When the Stray Cats stormed into the British charts at the start of the eighties it was the start of a love affair which still tugs at my heart today. We had Matchbox and Shakin' Stevens doing well and would soon have the added attractions of the fabulous Jets and the Polecats clawing at the charts. The Stray Cats brought with them a bad boy image which made them more acceptable in an era which was still in the clutches of punk and bands like the Stranglers and the Clash. A lot of the purists have little good to say about them but I'm sure they'd be happy to see a band of their ilk in the charts now!
The story starts in New York during the period when real rockabilly was just dying out, 1959-1961. Brian was born in Massapequa, NY on April 10th 1959, followed two years later by Slim Jim Phantom (Jim McDonnell) in Brooklyn on 20th March and Leon Drucker, better known as Lee Rocker.
In 1979 Brian formed a rockabilly cover band with his brother Gary on drums and Bob Beecher on bass, calling themselves the Tom Cats. They also played rock stuff as the Bloodless Pharaohs with Ken Kinally joining on keyboards. Brian left in early '80 to join school pals Jim and Lee and form the Stray Cats. By the summer they'd quit the States and headed to Britain where they thought (correctly) that people may be hipper to their sound. Following a gig at London's The Venue, they encountered Dave Edmunds, in their dressing room pouring himself a gin and tonic! Famed as both a performer and producer, Edmunds told them he'd like to work with them before someone who didn't know what he was doing tried it. They signed to Arista and over five days in October they recorded their first album at the Eden and Jam Studios in London.
The following month, Runaway Boys was released as their first single and the rest his history. Runaway Boys is a neo-Rockabilly classic. It was perfect for the time and helped generate a new band of followers for the group and the genre. It shot to the number 9 spot in the UK charts, helped by national exposure on Top Of The Pops and other music shows of the day.
Released at the beginning of February 1981, Rock This Town was another hit that had to happen. It had a catchy fast beat and more stinging guitar from Brian. The public ate it up and it followed Runaway Boys to the number 9 spot.
Released in February '81, the first eponymous album featured a mixture of the hit singles, some covers and a few originals. Produced in the main by Welsh rocker Dave Edmunds, there was also a quartet of tracks produced by the boys.
Fishnet Stockings was a wild rocker with some dynamic guitaring saving what would otherwise be a fairly mediocre song. For the re-make of Charles Underwood's Ubangi Stomp they followed the Warren Smith original except they made a bit more politically correct. Slim Jim sounds right at home with the jungle rhythm and with constant screams and warrior chant ending it's a great version. Storm The Embassy is a political song, the type of which was popular at the time. It was probably a smart move to give them more street cred than just singing about stockings and jukeboxes. The same could be said of Rumble In Brighton which appealed to the psycho fraternity with it's portrayal of gang fights. It's a great rocker with Brian's fingers again on fire and Slim Jim all over the skins. Roy Montrell's Mellow Saxophone became a Wild one thanks to guest Gary Barnacle.
Eddie Cochran's Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie and Gene Vincent's Double Talkin' Baby are given the full treatment and are fitting tributes to two of the bands inspirations (it's a theme they would refer to again). Crawl Up And Die is magic and Brain's adoption of the deep voice is one of my favourite vocal performances of his. Dorsey Burnette's, My One Desire (the b-side of Runaway Boys) is a nice mid tempoer with a lovely bassy rhythm from Lee and Jim.
The third single taken from the album was the loping blues of Stray Cat Strut. It was the only song of the album that they'd written whilst still in America. Written by Brian whilst jamming in Lee's garage, it has an hypnotic beat and inexplicably stalled at number 11 on the charts. This really could have been a number one song. Today, eighteen years later, when people ask what type of music I like and I say rockabilly, they often sing part of Stray Cat Strut. The b-side of the single (not on the album) is a live blues Drink That Bottle Down with Lee Rocker taking over the vocals while Brian played his best Eddie Cochran licks.
The next time they appeared on the charts was in June, when The Race Is On, a bouncy cover of the old George Jones two-stepper rose to number 34 as Dave Edmunds and the Stray Cats.
Sandwiched between the first two albums was a big tour of the States supporting the Rolling Stones. Whilst back home they also appeared on the Friday show, plying four songs and more importantly, displaying a sign saying they were unsigned that side of the Atlantic. EMI were watching!
Following the huge success of the first album, it was somewhat surprising that for the second album, Gonna Ball, Arista had them produce it themselves with help from Hein Hoven. The venue also moved from London to the Air Studios in Monserrat in the West Indies. Thankfully, they didn't feel the need to adopt a reggae beat and still used songs from the likes of Johnny Burnette not Bob Marley. I remember buying the album in Millet's in Hereford and was immediately struck by the brilliant cover photos. If my mum and dad were wondering why I was so quite on the way home, it was because I couldn't stop starring at the record! Overall the album falls short of the first one but does have some inspired moments. Baby Blue Eyes and Little Miss Prissy commenced proceedings with a couple of guitar filled rockers. Wasn't That Good was a fun groover with neat saxophone. Cryin' Shame was unlike anything they had previously cut, a great mid tempo blues with harmonica and even a bit of backing vocals. (She'll Stay Just) One More Day was pretty weak with keyboards, saxes and Lee on vocals. Way too jazzy although it does sum up the perfect woman, "She never gives me bitching, she's magic in the kitchen"!!
Side two opened with the single You Don't Believe Me, a bluesy rocker with some lovely slide work. Disappointingly, it only made 57 before falling off the charts after three weeks. The b-side, again not an album track was a mean Setzer composition, Cross That Bridge with Lee on vocals and harmonica (not at the same time). Title track Gonna Ball and Crazy Mixed-Up Kid, are little more than jam's with Brian's vocals sounding too strained on the former. I've always loved Wicked Whiskey, a galloping instrumental with all three Cats gelling on this beauty. It never crops up on any of their compilations which is a shame as it's as good as rockabilly instrumentals go.
The same can't be said of Rev It Up And Go. For one it's not an instrumental. It's a non-descript rocker with an awful call and response ending. Setzer's own, Lonely Summer Nights is perhaps the album's highpoint, a beautiful ballad complimented with some sexy sax. The album took a bit of a slagging in the press and the Cats took this as a personal assault. When interviewed by Andy Peebles they said that they didn't understand why their press/publicity had become so negative, they thought they had done something wrong, but they didn't know what it was. I think all they did was they'd cut an album, which was a slight drop in the standards set by their debut. The press have never given rock 'n' roll/rockabilly much respect (see Shakin' Stevens for details!!).
The guys didn't have to worry for long. Following tours of Europe, Japan and Australia, they ventured back to the States in December, performing on ABC TV and signing with EMI. By April of '82 they were back in the States, releasing Built For Speed, a mixture of the first two UK albums plus the title track, a cross between Rock This Town and Stray Cat Strut! They undertook a coast to coast tour and along with more national TV exposure, cracked the album charts, getting into the top three and selling a couple of million copies in the process. Kiss my ass seemed to be the theme adopted for England and there I was sat at home waiting for any news of the band. The only time and of them made the press was pictures of Slim Jim and Britt Ekland.
Two years I waited, then wham, back they came. What a great feeling it was, listening to the charts on a Sunday night, hour after hour of crap just to hear where they were. I nearly always felt bad afterwards, because they hadn't gone as high as I'd hoped. The first single, (She's) Sexy & 17 was the only one to chart, reaching a respectable 29 (No.5-US). The whole of Rant 'n' Rave was written by the band (most by Setzer alone) and it was a return to the Maison Rouge Studios in London with Dave Edmunds back behind the glass and Geraint Watkins on piano. It was a great album and one that had us believing again. On top of which, it had another great cover with these three hoodlums changing a tyre on Brian's hotrod.
Rebels Rule was in the Bo Diddley style and Too Hip, Gotta Go was a nice rocker. Look At That Cadillac was a splendid stroller with Mel Collins adding some meaty saxophone and Watkins filling out the sound with his piano. Something's Wrong With My Radio was a wild rocker giving Brian and Slim Jim ample opportunity to show their talents. At the time, I loved 18 Miles To Memphis because it mentioned Memphis. I'm older now and not so shallow (!!). Now I love it because of Lee Rockers' brilliant beat and the galloping country sound. I'd have loved to see them do a video for it on horseback!
Side two kicked off with (She's) Sexy & 17, a rocker with another killer solo. Dig Dirty Doggie a fun bit of rockin' nonsense. Slim Jim's favourite, the delicious doo-wop ballad, I Won't Stand In Your Way followed. After the basic track had been laid down, Brian wanted a doo-wop group but Dave Edmunds thought it was okay as it was. Thankfully, Brian won the argument and 14 Carat Soul were added. It's a great performance and it spent thirteen weeks in the US singles chart, peaking at 35. Brian has since said that he was really proud of this song and it's the one song he wanted to be a huge smash hit. Hotrod Gang was a Gene Vincent style rocker with a Gallupesque solo. The closer, How Long You Wanna Live Anyway? was a moody chugger, heavier than anything so far, and a precursor for what was to follow.
Around October '84 the Cats broke up following some personality clashes and no doubt some frustration at the downslide the group was on. Earl Slick joined Jim and Lee for a dodgy album, Phantom Rocker & Slick on EMI. It's a poor album but I won't sell it because Slim Jim looks like Joan Collins on the cover. It was over a year before Brian's solo album, The Knife Feels Like Justice, also on EMI, came out to good reviews. It wasn't rockabilly, but the playing was excellent, the lyrics were mature and I enjoyed it because it was Brian Setzer.
Despite the split and heavy tour schedules, they got back to record an album at the Capitol Studios in Los Angeles which they produced themselves. It was a real surprise when this came out, but thankfully Andy's Records in Aberystwyth was on the ball and I was able to walk out of there around September 1986 with Rock Therapy under me arm. I was anxious to get home and spin it as to see if it was a record to rockabilly as there didn't look to be much in the way of quiff's on the cover. Rock Therapy is a thumping version which stays close to the Johnny Burnette & Rock 'n' Roll Trio original. Reckless, from the pen of Setzer, is more like John Mellancamp than John Cash, not my cup of tea. Gene Vincent is revisited for his 1956 classic, Race With The Devil. The version here is a cracker, all three cohere nicely and Brain's three solos are excellent - starting off like Cliff Gallup before moving onto his own trademark sound. Buddy Holly's Looking For Someone To Love maintains the high standard.
