Monday, October 01, 2007

Lee Rocker

Born Leon Drucker in Massapequa, Long Island in 1961, to world-renowned classical musician parents, Lee Rocker grew up with music all around him. His father, Stanley, is a Grammy-nominated clarinetist with the New York Philharmonic. His mother, Naomi, teaches music at Hofstra University. So coming to a career in music was an easy choice for Rocker, whose family listened to jazz, blues, and rock while he was growing up.

Rocker began taking classical cello lessons at age eight and initially hated them. As his ears widened into rock ‘n’ roll, he picked up the electric bass, and quickly mastered the instrument. During grade school, his close friends included Jimmy McDonnell (later to become Slim Jim Phantom) and Brian Setzer. The three jammed together often, playing a wide variety of rock ‘n’ roll, before discovering classic blues musicians like Muddy Waters and rockabilly giants like Carl Perkins. Rocker picked up the acoustic bass to emulate the sounds he heard on those records, and the band began playing more and more roots music. By 1979, this trio, now known as The Stray Cats, began to single-handedly revive rockabilly music in the U.S. and, eventually, around the world.

Adding a contemporary punk attitude to traditional slap-bass, twangy guitar and drums, The Stray Cats headlined famous New York haunts like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, drawing overflow crowds every time they played. They moved to London in 1980 and became an even bigger success, even attracting The Rolling Stones to their shows. The fever-pitch excitement caused a major bidding war between record labels. The group’s first American album, 1982’s Built For Speed, became a huge hit, and held the #2 spot on the Billboard chart for 26 weeks, right behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Non-stop touring took its toll on the band. By 1984 the group was exhausted and decided to call it quits, at least for a while. But the furious touring of the early 1980s turned Rocker into one of the best showmen working in any genre. According to the Orange County Weekly, “there has never been a rock ‘n’ roll bass player more fun to watch in concert than Lee Rocker.”

In 1985 Rocker and Phantom hooked up with ex-David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick to form Phantom, Rocker & Slick. They had a minor hit with "Men Without Shame." The Stray Cats reformed in 1986, but didn’t stay together very long. Rocker, though, kept on rocking, as he befriended and collaborated with his hero Carl Perkins as well as with Dave Edmunds, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Jeff Beck and Willie Nelson.

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