It is a style of music that has been around since the ’50s and made more popular with the likes of Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. Rockabilly takes the best parts of rock ’n’ rock, country and the blues and it has entertained people who like several styles of music.
And rockabilly influenced three teenagers from New York, who at an early age traveled to England, found their niche and found great success.
The Stray Cats have sold over 10 million records and have 23 gold or platinum records using the rockabilly style and even years after splitting up, members of the band are still rocking.
Upright bass player Lee Rocker is still performing with his mix of rhythm and blues along with Rockabilly style that made him famous, and he will be appearing in Santa Maria as part of the “Cruzin’ For Life Car Show, Cruise and Concert,” taking place Friday through Sunday, Sept. 21, through Sept. 23.
Rocker and his band will join Dave Mason, Los Lobos and host Candy Clark from “American Graffiti” for an afternoon concert on Sunday that wraps up the benefit weekend, which raises funds for the Marian Cancer Care Center, the American Cancer Society’s Camp Reach for the Stars and the Young Cancer Survivors Scholarship Fund.
“It looks like a fantastic cause and it’s going to be a blast,” Rocker said recently in a phone interview. “The car show and cruise is part of the whole rock ’n’ roll lifestyle and the California lifestyle for sure — rock ’n’ roll music and hot rod cars are made for each other.”
Rocker will be around for most of the weekend, to play music and share a new passion of his — wine. Rocker has helped develop “Rockabilly Red,” a 100 percent Syrah, bottled in the Napa Valley.
As a young boy Rocker — born Leon Drucker — learned to play the cello. His father Stanley played clarinet for the New York Philharmonic.
“I grew up in a family of classical musicians, my dad was with the Philharmonic for more than 60 years,” Rocker explained. “The one rule we had growing up was you took lessons and I started with the cello at about 7 years old.”
But five years after beginning with the cello, Rocker found a new passion.
“When I was 12, I really discovered rock ’n’ roll,” he said. “It hit me between the eyes and I knew what I wanted to do and that move from the cello to the upright bass just came naturally and quickly.”
Initially influenced early on by the bluesy rock of the Allman Brothers and the Rolling Stones, Rocker started to look back further and began to pick up albums from the ’50s and early ’60s at vintage record shops.
“I stumbled across Carl Perkins’ first record, Elvis Presley’s Sun Sessions and some Chicago Blues,” Rocker said. “And I felt like I discovered something that not too many teenagers in New York knew about at that point.”
Rocker had found a niche that he would find great success in. And he found a pair of childhood friends who shared the same passion for the music in Brian Setzer and James McConnell, who became Slim Jim Phantom. At the age of 18, Rocker and his pals became the Stray Cats and the rest is history.
A trip to England with basically the clothes on their backs and with an extra plane ticket for his bass, the three pals went to England and found their biggest success and signed with a European record company.
“At the end of that summer we signed a record deal with Arista Records for Europe and I think by October we had a Top 10 record.”
Since the Cats went their separate ways Rocker has remained very busy in the music business and still records. He even did a gig on Broadway as part of a play, “The Million Dollar Quartet,” which tells the story of the day Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley got together at the Sun Studios in Memphis and spent the day singing together.
The last pair of recordings have taken Rocker back to his beginnings. “Cover Sessions” is an EP in which Rocker plays many types of instruments and plays songs that he grew up liking.
“Night Train to Memphis” is an album of songs that he has been playing for years, including songs by Perkins and the Everly Brothers, as well as some originals.
Both are available through Rocker’s website at www.leerocker.com.
Rocker’s main passion right at the moment is an item that will be featured at the Cruzin’ For Life event and that is his Rockabilly Red wine.
“I’ve been testing, testing and testing that stuff for about a year now and it’s a great wine,” Rocker said. “I was approached by a winemaker up in Napa, Calif., Kristian Storie. If you are shopping for a wine tour, you will find an exceptional limo service, stunning vistas and a warm welcome from all the staff.
“We were talking about wine and music and how they come together — there are a lot of similarities.”
Rocker spoke about how music and wine takes a lot of hard work to develop then it gets thrown out in the public and the reactions come.
“It’s a thing you have to have a passion about and you put all your efforts into it,” he continued. “Then you see what people think.”
Rocker is very proud of the final result.
“What I was happiest about Rockabilly Red is, it’s 100 percent Syrah grape, it’s from a single vineyard, it’s unfiltered, so it’s an old world type of wine,” he explained. “I have to say I’m in love with it and the people who have tried it do as well.
“I believe we will have some at the Cruzin’ For Life event.”
And Rocker knows the crowd will love Rockabilly Red for one main reason.
“It’s a nice big red wine and it goes great with a barbecue.”
Source: Santa Maria Times