Due to the rushed, unprepared nature of the album, there's a lot of covers, but they all work really well, a lot better than the original stuff. A good example of this is the Setzer song I Wanna Cry which features Lee Rocker on vocals, but is little more than an average pop/rock song. I'm A Rocker is a frantic unpolished rocker with some sizzling' Setzer solos - and it closes with Brian shouting, "Give me a standing audition!!". Beautiful Delilah pays homage to Chuck Berry complete with in-tune guitaring. Memphis rockabilly legend Charlie Feathers is next to be remembered. Their take on One Hand Loose is right on the money and I love Brian's licks on this. Billy Poore refers to it as a lazy, tired sounding version in his book Rockabilly: A Forty Year Journey - man I gotta disagree. Perhaps Billy's journey was just too long.
Two Setzer originals round things off. Broken Man is a country/folk mover with the type of social comments used in his solo project. The track is dominated by some fine banjo picking from Brian, an instrument which he'd learned since receiving it as a present from Lee and Jim. Definitely the pick of the new songs. Change Of Heart is a bouncy item with some nice jangly guitar - not rockabilly, but quite nice.
The next month, Phantom Rocker & Slick had their second album out, Cover Girl, but I passed on it. December saw the Cats back at the Whiskey A Go Go with Bruce Willis and Brian appeared with Dave Edmunds on MTV's New Year's Eve Rock 'n' Roll Ball. 1987 was quiet except for Brian's appearance in the film La Bamba where he played a cameo role of Eddie Cochran. It was a part he'd been practising for years. Things looked up a bit when Brian's second solo album, Live Nude Guitars came out in early '88. It had more of a rocking edge than his first with tracks like Rockability, Rebeline and a cover of Eddie Cochran's Nervous Breakdown.
Following years of non rockabilly solo ventures, April 1989 brought us Blast Off! a new album full of non-stop unadulterated rockin'. With Dave Edmunds again producing, the album was recorded in Ocean Way Studios, California and was dedicated to the recently deceased Roy Orbison and Cliff Gallup.
The title track is a blast, a 100 mph rockin' start. Gina is only average and Everybody Needs Rock 'n' Roll is a slightly quicker rewrite of Glen Glenn's Everybody's Movin'. Gene And Eddie is made up of Gene and Eddie song titles which works surprisingly well thanks to some fine playing from the trio and Brain's Gretsch on overtime. The accompanying video was full of live shots from the studio interspersed with old video clips of Eddie and Gene. Rockabilly Rules is a manic romp, great fun.
Bring It Back Again was a hard driving commercial rocker which even saw them return to the charts, albeit only to the number 64 spot. Slip, Slip, Slippin' In was a mighty fine version of the Eddie Bond classic. Rockabilly World strutted along nicely and Rockin' All Over The World was a bit like Status Quo doing rockabilly - but not as bad. Nine Lives was a jazzy Stray Cat Strut rewrite.
The summer of '90 was spent doing a six week tour with bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan and performing in a musical comedy "Mother Goose" as cats! The year finished on a real bum note with the release of the abysmal Let's Go Faster on Liberation Records. Produced by Nile Rodgers, it's a real clunker with the only good thing being the cover photo. Rodgers is a famed producer who has worked with many of the top stars but I can't be arsed to check which ones - as far as I'm concerned he owes me £14.
The next two years saw tours of Japan, Australia, America and Britain and then in June 1992 came the Pump Records release Choo Choo Hot Fish. Produced by Dave Edmunds, the new album was cut at the Pyramid Studios in Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga, Tennessee and named after the Choo Choo Hot Fish café close by. A much better effort, the highlight was the splendid duo with Edmunds, Cry Baby. Lust 'n' Love was a good moody rockabilly and Please Don't Touch and My Heart Is A Liar were really strong. Two instrumentals were cut, the romantic Jade Idol and the Santo & Johnny classic Sleepwalk which Brian cut again six years later with his Orchestra and picked up a Grammy for best instrumental performance. Cross Of Love and Let's Go Faster from the previous album were done again, but two years and a change of production couldn't save them, although Faster was an improvement. The closer, Mystery Train is a five minute tour de force with Lee and Slim Jim providing a frantic rhythm like the golden days and Brian playing some glorious guitar.
A big tour of Europe was followed by a trip to the Virgin Convent Studios in Los Angeles for their last studio album to date, Original Cool. It's a fifteen song run through some of rock 'n' roll's greatest hits. They're good performances but in the main add nothing to the originals. Highlights were I Fought The Law, Your True Love, Blue Jean Bop, Let It Rock, Stood Up and a blistering Flying Saucer Rock 'n' Roll.
That was pretty much it then as far as the Stray Cats goes. Lee Rocker has had a couple of critically acclaimed album's with his Big Blue band. 13 Cats starring Slim Jim, Lee and Danny B. Harvey have just had an album of swing and rockabilly released and Brian has risen to amazing heights with the swinging Brian Setzer Orchestra. The third album has taken the States by storm and recently picked up two Grammy awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Gibson.
This success could delay/end any hopes of a reunion, although they reformed in February '98 for the Carl Perkins tribute at the House Of The Blues. A slew of budget live CD's have been released but the best of these is Tear It Up on Receiver Records. It's a real powerhouse 75 minute set, running through the hits and a couple of covers and Dave Edmunds joins them for The Race Is On. The band are brilliant, the sound is good and it's a fitting tribute to the coolest cats to come out of Long Island.
UK Singles Chart
29 Nov 80
7 Feb 81
Rock This Town
25 Apr 81
Stray Cat Strut
20 June 81
The Race Is On (with Dave Edmunds)
Swansong SSK 19425
7 Nov 81
You Don't Believe Me
6 Aug 83
(She's) Sexy & 17
4 Mar 89
Bring It Back To Me
EMI USA MT62
US Singles Chart(Thanks to Dan Hodgdon for the details)
18 Sep 82
Rock This Town
25 Dec 82
Stray Cat Strut
29 Oct 83
I Won't Stand In Your Way
6 Aug 83
(She's) Sexy & 17
Phil's Memories of Christmas Term 1980(Generation Rumble)
Whilst young Shaunie was trying to get lil' miss Jools behind the school bike shed in 1980 in Presteigne Junior High School Confidential I was a 26 year old teacher in Bridgend, worrying about my mortgage and form 4's blind ignorance of inverted fractions. My kids were all Boomtown Rats/ Adam Ant/Madness disciples. They would snigger at "sir" rambling on about Elvis and Shaky. Each Thursday I would hide in the staff room reading the latest NME (New Musical Express, a weekly pop paper) which I'd read since 1965. Now and again they'd do a feature on rockabilly, Dave Edmunds, Billy Fury or Rollin' Rock. Most of the time it was dreck about the latest teen sensation or how dangerous Johnny Rotten was (pity he never met the Killer!). It would be a good issue if there wasn't one of my heroes in the obituary column!
I remember vividly reading a review of a London gig by some guys calling themselves the Stray Cats and thinking that's the name of Dai Edmunds band in the old 70s roc flick Stardust. There was a pic of this tattooed blond guy with a Don King sized quiff, but what caught my eye was the Gretsch he was holding. A double bass and a stand up snare shuffler also went down well. I made a mental note to check them out in Eagle records whilst skyving off during lunch. There was a record plant on the local industrial estate and new releases arrived quickly. I spied a promising 45 in the new box and took it eagerly to the counter.
In those days shops would play anything for you (not like the corporate listening stations of say Virgin's choices today). Twenty seconds into the guitar intro of Runaway Boys I was reaching for my wallet (not a practice I like to indulge in).
Played the 45 to death at home, a great mix, hint of 'abilly, dash of Eddie, the fire of punk and that Edmunds sound. Nice Burnette/ Ricky cover on the flip too. Soon the lil kitties were on Top Of The Pops and all the other tv shows and that moody, dark n raw video was played all the time. Ok they didn't grab my ageing heart like Gene n Eddie but by God they were cooler than most.
Girls in form 4 swooned when I came into class one afternoon and casually read the back of their first album whilst the class ignored long division. Could this be true, was Sir actually a hep cat daddy? Their crusty old dads dug Queen and Wings for heaven's sake, the Cats were ours what was this old fogey doing with that lp? Why had he started wearing lime green socks and those pointed shoes to class? A truce was called temporarily in the age old Glenn Ford vs Vic Morrow classroom struggle ala Blackboard Jungle. Mind you I didn't risk taking any 78s to class, they were a vicious bunch for a church school!
Ah! for a coupla years it was great, Shaky flew the rockin dragon flag in the charts and the Cats made Long Island Southern for a spell. Rock This Town was a highlight of the school end of term disco, when Sir bopped with any female teacher that was handy. Only problem was that whilst Great Balls of Fire would be over in two minutes these modern bands went on for blydi ages. Now Stray Cat Strut with its slinky slow smoochy approach was more like it, especially if one of the more attractive young mums had been at the gin dinnertime!
Then for some strange reason whilst they were home conquering the states via MTV and the compilation lp they lost the plot chartwise over here. I always reckoned it was because they stopped using dynamic Dai Edmunds to twiddle the knobs(but perhaps I'm biased towards my fellow countryman). The Race is On 45 showed us what should have persevered but it was not to be. Live concerts on tv showed they could still cut the mustard with a flick knife but that fire and energy never rekindled in the studio (Niles Rodgers of Chic/ disco funk infamy fer Christsake!!!!!!!!!!)
