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Stray Cats Lee Rocker drops new solo album, 5 Things to Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Thursday, January 21, 2021

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Few musicians have adopted a stage name quite as appropriate as Lee Rocker.

As part of the Stray Cats, Phantom, Rocker & Slick, leading his own bands or playing alongside legends such as Carl Perkins and Scotty Moore, the bassist who was born Leon Drucker has done nothing but rock and is one of those who's kept rockabilly music alive beyond its 1950s heyday. The son of classical musicians, the Long Island native has made his mark as a nimble player and an exuberant showman, giving his upright bass as much of a workout as his fingers.

After a Stray Cats 40th anniversary reunion during 2018-19, Rocker is back with a new album, "Gather Round," which comes out Friday, Jan. 22. The 10-song set was recorded partly in quarantine and features a cover of The Band's "Ophelia" as well as rocker's own version of "When Nothing's Going Right" from the Stray Cats' "40" album. There's plenty of "Pickin' and Grinnin'" to be had, as one of the new songs states, and Rocker, 59, is happy to be able to dole out some more rock, even if he can't take it on the road just yet...

A couple of "Gather Round's" songs -- including the first single, "Dog House Shuffle" -- were recorded before the pandemic, but the bulk of the album was recorded with him and his band members playing remotely. "It required a different way of doing it. We couldn't get everyone together in a room, plug in and let it rip and see what we got. A lot of great rock 'n' roll has been done that way, of course, but a lot of great rock 'n' roll has been done the other way, too, which is more solitary and working in a way that's more precise and under the microscope --and a lot more time consuming. There were long phone calls and discussions of what I was looking for, and my guys are so damn good they nailed it. So I'm very happy with the results."

That recording method did not affect his style of playing, but Rocker says the opportunity to work with different technologies made a sonic impact on the album. "I equate this record to being a rock 'n' roll Rubrik's Cube; There's a lot of layers and different thing that went on within it. I played with a lot of recording techniques -- more microphones, different tones, different ways to record the upright bass. The bass was recorded almost completely acoustic; I rarely used an amp, 'cause I wanted that warm, real sound. So, yeah, I was definitely looking at this in a deeper way than I usually would."

The songs, meanwhile, document "my year on tape," according to Rocker, with songs that chronicle his experiences during 2020. "'Gather Round,' the title track my wife and I took off in an Airstream and went across country for five or six weeks, from southern California to New York and back again, so that song came from that. "The Last Offline Lovers' is a song I wrote for my wife. 'A Dirty Martini,' that's what I was doing with a lot of my time. (laughs) So (the songs) are really about what I did in this time, with (the pandemic) and everything going on."

Rocker also voices political thoughts in "Pickin' and Grinnin'," which he acknowledges is "my statement on Trump and the dividing of this country, which I love...I can be a political person. I don't normally do it in my music, but I felt this year I needed to speak up. I feel like I would be complicit, or negligent, if I didn't state my views on this record, and I'm glad I did. I think it's a cool song -- and a meaningful song."

Rocker says he's "optimistic I'm gonna be able to get out and play this year," with dates provisionally scheduled in the U.S. and Europe. "My fingers are crossed," he notes. The Stray Cats, meanwhile, are back in dry-dock after the 40th anniversary tour. "We had a great time, but there's nothing on the books at this point. But I'd never say never. We still have a great time when we play together, and so do the fans."

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