Stray Cats were an American rockabilly band formed in 1979 by guitarist and vocalist Brian Setzer, double bassist Lee Rocker, and drummer Slim Jim Phantom in the Long Island town of Massapequa, New York. The group had numerous hit singles in the UK, Australia, Canada and the U.S. including "Stray Cat Strut", "(She's) Sexy + 17", "Look at That Cadillac," "I Won't Stand in Your Way", "Bring it Back Again", and "Rock This Town", which the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has listed as one of the songs that shaped rock and roll.
Formation and move to UK
The group, whose style was based upon the sounds of Sun Records artists and other artists from the 1950s, were heavily influenced by Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent and Bill Haley & His Comets. The Stray Cats quickly developed a large following in the New York music scene playing at CBGB and Max's Kansas City as well as venues on Long Island. When the Cats heard a rumor that there was a revival of the 1950s Teddy Boy youth subculture in England, the band moved to the UK. They then spearheaded the nascent rockabilly revival, by blending the 1950s Sun Studio sound with modern punk musical elements. In terms of visual style, the Stray Cats also blended elements of 1950 rockabilly clothes, such as wearing drape jackets, brothel creepers and western shirts with punk clothes, such as tight black zipper trousers and modern versions of 1950s hair styles.
The band first appeared in the middle of 1979 performing under a number of names including the Tomcats, the Teds, and Bryan and the Tom Cats. Since 1983 they have used only "Stray Cats" as their name. The band name "Stray Cats" had already earlier appeared in the 1973 rock 'n' roll film That'll Be the Day and its 1974 sequel Stardust.
In the middle of 1980 the Cats found themselves being courted by record labels including Virgin Records, Stiff Records and Arista Records. Word quickly spread and soon members of The Rolling Stones, The Who and Led Zeppelin were at their shows. After a gig in London, Stray Cats met producer Dave Edmunds, well known as a roots rock enthusiast for his work with Rockpile and as a solo artist. Edmunds offered to work with the group, and they entered the studio to record their self-titled debut album, Stray Cats, released in Britain in 1981 on Arista Records. They had three hits that year with "Runaway Boys", "Rock This Town", and "Stray Cat Strut". The UK follow-up to Stray Cats, Gonna Ball, was not as well-received, providing no hits. Yet the combined sales of their first two albums were enough to convince EMI America to compile the best tracks from the two UK albums and issue an album (Built for Speed) in the U.S. in 1982. The record went on to sell double platinum in the US and Canada and was the No. 2 record on the Billboard album charts for 26 weeks.
Breakup and reunions
Musical and personal conflicts began to emerge in the ways that the individual members handled their new-found success; Phantom married actress Britt Ekland, while Setzer made guest appearances with stars like Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks and became the concert guitarist for Robert Plant's Honeydrippers side project. In late 1984, the band added former BMT's guitarist and Long Island native Tommy Byrnes on second guitar and harmony vocals, and after a European and US tour which ended at the New Orleans World's Fair, parted ways. Reflecting in 2012, Setzer said "it was silly to break up the Stray Cats at the peak of our success".
Rocker and Phantom formed a trio called Phantom, Rocker & Slick (the "Slick" being former David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick) whose debut album contained the single "Men Without Shame"; guest musicians on this record included both Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and pianist Nicky Hopkins. Setzer went on to a solo career, retaining Byrnes and exchanging his rockabilly focus for a more wide-ranging roots rock/Americana sound on albums such as 1986's The Knife Feels Like Justice. In 1986, the Stray Cats reunited in Los Angeles, and recorded the covers-heavy Rock Therapy. In 1989, they reunited once again for the album Blast Off!, which was accompanied by a tour with US blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. No longer with EMI America, they entered the studio with Nile Rodgers for the record titled Let's Go Faster, issued by Liberation in 1990. After 1992's Dave Edmunds-produced Choo Choo Hot Fish, and the cover album Original Cool, the group called it quits again.
In 2004, the Stray Cats reunited for a month-long tour of Europe. A live album culled from those concerts, Rumble in Brixton, included one new studio track, "Mystery Train Kept A Rollin'." In 2007, they reunited once again for a successful and long-awaited US tour with ZZ Top and The Pretenders. This was their first North American tour in over 15 years. In the 2000s, the band toured Europe as part of their Farewell Tour.
In 2008, for the first time in 18 years, the Stray Cats visited Australia and New Zealand which included several consecutive sold out shows of their Farewell (Australia) Tour. In April 2009 the band reunited for a single show to celebrate Brian's 50th birthday at the Fine Line Music Café in Minneapolis, MN.
Band members' follow-up careers
The Stray Cats have reunited periodically for live performances. Setzer is still part of his 1990s swing-revival band The Brian Setzer Orchestra. Setzer also worked as executive producer on Drake Bell's rockabilly revival album Ready Steady Go! Rocker continued recording and touring throughout the 1990s and on to today. His albums include Black Cat Bone and Racin' the Devil on Alligator records as well as Bulletproof.
In addition to the Stray Cats, Rocker has recorded or performed with Carl Perkins, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, Scotty Moore, Keith Richards and numerous others. Slim Jim Phantom plays the drums in another rockabilly band, 13 Cats, as well as the Rock and Roll band The Head Cat with Lemmy (Motörhead) and Danny B. Harvey (13 Cats, RocKats). He is also an active member of the Love Hope Strength Foundation, a charitable organization which was co-founded by Mike Peters of The Alarm, and which raises funds for cancer units.
The band was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on October 15, 2006.
In 2007, Slim Jim Phantom formed Kat Men with Imelda May guitarist Darrel Higham.
Brian Setzer – lead guitar, lead vocals, percussion (1979–1984, 1986–1993, 2004–2009)
Lee Rocker – double bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals (1979–1984, 1986–1993, 2004–2009)
Slim Jim Phantom – drums, percussion, backing vocals (1979–1984, 1986–1993, 2004–2009)