I thought that Bringing It Back Again and great songs like Gene n Eddie would shoot up the charts but alas no, it was the days of Stadium "Rock", U2 and the Boss (rhymes with Toss incidentally). Brian went on to become Louis Prima and fly the fifties flag at the Grammys and the Cats have found baskets in seperate homes. Perhaps one day they'll git it on one more time and make Shaun (and retired teachers who wish to remain anonymous) happy lil kitties again. Realistically it seems that the early 80s were the last flowerings of rockabilly in a huge commercial sense, but there again I remember thinking the same when Elvis died. With ole Shaky making a comeback perhaps the Transatlantic feline trio should do it one more time.
Posted January 1, 2000
ARISTA VIDEO - VVD 060
The video Stray Tracks was released in Britain in 1985 and contained nine videos and an exclusive interview with top UK DJ Andy Peebles. The interview was conducted in Paris, France with all three Cats chatting and laughing in a relaxed atmosphere. Brian seemed the most serious and obvious leader of the band, Lee Rocker seemed quite and shy and Slim Jim spent most of the interview laughing. Brian sat in the middle, wearing a sleeveless denim shirt and a Harley Davidson Motorcycles cap, black jeans and pink and black striped socks. Slim Jim wore a white Elvis t-shirt and Lee wore a black Nudie type jacket with white piping. The programme went as follows.
BS - Brian SetzerShaun Mather
SJ - Slim Jim
LR - Lee Rocker
AP - Andy Peebles
BS: I always had this thing in the back of my head like I don't know if it was valid at the time but now I guess it is. That people have taken the blues and done it from the Rolling Stones to Johnny Winter ... you know the blues has been done to hell ... Clapton, people like that and they did a great job of it, but I always thought why hasn't anyone done rockabilly, I thought it was a valid form of music like country music or any other type of music.
Title music (Stary Cat Strut) plays.BS: When I was six years old I had three records were in my house. I had Elvis' Greatest Hits, I had the first Beatles album, I had the first Stones album, I had Hank Williams Greatest Hits coz my dad liked Hank Williams and I had a doo-wop album by a band called the Diamonds. So I had those couple of records that I really liked, you know I played them over and over again, and em, I didn't really like Elvis or Hank Williams but I liked the Beatles and the Stones and I liked all the rockers they did on those two albums. I grew up with that and not until later did I realise that all those songs that I liked were rock 'n' roll/rockabilly songs once removed that the Beatles and Stones were doing.
AP: Where does England rear it's head and why did the Stray Cats eventually arrive in England?
LR: Well we were just playing kinda like local pubs and small bars in Long Island for a couple of years and we had good audiences and good shows and all and we also drew a few hundred people, but we got kinda bored and thought we weren't going anywhere just sitting in Long Island playing these things. So really on just kind of a whim we just decided - we heard that people in England still knew who Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran was, and knew about the music and really just took off without really thinking about it. We didn't have any shows lined up or know any people there, we just .. what the hell .. went and it managed to work out.
AP: Was it a bit of a culture shock or did you just like it instantly?
SJ: We couldn't get a hamburger anywhere (laughs all around) .. a decent hamburger. It was aculture shock, but we were just .. so shocked I think .. we had nowhere to live and not enough money to eat properly and stuff.. (Brian plays "air violin") he's playing lovelorn (?) violin.
AP: But obviously now it's history but I mean for anybody arriving in a new country as a band wanting to perform and wanting to succeed what on earth do you do. Do you just go and knock on a door at a venue in London, a club, or whatever, what do you do?
BS: We did all that, we knocked on doors, we knocked down doors (laughs). We went to clubs, we met people who were in bands, they said "What are you doing here?", we said "Ah, we don't know" we just kinda like Huckleberry Finn or something. All the other American kids were hitch-hiking to California, we hitch-hiked to England. We didn't really know what to do, we just did it..
Runaway Boys video plays.AP: You came into the business, if you like, in an era where videos, importantly were just starting to be seen as a very important visual aid and yet would I be right in saying that Runaway Boys was really just before that era. Before videos became the all important promotional aid.
BS: Yeah. It's a funny thing - when we started, we did Runaway Boys there was only a handful of other bands who had made them. I can think of maybe three or four of the top of my head and we thought, why do they want us to make a video, we didn't know what it was, that was before the advent of MTV and all, and we thought oh it'll be good for a laugh, and we can watch it back, we can see ourselves playing along with the song. Actually they didn't have a plot or anything and they just had a cameraman following us around for a couple of weeks, and he just took candid shots of whatever we were doing backstage and messing around. And when we had seen it we really liked it, that's one of my favourites coz there's no plan, there's no script or anything like there is nowadays, we just went out and did it. But that works sometimes but not all the time. It happened to work on Runaway Boys.
AP: Number two on the list here, Rock This Town. You must have good memories actually to recall everything that's been put on video but can we have a few words about that?
SJ: Rock This Town, we did that in one day, from like, eight in the morning 'til eight the next morning. The opening shot when Brians riding his Harley down 5th Avenue was like six o'clock in the morning which was handy coz there was no cars on the street. It was an all day affair.
LR: Yeah that video was strange because that was a single in Europe, Rock This Town, and we never did a video for it, because at the time, like we were saying, videos weren't that important a thing and we wound up doing that video maybe a year and a half after it was a hit in Europe, in America, for MTV and the American market.
Rock This Town video plays.AP: Stray Cat Strut. Had that song been around for a long time before it actually became recorded?
SJ: I think that song started in Lee's garage, Brian playing like a folk guitar, Lee with the bass and I was tapping on a phone book or something and we just.. and it just happened.. at the time we thought it was just a regular song kinda thing, we didn't know it was gonna be that big of a hit.
BS: Yeah, I wrote it in Lee's garage, we were just messing around.
LR: That was one of the few songs was written, I think, before we went to England, before that we were a cover band mainly, you just couldn't work doing originals, we wrote most everything in England except Brain wrote that one in my garage.
AP: Was that a frustrating period? I mean obviously you've got to pay your dues and as you say, cover other peoples songs, but there presumably were a lot of other songs that wanted to come out.
BS: The frustrating period was the backlash period. We didn't know that everybody was gonna hate us for a couple of months that's just the way it goes, everywhere really. We didn't know what we'd done wrong, you know we didn't know that a new trend was gonna follow up, we wouldn't sell a million records all our lives. And that we couldn't understand. And that has happened to everybody in the music business. And we were so niave you know, we were twenty, twenty one years old, we had made it and we couldn't understand what was happening.
AP: Do you think that one of the problems of the business is that usually it moves far too fast, doesn't it, you know you've said yourself that you arrive in England and suddenly, wham, Top Of The Pops, the charts, hits, everthing. Hard to cope with isn't it really?
SJ: We went to Europe and did the first big tour of Europe, we went to France, Scandinavia, you know, another big experience and then we came back to England and it was like Stray Cats who, and they had like forgotten about us overnight. And the first time you hit rejection it's kinda hard to handle it. We thought it was our fault, we did something wrong, so that was very hard to except.
Stray Cat Strut video plays.AP: Let's talk about Dave Edmunds for a moment, somebody you got involved with early on, we can talk about The Race Is On. How did that relationship actually start?
LR: He came to see us at The Venue in London and we walked off-stage, went downstairs and some guy was in the dreesing room fixing himself a vodka and tonic. We said who the hell is this guy. And it turned out to be Dave Edmunds. We had his records but we didn't really know what he looked like. He actually approached us and said "I wanna be your producer before some guy who doesn't know what he's doing handles you guys and makes you too slick and too produced". He knows more about that style of music than anyone we've ever met. He wanted to do us, he was very excited about it and we were in the studio like the next week and did Runaway Boys and it was like the first song we ever did in like a proper recording studio.
BS: Dave's a really great combination of old and new. When he took us we thought oh man you know, I mean let's face it, we're into rockabilly and it was made in the fifties. But just to go and do it and make it sound like it sounded in the fifties, you know you're not doing anything to it you know and we had some original songs that were valid tunes, they weren't just reworks of old songs and Dave said, don't worry about it I'm not gonna make it sound like an old record. And he took us in and he kept the slap bass and he made it sound modern, just with the techniques that he knows. Producing is kind of a talent in itself and it's something that has to be learned. And he just has the knack, and besides being a great guitar player.
LR: He's a rocker and he's a guitar player, a musician as well as a producer. I don't think the kind of producer isn't a musician could work with us. He knows it from both sides, from playing on stage playing rock 'n' roll and being in the studio and I think that's a very important point.
The Race Is On video plays.AP: How much of a problem is it writing when you have to respect the era from which the original music came from. Do you ever find yourself in the middle of writing a song and thinking, hey this sounds awfully like something I heard on record from wherever, you know what I mean?
BS: I have done that. Yeah, oh oh I'm writing Blueberry Hill (big laughs all around). I'll call it Raspberry Hill. Yeah, I don't have that problem anymore. I find myself writing a lot of different things now and I used to think we've gotta keep it restricted, ah that's crap, you can't think like that, you write whatever comes out. For me every song I write is like climbing a huge mountain, it's like, oh god, will I ever finish this song, is it gonna be okay, and when it's finally done it's like Thank God. It's like a religious experience for me to write a song. A lot of people, I hear of people writing like three songs a night. I just can't believe it, it takes me a while. When I finally get a song finished it's like (heavy breathing) - like I ran a quarter mile.
AP: It's really a bit mystical isn't it, I mean if we started talking about songwriting techniques we'd probably be here for about a week and we won't do that, but there is something special about it and everyone has there own particular way of doing it. Do you find things come to you in a flash of inspiration or do they take a long time to formulate, and to come together?
BS: It's funny. It's changed now. Stray Cat Strut I wrote in three/four muinutes, you know, Runaway Boys being a little more of a song, song, not just a turnarond song, that took us a while to put together. Jim helped with the lyrics and it took a while to get right. I came up with bass going chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk, and wrote the song around that. I mean there's no set rules, I'll have an idea in the shower, I'll come up with the riff or something, I'll have it floating around in my head, I'll get an idea and I'll get inspired to write some lyrics, I'll get a real catchy phrase that I like. I'll hear someone saying something and I think, oh that's great and he actually said something else. I don't know, there's no way of putting any, it doesn't make any sense, it just comes to you.
