Stray Cats

Stray Cats

“We’re gonna rock this town,
Rock it inside out,
We’re gonna rock this town,
Make ’em scream and shout.”

In the 80s, musical styles explored strange new territory, with synthesizers and drum machines adding a mechanical and futuristic texture. But one band decided to look back to their roots to forge a bygone sound that harkened to a simpler time in music, the rockabilly era of Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and the famous Sun sessions of Elvis Presley. With plenty of pomade in their hair, flipped up collars, and simple instrumentation, The Stray Cats were a welcome blast from the past.

Three young and talented musicians, Brian Setzer, Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker, cut their teeth in their home territory of Long Island, New York, in the late 70s but found the audience response to the roots of rock and roll somewhat lukewarm. So they packed up their gear and headed to the more appreciative location of London, where rockabilly was still a beloved genre.

With a sound reminiscent of Bill Haley and the Comets, coupled with high-energy performances, they captured the ear of producer Dave Edmunds and soon after, released their first album in the UK in 1991, simply called Stray Cats. And for their efforts, they landed three hits, “Rock This Town,” “Runaway Boys” and “Stray Cat Strut.” Not long after, they were the opening act for the touring Rolling Stones and the rest of the world began to take notice of the trio.

The returned to the States in 1982, inked a deal with EMI America, and released the album, Built For Speed, which featured both “Stray Cat Strut” and Rock This Town.” Attuned to the emerging popularity of a new station called MTV, they released videos of both songs, both of which showed off the band dressed to the hilt in retro 50s attire, the look accentuated by their prominent, pomade-filled pompadour hair.

The album sold 2 million units and upon it’s success, they released their second offering, Rant N’ Rave with the Stray Cats in 1983. The album soon produced another Top-10 hit for the group, “She’s Sexy + 17.” Another song, the smooth harmony-filled ballad, “I Won’t Stand In Your Way” proved to be another radio favorite. And, in the midst of all of the growing popularity and recognition, The Stray Cats quietly called it quits. Well, sort of.

Guitarist Brian Setzer embarked on a solo career, as well as playing with Stevie Nicks and Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant in his new band, The Honeydrippers. Meanwhile Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker hooked up with noted hired-gun guitarist Earl Slick to form Phantom, Rocker and Slick. Both endeavors were somewhat short-lived, however, and by 1986, The Stray Cats had reformed. They recorded a quartet of lukewarm-received albums, Rock Therapy, Blast Off, Let’s Go Faster and Original Cool (consisting entirely of cover material) and then promptly disbanded again.

Setzer formed the Brian Setzer Orchestra, which highlighted his affection for the jazz/swing era and produced the hit single, “Jump, Jive, An’ Wail” and it seemed that the days of The Stray Cats were but a memory. But time has a funny way of making one long for the past and, in 2004, the band reunited after being apart for twelve years, embarking on a month-long European Tour.

The Stray Cats released a live album the same year called Rumble in Brixton, which also included a new studio track called “Mystery Train Kept A Rollin.’” And in 2007, they took to the road with ZZ Top and The Pretenders, giving American audiences another glimpse of the loveable rockers reminiscent of a bygone era – where simple melodies, walking stand-up bass lines and greased-up hair reigned supreme.

If you are a fan of this decidedly retro trio, we welcome all of your cool Stray Cats memories in our comments section below.

One Response to “Stray Cats”

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  1. I love reading about the Stary Cats. A matter of fact I’m in a Stray Cat tribute band and I can tell you their music is missed. Every time we play (the strange cats) we turn people on their ears with the punked up rockabilly which was their music.
    Also it should be noted that rockabilly is a very dificult animal to play. I had been playing guitar for 25 years and in order to try to get those great Setzer licks, I had to get guitar lessons!
    When we play, everybody is on their feet. I feel honored to tributize this great Rock band.

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