Rockabilly, Psychobilly and everything in between.

Tag archive

Slim Jim Phantom

Stray Cats

in Reviews
Stray Cats
Stray Cats – S/T

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
In the late 70’s, a trio of three young Rockabilly cats dug in their parents records collection and without any complex and a good dose of naivety took a 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 very 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 kinda political and refers to the Iranian crisis and American hostages in the late 70’s. With a song so closely linked to the actuality, it didn’t allow them to perform it on stage long after 1981, which is bad 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 of the pressing one can hear Setzer yell “Ein, Swei, Drei, Vier” at the beginning but you have to listen closely.
The origins of “Stray Cat Strut”, their signature song were subject to questions. Of course it’s the same chord progression than“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 rather obscure songs, especially in the late 70’s 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 the reason 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 Quineand 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 highlight of their shows.
Crawl Up And Die” is a variation on Bill Allen’s “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” (sounds like the band used to listen to a lot of Imperial Records), Vincent’s Double Talkin’ Baby and Roy Montrell’s “Mellow Saxophone” renamed here “Wild Saxophone” with Jim providing a solid beat and Gary Barnacle on sax. Brilliant.


gonna-ball
Stray Cats – Gonna Ball

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

Following the huge success of their debut album, at least in Europe, the Stray Cats took a break in their heavy touring schedule and 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 trio, augmented by the presence of prestigious guests including veteran Lee Allen (Little Richard, Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and later The Blasters) on sax and Ian Stewart (Rolling Stones) on keyboard played a blusier form of rock’n’roll rather than the modern rockabilly they were known for.
Half of the album is made of blues or blues influenced songs: “Rev It Up and Go” and in 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 and “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 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, Rockabilly is never very far with Johnny Burnette’s Baby Blue Eyes, the raw Gonna Ball (actually a remake of the Wheels’ Let’s Have A Ball) and the instrumental “Wicked Whisky” 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 50’s 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 if you compare to “Stray Cats”.


straycats-built
Stray Cats – Built For Speed

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

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. Back to the song, it 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 one 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.
Fred “Virgil” Turgis


rant-n-rave-with-the-stray-cats
Stray Cats – Ran’t & Rave

Stray Cats – Ran’t & 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 a good 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 set list 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 a very interesting rhythmic pattern in the background.
Something’s Wrong With My Radio” is a wild rockabilly and the first side (or the first half for you cd’s addicts) ends with “18 Miles To Memphis” a superb country tune with another brilliant guitar solo by Mr Setzer, followed by another brilliant solo this time on steel guitar (still by Mr Setzer) and a galloping rhythm provided by Jim & Lee.
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 a huge slap bass.
The style changes with “I Won’t Stand In Your Way” a delicious ballad with a doo-woop arrangement. For this song the band is joined by the vocal group 14 Karat Soul. An accapela version exists too.
Hot Rod Gang” was undoubtedly written with Gene Vincent in mind feature 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 10 songs and not a weak track, the Stray Cats star was rising 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
Stray Cats – Rock Therapy

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

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 and 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 80’s (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 each of them 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 5 covers are very well done the best being Gene Vincent’s Race With The Devil. But it’s true that, with the exception of Charlie Feathers’ One Hand Loose, the band is in well known territory with the likes Johnny Burnette, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry (“Beautiful Delilah” was often played on stage around 1982).
When it come to the band’s songs things are a bit different. 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 of them 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 something 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 - Blast Off
Stray Cats – Blast Off

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
In 1988, after respective solo careers not entirely convincing – to say the least – Setzer, Phantom and Rocker reunited and went back 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 to 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 and 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 singer and his voice has gone deeper 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 out of ten 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
Stray Cats – Let’s Go Faster

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)
“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 its 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. Probably disappointed by the result the band 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 good place for the title of “Worst Stray Cats song ever”.


Stray Cats - Choo Choo Hot Fish
Stray Cats – Choo Choo Hot Fish

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” 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 didn’t touch a large audience.