AP: Let's move to the period where you actually started recording in Los Angeles and produced yourselves. Reflecting on that now, how do the three of you feel about that particular period in time.
SJ: That's at Monsurat. In the bloody Caribbean.
LR: That record was something that didn't sell that well, Gonna Ball. But I kinda think it was an important thing for us to do because we got a lot of things out of it, just trying to produce ourselves, just like diving in and having to do it. So I think we learned a lot from it. It wasn't a big selling record, Gonna Ball but I think we got a lot out of doing it ourselves.
AP: Was there an element of fear there that you were left in the studio to your own devices? That inevitably, there's always the posibility there of self indulgence. There's always the posibility of having to finish the job yourselves and not having that producer, however much you love him or maybe even loathe him, on the other side of the glass saying, listen guys this isn't right or could be improved.
BS: This was a point in the bands career where we kinda didn't really know what was going on around us. A lot of things happening that happen to almost every band's infancy, we were stuck with trying to do a second album and everybody pumps you how fantastic it has to be. You worry so much about it. They stuck us in this place in the Caribbean which I personally never wanted to go. Like people think about the sun and nice beaches and I personally don't care if it's raining and crummy outside. I want be in a place where if I want an echo unit, if I want a Fender twin reverb from 1958, I can make a call (snaps finger) and get one. I had to wait two weeks for a damn echo box, you know. And it got kind of boring and tedious and I think we learned a lot. I think some of the songs could have come out better had we had a producer there.
AP: Little Miss Prissy.
SJ: She's a nice girl (laughs) - I don't remember making it.
Little Miss Prissy video plays.AP: She's Sexy & 17.
BS: Now that's probably my favourite one. Coz that and Runaway Boys I think was. If it's too raw and it doesn't have any technology, well that's just like making a demo tape. And we had a good rap with our director Ian Leach. We just knew what we wanted and it just happened to come out good. I really like that one myself.
SJ: It was done in New Orleans it was in the summer, it was like 104 degrees.
BS: 105 degrees.
SJ: And we had leather jackets on and had to look like we were comfortable.
BS: It was good because it came out sweaty and gritty. Yet it was done with some dance steps, but not over done with dance steps. People talk about Michael Jackson videos, I mean, truly he's done some great stuff, but just to have a Hollywood choreography and professional dancers doing fancy dance steps, that does not make a rock 'n' roll video. You've gotta have some sweat and you gotta have some grime as well as the fancy dance steps, otherwise it turns into a Hollywood movie.
She's Sexy & 17 video plays.AP: What about America. How did America view it, was it a bit of a culture shock, the style of music that you were actually playing?
BS: Yeah, we still go to towns where people think we're from England. Anything a little bit different there has gotta be from England. I don't know why. Pretty much every town had a rockabilly band.
AP: Do you feel that some of that was due to the fact that not so long ago there was a massive explosion of English talent in the American charts?
BS: Yeah, we were kind of caught in with that English new bands coming over and invading America. They put us in with that.
AP: We're actually sat here in Paris, in France where the Stray Cats are very big news. Does Europe mean a lot to you?
BS: Yeah, especially France.
SJ: Especially France. You know Eddie Cochran's birthday is like a national holiday here still. It's still pretty big news here. The French especially were waiting for a band like the Stray Cats because they always had they're own rockabilly bands, I think they were waiting for some American kids to come over and do it like it was really done.
LR: Like over here in France they never really forgot about rockabilly and the original rock 'n' roll, they've always loved it, like in America almost, after the initial thing in the fifties, in the late fifties, everyone kinda forgot about it and went onto other things, ignored something which is like an American art form, like country music, or jazz. I don't think you can really put a date on it, like rockabilly isn't 50's music to me, it's like jazz isn't 20's music, country isn't 30's music. And here that's how they treated it, just like another type of music that's valid.
AP: Rock 'n' roll, rockabilly, call it what you will, is very much a part of the American culture. How do the Americans, do you think, view your type of music now. Has there been interest for instance from some of the old timers, you know the people who were around?
LR: Oh yeah, Carl Perkins has come down to see us and we've played with him.
SJ: James Burton, Blue Caps.
LR: James Burton, Gene Vincent's band, all those people have come to see us, to talk to us.
AP: You must get a tremendous buzz out of that?
BS: Yeah, it's quite a rush.
AP: Is it strange? Is it a strange feeling finding people who were big on the charts 30 years ago suddenly being interested in what you're doing now in the 1980's?
BS: The funny thing is, we thought we'd go to all these towns, like, oh I can't wait to get to Memphis you know, can't wait to get to Sun, it's not what you think, not eberybody's got a pink Cadillac and is hip to every Sun record that was ever put out. It's just a regular city, just like everywhere else. But we had thought that nobody knew these people, and we were the only ones who knew about these obscure rockabilly people. You've got the original people still doing it, still touring but in a very small, kind of underground scale, you know. There are still those people touring and playing clubs, like Sleepy LaBeef and Roland Janes, the more obscure people, Charlie Feathers. And those people still play. They're still doing what they did. Still playing little bars in the middle of nowhere.
AP: And you're had positive feedback from pretty well all of them. I mean nobody has come along and said, hey what the hell are you doing?
BS: The only negative feedback we get is from the current rockabilly bands (laughs).
SJ: With the guys who did it first, like the Carl Perkins' and the James Burtons, they pay us the highest compliment possible when they tell us, they say we're the real thing, not like we're rehashing what they have already done. They say to us, they say you guys are the real thing. You're just like we were but in your own way. That's a great compliment.
Rebels Rule video plays.BS: Rebels Rule, as far as videos go, I think that was another quickie, that turned out okay. We were in the studio finishing off Rant & Rave and I remember I had my Harley in the studio. I tied the clutch in and pretended to kick it over, you know, coz the songs (inaudible) that was done in like a couple of hours. But that turned out pretty neat. I only remember seeing it a couple of times.
LR: I don't think I've ever seen it.
BS: It wasn't a full scale production video.
SJ: It was a French TV show. It was good coz it was in the studio and you got to feel that we were actually working (laughs). That we were doing something you know.
AP: Are you a great bike freak? Do you love them?
BS: Yeah. (Reveals his Harley Davidson t-shirt) You wouldn't know it judging from my size but, yeah I'm a big harley Davidson fan. I have three of them. It's just something that I …. some people take drugs to escape but when I wanna escape I hop onto my Harley and I drive into the country. I just go. I drove from London to Paris and Paris to London when I lived over in London. And that's my great relaxation. Get a chick on the back and take off.
I Won't Stand In Your Way video plays.BS: That's probably one of our favourite tunes. We really wanted that to be a hit. I was very proud of that song and we found this five piece group called 14 Carat Soul, they didn't have record out then. I wrote this song and it came together in bits and pieces and we recorded it with Dave and it sounded good, but I said I really wanna put doo-wops in the background, I want some harmonies. Dave said no, no it sounds fine. Sorry Dave but we did (Brian and Slim Jim laugh). I knew it would never happen, we'd would never find them again, get them on a flight or anything, but they happened to be playing in London. They had come over here for the first time, kinda like us and had some club dates. So we got them down to sing on the record and it's one of my favourite songs that we've done. It wasn't a hit, it was I think it was top 40 in America, but that was the one song that we wanted to be in the top five position. But it never did hit it.
SJ: It's my favourite.
BS: I'm very proud of that song.
AP: What's the feeling like when it doesn't get in the top five. Is it a feeling of frustration?
SJ: Mumble, mumble, mumble (laughs).
BS: No, there's certain things that you really wish would hit, like Sexy & 17, I didn't think of that as a single. And yet it was number 2 or something, a big hit. Yet that was the one I wanted to be a big hit. As far as the video goes, it's a pretty good video. It's pretty good.
SJ: We did it behind the Brooklyn Bridge.
BS: By the Brooklyn Bridge. There's a '49 Merc in there. Think I got my hot rod in there too.
AP: What do you guys do to relax? Do you ever get away from the business? Do you ever think to yourselves, right enough is enough let me go and do something which is completely different?
LR: Yeah you get away from the business. What I do to relax, is I've got a small studio in my house. So I'm never really away from music, I'm writing something or playing around with equipment, trying to learn about that. Really that's my kind of escape, sitting in the studio with headphones for four or five hours.
SJ: I've got my Corvette, the I watch Leave It To Beaver (laughs).
BS: Like I told you before I just kinda mess about with my bike.
AP: The music business is very hard to get away from though isn't it? If you're in it, you live it 24 hours a day.
BS: I think we all go out to see other bands.
SJ: Yeah you're like off the road and after we spent I think last year, eight months out of twelve, on the road and the other four were probably like in the studio and writing songs, and the second night off I went down to the local bar to jam with the band or to watch another group play. You can't get rid of it, it's like an itch, you just scratch it and it never goes away.
LR: You always think you want a break and when you get it you're miserable and you want to be playing again, you know.
Look At That Cadillac video plays.AP: How do all three of you want your music to be regarded in years to come as you carry on creating and writing? And as people look back in, I don't know, twenty, thirty years time, how would you like people to regard what the Stray Cats have contributed to the business?
BS: I would like them to respect us for what we've done, and that's resurrected kind of a dead art form. I don't like to be thought of as a revival thing, I mean, I really think we've injected more into that than just playing Blue Suede Shoes or something.
- Various articles through the years
The following articles are from my scrapbooks and are either newspaper or magazine articles from the British press.
AMERICA'S ROCKABILLY KIDS FALLSource: NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS - 12th March 1983 by Barney Hoskyns.
FOR THE STRAY CATS LICKS
Just like Eddie Cochran that is The Stray Cats are playing the perfect American teenage music. But unlike Eddie, they've become a Stateside phenomenon with LP sales of over two million. So put ya cat clothes on - we's goin' for a ride!
