Lee Rocker is best known as the bassist for the 1980s era rockabilly trio the Stray Cats, which had hits like “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut.” He has recorded or performed with Carl Perkins, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, Keith Richards, John Fogerty, and Scotty Moore.
Sound Observations With Lee Rocker
Bassist Lee Rocker may be 30 years behind the times, but it works for him.
Back when his first band, the Stray Cats began in the early 1980s, Lee and fellow members Brian Setzer and Slim Jim Phantom were inspired by the rockabilly artists of the 1950s.
Now that he’s touring on his own, he’s getting inspiration from the music he did 30 years ago.
“I had a realization recently,” Rocker said. “Every time you play a song live, you play it differently than you did before. So after 30 years, that song sounds changes completely. I went back to the original Stray Cats songs and now we are performing them as closely to what I did when I recorded them.”
Rockabilly buffs will have a chance to hear what he means September 25 at Anthology, but he promises he’s not trying to merely reduplicate the past.
“Those early records had a spark and energy – and it’s still there,” he said. “The key to music is always playing it like it’s the first time. If you have joy it comes through.”
Like many artists, Rocker avoided listening closely to his music for years, preferring to focus on the newer stuff.
“I didn’t listen to it for a while, so I was surprised at how far away the versions we did got away from the originals,” Rocker said.
Unlike the Stray Cats, which was a trio, Lee Rocker’s current band is a four-piece: two guitars, drums and him on bass.
It may be roots rockabilly at his finest, but Rocker freely admits that he is also influenced by his Dad, Stanley Drucker, who was a professional classical clarinetist for the New York Philharmonic for six decades before recently retiring.
“Because of my parents, I started out on cello, piano and learned to read and write music,” he said. “Of course, I had bass lessons, but being around my dad taught me discipline and how to practice and, most important to what I’m doing now, how to make things fresh.”
If family is important to Rocker’s music, so is California, where he makes his home.
“California has been very important to my career,” he said. “When our first U.S. album, ‘Built For Speed’ was released, it sold really well here. In fact, I remember my manager telling me it went it gold just from sales in California. It eventually sold 3 million records in the other 49 states, but we never forgot that it went gold just in this state alone. The music and the state continue to be a good match.”
By David Moye