It’s safe to say that no band will have had a longer stage absence before its www.summerfest.com“>Summerfest gig this year than Phantom, Rocker & Slick.
The last time drummer “Slim” Jim Phantom, singer and double bass player Lee Rocker and guitarist Earl Slick put on a show together was before disbanding 26 years ago.
Phantom and Rocker, friends since third grade, are best known for their work with Brian Setzer in Stray Cats, which through hits as “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock This Town,” revived rockabilly for MTV’s first viewers in the early ’80s. Session guitarist Slick’s résumé includes touring with David Bowie and playing on his “Young Americans” and “Station to Station” albums, and John Lennon’s last album, “Double Fantasy.”
In 1985, Phantom and Rocker, through John Lennon’s son Julian, met Slick.
“He was from New York and had a similar background to us, so we became best friends,” Phantom said.
Stray Cats had recently gone on hiatus; after five years, the Cats had gotten antsy to do something else, Phantom said.
“We had a record deal with EMI, Brian (Setzer) was making a solo record, so (starting a band) seemed like the thing to do,” Phantom said.
Given the musicians’ pedigrees, Phantom, Rocker & Slick’s self-titled album, released by EMI in 1985, inevitably blended blues and rockabilly with big ’80s glam. Six-minute stomper “Men Without Shame” slid into MTV’s rotation and became a top 10 rock-chart hit, and the group performed on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.”
After a tour in ’86, Phantom, Rocker & Slick worked on the follow-up album, “Cover Girl.” But that also was the year Stray Cats got back together, and they didn’t have time to promote the album, which barely made the Billboard 200 and dropped off the charts after two weeks.
“It was a classic side project,” Phantom said. “It was at the end of the run.” He has continued to perform with Rocker over the years, and the pair remained friends with Slick, who went back to session work after what Phantom said was an amicable breakup.
After an absence of more than two decades, it seemed unlikely that a band that was only together for two years would reunite. But after EMI reissued “Phantom, Rocker & Slick” earlier this year, the trio took some time to play the old songs and decided to schedule some shows. Phantom said he’s open to the idea of the band releasing some new music down the road.
“Everyone’s always writing,” he said. “If it sounds good, we can always record it. It’s easier to release music now.”
But the first order of business has been rehearsing for Summerfest. The band started prepping early and plans to move its sessions to Milwaukee early this week. It’s not much time, but Phantom insists it’s all they need.
“It sounded like we played together yesterday,” Phantom said of their first rehearsal in January. “I remembered how all the songs went. It’s funny, I’ve played 1,000 songs since I played them last. It was very gratifying.”