If he'd lived, maybe Eddie Cochran would have been as big as The Stray Cats. Like them he was young and photogenic. Like Brian Setzer, he played a pretty mean guitar. And like them, he had to go to England to learn about success. Unfortunately, unlike them, he never returned. The limousine carrying him back to the airport crashed and he was killed. Perhaps he wouldn't have made it though. He didn't like touring, nor publicity, and he didn't care for limousines. He wanted to settle down and play pool with his buddies. In contrast, The Stray Cats have taken to their limousine life. It suits them. The only thing is, England has never forgotten Eddie Cochran and that six-week tour 23 years ago. How long will she remember The Stray Cats? Well, I for one won't forget them playing one of the most exciting shows of my life. I won't forget that Brian Setzer struck me as possibly the best guitar player I have ver seen (apart maybe from one solo James Burton played with Emmylou Harris in 1975). And I certainly won't forget describing Setzer in a review as "a demented Renaissance cupid". (Ah, those were the days.) I still offer a royal two fingers to anyone who disputes that The Stray Cats in Christmas 1980 were the best friggin' band in London.
Brian is of a somewhat less angelic appearance these days. Two years of runaway success have worn down the runaway boy's features a little. Their success has spread out like an oil slick, moving gradually over the face of the western world. Now they're finally home. Their limousine didn't crash. Maybe one day they'll go down like Holly and Valens and the Big Bopper, but not until they've received America's full blessing. Brian Setzer is the ultimate professional popstar. He's how Lenny Kaye described Cochran - "the very cut of a Teen Idol". Except that Cochran wasn't cut out, whereas Brian's face was actually conceived to oblige the camera. It is a pose, it doesn't have to adopt one. Every '50s icon of streetcool has at one time or other inhabited this face: Brando, Presley, Dean, Cochran ... they're all there.
Right now The Stray Cats are touring the heartland, the world of John Cougar's Jack And Diane: an amorphous futuristic desert of junkfood boulevards and entertainment complexes stuck out on the perimeters of city limits like uninhabited palaces. They're taking it in an easy stride: it happened in Paris, it happened in Tokyo, now it's happening in Fort Lauderdale. So what's new? They're skipping the coasts this time, leaving out New York and LA. This tour is for the real; for the real America. There are no ducktail dandies down here. Leave it to Hollywood to bring out the "cats", these kids have never even heard of Gene Vincent. No doubt in England your average uptight dummy takes the American success of Built For Speed (compiled from the two British Arista albums) as confirmation that The Stray Cats are a con. If "Imperial Bedroom" doesn't sell and The Stray Cats do, that proves America is a nation of mongoloids, right? I say screw 'em. The teenager may be dead in London and New York, deliberating over boring Elvis Costello records, but this is a new Beatlemania. These streamlined teenage bodies are out on display because, beneath that perfect, impenetrable flesh, their hearts are throbbing. And not for five horrid geeks with slinky medium-wave hair and gold crosses playing MOR metal either. After five years of Foreigners, The Stray cats make sense as idols. When they play Double Talkin' Baby or C'Mon Everybody or Lonely Summer Nights, I don't know if the girls are wetting their pants, but they sure writhe and squeal. The Stray Cats have the same internal chemical structure as The Police: that is to say, two glam boys, one straight man. Setzer in performance is like a surly, bleached Ian McCulloch, Slim Jim like a hillbilly Pete Murphy. If Setzer is the boy god, the thing nevertheless hinges on the camaraderie of Phantom, with his earrings and executioner's gloves, his mad angularity, in the same way that The Police hinge on Stewart Copeland. The show is impeccably rehearsed, the audience plied with lures and favours. Rumble In Brighton swiftly becomes a rumble in Florida; the cooing intro to Stray Cat Strut is prolonged over several extra bars before breaking into Setzer's now definitive guitar twirl; You Can't Hurry Love is taken as a cover of Phil Collins'. But Setzer's guitar is lick perfect on every break, one moment picking out a delicate country twang, the next burning up a lightning blues run. At the end of the show, a stunning encore of Baby Let's Play House sounds like Scotty Moore just sidled out of the wings to jam. The point is that Setzer isn't messing around. He's a fanatic.
Essentially, The Stray Cats have taken off here because they take America for what it is; huge, primitive, above all young. Florida may be one vast Jewish retirement home, but The Stray Cats make the most perfect teenage American music since the Raspberries' Go All The Way, and out come the kids. America is growing young again. As Carl Perkins said, put ya cat clothes on. We's goin' for a ride.
In Country, Nick Tosches wrote that "rockabilly was the face of Dionysos, full of febrile sexuality and senselessness; it flushed the skin of new housewives and made pink teenage boys reinvent themselves as flaming creatures". If the Cramps' versions of Presley's Fever and Johnny Burnette's Tear It Up tap that now sunken, subconscious barbarity, Rock This Town and Fishnet Stockings reinvent rockabilly as pure teenage fun.
For The Stray Cats, rockabilly is not a bag of myths, simply a music. Alex Chilton's production of Songs The Lord Taught Us draws out and exaggerates the swampy, demonic associations of rockabilly - he licking tongues of hellfire - but the Cramps make music for grown-up cultists and deviants. The Stray Cats simply aren't riding that mystery train, and that is what their detractors cannot stand. Like their spiritual uncle Eddie Cochran, The Stray Cats fit somewhere between the Elvis of Good Rockin' Tonight and the Buddy Holly of Peggy Sue. This ain't pure teen heaven, but it sure ain't "febrile sexuality". The teen idol is really a pre-sexual fantasy. As Lenny Kaye said, Cochran sang of "what being part of teenage America is all about", and "always seemed the one most tied to his homeland, a kind of unique spokesman who flared up and captured a time perfectly …." Even if you compared Cochran's Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie with Setzer's, Cochran's vocal is far coarser, almost to the point of sounding black. Crucially, The Stray Cats hail neither from the inner city nor the backwoods, but from suburbia itself. They've circumvented the problems of being a "rockabilly rebel" (Newsweek) in the age of the claptrack by approaching America like any other rock 'n' roll band does. And that's something no inner-city club-critic will ever understand.
So anyway, Anton and I are hanging around in a Holiday Inn, stuffing ourselves with food, driving down to Miami and back, stuffing ourselves with food, and all the time The Stray cats stay in their rooms. (Slim "very much in love" Jim is with his Britt.) America is under siege by bad weather, so the intrepid Dutchman and I haven't even been able to lie by the pool sleeping, eating and drinking Margaritas. We've had to do this in our rooms. Sometimes a journalist's life is very rough indeed.
After one day of this divine sloth, another one rolls around the clock and three pallid, coke pepped Cats ("I dink dey're on drogs", surmises Corbjin) emerge to assemble for the interview. They are very wary of the English press after the reception of Gonna Ball, and suspicion haunts the air. Setzer in particular is like a small time-bomb destined to go off in my face. What can I say?
To be reasonable, I try. Are you guys having fun?
Jim's in no two minds. "I'm having a great time, I know that."
Lee agrees. "We always have fun. We just get up there and play every night. That part's always fun. Sometimes the travelling part isn't.
I say: "When you were in London, did you ever think this would happen?"
Jim: "I think we were just concentrating on doing it there first, but we always had the intention of coming back here. We didn't know it would take off as big as this, but we always wanted to come back."
Still silence from the blond one. Setzer stares at nothing. Will the cloud burst?
I say: "Er, this stuff about the rockabilly revolution that's sweeping America. That's bullshit, right? (Can I push it?) Do you in fact, see any, um, quiffs outside of New York or LA?"
Lee breaks in, non-committal-sounding: "What we do, I don't think is revival. Some people are starting to dress up, but it's really just the music. The same that happened in Europe is just happening over here. It's just good dance music, you know?" But here's Brian, and boy, is he in a steam: "Well, y'see, that's the difference between England and America, is that all the kids don't have to dress up in order to be rockabilly rebels or whatever, and next week there's a noo band on the front cover of the NME. In America, if they don't like you, they don't have to dress up, and they'll come out for years and years to see you. I mean, we have the hippies come down to see us! It appeals to a lot of different types, not just kids or anything. This mom came down with her five daughters, y'know…. that's great. I think in America they don't ever leave you. Like Santana or something, they never lost their following, you know, they always come back. In America the kids don't dump you because the kids get older as you get older."
Except that in the beginning, the original rockabilly was quite quickly diluted into pop. By 1958, say, when Elvis joined the army, it was over, and next thing you had Fabian and the Twist.
Lee: "Well, I really think there's a spot here for it. I don't think it's something that's gonna come and go. There really are people who wanna hear rock 'n' roll out there. There's always been something of a rock 'n' roll audience out there, it's just only recently surfaced again. I mean, there should be something besides Foreigner and REO Speedwagon in the charts."
Brian: "It's a whole new thing, the kids think we are the first ones, and that's important."
Touring America, do you feel closer to the country or to the cities?
Brian: "I think that's kind of a warped viewpoint, really. We go to the middle of Tennessee, and it's just like our hometown, really."
Lee: "Everywhere in America is the same almost."
Brian: "Only in New York or LA do you get kids dressing up rockabilly."
Lee: "It's like in London, all the kids with pockets full of money (!) going out and buying clothes."
Brian: "A lot of the kids here don't have money. America's not too well off at the moment."
Jim: "That's impotant, tough, I don't want everybody to look like us, because then it's not the same as when you started out to look different."
Brian: "I don't think it matters really."
If you were a straight revival act, a faithful reproduction, you probably wouldn't be where you are today.
Brian: "Yeah, it's like Bebop Harrell said he went to London and they wanted him to play Be Bop A Lula with brushes? And he said, you actually know I play brushes on Be Bop A Lula? There were 3,000 people out there, and they were all disappointed 'cause Bebop Harrell didn't use brushes!"
Lee: "That's treating it like a museum piece. I mean, we really don't consciously try to do something, like, this is Gene Vincent."
