When Cave Catt Sammy brought its much-anticipated show to one of the band's favorite haunts, Casbeers, the view from the stage must have been a strange menagerie of rockabilly fans: On the dance floor twirled young dancers — men sporting greased-back coiffs and cuffed blue jeans, and women done up in black pumps, vintage dresses, and red lipstick; to the left, a chain-smoking biker couple wearing Harley-Davidson shirts hunched over their beers and bounced their heads to every song; and upfront, drummer Paul Ward's family crowded around a table, somewhat mesmerized, to watch the band celebrate the release of their third album, Love Me Like Crazy.
The quartet — who, just a few songs into the first set, were already undoing the top buttons of their shirts and drinking water by the gallon on the cozy, hot stage — immediately turned up the heat on the packed crowd with several rockabilly numbers, "Sticky Fingers," "Doggone, She's Gone," and a hilarious Jerry Reed cover, "Money Makes You Pretty," with the infamous line, "Money makes you pretty and loot makes you cute ..."
The April 6 Casbeers gig was one of about 250 shows the band is scheduled to perform across the globe this year. Cave Catt Sammy's growing reputation as one of rockabilly's finest new bands rests on the shoulders of acoustic guitarist Dustin Hutchinson and Ward, who anchor the solid rhythm and beat; Steve Scott, who throws down a barrage of rockabilly, country, and jazz guitar ranging from psychotic Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West licks to the sweet thumb style picking of Merle Travis and Chet Atkins; and singer Beau Sample, who writes the band's original numbers, delivering the drive with his 1951 Kay upright bass.
Formed in 1997, by four MacArthur High School students, Cave Catt Sammy has spent the last five years sharpening its musical skills and steering its way through the dangerous curves of the music business. Hard work and smart moves have earned the band a new record company, the New-York-based Rubric, a relentless touring schedule, and a rabid following among rockabilly fans around the country. Cave Catt Sammy performs nearly all year, and endures all the rigors of such a schedule: endless drives, smoky bars, and questionable sleeping accommodations. But as Sample says, "It beats staying at home."
Recording has been a learning experience for the band — and not always a pleasant one. The group produced its first album, Fast Cars & Smoky Bars when the boys were still in high school. Discouraged by the results, they felt that the recording didn't show the strengths of the band. On the second album, Comin' On Strong, the band suffered a bad case of nerves. "We were uptight because we felt like we had to prove ourselves," Sample explains. Still, Comin' On Strong turned out to be a very good record, due primarily to the band's tight musicianship and Sample's songwriting and singing — which, if you close your eyes, you'd swear was straight off an Eddie Cochran album. "It was good," acknowledges Sample, "but it just didn't have the fire, the energy that we wanted."
Love Me Like Crazy delivered the burn the band had been searching for. "This one definitely has more energy, more of a live feel," Sample remarks. "I think it's because we understand the studio better. We went into this recording a lot more relaxed."
Sample wrote 11 of the 14 songs on the new record, and sings all of them. Most are rockabilly dance numbers, such as "She Loves Her Man, "Jumpin' Jack," and "Ducktail," plus a country ballad, "Raining Honey" and a jazz cut titled "Brown Haired Girl," which is reminiscent of a Nat King Cole torch song.
The title track is a cover of a song performed by Doc Starkes & the Nite Riders, but Cave Catt Sammy's version gets a boost from the impressive Jerry Lee Lewis licks of pianist Carl Sonny Leyland (formerly of Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys) and Los Angeles session man Ron Dziubla on saxophone, who both play on three cuts.
Cave Catt cut the record in Hollywood, California, at Electrovox Recording Studios, where musicians such as the Maddox Brothers, Eddie Cochran, and Jimmy Bryant recorded in the 1950s. The studio has been modernized since many artists from 4 Star Records and Capitol recorded there, so to achieve the authentic rockabilly sound, engineers Tim Magg and Wally Hersom brought in vintage microphones, tube amps, and reel-to-reel tape delays to recreate the sound of the old studio.
It's this attention to authenticity and detail in Cave Catt's albums, live shows, and persona that keep the dancers twirling, the heads bouncing in time to a ferocious backbeat, and the fans coming back for more.