Stray Cats Biography

With high-blown quiffs and 50s ‘cat’ clothes, Brian Setzer (10 April 1959, Massapequa, New York, USA; guitar/vocals), Lee Rocker (b. Leon Drucker, 3 August 1961, Long Island, New York, USA; double bass) and Slim Jim Phantom (b. Jim McDonnell, 20 March 1961; drums) emerged from New York’s Long Island as the most commercially viable strand of the rockabilly resurgence in the early 80s - though they had to migrate to England initially to find chart success. Their exhilarating repertoire was dominated by the works of artists such as Carl Perkins and Eddie Cochran in addition to some stylized group originals, but their taste was sufficiently catholic to also acknowledge the influence of later rock ‘n’ roll practitioners such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and Joe Ely. Probably their most iconoclastic re-working, however, was their arrangement of the Supremes’ ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ that appeared on the b-side of their second single, 1981’s ‘Rock This Town’. This shared the same UK chart position as their earlier, debut hit, ‘Runaway Boys’, reaching number 9. ‘Stray Cat Strut’, produced by Dave Edmunds, was another hit as was the trio’s debut album, but 1981 closed with the comparative failure of both Gonna Ball and ‘You Don’t Believe Me’.

The band was buoyed by the US success of Built For Speed, however, which combined the best of the two UK albums and rocketed to number 2 on the album charts, and the belated Top 10 success of ‘Rock This Town’, ‘Stray Cat Strut’, and ‘(She’s) Sexy + 17’. Following the release of Rant N’ Rave With The Stray Cats the band fell apart. Rocker and Phantom amalgamated - as Phantom, Rocker And Slick - with guitarist Earl Slick with whom they appeared on a star-studded televised tribute to Carl Perkins, organized by Edmunds in 1985, and released two lacklustre albums. Setzer released a solo album before reuniting briefly with Phantom and Rocker in order to record 1986’s Rock Therapy. A more solid reunion took place in 1988, and the trio returned to the lower reaches of the UK charts in 1989 with ‘Bring It Back Again’. The attendant Blast Off! was a disappointment, however, and after three more albums the unit disbanded. Setzer went on to greater success in the late 90s when his 16-piece orchestra spearheaded America’s swing revival. Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker resurfaced as the Swing Cats, but reunited with Setzer in 2004 for a series of live dates.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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