Brian: "Rockabilly, what we're doing, is in the back of everybody's mind, but it's never been done. Like, I think Madness are a great band, I think they should tour America a bit, get out of Camden Town, I think they could make it …. But I think the reason English people relate to them more is coz there are a lot more Jamaicans in England and they can relate to the ska beat. America cannot relate to a reggae beat, they don't know what it is, they never had it. Whereas America had rockabilly in the '50s, and it died, and these kids coming up to see us are 14 years-old, it's in there, y'know (pointing to the brain), but it's never been brought out. I don't know if this makes any sense."
How much straight country do you like? Rockabilly once posed a threat to country - even George Jones cut a couple of rockabilly records under the name Thumper Jones! Do you like country pickers such as James Burton?
Setzer: "Yeah, I've gooten into straight country music a lot lately – Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings. As a matter of fact, I just spoke to James Burton, down at Steve Carr's where he keeps his guitars. Guys like that show up all the time. Like we had two original Blue Caps come down to see us from Norfolk, Virginia. Bebop Harrell and Bubba something or other. "
Jim: "The guy who screams ob Be Bop A Lula!".
Brian: "All those guys have come down and met us at some point, and they're thrilled as shit for us. And Paul Burlison from Johnny Burnette wanted to get in touch with us, saying I played a "real Memphis guitar"! They're just thrilled that that sound is back."
Jim: "That somebody remembers it."
Brian: "Yeah, so that's the stuff I been listening to lately."
Lee: "We got a track with pedal steel."
Brian: "As a matter of fact, I'm pretty hot on the banjo. I didn't get to play it last night because we had a weird situation with the PA, we couldn't get loud enough. But Jimmy bought me a banjo for Christmas, and I'm pretty damn good, I think …. Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Orange Blossom Special. Good stuff."
Way back, of course, there's the notion of rockabilly being a mixture of country and blues. There was more blues on Gonna Ball than on the first album, more slide guitar. How much blues goes into The Stray Cats?
Brian: "There's really some of all of it."
Lee: "The roots, what rock 'n' roll started from. When you're playing rockabilly, you have to like Hank Williams and stuff, coz it's all so closely related to old blues things."
It's widely rumoured that Williams left behind tapes of an R&B album but they suppressed in the interests of his image. Lee and Jim, you came from R&B bands originally, did you not?
Jim: "That's what I know best".
Brian: "Jimmy and Lee are more blues-oriented than I am".
Are you playing a white music, a white sound?
Lee: "It's hard to say".
Jim: "I guess it is, since we're white ."(!)
Brian: "If you go back to the '50s, I don't think there are any original black rockabilly artists. I think it's pretty white as far as country music goes as being white …. It doesn't mean black people can't enjoy it".
The Cats tactfully omit the lines "Till I rocked to Africa and rolled off the ship/And seen them niggers doin' an odd-lookin' skip" from Warren Smith's original Ubangi Stomp. In fact, Elvis had more number ones on the R&B charts than Chuck Berry did. And I've heard Stray Cat Strut on black dance music stations.
Jim: "I think it's a white interpretation of a black art form".
Brian: "What! Rockabilly?!?"
Jim: "No, our type of thing, all the rockabilly that went back to the blues, like Hound Dog is a white interpretation of a black song."
Brian: "I hate to start picking us apart like a doctor, you know. Like, now I'm gonna fuckin' cut that lung open and fold it back and see what's in there …. Y'know, it just comes out the way it does."
"Rockabilly is not a usurpation of black music by whites because its soul, its pneuma, was white, full of the redneck ethos." (Nick Tosches, Country)
"In Italy, they placed Cochran's face opposite Brando's and dared you to choose one over the other". (Lenny Kaye)
Brian, apart from being a magnificent guitarist, your looks make you a natural popstar. You're teen idols now. Do you think you could have made it in America on talent alone?
Brian: "I think looks are part of my success. Rock 'n' roll is a lot more than just music, y'know, it's the attitude and the look and all that rolled into one. I think I would have made it anyway, if I hadn't had Jim and Lee; I might have gotten a job backing somebody like a Bruce Springsteen, or somebody in Las Vegas, and I woulda made a lotta money. Of course I would never have done it, because it's not my style."
Couldn't you have become a James Burton?
Brian: "Well, boy, he told me he's got 25 cars! So, man think about sessions in your old age!"
Who is your personal idol as a rock 'n' roll performer, in terms of looks and persona?
Brian: "I used always to think of Eddie Cochran, y'know, coz he's my favourite and then, you see clips of him live and he don't do too much for me. Dick Clark made us up some unreleased stuff he had, old American bandstand shows of Cochran and Vincent and Berry, and those guys just didn't do too much for me."
Jim: "I guess Elvis was reallt the best when you come down to it."
Brian: "Elvis was the best. Nobody touched him."
You're not using the same overtly sexual gestures that Elvis used. Do you think rockabilly is a sexy music, like R&B is a sexy music?
Brian: "I think it's more dance-oriented. (Ponders with a grin) They do like that ballad, though."
How much of the purist is there in The Stray cats? You've got a doo-wop number with 14 Karat-Soul on the next album, but how far can you branch out from the rockabilly base?
Brian: "I don't think you can go too far with it, y'know, but we do what hits us."
I felt the main fault of Gonna Ball was that it was too limited, there weren't enough original-sounding songs like Storm The Embassy or Runaway Boys; songs which had a rock 'n' roll base but in a sense strayed beyond rockabilly.
Jim: "The more time that we can write, the better. On Gonna Ball, there wasn't that much time to write. This year Brian has been writing a lot, and we've been on the road so we can all write in the same hotel room, and I think the next album's gonna be more like the first in the range of it."
Brian: "We were really getting fucked about pretty bad with Gonna Ball."
Lee: "With a second album, that's the one of the hardest parts, after a big hit first album, especially in England. They like to get you on the second album; they like to build you up and knock you down over there. I think that has something to do with it."
Brian: "I think Gonna Ball would have bombed in England even if it had been a great album, to be honest with you. I think the press was just waiting to attack us. The press there creates the fans. The press there can make or break a band; it's got too much fucking power."
It's a small country. Besides, there wasn't a single on the album.
Brian: "I mean, we are definitely coming back to play in England, we're looking forward to it, and I know we have a lot of fans there. But the problem with the British press is they've got too much stinking power. There are very few bands that can actually override the press there. It's the one thing that gives me the willies – that crazy press thing."
Do you think Runaway Boys would have worked as a single in America?
Lee: "I would have thought Runaway Boys would make an obvious single, but EMI liked Rock This Town and Stray Cat Strut, and they're supposed to know."
Jim: "They liked the song about the pussycat."
Brian: "They don't want any trouble here. They don't wanna think about running away; they like the pussycats."
Jim: "Like, oh, he's so nice, and he fights, and he goes home."
Lee: "They don't wanna hear about storming embassies or anything like that."
Jim: "That's really the thing here. It's a much slower process to get labelled anything, because it just takes so long for anything to happen."
Don't you feel very remote from the America of Adult-oriented rock? I mean, if you're "fun music", what is REO Speedwagon?"
Brian: "The thing is, REO Speedwagon and those groups, I know there's not much soul there, but at least they're fucking good musicians; at least some thought went into their music, which is a lot more than I have to say about a lotta synthesizer bands that are out nowadays, with their fuckin' disco hooks. I'd rather hear that than a lotta "new music".
Lee: "But so much of that stuff is so polished, there's no loose ends, it's just like a perfect sound. Everything where it is, there's nothing raw about it."
Brian: "Yeah, we're changing all that. Every town has its rockabilly band now, every town from Wisconsin to Texas. The only difference is here they all like us, whereas in England they all hated us!"
Jim: "We started a new market here, which is good. The big record companies are scared shitless now, they're all looking' for their own rockabilly band now, coz we're the number two album since Thanksgiving. We sold two million fuckin' copies."
But the giant corporations looking for another Stray Cats is exactly what could destroy it. Coming up with something blatantly inferior and all of a sudden it takes the edge off what you've done.
Jim: "I think the kids can tell. Even it they're stoopid, they can tell that. They can feel it."
Brian: "It got weird when I couldn't walk the streets. Well, London is never like that. London always has a bit of".
Lee: "Good old British reserve."
Brian: " Yeah, a bit of restraint. France, like, I couldn't walk the street, so in thought, well, I can always go back to America. Now, in America, I can't go out of my house. And we aren't the Stones, we're the Cats! You got people hanging around outside your house trying to steal the garbage! I mean, you have to live a certain amount on your own, you can't live all the time like that."
Brian: "I think this band would have made it if the bottom had fallen out of the stock market. It's just one of those bands. We're selling records down here in Florida. A lady was telling me that nobody is selling. The only other guy selling records down here is Bob Seger. So something's going on. And since this interview has been relatively painless, let's end it on a happy note."
Jim: " Let's go play in the rain."
CAT FLAPJohn Walters on why the Strays met with wild enthusiasm.
Source: British music magazine (?)
Recently, I went to see those great defenders of the traditional roots of our cultural heritage, the Stray Cats. You see, when rock 'n' roll was first revealed to us, in the mid-'50s, the first definable groups were either wheezy old hoe-down showbiz entertainers like Bill Haley's Comets or more like Gene Vincent's Blue Caps. Hungry, menacing young men with an electric guitar and a stand-up bass who'd snigger at you from the street corner and write something really rude in the dust of your car. The Cats are such types.
Now, I've lived through more rock 'n' roll revivals than you've started infallible diets, but the current feeling is different. It's part of the pop scene and not an exclusive reaction run by fat, middle-aged teddy boys. More importantly, the Strays don't copy quarter of a century old records. It's new but authentic sounding material and well played.
The fans, after the post-punk Boy George crowd, look strangely normal. Yet, there's something odd about the clothes and the hair. It's as if the world has ended and the Martians have created teenagers using the only available evidence. A few stills from The Blackboard Jungle, a page of Sniffing Glue and the contents of a Kleen-e-zee brush salesman's samples case. They were, however, numerous to bursting point and wildly enthusiastic towards the three American, tatooed, Brylcreamed, rocking, hub-cap thieves who'd used the British scene and success here as a springboard into the American charts.
