By May 28, 2019 Read More →

Stray Cat Lee Rocker

Interview: The Stray Cat Lee Rocker
By Middagh Goodwin

Lee Rocker is celebrating 40 years of music with his band the Stray Cats with a new album 40 which just came out and a world tour scheduled. Before he embarks on this momentous occasion, he will be bringing his band to the Gallo Center on June 8th right amid Graffiti-Summer. Fans of Rock n’ Roll, blues and of course Rockabilly will not want to miss this performance. A Grammy-nominated performer with 14 solo albums, ten albums with the Stray Cats(garnering 23 gold and platinum records worldwide) and two LPs with Phantom, Rocker & Slick(Earl Slick of David Bowie’s band.) Rocker was gracious enough to do a 30-minute phone interview for ModestoView. Lee Rocker and his band will be performing at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 8th.

MG-So this is your second time playing Modesto?
LR-It is it has been a number of years, but we will be up with you guys on June 8th at the Gallo Center.

MG-The Gallo is a fantastic room, not that the State isn’t a beautiful and classic theatre. I think you will really like the room. 
LR-We are looking forward to playing there actually.

MG-You are playing smacked dab in the middle of Graffiti-Summer, are you planning on making it out to the American Graffiti Car show while you are in town?
LR-I hope so, sounds perfect.

MG-Back in 1979 you started a band with your neighbors, the Stray Cats, 40 years ago now. You have a new Stray Cats album out as well.
LR-Yes right it is the 40th Anniversary of the Stray Cats, amazingly, it doesn’t feel that long. This Summer we have a new album coming out(May 24th) titled 40 that I am super happy with followed by a European tour and then some US dates. This show in Modesto with my Lee Rocker Band. Is right before I pick up and spend the summer with my buddies in the Stray Cats.

MG-What can we expect with your show here in Modesto?
LR-Well I will tell you, what I do in concert is, I looked over my career, obviously starting with the Stray Cats, but other bands that I did from Phantom, Rocker & Slick in the 80’s Earl Slick was David Bowie and John Lennon’s guitarist. My years playing with Carl Perkins and Scotty Moore joined my band for a while. What I have done is cherry picked music, that I have been involved with over the last 40 years and put it together into a concert. It is more than just a show in a sense, we have film, and still photos, and I tell stories about being on the road and how things started. A glimpse behind the curtain, kind of a behind the music thing. It is multimedia and stories and of course the concert, but there is so much more than that. I have been doing this the last couple of years in these beautiful theatres and performing arts centres, and it is incredible, something I have worked towards a long time from being on stage, doing radio and on Broadway, I have taken a lot of these experiences in my career and combined them into this one concert. 

MG-Some of my favorite shows are when you hear the stories, I booked Ian McLagan a few years back just before he passed away, and that guy was a storyteller. To listen to him tell stories about his years with the Faces and Rod Stewart; all the little details the inside look you would never get was just marvelous and inspiring. 
LR-Exactly, these kinds of places like the Gallo Center are the ideal places to do that for artists, that is what I have been loving doing, for me as a musician and artist, it gives me a great contrast from what I am now doing again with the Stray Cats. You don’t have that same component in a rock concert. This is a different kind of thing. We overlap of course, and actually, Ian McLagan played on one of the Phantom, Rocker & Slick records. That brings back some memories right there. 

MG-You have played with just about everyone over the years so I will ask this question now. Our publisher, Chris Murphy’s typical final question. The Beatles or Rolling Stones? I know you have performed with both so that could be a hard one.
LR-You are putting me in a tough spot right there. The Stray Cats toured with the Rolling Stones. The Stones were very early supporters of the band, and Keith Richard played on the Phantom, Rocker and Slick record, and I talk about that live in this show. Beatles I have worked with both Harrison and Ringo together and separately so I can’t pick a favorite. 

