Brian Setzer - guitar, vocals; Lee Rocker (Leon Drucker) - bass, vocals, harmonica; Slim Jim Phantom (James McDonnell) - drums
Amidst the synthesizer-heavy sounds of rock, a punk/new wave scene in full throttle and the heavy metal bands dominating the music scene in the early 1980s came the unmistakable rockabilly sounds of Long Island's the Stray Cats. Totally out of context with the times, Brian Setzer, along with his two school buddies, Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker, were openly rejecting the bombastic sounds of modern music and thoroughly embracing a more direct sound associated with the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Stray Cats influences, unlike most of their contemporaries, pointed directly to the classic 1950s era of Sun Records, as well as being heavily influenced by the likes of Bill Haley & the Comets, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. Armed with the bare essentials of that era, a 1959 hollow-body Gretsch guitar, a stand-up acoustic bass, a snare drum, a floor tom and a few cymbals, the trio took to reinventing rockabilly for a new generation of young rebels frustrated and disgusted with the excesses of rock's status quo.
Other groups had taken to rockabilly, such as The Cramps and Alex Chilton, but nobody took it quite to the extreme of the Stray Cats. Setzer wasn't simply exploiting a pre-existing genre, he was a true rockabilly evangelist, whose exuberant devotion was obvious. Unlike other rockabilly revival attempts in the punk age, Setzer and friends clearly understood that rockabilly was originally a force of adolescent sexuality and senselessness and their reinvention was thoroughly directed toward pure teenage fun.
The songs that initially established the band's reputation are right here, like the fast and furious "Rumble In Brighton," the band's signature "Stray Cat Strut" and "Rock This Town" and all are far more engaging than their studio counterparts. The latter song, with its hard-driving rhythm section and Cochrane/Vincent-like vocals, as well as "Fishnet Stocking," played back to back later in the set, exemplify the band's understanding that this music is intended as pure fun and not to be a cerebral experience. The Stray Cats want you to forget whatever pressing issues are clouding your mind and just get up and groove.
Other highlights include the back to back car songs, "Built For Speed" and "Rev It Up And Go," a fine Chuck Berry-style rocker, as well as several choice covers. Eddie Cochran's "C'Mon Everybody," "Jeanie Jeanie Jeanie" and "Something Else" are all featured in this set and are fitting tributes to one of the group's primary inspirations. They also tackle Chuck Berry's "Beautiful Delilah" and even venture into the 1960s for a remarkably infectious take on the Motown classic, "You Can't Hurry Love."
This December 1982 recording, captured by the King Biscuit Flower Hour and broadcast (in part) the following year, captures the Stray Cats near the peak of popularity and at the height of their powers. Here one can enjoy the complete unedited performance from beginning to end. Right from the start, it's quite easy to see what made such a retro-oriented band so refreshing in 1982. Brian Setzer is such an expressive, energetic guitarist and Phantom and Rocker such an enthusiastic rhythm section, that one can't help but be drawn in by the immediacy of this music.