Stray Cats - Original Cool
Stray Cats – Original Cool

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)

The Stray Cats last studio album was a bit of a disappointment. Of course Setzer gives some of his best vocal performance (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 great band really deserved a better career ending than this “not-good-nor-bad” album.


Stray Cats - Live in Europe
Stray Cats – Live in Europe

Stray Cats – Live in Europe

Surfdog Records 44045 to 44059 [2004]
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 opened to a bunch of bootleggers. When they reformed in summer 2004 for an European tour the Stray Cats must have thought that this time they won’t let bootleggers make money on their back. The result is here, 17 gigs and 15 cd’s. Don’t look for booklets, photos of the show etc. The covers design is the same for all, except the colour. Musically, the sound is not top quality, they manufactured them very quickly and they didn’t take time to produce ‘em. 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. Why they didn’t put the whole shows on the cd’s (only 17 songs, no more no less) is the first question one will ask? But the answer seems evident when you realize that the songs that are not on Paris are on Bruxelles and so on… It really looks like an economic choice as they know that many fans will buy a maximum records to have all the songs. In 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 album (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 this records concern mostly 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 (too bad that I went to Paris, the opening show of the tour).


Stray Cats - 20/20
Stray Cats – 20/20

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
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 « 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.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis


Stray Cats - 40
Stray Cats – 40

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)

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 simply 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

stray catsSurfdog 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

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

I Wanna Cry

in Stray Cats-o-pedia

Written by Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom

“I Wanna Cry” appeared Rock Therapy. Lee sings lead on this composition co-written with Slim Jim. It’s very far from the rockabilly style the band created and sounds as it may been intended to be include on a Phantom, Rocker and Slick album. Actually it is unclear if the guitar part is played by Brian Setzer or not as it really sounds like Earl Slick (who gets a “thank you” in the credits). As the Stray Cats didn’t tour to support the album, it was never played live.

These Boots Are Made For Walkin’

in Stray Cats-o-pedia

Written by Lee Hazlewood
Lee Hazlewood first considered to record this song but finally gave it to Nancy Sinatra who recorded it in 1966.
While on tour in Australia in March 1991, the Stray Cats stopped by W-Club/Triple J Studios in Perth, Australia and did a live appearance on the “Live On The Wireless”. It was later aired on March 20th 1991.

Slim Jim Phantom, the Rockabilly cat!

in Interviews
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Slim Jim Phantom in action

Slim Jim Phantom

He’s banged the skins for rock ‘n’ roll supergroup, Dead Men Walking.

He’s drummed for the rockabilly star-studded 13 Cats.

He’s played with the Head Cat, Col. Parker, his own Phantom Trio, and…did I mention a little band from Long Island, New York called the Stray Cats? He’s Slim Jim Phantom, rockabilly’s man of a thousand faces.

Since picking up his first pair of drumsticks at the age of ten, Slim Jim Phantom has become widely recognized as rockabilly’s premiere drummer. With a distinctive standup drumming style inspired by the genre’s musicians of yesteryear, Phantom’s skin skills are in high demand.
by Denise Daliege-Pierce

Who taught you to play the drums?
Slim Jim Phantom I pretty much learned from—took lessons from—Mousie Alexander, an old time jazzy guy. Benny Goodman’s drummer, I think. At least, that’s what he said. I’d like to believe him.

How did your love of rockabilly—both the music and the lifestyle—develop?
Slim Jim Phantom I had always liked rhythm and blues music. There were no Hootenannies, no Viva Las Vegas’s kind of thing—none of that existed. I think that we [Stray Cats] first discovered it with the Beatles and Carl Perkins kind of records. Nothing like that was available at the time, really. We rediscovered Elvis, really. We knew the fat Elvis; that was it. From there, we met English kind of guys: teddy boy types. It was just really trial and error.

