Stray Cats

  • Rockabilly band formed in 1979 in Massapequa New York. The band members are Brian Setzer (guitars, vocals, songwriting), Lee Rocker (born Leon Drucker, double bass) and Slim Jim Phantom (born James McDonnell, drums).
  • The 3 artists were friends in high school, and they all had an interest in jazz music, particularly music from the 50s. Setzer started a band called The Tomcats, and he also performed in a group called The Bloodless Pharoahs, playing in clubs on Long Island and New York City. When Rocker and Phantom joined The Tomcats in 1979, the name was changed to Stray Cats. Their rockabilly sound was derived from artists who performed with Sun Records from the 50s – Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, Bill Haley & His Comets. In 1980, after hearing that there was a revival of the 50s Teddy Boy youth subculture in England, they sold their instruments and moved to the UK. There, they performed a hybrid of 50s rockabilly with 80s punk rock.
  • They quickly became popular in England, with members of The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin attending their shows. Record producer Dave Edmunds agreed to work with them, and their debut album, the self-titled Stray Cats, was released in 1981 in the UK. Later that year, their second UK album was released – Gonna Ball. For the U.S. market, the best from these 2 albums was combined and released in 1982 on their debut U.S. album, Built For Speed. It included 2 top 10 hits – Rock This Town and Stray Cat Strut. In 1998, Guitar World magazine included Setzer’s solo in Stray Cat Strut on their list of the Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.
  • In 1983, their next album, Rant N’ Rave With the Stray Cats, was released. It had 2 singles break into the top 40 – I Won’t Stand In Your Way reached #35, and (She’s) Sexy + 17 peaked at #5.
  • At the peak of success, the band started to move apart, working on solo projects. Between 1986 and 1993, they reunited 5 times to record new albums, none of which were successful. Meanwhile, the solo career of Setzer gained momentum, and in 1990, he formed The Brian Setzer Orchestra (aka BSO), focusing on swing and jump blues style music. BSO had success with the single Jump, Jive an’ Wail, and their cover of the 1959 instrumental song Sleep Walk won Setzer a Grammy award for Best Pop Instrumental Recording. Attending a BSO concert during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays has become a tradition for many fans.
  • Setzer also is known for his extensive vintage guitar collection. His earliest dates from 1938. In 1990, the guitar manufacturer Gretsch started a Setzer signature line of guitars.
  • Today, the original Stray Cats still perform periodically. Their first show in 10 years sold out in Las Vegas in April 2018, and they have 2 shows in California scheduled in August this year.
  • It was fun listening to Stray Cats in the early 80s – they certainly fueled the revival of the rockabilly sound at that time. Here is the video for Rock This Town. 

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