Stray Cats’ ‘80s Reunion Recordings

The Stray Cats put rockabilly back onto the charts after a two-decade absence with their sly "Stray Cat Strut" and series of early '80s recordings. The Long Island-weaned combo of Brian Setzer, Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom were influenced by the likes of Gene Vincent, Gene Cochran and Elvis Presley, and had not just the sound but the look down pat. Slim Jim married Britt Eckland and Setzer performed with superstars like Robert Plant and Stevie Nicks. But then the strut halted as the Cats went their separate ways.

The band's two comeback albums — Rock Therapy and Blast Off, recorded for EMI in 1986 and 1989 respectively — will be reissued by Hep Cat Records, sibling of Collectors' Choice Music on April 22, 2008. (Hep Cat recently reissued James Hunter's acclaimed original pre-Rounder recordings.) Liner notes on the reissues were penned by standup bass slapper Lee Rocker, now a solo artist on Alligator Records.

Rock Therapy was the Stray Cats' fifth album, recorded in the summer of 1986 at Capitol Records' historic Hollywood & Vine studios, home to recordings by everyone from Gene Vincent to Frank Sinatra. Rocker says in the notes, "Rock Therapy is an intense record with some of the best playing in the band's history. I consider it the lost Stray Cats record." The album was recorded mainly live in the studio, with "Reckless" foretelling the future solo career of Brian Setzer.

For the 1989 release Blast Off, the Stray Cats were reunited with their original producer, the legendary Dave Edmunds. As Rocker tells it in the liners: "Brian, Jim and I decided that the time had really come to work and throw everything we had at this record . . . What we hit on redefined the rockabilly music of the time: The slamming bass, caveman drum beats and stinging guitar were as raw and dangerous as anything we had ever done. On Blast off, psychobilly was reborn." The album contains "Gene and Eddie, " a tribute to Vincent and Cochran, plus "Gina, " which Rocker describes as "Buddy Holly on steroids."

"When I put this record on, " Rocker continues, "I can still feel the sweat that we all poured into this recording. We wanted this record to count, to mean something."

21 and 18 years on, these two recordings show that the band's energy and ability went on far beyond "Stray Cat Strut."

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