MG-This might be just as hard to answer, I wanted to mix things up. I know you have played with members of both. Carl Perkins or Elvis Presley.
LR-You are cutting me up here. I love them both. Carl is a dear, dear friend and we did everything from concerts, and I played on his last record called, Go Cat Go, which is a fantastic record. It is a buried treasure in a lot of ways. I am sorry I can’t give you an answer. I loved Carl. Similarly with Scotty Moore, besides touring a lot and spending so much time together, I played on his last record called All the Kings Men. So it is funny I am right down the middle with these.

MG-I have to agree it hard to pick especially for me between Presley and Perkins but I might lean a little bit more towards Carl, but Scotty Moore was such a great guitarist.
LR-I agree Carl was such a powerhouse in the fact that he was, I guess you could call him a classic triple threat, great singer, a great writer and great guitar player. In a lot of ways he was one of that generation, in the 50’s one the few people to do that, after him, that became the norm. Presley didn’t write, he played an acoustic here and there, but he wasn’t an instrumentalist. You know after Carl you got the Beatles, and then you got everyone else. 

MG-What are some of the biggest thrills that you have had performing? You have played with Scotty Moore, members of the Beatles, toured with Rolling Stones. Maybe outside of this group that everyone would think, what has been one of the biggest thrills of your four-decade-long career? 
LR-That is a good question, and I do touch on a lot of this at the concert. Musically I had an amazing night, a number of years ago I got invited up to Woodstock, NY, to do a thing called the Midnight Ramble. The Midnight Ramble was Levon Helm’s thing he did at the Barn, a concert at his studio every Saturday night near the end of his life when he was performing and singing incredibly but was not touring any longer. So every Saturday night in the Barn he would do a concert. Going up there and playing with them, there was just real chemistry, and it was just a magical night. I now do one of his songs every night since that night; it was really that impactful to me. It really impacted and stayed with me, and I do think about it often. What I do with my band and at these concerts enables me to touch on these things and also forces me to think back and forward about where the important moments were and are.

MG-I am looking forward to hearing your stories. I am not sure if you know or not, but Modesto is the home of the Maddox Brothers and Rose. Fred Maddox is credited with the “Slap Bass” style that helped define Rockabilly and which you have continued. Who are some of the other influences on you, other than your parents who are musicians?
LR-Yeah both my parents are classical musicians, my dad was in the NY Philharmonic for 61 years, we both got nominated for Grammys the same year, only the second time in the history to happen. As far as influences on my playing, looking at bass players, I would say Willie Dixon is a huge influence, maybe the most. His style of slap bass and also the fact that he was a record producer, a writer a singer and one of the greats. If I picked one that would be it. Other bass players that I love, electric players would be McCartney, I love his melodic turns throughout the low end and interesting clever parts. Then jazz players, Ray Brown, for example, Mingus. I love clever bass playing and interesting ways of looking at things.

MG-You have had a very successful career, with the Stray Cats, Phantom, Rocker & Slick, what is it 14 solo albums out? It is rare in music for somebody to have that kind of sustainability, especially, producing music on their own. You are always touring, releasing new material, performing with others; it is pretty incredible. I know I am looking forward to seeing you again when you play the Gallo on June 8th.
LR-Yes I have been busy. Thanks for the support, please come back and say hello.

MG-Thank you for your time, is there anything you want our readers to know about, anything coming up?
LR-Absolutely, keep your eyes peeled, check my website and social media. I have some great new music, Lee Rocker music that I am working on now that will be coming out over the summer as well. Have the Stray Cats album 40 that comes out May 24th. So keep looking because there is a lot of other things happening.

About the Author:

Middagh Goodwin LIVES Music. He has been booking and promoting Music, Art, and Comedy in the Central Valley for years. He ran the award-winning Plea for Peace Center in Stockton for 5 Years and has booked bands from A-Z. In addition, he is the managing editor of ModestoView and writes the MAMAView and GeekView. Middagh works with the Modesto Area Music Association and books Music in the Plaza. In addition, he owns and operates Graffiti-Con, where cars and pop culture intersects. More recently, Middagh has been working with the Graffiti USA Classic Car Museum, helping to create unique events that help raise funds and awareness of the museum and its mission. On top of that, you can tune into one of two shows that Middagh Goodwin hosts on KCBP 95.5 FM; This is SKA and MAMA Radio.