this town, from LA to London” is not a testimony of the Stray Cats’ latest international tour to promote 40. Setzer Rocker and Phantom recorded it in various US cities (but not in LA), and some of the songs were even recorded during the 2018 tour.

That said, it’s an excellent live album. It’s very well recorded, and the band is in fine form (way better than the 2004 tour). Moreover, it features five songs from 40. Not only they sound way better than the poorly produced studio versions, but it adds some diversity to the usual setlists of the band that turned to be quite repetitive over the years. It also features two instrumentals (Cannonball Rag and Misirlou.) Besides these two tunes and Double Talkin’ Baby and My One Desire on the vinyl version, the set focuses on the band’s songs rather than covers, thus allowing some place for a song like Lust’ n’Love. I was a bit sad to find no songs from Gonna Ball but with only 23 songs, I suppose that you have to made choices.
After all these years, the Stray Cats, especially on stage, still remain the kings of modern Rockabilly, and this live album is here to confirm that.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

Various artists – Fury records

Various – I Love My Car

Fury Records – F3002 [1987]
Way Out West – I Love My Car / Rusti Steel & The Tin Tax – Howlin’ / The Nitro’s – Destruction Road / The Sticks Trio – Get Up And Shake It / Rockin’ Rocket 88 – Put ’em In The Oven / The Hilltop Boys – Take A Chance Baby / Niteshift Trio – Don’t Need No Body / Rover Boy Combo – Baby Let Me Show You The Door / The Baskervilles – Inside Power / The Bootleggers – Hey Poor Billy / Oakville Tune Wranglers – Roamin’ Around / The Midniters – Where’s Derek / The Playboys – Desperate Dan

various - i love my car fury records

Fury records released I Love My Car in 1987. It is a more homogeneous compilation than many others released during the same period.
The compilation opens with the title song, played by Way Out West, a superb Rockabilly.
Rusti Steel and The Tin Tax is one of those bands that lean more towards Hillbilly and rural bop, like the Oakville Tune Wranglers, Rockin’ Rocket 88, the latter with fiddle, or the Bootleggers who play with a harmonica and also mix skiffle to their music.
Some groups stand out. Thus, the young Nitros, in one of their first (if not the first) discographic appearances, are already excellent. The sound is raw, but all the elements that will make Nighshades, their first mini-album, a masterpiece, are present.
Many of the groups on this compilation will only make occasional appearances and never release an album (nor a single for some), and that’s a shame. I am thinking of the excellent Sticks Trio. Their song Get Up And Shake is with She’s Just Rockin’, the only musical testimony of the group. It’s too bad because their Rockabilly-Jive, influenced by the Jets and the Keytones, was very pleasant.
The Baskervilles, featuring Pete Turland and Darrel Higham, and their Neo-rockabilly tinged with Psychobilly will make another appearance on a compilation and then disappear.
Another band that is difficult to find information on is the Hiltone Boys. Besides their four-track demo, this is, as far as I know, their only release. Their contribution, Take A Chance Baby, is traditional rockabilly with slight modern accents à la early Restless. Likewise, the Niteshift Trio brings a little neo-rockabilly touch to the ensemble.
The Midniters stand out from the rest of the selection. This is one of the earliest incarnations of the band, featuring a saxophone. Their rock instrumental seems to come straight out of a Hot Rod compilation from the early sixties. Very different from the neo-rockabilly/psychobilly of Easy Money, their debut album.
Finally, the Playboys (with Rob Glazebrook ex Rochee & the Sarnos) conclude the album with desperate Rock’n’roll.

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