Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lee Rocker plays SoCal in support of 'Night Train to Memphis'

Lee Rocker is best known as a member of the Stray Cats, for which he played wild standup bass guitar during the rockabilly band's 1980s heyday and frequently during the intervening decades.

The Grammy-nominated group including Brian Setzer and Slim Jim Phantom scored top 10 singles with "Stray Cat Strut," "Rock This Town" and "(She's) Sexy + 17," sold nearly 10 million albums and amassed nearly two dozen gold and platinum record certifications worldwide.

Since then, Rocker has released a dozen solo studio or live albums and EPs.

Last year, he appeared in the hit Broadway musical "Million Dollar Quartet" - inspired by the legendary 1956 recording session at Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and others.

Rocker played Perkins' brother and bass player, Jay Perkins. "The story [was] especially close to my heart," says Rocker, who was a close friend and musical collaborator of Perkins up until his death.

2011 also saw the release of the Cover Sessions EP, where Rocker put his Americana twist on classic rock radio hits like The Beatles' "Come Together," Elton John's "Honky Cat" and Allman Brothers' "Ramblin' Man."

Now Rocker is back with another new effort. Night Train to Memphis is classic rockabilly done in his trademark style. The proceedings kick off with a fast take on Johnny and Dorsey Burnette's "Rockabilly Boogie." There are spirited covers of '50s numbers "Real Wild Child," "Twenty Flight Rock," Perkins' "Honey Don't" and "That's Alright Mama/Blue Moon."

On the more contemplative side are Buddy Holly's "Lonesome Tears" and the Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do is Dream" and "So Sad." 

"It is a record that I've wanted to make for a very long time," Rocker says in the biographical notes. "Like an album spinning on a turntable at 33 1/3 RPMs, this is my 33rd year of playing music. Night Train to Memphis is the soundtrack of my life. These songs are tattooed on my soul. Rockabilly music grabbed this kid from New York, shook me, spun me round and rattled my brains. I was never the same again.

"At 16 years old, I got myself an upright bass fiddle and I started a band. We would practice in my dad's garage next to the Olds Delta 88. We would play until my fingers bled. I didn't mind one bit. The music hasn't released me yet and I know it never will. In the summer of 1980, the band moved to London and we called ourselves the 'Stray Cats.' I got to say it's been one a hell of a trip. Over the years, I devoured everything I could about rockabilly and I've played or recorded with the musical architects and pioneers, including Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore, Wanda Jackson, Levon Helm, as well as George Harrison and Ringo Starr - the Mount Rushmore of Rock and Roll. Hey, dreams do come true.

"The songs on Night Train to Memphis are classics from the early days of rock with the "Stray Cat, Lee Rocker" stamp on them. I recorded this disc in a similar way as they did back at Sun Studio, the birthplace of rockabilly, relying on spirit, energy and passion, not on studio tricks and gimmicks. Night Train to Memphis takes me right where I want to be, and where I've always been happiest. Get on board!"

At the Coach House, it's a good bet that fans will hear Cats classics, the new album songs and ones made famous by Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and The Beatles. Rocker's live band typically includes guitarist Buzz Campbell, guitarist/slide player Brophy Dale and drummer Jimmy Sage.

Doors open at 6 p.m. for dinner, showtime is 8 p.m. Saturday, March 3, the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, $18. For more info or dinner reservations, call (949) 496-8930.

Other upcoming SoCal shows include Marquee 15 in Corona on April 14, The High Desert Music Festival at the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds in Victorville on May 27, Irvine Blues Festival on June 30. 

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