Rockabilly fans, rejoice! Stray Cat Lee Rocker plays Suffolk Theater on July 8, bringing his signature high energy tunes to the East End.
“The show at the Suffolk Theater is going to be songs from throughout my entire career, featuring all of my Stray Cats hits including ‘Rock this Town,’ ‘Stray Cat Strut,’ ‘(She’s) Sexy + 17,’ ‘I Won’t Stand in Your Way,’ and also songs from my band Phantom, Rocker and Slick,” says Rocker, a Long Island native. “In addition to classic rock ’n’ roll, I tell stories of my life and things that have happened on the road and in the studio.”
Rocker was catapulted to fame after he joined forces with Massapequa school friends, the drummer James McDonnell, known by his stage name Slim Jim Phantom, and guitarist Brian Setzer, to form The Stray Cats in 1979. Rocker had just purchased an upright bass. The band starting rehearsing in his dad’s garage, but they moved to London in 1980, where the name Stray Cats stuck. The U.K. scene was ripe for their retro style. Returning to the U.S., they re-popularized blues and rockabilly, with Rocker on the double bass.” [Being with the Stray Cats] was like being shot out of a cannon. I was 17 years old when we got our first record deal.”
The Stray Cats went on to release 10 albums, selling nearly 10 million copies, with 23 gold and platinum certified records worldwide. Their American debut Built for Speed was among their most successful in the States, featuring songs like “Rock this Town” and “Stray Cat Strut” that had already been released on two albums in the U.K. The Stray Cats were among the bands that pioneered music videos, as the launch of MTV coincided with their initial success. In 1982, Rocker was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist.
The band broke up and got back together several times over the years, with their most recent reunion in 2009. “We’re still friends and I’m sure we’ll rock together again,” says Rocker. In the mid-80s, Rocker, McDonnell and guitarist Earl Slick formed the band Phantom, Rocker and Slick. The trio released two albums—Phantom, Rocker & Slick and Cover Girl. They stayed together until 1986.
Rocker has continued to play, becoming an influential ambassador for music and rockabilly. “My sound is rooted in rockabilly, the most original and pure form of rock ’n’ roll,” he says.
In 2011, Rocker joined the cast of Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet, a show about the December 4, 1956 Memphis recording session that turned into an impromptu jam session involving Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Rocker played Carl Perkins’s brother and bass player Jay Perkins. That same year, Rocker released The Cover Sessions EP, putting his twist on classic 1970s radio hits.
The following year, Rocker released his solo album Night Train to Memphis, which features classic rockabilly. “Night Train to Memphis was a return to my roots. I’ve played music with everyone from Carl Perkins to Keith Richards to George Harrison to Willie Nelson. It’s an album of me having fun, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”
Now, Rocker returns to his hometown roots. “I’m a Long Island guy,” he says. “I love being back home where it all started for me.” The show at Suffolk is about “No tricks, no smoke, no mirrors. It’s just four guys playing our hearts out.”
Stray Cat Lee Rocker comes to Suffolk Theater, 118 East Main Street, Riverhead on Saturday, July 8. The show starts at 8 p.m. Doors, bar and restaurant open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and additional information, visit suffolktheater.com or call 631-727-4343.