Bass Invasion 

Former Stray Cat Lee Rocker Struts Into Club Congress.

ROCKABILLIES, PSYCHOBILLIES, and lovers of roots rock take note: Lee Rocker, the man who began his career as the Stray Cats' upright bass player, returns to town Friday at Club Congress. He'll put the boom-boom in the room before beginning a tour to promote his third and latest release, Lee Rocker Live (Jaybird Records), as well as his most critically acclaimed solo effort to date, No Cats (Upright Records). The releases are full of energetic cuts built on the rockabilly roots that Rocker loves, but are clearly the genuine article, with no trace of nostalgic imitation.

Originally from Long Island, Rocker was born Leon Drucker in 1961, and is no relation to the politically incorrect loose-cannon baseball player John Rocker. He began his musical career early, achieving mainstream success while still a teenager. "Things clicked really fast with the Stray Cats," Rocker relates. "I was 17 when we formed that band. We played some shows in New York, then went to England and got a record deal real quick. When we went there we didn't have any idea what to expect. I got to learn a lot about all sides of this business. There are advantages to having it happen that way. Now I can do what I want to and call the shots. There is not too much pressure -- I get to go out and play. In this business, that is a serious luxury."

By "doing what he wants," Rocker means playing to appreciative fans of rockabilly. And as the numerous websites indicate, there's no shortage of Stray Cats devotees and roots-rock enthusiasts waiting to hear Rocker's latest -- and endlessly querying him about the possibility of another Stray Cats reunion.

The last reunion occurred early in 1998 when Rocker and fellow Stray Cats Brian Setzer and Slim Jim Phantom reunited at L.A.'s House of Blues on Sunset Strip for a tribute show to Rocker's friend and mentor Carl Perkins. "It's like your high school reunion," Rocker recalls. "It's fun for a night, but you wouldn't want to do it every night."

He doesn't have to. Rocker himself is enough to draw a crowd, especially in the Naked Pueblo. Last spring, hundreds of fans packed into the Rialto Theater to see his headlining performance at the Hot Rod-o-Rama. Rocker belted out tune after tune in his sexy-smooth baritone while plucking the big girl, sometimes riding his bass like a rebel on a Harley and at other times like an irreverent cowboy on a borrowed horse.

"That was the first time I had been in Tucson in a long time," he says. "That was a cool event. I love it that there is this huge underground rockabilly scene in L.A., San Francisco, London, Moscow, Tokyo, all over the place. I really like seeing the rockabillies come out, the ones who live the lifestyle -- you know, the hair, the clothes, they drive up in '57 Chevys. There are even kids like 17 years old who get all dressed up and then have to hang around outside the shows because they are too young to get in. But I like anybody who comes out to hear the music."

No stranger to the rockabilly lifestyle, Rocker was one of its early pioneers, and one of the reasons the current generation connects with the original rockabillies. When the Stray Cats burst onto the American scene -- thanks in part to providing two of MTV's original 10 videos -- kids all over the country started wearing bowling shirts, pompadours, ponytails and poodle skirts.

Along with the '50s fashions, hot rods and classic cars played a prominent role in the videos as well. While Rocker may not be the gearhead that some of his contemporaries, such as Mike Ness and Brian Setzer, are known to be, he does know a cool ride when he sees one. Having just sold a 1959 Ford Skyliner that looked great but didn't have that "easy-to-disengage hardtop convertible feature" down quite right, he's currently blasting around his Southern California neighborhood in a 1970 Chevelle Supersport. "It's a monster," he says. "It's got a 396. I bought it pretty much restored. I'm not really mechanically inclined, and I don't have a lot of time to do it, but there are those guys that are really great at restoring and rodding -- I bought it from one of them.

"Last time I was here I didn't get enough time to bum around Tucson," laments Rocker. "I'll get to do that this time. We'll hang around the Congress and see what's going on."

Lee Rocker performs Friday, January 21, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Locals James Dead and Rich Hopkins and Luminarios open the show, with DJ Hot Rod Ron hosting the event. Doors open at 9 p.m. Advance tickets are $8 at Club Congress. They'll be $10 the day of the show. Call 622-8848 for more information.

More by Angela McCormick-Owen

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