The Tomcats - 1979
The Tomcats – 1979

Was it difficult to switch from drumming in a sitting position to drumming while standing?
Slim Jim Phantom I don’t remember it being difficult. It was the cool thing that no one else was really doing. It was a different concept. I kind of kept pushing it all forward. It was pretty easy.

Who, would you say, have been your biggest musical influences?
Slim Jim Phantom Really, any of the original rock ‘n’ rollers. Elvis, of course; Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins…Little Richard was a big influence—any one of those original rock ‘n’ rollers. The Beatles; Led Zeppelin…anything that was true to rock ‘n’ roll. Ricky Nelson; the Johnny Burnette Trio—we played a lot of songs off of those records.

The Johnny Burnette Trio was just incredible. I recently read a book titled Rockabilly Legends, in which the author claims—I’m not sure if you’ve heard this story—that the term “rockabilly” was started by the Burnette brothers’ song “Rockabilly Boogie”, which they wrote for their sons, Rocky and Billy.
Slim Jim Phantom I don’t know. I’d heard that “rockabilly” was first used by some record executives or [Sun Records founder] Sam Phillips. It’s all stories, and you never know which ones are true. I just did a gig with Rocky Burnette. I had about twenty minutes’ notice!

What brand of drums do you play?
Slim Jim Phantom Gretsch.

Why do you prefer the Gretsch brand?
Slim Jim Phantom Well, they kind of endorsed me. I think a lot of it has to do with Gretsch having a certain history with rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll. Fred and Diane Gretsch met me as a teen. It’s American…it’s just a great product.

I know that you are frequently asked about your least favorite Stray Cats album, but which is your favorite?
Slim Jim Phantom Almost every guy’s first record is their favorite. Look at the Beatles; the Rolling Stones. It’s your greatest accomplishment. The fact that the gigs and the hard work have finally paid off…you did this. The first record that anyone makes is always their favorite. You didn’t really make demos then. The fact that we had a pretty unique story—we moved from New York to London. We had everything against us: no money, no place to live; no one was recording this music. We were All-American, like the Yankees. Now, new fans of rockabilly are rediscovering our music. Our music is like the “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Rockabilly Boogie” of today. “Rock This Town” and “Runaway Boys” are like that.

Phantom, Rocker and Slick - 1985
Phantom, Rocker and Slick – 1985

How was Phantom, Rocker & Slick formed?
Slim Jim Phantom Wow, Phantom, Rocker & Slick. Right after Stray Cats, we all had to take time off. I think that Earl Slick had just done John Lennon’s record when he was killed. I think that I met Julian Lennon, and he said, ‘You should all get together.’ Brian was doing a solo thing. We had a deal with EMI and we had just gone off a record with Stray Cats, and didn’t want to do that, but everything I play winds up sounding like me. We were young and trendy. The first record was really good. Phantom, Rocker & Slick sounds a little more rock ‘n’ roll; a little more metal. I think we made the Top 20 with that first record.

What caused the group to split up?
Slim Jim Phantom Well, Brian called and wanted to do the band again. The Stray Cats are first priority.

I own a copy of the Carl Perkins television special from the mid-1980s in which you, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and numerous other musicians performed with the rockabilly legend. What was that experience like for you?
Slim Jim Phantom I’ve been very lucky to get these historic kind of events. David Edmunds—he produced three or four of the really good Stray Cats records—was the musical director for the show. He called the Stray Cats, but we’d split up. He hired Lee and me for the rhythm section. The cool thing was we rehearsed about a week before the show. Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, George Harrison—all the older guys kind of kept to their selves. We were the young guys. I went up to George and broke the ice. We became pretty friendly after that. The show went so well; such a positive kind of experience.

George was reclusive—was out of music for about six years. For a good three years, we became friendly. He gave me some things, like some old boots from the Beatles. You could sense a certain enlightenment about him, or elevation. I spent the day with him before he died—he was just an amazing character.

