Lee Rocker, who is famously known as the bassist for The Stray Cats, will be releasing a new solo record “Gather Round,” on January 22nd via his label Upright Records.
You can’t think of music in the 80s without thinking of the multi-platinum superstars, The Stray Cats, who sold 10 million albums and had 23 gold and platinum-certified records worldwide. Their music revolutionized a generation and set MTV on fire with such monster hits as “Rock This Town,” “Stray Cat Strut,” and “She’s Sexy + 17.”
“Gather Round” marks the Grammy-nominated upright bass player, singer, and songwriter Lee Rocker‘s first record of original music since his 2007 release, “Black Cat Bone.” Many of the songs on this record were written while he crisscrossed the country with his wife and dog in their Airstream during the pandemic. It’s a Rockabilly joy ride of ten infectiously melodic songs that deliver a hefty dose of fun, positive vibes, and capture the true heart of Rock & Roll. From the full-tilt tempo of the title track “Gather Round” to the hauntingly beautiful “The Last Offline Lovers” to the mesmerizing instrumental “A Dirty Martini,” this record stays cranked with its driving rhythms, tasty guitar licks, and edgy vocals. Pre-order “Gather Round”here.
Correspondent Robert Cavuoto spoke with Lee about the creation of “Gather Round,” his love of making music, and the importance of bending the rules in order to do your own thing! Continue reading for their full conversation. For more interviews and other daily content, make sure to follow Sonic Perspectives on Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel to be notified about new content we publish on a daily basis.
I heard you wrote the songs for this record during the pandemic while on a 6,000-mile cross-country road trip with your wife to escape the world’s house arrest? If true, it sounded like quite the adventure.
Yes, it was. The bulk of this record was done that way. We hit the road crisscrossing the country as we went from California to New York and then back again. I did a lot of thinking and writing as everyone has to deal with things in their own way. It was an isolating experience as it was just my wife and our Boston terrier. Yet at the same time, it was quite familiar as I’m used to being on tour going from place to place. It was a very comfortable situation, and it got me away from things. It was a fascinating time and trip. A lot of this record was written while in our Airstream. When I got back to California, I booked the studio that I’ve used over the years and started to record these songs. I played a lot of the instruments, not all of them by any means. I have a fantastic band with Buzz Campbell on guitar, Larry Mitchell on drums, and Matt Jordan on piano.As needed, I would have my guys recording at their home and sending me the tracks.
It’s different but not that different from how we would normally record. It was a little more time consuming and required some more communication. It’s always easier when you are right next to each other revising parts as needed. It required a lot of focus and attention to detail on my end. I love the process as it was like an inward journey.
The record feels overwhelmingly positive, which I loved. Was it a challenge to keep it positive during these difficult times?
In some ways, I wanted it to be positive as I love the power of music and positive music. The song “Gather Round” really is a happy song, and it’s directly about our trip. I know what’s going on out there, and I see it.It’s a little like raising my middle finger and holding it out that car window [laughing]. In a weird way, that’s what I think about with that song. Another positive song was “Graceland Auction.” I’m a tremendous Elvisfan and collector. I get these catalogs where I get to bid on things. On my coffee table at home was a 2019 Graceland auction catalog; I had been looking all this time and now just thinking, that’s a song! That’s how the song came about. I tried to stay positive even on the political track. I’m not publically political very often as I like my music to be my music and not social media, but at times I have spoken my mind, and “Pickin’ and Grinnin‘” was definitely done for the time. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve certainly had enough!
You talk about the power of music. I can only assume that is why you decided to release the album now to give everyone some feel-good music when they need it the most?
Absolutely! It’s a time-consuming thing, but it’s what I do, and I love recording. I was attempting to put this out during 2020, but I couldn’t hit the mark. The physical and digital copies will be released on January 22nd. I was really trying to get it done, but I didn’t want to rush it where I wasn’t happy with everything. It just took a little more time to get it to that point.
It doesn’t sound like you’re trying to recreate the past with this record, yet you are still giving the songs the same level of energy. How do you see it?
It’s all about the energy! You put it on to tape or the file and hope it jumps out at the listener on the other side. This year we have all had to readjust how we do things; obviously, the touring has completely closed down, that was the reason to take this trip. From there, everything just fell together. I don’t try to compete with the past; I purposely try not to tread over the same ground constantly. This is an eclectic record; it’s Rockabilly, but some songs are more Rockabilly than others. I feel this is the most eclectic record I have done, but it all hangs together nicely. I wrote and recorded a lot more songs, which didn’t get used but got me to this point. I’m glad I was able to put the time in right now to do this.