Their current (made in England) album, Rant 'n' Rave with the Stray Cats, is a good example of their homegrown rockabilly style, and if it sounds a little more abilly than rock for my tastes it's rocky enough to annoy a neighbour if played loudly at three in the morning.
STREET MACHINE1987/88 (?) When it comes to knowing about the good things in life, Brian Setzer is an expert. Ex-lead singer with the Stray Cats, he now basks in the American sunshine, haing left England and its infamous weather behind him. Setzer has always been a fan of the 1950s; being a successful rock musician has meant that he can realise his dream and drive the fabulous beasts of an era long gone.
His first ever car was a pink '57 Chevy. At present his daily driver is a yellow and black '56 Bel Air, with colour co-ordinated interior. His other cars, used less frequently, are enough to make you head for the nearest guitar shop in search of the success and lifestyle that Brian now enjoys.
To start with there's the wickedly chopped '51 Mercury that was used in American Graffiti. When Setzer bought the Merc it was far from immaculate, as it as only ever treated to a cosmetic cover-up for the film, and was used afterwards as a Graffiti exhibit at Universal Studios. Once purchased, it was sent off to Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's workshop where it was painted and stripped. Mr Roth, one of the world's most respected cutomisers, also added a very personal touch on the left rear quarter, which reads "Runaway Boy"; a nice reminder of of one of the Stray Cats' most popular singles, and a very appropriate description of the driver. The Mercury is, however, not Setzer's favourite possession; he likes his cars acceleration to be as impressive as the bodywork, and acceleration is something that Mercs, like all lead sleds, simply do not have. Basically, he needed a hot rod; enter the '34 three window Ford. The engine is a 350 cu. in. small-block Chevy with Holley carb, which supplies enough brake horsepower to keep Setzer happy. He also owns a chopped and channelled 1931 coupe that was pictured on the Cats' Rant 'n' Rave album cover. Oh, and I mustn't forget the custom '53 Harley Davidson.
Taking all the cars into consideration, Brian Setzer must own one of the most comprehensive collections of the 19502 imagery on four wheels. The fins and the chrome come in the shape of his Bel Air, the Mercury represents the low-and-slow lead sleds, and the '31 and '34 neatly take care of the hot rods. He's got the whole set and, of course, the sunshine. That's what I meant when I said he understood the good things in life.
LEICESTERSource: The Sun newspaper (late 80s) - Reporter - Ian Johnson
Rockabilly rebels The Stray Cats are back on the attack - and their brand of Dixieland magic still sounds good to me. The US trio strutted on stage at Leicester University to deliver a purr-fect set of Eighties style rock 'n' roll.
Quiffed college kids bopped till they dropped to the group's classic hits Runaway Boys and Rock This Town. And singer Brian Setzer in his bootlace tie was the cat's whiskers as he whipped the 900 strong crowd into a frenzy. What makes this band work is the intelligent way they make old-fashioned rhythms sound bang up to date.
For the finale the tattooed tearaways took a leaf out of the Bros boys' books - by stripping down to their baggy Union Jack boxer shorts for a stroming version of Somethin' Else. Scandal star Britt Ekland was not there to watch her drummer hubby Slim Jim McDonnell on stage. But straight after the 75-minute show he was heading back down the M1 to their London flat.
Bizarre Rating: Forget about the search for Elvis - with great shows like this rock 'n' roll will never die.
A STRAY CAT FINDS A HOMELife in the fast lane didn't agree with Brian Setzer, so he quit his group, settled down and made the best album of his career. By Michael Goldberg - Rolling Stone - May 1986
Brian Setzer strides into one of his Hollywood haunts, a combination bar, pool hall and diner called Barney's Beanery, and spots two local characters, Big Tony and the Tattoo Kid, guzzling beer and playing pool. Big Tony is wearing cowboy boots, tight Levi's and a shirt unbuttoned to the waist; the Tattoo Kid has long, greasy hair, a dirty T-shirt, a Confederate-flag belt buckle and tattoos on his upper arms.
Setzer walks up to the duo and suggets a game of doubles - Big Tony and the Tattoo Kid against Setzer and his manager, Alex Scott. Big Tony stares at Setzer, taking in the ripped, sleeveless T-shirt, the black engineer boots and the tattoos running up and down both arms.
"You're with some group, aren't you," he says, still staring. "The Stray Cats!"
"I used to be with the Stray Cats," says Setzer coolly.
"So what are you doing these days?" asks Big Tony.
"I got an album about to come out," says Setzer offhandedly.
Then they play pool. The first game leads to another and then another. Setzer and his manager win all three.
"Since Brian's a rock star he should be more hospitable," barks Big Tony.
Setzer tries to ignore the remark.
"I saw you at the US festival," says a player at another table. "You were great. What's it like to play to so many people?"
"Uh .... it was great," says Setzer. then he turns to his manager a says he's ready to leave. Big Tony pours himself another glass of brew andd turns to the Tattoo Kid. "How many pitchers of beer have we had? Four or five?"
"Too many," mumbles Setzer as he walks out of the joint. Out in the parking lot, he continues: "Those are the kind of guys I grew up with. You try to be as tough as them. Never can." He smiles. "Cause they just don't give a shit."
There was a time when Brian Setzer fit right in with the guys who kill time in pool halls. But that time is gone. Today, at twenty-seven, he may still look like a teen hood, but he has changed in significant ways - especially during the past two years. On Valentine's Day 1984, he married DeAnna Morgan, whom he met backstage at a Stray Cats gig. Then, in September 1984, Setzer disbanded the Stray Cats at the peak of their success and began putting in star turns with rock luminaries like Bob Dylan and Robert Plant. This February, he released his first solo album, The Knife Feels Like Justice, an ambitious record hat should establish himas more than a pretty face who can parrot old rockabilly licks. And only a few weeks before that, he said goodbye to Massapequa, Long Island, where he'd lived for most of his life, and moved to Los Angeles, settling into a three-story Spanish-style house in the hills, not far from the HOLLYWOOD sign.
Has Brian Setzer begun to grow up or has he simply gone Hollywood? "I wanted a change," says Setzer, explaining his move west. "From Long Island, it was an hour's trip to Manhattan. I felt isolated. There weren't many musicains around. And for some reason, on Long Island I'm looked at with contempt. I've had that from day one when I was playing corner bars with my fucking baggy, crazy clothes and wild haircut. I took shit then, I took it through the Stray Cats, and I took it when the Stray Cats broke up. I've always taken shit out there. Like, "What right does he have to think he's famous? We're just slobs from Long Island. There's no one here who's any good. I had to get out."
Setzer says he chose the City of Angles over Manhattan because he has three dogs and a cat and likes having a yard and open space. In LA, he lives on a quiet street not far from a horse trail that leads to a rustic hillside where the city seems a million miles away. And while recording his solo album in LA last year, he realised he has a lot of friends there - mostly music buddies like Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers, producer Jimmy Iovine and Don Gehman, who produced The Knife Feels Like Justice.
Setzer may have found a home, but his album shows that he is still finding his way musically. His singing and guitar playing have never sounded better, and he's improved his singwriting, mixing country, rock, bluegrass and rockabilly into a sleek, modern sound. But the record has a tentative quality, as if Setzer hasn't quite figured out what kind of rocker he wants to be. There are traces of Springsteen, Petty, Fogerty and the Stray Cats. Nonetheless, the album establishes Setzer as a serious rocker. The nostalgic teen dreams of the Stray Cats are far behind him now.
The Stray Cats, of course, is a very sensitive subject with Setzer. Ask him why he broke up the most successful rockabilly trio of the Eighties after only a couple of years at the top, and he turns sarcastic: "When I saw string basses and bowling shirts in the windows at Macy's, I thought, well it was nice while it lasted. When I get bored with things, I always go on to something new. I didn't think I had anything else to say in that genre. I wanted to start something totally fresh. This way people will have a good memory of the Cats."
To outsiders, the breakup looked like a simple case of a newly famous rock star thinking he'd outgrown his band. After all, Setzer was the lead singer, the guitarist, the chief songwriter, the one with charisma. And what else was one to think after seeing Setzer rock out with the Honeydrippers on Saturday Night Live? Then there were his sessions with Stevie Nicks, Dave Edmunds, Bill Wyman and Bob Dylan. Not to mentionhis jam with Eddie Van Halen in a Newark hotel room one night or his playing with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in Petty's basement studio. Pretty heady experiences, to be sure.
However, over the course of the two days' conversations with Setzer - in LA bars and coffee shops, his home and reporter's hotel room - a different picture emerges. He implies that it was the rock star attitudes and lifestyles of his former band mates that bothered him. (Slim Jim Phantom, for instance, married Britt Ekland, Rod Stewart's old flame). In any case, Setzer says he suffered a great deal of anguish over the breakup, even though he instigated it.
"Basically, I called Lee on the phone and told him how I felt," he recounts. "Then I called Jim. He hung up on me, and that was it. They wouldn't take my calls. I felt bad. I wanted to sit down with them and t ell them how I felt and still try to be friends. They didn't want to have anything to do with it. It's like splitting up with a girl." (Lee Rocker and Slim Jim refused to speak to Rolling Stone about the breakup.)
To add to Setzer's misery, a former manager turned up with a lawsuit that, until settled, kept him from recording. he was frustrated and depressed. "I turned into a hermit when the Cats broke up," he says. "I wouldn't return friends' calls. I just couldn't bring myself to go out. I couldn't face some guy stood there with fucking Jack Daniels on his breath saying, "So Brian, I heard Jim and Lee's album. When's your record coming out? I'd have to say, I don't know. I wasn't just going to throw out a record; it was an important step for me. So it frustrated me to no end. My friends thought I was turning into a shithead."
