“Stray Cat Strut”, Stray Cats (1981/82)
Brian Setzer was not following the fads in the early eighties – well maybe the looks a bit, but the music he liked, some thought was out of style. Rockabilly was a late fifties and early sixties phenomena that had long lost its momentum when Setzer, his bass player, Lee Rocker, and drummer Slim Jim Phantom, thrust it back into the spotlight.
In the style of his heroes, Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent and even Elvis himself, Setzer set out to share his love of this music of rebel bad-boy stuff. Formed in Long Island New York in 1980, but having heard there was a resurgence of the Teddy Boy in the U.K. they moved to England. It did not take long before they were noticed by Dave Edmunds known for his love of rock roots music. He produced them and they produced “Stray Cats” their first album on Arista in 1981 in the U.K. This conceived 3 hits in the U.K. including, “Rock This Town”, “Runaway Boys”, and my favourite “Stray Cat Strut”. Their follow-up “Gonna Ball”, fell flat, but the U.S. compilation of these two albums called “Built for Speed”, went double platinum in the North America becoming number 2 on Billboard and staying there for 26 weeks in 1982. Setzer and the boys had clearly found the magic rockabilly formula
Bands like Led Zeppelin, the Who, The Stones, went to their concerts and loved them, but the success they had caused personal conflict within the band and it shattered them. Phantom married Brit Ekland (former wife of Rod Stewart and Peter Sellers), and Brian Setzer went on to work in the ‘Honeydrippers’ which was Robert Plants side project at the time.
Setzer was instrumental in the nineties swing band revival with his “Brian Setzer Orchestra” which had a major impact. The Stray Cats have reunited from time to time but the impact they left for such a short-lived band is quite extraordinary. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in fact considers “Rock This Town” one of the 500 most important songs in rock history.