Maybe in 2021, there will be some touring. I’m hopeful and optimistic! I’ve had a lot of things rescheduled to the second half of 2021, so I have my fingers crossed it will happen.
You can’t fake the authenticity of what you do and your roots in Rockabilly. You and your band seem to live, breathe, and own it. Tell me about the importance of that?
You have to give everything 110%. I haven’t done a record of original material in a long time. My last record was a live record called “Night Train to Memphis;” on there were many songs I love, but they weren’t mine; they were covers. Of course, I wrote a song or two, but this record is a collection of new songs. I wanted to do it right. It’s been 13 years since I have had this amount of new songs. In this bizarre, strange, and horrible year it took a pandemic to do it [laughing].
Songs like “The Last Offline Lovers” and “When Nothings Going Right” are two of my favorite songs and perfect examples of what you do best; can you share some insights into their creation?
I wrote “The Last Offline Lovers” for my wife as we have been married for 32 years. I played every instrument on that song except for the drums. Everything is acoustic, and there isn’t an electric instrument on there.That was a very solitary track, and I really wanted to get in there to craft and map out every word. I wanted to put 110% into that song. The title came from a painting we bought called The Last Offline Lovers. It was a thing that stuck with me because that’s how we felt in the first place.
“When Nothings Going Right” was written for the Stray Cats 40 record, which came out in 2019. This was the original version and was recorded before COVID. I played the song for the guys in The Stray Cats, and they loved it, so we cut it for that record. It’s the original, so it has that spark and direction I had for it. Of course, it changed a bit when Slim Jim Phantom and Brian Setzer put their stamp on it with. It sounded super on that record, and I like hearing the differences as to what flavors got added from the original. I think some long-term Stray Cat fans will like to hear what the nexus of that song was.
I liked the original version because of the extra guitar nuances and drumming.
Thanks, there are two guitars on there. It’s the same song, yet they are different. I’m always interested in that stuff, not just with my own music but hearing George Harrison‘s original demo compared to how the finished product turned out. Sometimes it’s one of those dilemmas, at least I think it’s a dilemma, you go into the studio very early in the process to put down a guide vocal. Not really thinking about things figuring you will sing the crap out of it like a 100 times later until it’s perfect. Sometimes you end up chasing that nonchalant version that you originally laid down.
I think that was the case with that song.
Not to put you on the spot, which version do you prefer?
Oh, I like them both! I’m fine with this version on “Gather Round” because it was the original out of the box.
Can you share your thoughts on how The Stray Cats brought Rockabilly to the forefront as a music genre to kids in the 80s via MTV and how the scene has evolved?
It’s alive and living in the underground where Rockabilly or Americana or whatever moniker you want to put on. It usually rears its head up every once in a while like it did with The Stray Cats giving us some major hits on the charts. It’s a rarity, but this music is part of the fabric, sound, and rhythms of American music.There are some new people playing it but not a tremendous amount. It’s fallen into some country artists as well as some artists who have played it all along. Willie Nelson and John Forgety play it, but I never hear them being referred to as Rockabilly artists. We got tagged with the name, which I’m fine with, and I love it, but there were many other people playing this type of music. Part of it was the music, and part of it came down to the visuals. We loved the style, look, and what goes along with it is just as cool.
The Stray Cats sold 10 million albums had many gold and platinum albums; with numbers like that, how do you measure success now in this streaming and file-sharing environment.
It’s just a whole another world. It’s a funny business with streaming. I just try to concentrate on making my music and giving it my best. I’m going back to the old school vinyl, which I’m really excited about. I’m just waiting for them to be finished. I love listening to music that way, as a collection or in a sequence. In streaming, so many people are just picking tracks. I’m glad they are listening to music at all. I try to enjoy the band’s intention of the whole collection.
After 40 years, you are responsible for bringing a lot of classic American music into contemporary counter-culture. Is carrying that torch for Rockabilly something that you actively think about?
Not really. It’s funny; it’s the music that I love and played for my entire life. It’s the rhythms that I feel and the language that I speak. I don’t think it’s necessarily 50s. There is Rockabilly in all of it to some portion or another. I don’t think that I have to keep Rockabilly alive; it’s just what comes out. There are people who are huge Rockabilly fans who want it to be just like it was in 1956. It’s great to listen to records from 1956, I do, but I like to listen to other things too. I just like to do my own thing with it. I’ve been so fortunate to work with everyone from Carl Perkins to Scotty Moore; so many people from that first generation of Rock & Roll.Through my friendships and conversations with them, I know they were always bending the rules while doing their own thing, which is what it is all about.