Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran were both great '50's Rockers. And while each
had a deep catalog of first generation Rock 'n' Roll, Vincent was primarily known for "Be-Bop-A-Lula" and Cochran for "Summertime Blues." That's also the case for a band heavily influenced by both Cochran and Vincent, the Stray Cats.
Starting in Long Island, NY, the band consisted of Brian Setzer (guitar), Lee Rocker (stand-up bass) and Slim Jim Phantom (drums). By far, Setzer was the focal point. Not only was he the guitarist, vocalist, and main songwriter, he had the look of trouble. The countless tattoos didn't hurt the image. The Stray Cats played Rockabilly influenced originals and covers with such verve they were offered a UK tour. However, once there, they found the tour had been cancelled as well as their accommodations. A lesser band might have packed its gear and gone home. But the Stray Cats hit the London club circuit with a vengeance working their way to opening for Elvis Costello. They also garnered record label attention. The Stray Cats first UK album, with the classic "Rock This Town" was an invigorating Rockabilly romp, especially with numerous tracks being produced by Dave Edmunds. Their second UK album "Gonna Ball" was released while they were busy touring Europe and Australia opening for the Rolling Stones.
By '82, the band had signed a U.S. record deal and "Built For Speed," which was a compilation of UK material was unleashed. Again, "Rock This Town" led the way (both the song and the highly visual video starring Setzer). Also on the CD was "Stray Cat Strut." While not as memorable as "Rock This Town," it did better on the singles charts - for whatever that's worth. Speaking of the charts, "Built For Speed" was kept out of the top album spot by both the forgettable Aussie pop of Men At Work and Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
The follow up, coming a year later, "Rant and Rave with the Stray Cats" featured "(She's) Sexy + 17." Edmunds returned as the producer. By '84 the party was over. Setzer released his solo CD "The Knife Feels Like Justice" while Phantom and Rocker joined ex-Bowie guitarist Earl Slick for Phantom, Rocker and Slick. Throughout the '80s, the Stray Cats got together for short tours and one off shows. They even recorded a couple of CDs but failed to ignite much interest. Of course, Setzer went on to take the Stray Cats' sound and augment it with horns for the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker also continued to record, as solos and as part of Phantom, Rocker & Slick.
Stray Cats Albums:
1981 Stray Cats
1981 Gonna Ball
1982 Built For Speed - #2 US
1983 Rant N' Rave With The Stray Cats - #14 US
1986 Rock Therapy
1989 Blast Off!
1990 Let's Go Faster!
1990 The Best Of The Stray Cats: Rock This Town
1994 Choo Choo Hot Fish
1999 Original Cool
2004 Rumble In Brixton
They came and went quickly, but while they were around the Stray Cats were a lot of retro fun. "Built For Speed" is one hot CD with "Rock This Town" and "Stray Cat Strut." The follow-up "Rant 'n' Rave is good but not in "Built For Speed's" league. By the third album, "Rock Therapy," the Stray Cats' Rockabilly approach has worn thin. However, "Blast Off, released three years later ('89), is a masterful CD that went unrecognized. It was not a case of too little, too late - just too late. There are a couple Stray Cat compilations but "Built For Speed" is the one to get.