How did you obtain your role in the Charlie Parker biopic Bird?
Slim Jim Phantom I got it pretty much by accident. I can mention that I worked with an Oscar-winning actor and director at the same time. How many people can say that? Forest Whitaker is, probably, the best actor around. Clint Eastwood’s an award-winning director.

It—somehow—had to do with the agency I was with needed a drummer who looked like they were playing the drums, but not, and who could talk, at the same time. And my wife at the time was an actress. So, I did it—five, six, eight lines—for a month. I didn’t really want to do it, but my son was being born, and SAG [Screen Actors Guild] insurance kicked in and covered it. I was nervous about my lines, I repeated them a billion times. So, I get down to the set; there’s an old little trailer. Someone took me inside and introduced me to Forest. We were hanging out and talking. Forest and I became good friends for a few years after that.

Did you ever consider pursuing acting on a larger scale?
Slim Jim Phantom No, it seems too hard, going to auditions; the rejection of it.

How did you become a member of Dead Men Walking?
Slim Jim Phantom Dead Men Walking is just another chancy, cool thing. On the first Stray Cats tour of England in 1980, we got to the first gig. Mike Peters of the Alarm, his band was the opening act. Mike and I became pretty good friends. After a few weeks, we found out they’d just brought their instruments and started playing. They made believe they were the opening act, but they weren’t. But, by then, they were so entrenched in the tour…

How often, in rock ‘n’ roll, do you meet someone and stay friendly with them for 25 years, putting together a thing of a group with three or four hit songs each that everyone knows? It was Mike, [Spear of Destiny’s] Kirk Brandon, [the Damned’s] Captain Sensible and me. We did it mainly acoustic. Mike called me one day at home and said, ‘I’ve got this concept.’ I said, ‘I’m doing it.’ I can’t say no to Mike. We made a record this year.

I’ve heard that you sang lead vocal on “Runaway Boys” during a recent DMW tour. How did that feel?
Slim Jim Phantom Oh, it was good. I can warble my way through it, I sing most of the Stray Cats songs, I can warble my way through most of the songs, except “Stray Cat Strut”. Brian and Lee can sing. You have to be a singer to sing “Stray Cat Strut”. Mike Peters has a great voice and sings it on the tour. I know what Ringo felt like when he sang with the Beatles. I think that the audience appreciates me singing those songs.

For those who may not know, you have recently become involved with the Love Hope Strength Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing treatment and support for cancer patients. How did your affiliation with the group come about?
Slim Jim Phantom That’s Mike Peters. Like I said, I can’t say no to Mike. Mike Peters is a cancer survivor. Twice. The first time, he had it nine years. Nine years. It came back when we were on tour. We only cancelled one show, because he had to have tests done. After six months of lockdown—chemo and remission—we walked the steps of the Empire State Building. We recorded the performance on the deck. It was another one of those great historic events. We’re gonna do the Eiffel Tower [in the future].

How did you meet fellow Head Cat members Lemmy Kilmister and Danny B. Harvey? How did the three of you come together to form the group?
Slim Jim Phantom Lemmy is another guy I’ve known—27 years. He was one of the first guys at a Stray Cats gig at a pub in London. There were, like, ten people there—Keith Richards was there; Chrissie Hynde was in the audience. Lemmy’s a very hip guy, very knowledgeable; a big Buddy Holly fan. We became friends back then and stayed friends.

He moved to L.A. on the street next to me. We played one track on a tribute album to Elvis. Me, Lemmy, Danny B. and Johnny Ramone—who we also lost to cancer—got two or three songs we wanted to play and came back every day for two weeks, until we had a record. I’ve known Danny B. since [his days with] the Rockats.

Headcats in action.
Headcats in action.

 

Danny B. Harvey is just tremendous. He can, pretty much, do anything musically.
Slim Jim Phantom Danny is as good as everybody: as good a guitar player; as good a producer.