Even now, after throwing his record out into the markerplace, Setzer isn't comfortable talking about Phantom, Rocker & Slick, the LP the other ex-Stray Cats cut with journeyman guitarist Earl Slick. "Uh oh", he says, when asked about it one afternoon at the hotel. "I knew that one was coming. Umm .... I think it's okay. I don't think it's a bad album at all. I think it's a pretty good album. But let's just say it's about what I expected and leave it at that." Then the phone rings. It's Setzer's manager; the rock star has to go. "Whew! Got off that one easy."
"This dog came to our door one day," says Setzer, pointing to a brown mutt romping up the road with his two white Samoyeds, Kimo and Koala. "Rusty was in terrible shape - so skinny you could see ribs. First day he came into the house, he looked around, lifted his leg and pissed right on the TV screen. And I thought, "I don't blame you".
Maybe Rusty reminded Setzer of himself; the working-class kid who never got any respect, pissing on his new found fame but eventually coming to terms with it.
Setzer is taking a walk up to his hillside sanctuary. About a half mile up the trail, he sits down, adjusts his baseball cap and stares off through the smog at Hollywood down below. "I've changed for the better," he says. "I've gotten a hell of a lot more secure and confident in myself. I've gotten a lot happier with life. All the things I always thought I wanted to get when I made it - like a '58 Les Paul and a '32 Ford - don't mean as much anymore. What matters is keepimg my integrity as a musician. I don't ever want to turn into a joke. Like, what the hell is David Lee Roth going to do now? I hope I can see that coming."
It's clear that Setzer has been reevaluating a lot of things. He used to go out drinking, but says, "I can't do that anymore. I'll have a couple of beers once in a while, but when I go to a club, I drink coffee. You know, I think drugs are a waste of money. There's a song o the called called Three Guys and it's dedicated to my friend Pete (Farndon, the Pretenders bassist who died of a drug overdose).
"I think almost anything you want to take in moderation is okay," he continues. "Except one. Heroin. I tried it once by accident, and I'll never try it again."
Setzer gets up, calls the dogs and starts walking down the trail. As he passes the houses in his comfortable, upper-class suburb, the dark side of rock 'n' roll seems far away. So do Big Tony and the Tattoo Kid. And Long Island. Suddenly, Setzer stops and introduces himself to a man standing out by his garage. "Hi, I'm Brian Setzer. I just moved in next door."
INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN SETZERGuitar Player Sept 1983 (Rockabilly issue!)
STRUTTIN' WITH THE STRAY CATS by JAS OBRECHTAll roots rockers should look out for this back issue as the Blasters, Dave Edmunds and Danny Gatton were also interviewed. This following item is a precis of Jas' excellent feature on Brian.
"If rockabilly cool could only be inherited, Setzer would have nothing to worry about. His parents were 50s rockers in the baggy suit, hoop skirt tradition. His construction worker dad was partial to Hank Williams and his mam a devoted Elvis fan. Born in 1959, he was inspired by the Beatles (perhaps Shaun will stop knocking 'em now!!!) to become a guitarist. Years of lessons followed, with time on the side spent coping Chuck Berry and rockabilly (henceforth referred to as rab) licks off records. A loner he made few friends at school. At 14 he bypassed all current fads to model himself after an old photo of Eddie Cochran. Dropping outta school he eventually acquired one of rab's legendary combinations a vintage Gretsch 6120 and a Fender Bassman amp.
The Stray Cats simple lyrics and danceable rhythms appealed to teds, punks, skinheads and rockers alike. Arista signed 'em and Dave Edmunds, an authority on the rab sound, produced their first 45. The chord changes were modern but its echo, beat and slapped bass placed it in the rab tradition".
Q For guitarists what are the essential elements of rab?
BS It's basically a feel. Lotsa people put the cart before the horse. they think they've gotta go for that authentic slap-echo sound, and they need vintage equipment. All that stuff is great but you've gotta have that feel. Early rab is basically a country guitarist trying to play rnr guitar, which is a mix of black blues and white country. I don't like to categorize it too much, but rab leans towards the hillbilly side of rnr. The basic set up with those guys was just a lil' echo machine with one slap repeat on it, straight through the amp. There's no effects involved there. That was the first time the guitar came into prominence in rnr.
Q Why does rab appeal to you?
BS besides being really a guitarist's music, it's dance orientated. It just grabbed me, why doesn't anyone know what rab is? blues has been done to hell. I just thought "Man this has got to be done again cos its so good". It's got all the aspects of great American music.
Q Historically what are the great rab records?
BS Buy any SUN records that you can get your hands on. When I first heard Scotty Moore on Elvis' SUN sessions it just blew me away. James Burton is one of my idols too. Any old Carl Perkins record - you just can't go wrong! there's nothing bad. Those 3 guys just blew me away. I knew I wanted to sound like them when I was about 14. Buy any Jerry Lee, Buddy Holly album. Gene Vincent's band was a big influence especially Cliff Gallup.. When I first heard him he was kind of what I wanted to be - a mix of a jazzy rab player. He really sent me. Paul Burlinson of the Rock n Roll Trio is another of my favs.
Q Did anyone teach you rab?
BS I just picked it up from records. Nobody taught me how to play that.
Q Have you met any of the rab originators?
BS Jammed with James burton recently, oh man it was great. He's too much. He's really helped me too, as a player. just watching him I pick things up. I met the Blue Caps down in Virginia and they were really thrilled that the music is coming back. I also met Sherriff Tex Davis who wrote Be-bop-a -lula (!). Those guys came to see us in nashville and places like that. They are really happy for us, it's a thrill to meet them.
Q Did you do rab in your earliest bands?
BS Sort of. We covered Berry and the Allman Brothers, they were popular then and we did it to get work. It's funny we were doing Beatles covers of Chuck and Carl, or Allmans covers of Willie Dixon and Muddy songs. So we were doing blues and rab twice removed in my earliest bands. One of these was called Massapequa Wildcats, I was the guitarist, my singing came later. When I saw the b&w pic of Eddie on the Legendary masters 2lp set, something grabbed me about it. I got a short haircut and greased it back and tried to look like Eddie. I would wear black leather pants and do Lula and Baby Let's Play House. people looked at me like I was crazy! once they heard my music they would stick up for me, " leave him alone he's a good player."
Q What were your earliest rab gigs?
BS I couldn't get a gig doing rab, nobody would hire me , it was disco time! live music around was mainly cover bands with spandex pants and million dollar light rigs. I was doing these old man corner bars that would hold 50, on the South shore of Long Island. I started to get a following, so my brother played drums and we found a stand up bass player.It was starting to come together.
Q Was this the origin of the Stray Cats?
BS Yes that's the origin all right. people would walk past and to get to the bathroom and knock the mike into my lip, I'd have a bloody lip every night. The band members would rotate constantly. During the day I was working on an assembly line putting fake plants into pots and at night I was the Rockabilly rebel!!
Q How did the Stray cats come together?
BS These two cats started coming down all greased up and looking real cool. It turned out to be Jim and Lee. They played drums and stand up too! One night my bass player didn't turn up so i sent Lee home for his. He wasn't slapping it then he played with a bow! I lent him the Elvis SUN sessions and within a week he was slapping it like a mother!! Jim started drumming and we called ourselves the Tom Cats.We only had a small stage that couldn't fit a whole drum kit, Jim looked so good standing up with the snare, bass and one cymbal. It was great he was part of the band standing up.
Q Were you playingoriginal material?
BS No, but we knew anything anyone could hand us! We knew all the Elvis, Buddy songs, to get jobs we had to play covers, even the 50s standards like 16 Candles. We hadn't started writing our own songs yet.
Q You were in the Bloodless Pharaohs?
BS Right, about '78, I was doing that in Manhattan and the Cats to keep alive on Long island. 50 bucks a night with the Cats and less uptown.When the Pharaohs broke up I really got into the rab thing. That's where my heart lies. But we were getting fed up cos the record companies didn't want to know. We heard that in Europe rock n roll had never died, so we decided to go over there for the hell of it. We sold everything, Jim even sold his '66 Pontiac. We went with nothing.
Q Did the hard times continue there?
BS Yeah, i had hard times since moving out of my house when I was 17 (laughs). We had each other ther and we were living. In London we slept in Hyde park or in bum hotels. All good fun. Our first big break came when Dave Edmunds and the Stones came to see us. We really created a buzz and got our Arista deal.
Q How did things change with Runaway Boys in the UK charts?
BS It was hard to believe actually. To see your name in the paper was a real kick. We did our first UK tour, then France, Holland etc. Places where rab had never died. it's amazing over there.
The rest of the lengthy interview focuses on current releases in the US and loadsa technical guitarist stuff, for which you'll have to track down this excellent issue. great pics and a fabgroovy colour pic of Bri and his beloved gretsch on the cover. One pertinent quote in a later question indicated that Brian could play a jazz chord version of Satin Doll or Cherokee1 The first step towards swing and the orchestra perhaps. Also that he lived to be on stage. i'll finish with his perceptive final quote about advice to young bands.
BS I think it's great with all these new rab bands coming out. It's a healthy move away from Styx/ Foreigner(who?) big band line ups (err um?). It's the feel of rnr. If you want to hear the original masters go out and buy Chet Atkins, through the 50s people like Carl, up to Dave Edmunds and us. Listen to that stuff but don't rely on it too heavily. Try to build your own style. Lessons are definitely a plus. They can't hurt and don't worry 'bout playing like your teacher. They help you understand what you're doing, that's the best advice I can give.
OTHER STRAY CAT SITES
My favourite is Anchormans Rock 'n' Roll pages which deals with the Cats, the Brian Setzer Orchestra and George Thorogood. It's constantly updated.
There's some great photos, one of which I've borrowed at http://www.members.xoom.com/Starr30/
An award wining site which concentrates more on the Brian Setzer Orchestra is the excellent http://listen.to/briansetzer
For more on Dave Edmunds and Shakin' Stevens see Phil and Shaun's Welsh pages at the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame together with links to other sites for these two chart acts.
The Jets who were also a hit band in the early eighties have a great up-to-date web-site run by Philip Lane of Swansea, Wales at http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/PHILLIPLANE/director.htm