In 1985, when rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins taped a cable-television special celebrating his career, most of his backing musicians were middle-aged British rockers who’d spent their pimply teen years listening to Perkins’ music on BBC radio in the ’50s: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Dave Edmunds, etc. One of the few exceptions was Lee Rocker, a ducktailed child of a Philharmonic clarinetist father and a music-professor mother, who was born well after “Blue Suede Shoes” completed its chart run. Introducing the slap-happy bassist to the studio audience during that show, Perkins simply added: “He’s tough.”
If toughness is measured by a stubborn allegiance to a musical genre that went out of fashion nearly a half-century ago, Rocker definitely qualifies. With his high-school pals, Brian Setzer and Slim Jim Phantom, he even helped to bring rockabilly back into vogue (and to rub video shoulders with Duran Duran and Adam Ant on a then-new MTV) for a brief period as a member of the Stray Cats. After stints playing with Perkins, a reunited Stray Cats, and session cheese-meister Earl Slick, Rocker recently emerged as a bona fide frontman. Surprisingly, he’s a perfectly serviceable vocalist, with a touch of Peter Case when he drops to his lower register.
Fri, May 19
2410 N. St. Mary’s
Rocker’s latest album, Racin’ The Devil, his first release on the venerable Chicago blues label Alligator Records, won’t stun anyone with its lyrical profundity. It spews out the stock shout-outs to cars, endless American highways, mindless troublemaking, and hellhounds nipping at the strings of Rocker’s double-bass. But on the musical front, Rocker keeps mixing things up, injecting hints of blues, surf, swing, borrowed riffs from “Raunchy” and tongue-in-cheek quotes from the Munsters theme. There’s absolutely nothing new happening here, but the results are fairly appealing, nonetheless. You could say the same about Rocker’s entire career.