Our readers may be unaware that you own a West Hollywood, California nightclub called the Cat Club. How do you juggle your numerous music projects—Stray Cats, Dead Men Walking, the Head Cat, Slim Jim’s Phantom Trio, 13 Cats—with your Cat Club duties and family life?
Slim Jim Phantom Me, my little trick is I have a very big calendar with big squares that I hang on the wall. I have bad handwriting. I use a Sharpie. Like music—when the Cats call, that kinda trumps everything. E-mail’s great. E-mail’s perfect, ‘cause the time doesn’t matter. If I have a question for Captain Sensible, I can send an e-mail anytime. Everyone has it, except Lemmy. Sometimes, things overlap. Guys in rock ‘n’ roll are more together than you think.

On a different note, are there any contemporary rockabilly musicians that you enjoy listening to?
Slim Jim Phantom Guys who I became very friendly with is Living End. [Guitarist/vocalist] Chris Cheney’s become a very good friend of mine, and they wanted to meet me. My son played a record for me, and I loved it. I think that Big Sandy’s very good. Hot Rod Lincoln’s very good. Sue Moreno; Tiger Army. Reverend Horton Heat is very good. He’s become a friend.

Danny B. has a group called Lonesome Spurs with Lynda Kay—she’s a star. She’s the real deal. Lonesome Spurs is like a country version of White Stripes, which is my favorite band. I just did a couple gigs and needed a bass player, so I used Rory Justice. He’s very good. Eddie Angel’s great. He has a band, the Neanderthals. I think the Neanderthals are the most entertaining band around. We’re gonna try to plan a little tour with the Neanderthals and the Head Cat.

I know that Brian Setzer has developed ear problems as a result of years of playing electric guitar. Have you had any wrist pain after drumming for so many years?
Slim Jim Phantom No, I’ve been pretty fortunate, somehow.

What is your favorite Stray Cats-related memory?
Slim Jim Phantom It’s my whole life, really. So many things that have happened came from that. Probably hearing the first record for the first time; hearing “Runaway Boys” on the radio for the first time. The odds were stacked against us for making it. No one was playing this music. There was no template for it.

Jim, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share with our readers?
Slim Jim Phantom I do a lot of work with ONE.org. They don’t want any money, just an e-mail address. Go check it out; sign up. It takes two seconds. Just two seconds, and you’ll be doing something nice for me.

or more information on Slim Jim Phantom, the Love Hope Strength Foundation, ONE.org, or to purchase some of Slim Jim’s music, check out the following websites:
www.slimjimphantom.com
www.facebook.com/officialsjp
www.one.org

‘That Someone Just Ain’t You’

in Stray Cats-o-pedia

written by Brian Setzer

This song dates from the 90’s. It was planned to be recorded for “Let’s Go Faster” and went as far as the demo version (one can hear it on the bootleg album featuring those demos) but didn’t make it on the album.
It was only performed once by the Stray Cats in Sao-Paulo in 1990.
Years later, it resurfaced on Brian Setzer’s solo album “Nitro Burnin’ Funny Daddy”.

‘I Fought the Law’

in Stray Cats-o-pedia

(Sonny Curtis)

Original by The Crickets

Sonny Curtis was the guitar player for the Crickets. After “Rock Around With Ollie Vee” for Buddy Holly (also covered by the Stray Cats) he wrote this rebel anthem in 1960. In 1966, Bobby Fuller made a hit with this song and the Clash covered it on their debut album. It’s probably this version more than any others that inspired the Stray Cats.
They recorded it first in 1988 during the Blast Off sessions. It didn’t make it on the album but appeared as a b-side for Bring It Back Again.
In early 1993, they then recorded a second, and slicker, version at Virgin Convent Studios in Los Angeles for the band’s final album “Original Cool”.
The 1988 version though lesser known  is far superior.
The song was first played on stage on September 12, 1988 in Santa Clara, California and was regularly played on stage.
(see Bring It Back Again for releases).

Go to Top