Even at its most raucous, pop music of the early 1950s was a syrupy vanilla concoction possessing all of the spice and flavor of a freeze-dried mashed potato sandwich. And it was the mission of chartbusters like Frankie Avalon, Connie Francis, and Pat Boone to provide wholesome entertainment for white America’s innocent, pre-rock era teens. But that was before Bill Haley and His Comets twisted the minds and corrupted the souls of our nation’s youth in 1955 with rock’s original anthem, the country-meets-blues standard “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock.” In fact, from Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” to Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula” to Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” many of rock’s (few) early, edgy classics were actually a high-energy hybrid of rock and roll, country, and blues known as rockabilly.
Although it had become an all-but-forgotten genre by the post-disco era, three Jersey boys were undeterred in their commitment to staging a worldwide rockabilly revival. Okay, so Brian Setzer, Slim Jim Phantom, and Lee Rocker didn’t invent rockabilly, but they sure as hell achieved greater success with it than any other artist before or after they brought it to the mainstream in the early ’80s.
After enjoying “overnight” platinum success with their 1982 breakthrough record Built for Speed, and the 1983 follow-up record Rant N’ Rave with the Stray Cats, these poster boys for MTV’s golden age were at the top of their game. And the popularity of such chart-topping singles as “Rock This Town,” “Stray Cat Strut” and “(She’s) Sexy and 17,” combined with their fashion-forward sensibility (including pompadours and tattoos) made the Stray Cats one of the most recognizable bands on the planet.
However, by the late ’80s, the Stray Cats found themselves at an awkward professional crossroads. The band had briefly gone their separate ways following the lackluster response to their 1986 record Rock Therapy and the 1989 reunion record Blast Off! was seen by some as a make-or-break release. In fact, bassist Lee Rocker states within the re-issued record’s liner notes that the band, “… wanted this record to count, to mean something.” He also went on to say, “… the time had come to really work and throw everything we had into this record.”
Original Stray Cats producer and rockabilly kingpin Dave Edmunds returned to the console to assist the Cats in creating a fun and rollicking record that perfectly recaptured the energy and spirit of their earlier recordings.
Edmunds’ (Repeat When Necessary) “fingerprints” are all over this record, especially on such tracks as “Gina” and “Rockin’ All Over the Place.” These, along with the title track, “Bring it Back” and “Rockabilly Rules” are fabulous examples of the band at its very best.
Although “Gene and Eddie” is a textbook rockabilly patchwork quilt of bits and pieces from Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran classics, the “slinky” jazz vibe of “Nine Lives” exemplified a band that was still evolving and willing to experiment.
“I can still feel the sweat that we all poured into this recording,” adds Rocker in the liner notes. “What we hit on redefined rockabilly music of the time.”
Stray Cats: www.straycats.com