Lee Rocker: Stray Cat Arrives to Rock This Town
The lasting influence of Memphis, Tennessee’s Sun Records on the landscape of American music is still evident today. The music of Sun artists like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis continues to inspire new generations of fans who love the purity and simplicity of the rockabilly records that defined the Sun sound.
Such was the case in 1979 when bassist Lee Rocker teamed up with guitarist/vocalist Brian Setzer and drummer Slim Jim Phantom to form The Stray Cats, ushering in a chart-rocking rockabilly revival that swept the globe.
“We knew the band was connecting,” said Rocker, who was 17 when Stray Cats signed its first record contract. “We felt it when we played and knew it worked. One night there would be 20 people, then 40 the next, then 100. We just didn’t know where it was going to go from there.”
As unlikely as it seems, the Stray Cats initially gained notoriety by performing in clubs like CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City, which were known more for hosting seminal punk and new wave artists like Talking Heads, Blondie and The Ramones, before heading off to Britain to provide the soundtrack for a revitalized 1950s-style Teddy Boy youth subculture. To their credit, Rocker and his band mates managed to fuse the Sun sound with a rockabilly fashion sensibility and punk attitude to create a hybrid all their own. Together, the Grammy-nominated Stray Cats sold nearly 10 million albums, generating 23 gold and platinum certified records worldwide on the strength of hits like “Rock This Town,” “(She’s) Sexy and 17,” and “Stray Cat Strut.” In 2019, the Stray Cats released their aptly named studio album, 40, to commemorate their 40th anniversary.
As a solo artist, Rocker has continued to enjoy an active career, recording and performing with the likes of Carl Perkins, George Harrison, Ringo Star, Keith Richards, Willy Nelson and John Fogerty. In 2013, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Bass Player magazine, acknowledging the impact of his genre-defining bass-slapping style. Most recently, he’s penned and recorded the song “Dog House Shuffle,” a tribute to the instrument that has fueled his career.
“It’s a song about the upright bass, also known as the dog house bass,” said Rocker. “I’ve been doing this for 40 years and that bass has taken me around the world many times. I started to think about the bass players of the past, heroes like Willie Dixon and Bill Black, the original bass player with Elvis. It wrote it as a tribute to the instrument I play and the players who came before me.”
For his upcoming show at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre December 11th, Rocker and bandmates will be delivering a high-energy set of Stray Cat classics and rockabilly standards from the likes of Carl Perkins, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys and Johnny Burnette, with some other recognizable rock and roll era favourites for good measure. It’s the perfect night out for music fans who appreciate a blast of Sun on a cold December night in St. Catharines.
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“It’s really a concert of cherry picked songs from throughout my career, from Stray Cats to Lee Rocker solo records, but also songs picked for specific reasons. Every song in the concert I have a deep connection to. But it’s more than just a concert. We’ve got videos and photos, and I get to tell the stories of the songs and of being on the road to tie it all together. It’s a concert, but there’s definitely a whole other thing to it.”