Album Review – 40 – Stray Cats

When I hear a rock riff, I hear something that’s very tied to the drums. There’s a funky aspect to the way it works. But a great rockabilly riff operates on so many levels. I hear blues, country, and jazz. I hear big bands and horn melodies. There’s a lot of colors going on. I guess that’s why I’ve found rockabilly so appealing. It’s a limitless art form.” – Brian Setzer. 

During the 3 1/2 or so years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve had several occasions to refer to rockabilly. Wikipedia: “Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music, dating back to the early 1950s in the United States, especially the South. As a genre, it blends the sound of Western musical styles such as country with that of rhythm and blues,

Some have also described it as a blend of bluegrass with rock and roll. Other important influences on rockabilly include western swing, boogie-woogie, jump blues, and electric blues.” There are a lot of fathers (not to mention mothers) of rockabilly not the least of whom were Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Rockabilly evolved into the somewhat harder, edgier (and less country-oriented) rock and roll, especially with the advent of Chuck Berry. (Whose first hit was actually the country-sounding “Maybellene.”)

Rockabilly never went away but as rock evolved with the British Invasion – George Harrison loved Carl Perkins – it showed up more and more in the rear-view mirror. But artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sha Na Na, Queen, The Blasters, and Robert Gordon kept the flame burning.

But I think it’s a safe argument that no band was more successful at reviving rockabilly than the Stray Cats who came outta nowhere in 1981 with their eponymous debut album. I’m not sure how that album managed to break out of the punk/New Wave/MTV gravity but it did. Maybe because people still love rock and roll and this was good rock and roll.

This album came out exactly during the time when I was in a band with my friend Bill who was (and is) a big rockabilly fan, a great fan of Elvis in particular and a fine singer. So we used to do “Rock This Town,” and the sublime “Stray Cat Strut” all the time.

The Cats did a few albums, went their separate ways and guitarist Brian Setzer – for my money the best rockabilly guitarist ever – changed course and started playing big band swing. But he always kept his hand in on rockabilly.

And when he started writing some new songs, he called up his old drummer Slim Jim Phantom who reminded him that it was their 40th anniversary. Hence, 40.

I’ve been giving this album a few spins over the past couple of days. While I don’t hear anything as memorable as “Town” or “Stray Cat,” there’s some pretty good tunes on it. (I’ve gotten somewhat used to the idea that there are few great albums these days, just albums that have a handful of good songs. Doesn’t matter to me as I’m just as happy to add them to a playlist. I don’t know about you but I”m not sitting around waiting for the next Tommy, Aja or Dark Side.)

Now kids, get in the Chevy, grease up your hair, roll a pack of cigarettes in your t-shirt and let’s go back to 1958 to listen to “Three Time’s a Charm:”

Spotify link

When I first heard “Desperado,” I thought, well, if old Sergio Leone was still with us this one could grace his next spaghetti Western. And damned if I didn’t find this quote from Setzer in Guitar Player magazine:

“I was just messing around with an old Fender Reverb Unit, and I just loved the twangy sound of it. I began writing these songs that were like spaghetti westerns — which is really surf-guitar music when you get down to it.”

If this tune doesn’t wind up getting used in a Tarantino movie I’ll eat my hat:

Spotify link

In this tune, “When Nothing’s Going Right,” the boys advise that

“When nothing’s going right, go left:”

Spotify link

You get the idea. Have you heard the news? There’s good rockin’ tonight with other songs like “Devil Train,” and the theme song of fellow blogger CB, “I Attract Trouble.”

If you feel like going out with your best gal Peggy Sue, grab your dancing shoes. The Stray Cats are touring behind this album. Yowsah!

20 thoughts on “Album Review – 40 – Stray Cats

  1. Great find, Jim, this album nicely rockabillies!😀

    I had no idea the Stray Cats reunited – well, I suppose it may be just for this one album and 40th anniversary tour.

    Regardless, it doesn’t bother me. This music makes you move, and it must be fun to see these guys live.

    That being said, I think I pretty much only knew “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut” from them before. Both got lots of radio play in Germany at the time they came out.

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    1. Yeah, they got pretty big here for a while then flamed out. Setzer later admitted his ego got the best of him and he thought “Who needs these guys?” Fortunately they all grew up.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m certain he is. Culture Sonar reviewed the album and name-checked Hank in regards to that song. As to the Shadows, I confess they were never a big deal for me. But the Brits, especially guys like Knopfler, worship him.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I just saw the playlist for Santana. Given the Woodstock anniversary, it’s perhaps not a surprise there’s a lot of the old great stuff on there, like “Soul Sacrifice”, “Evil Ways”, “Oye Como Va”, “Jingo”…You’ll be in for a treat!

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        3. Yeah, it hadn’t occurred to me when i got the tix but this will be one of the first post-Woodstock-anniversary shows. I see he’s playing at Bethel now that the Woodstock 50 show has gone belly up. It’s interesting that he’s touring behind the oldies, some Supernatural (it’s the Supernatural now tour) and largely avoiding the Africa album. Fine with me.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I did a review of this one. Great album. These guys are the best at rockabilly and you are right, they came out of nowhere with a genre that no one was playing and showed that there was still life in that sound. No one will do it better. It was a fun listen.

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    1. I missed that one. Blockhead that I am, I only just started following your blog. I’m definitely going to add a few tracks to my ever-expanding playlist.

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  3. I’m all over this stuff. Thanks for the dedication, it fits. I remember when these guys first came around. There was quite a few similar bands. Still a huge following with the rockabilly today, I guess I should say cult (big in Japan) but it’s strong. The music is infectious and so many of the pioneers had that sound. A lot of my favorite bands still carry the torch (Jeff Becks Bit Town Playboys etc).
    I like Seltzers big band stuff. Talented guy that loves his music. I like that ‘Desperado’ sound. CB has a rockabilly thing in the works but as usual Doc beats me to the punch.

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    1. A great band, glad to see them back together however briefly. CB should use ‘Desperado’ and make a spaghetti Western up in the Great White North. Maybe call it a poutine Western? Lots of wide open spaces up there. I look forward to CB’s rockabilly take.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Of course you didn’t waste your life listening to music. You wasted it a thousand other ways. How about a pork pie Western? Do you know that my wife is French Canadian? Her people were from just north of Maine whatever province/region/territory that is. Her parents both spoke French. Pork pie was a big deal in their house. We go up to Old Orchard Beach on the Maine coast, plenty of poutine, plenty of your countrymen and women.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. That was close. Thanks Doc for clearing up that “wasting my time” thing.
          So being married to a French Canadian woman that means we might be related. I want and am planning to visit that part of the country one day. I was just talking about that today. We”l hook up and Dinner/Lunch is on CB.

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        3. We may be twin sons of different mothers. Or at the very least, third cousins twice removed. Sure, come down this way. There’s not much to do here but watch the tumbleweed blow around, maybe go down to the creek and pull in a few fish. Then sit on the porch, smoke a few cee-gars and talk about how “things ain’t like they used to be when we wuz kids.”

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Do anything you want, man. No fucking rules. Is CB slipping? Don’t make me come up there, smoke cigars, listen to jazz for hours, drink scotch whiskey all night long and hit the clubs. I’m not that kinda guy.

          Liked by 1 person

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