Category Archives: Lee Rocker

Lee Rocker – Night Train To Memphis

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2012’s Night Train To Memphis is Rocker’s new album following last year’s Cover Sessions EP. In the build-up to the album Rocker claimed that this would be his stamp on his favourite rockabilly classics and cuts from his career with Stray Cats. The tracks that he’s picked to cover certainly span his career from his early Stray Cats days, and before, to his working with Carl Perkins, something he reflected on when playing his brother, Jay Perkins, in Million Dollar Quartet.

The sound on Night Train To Memphis is not far removed from that on The Cover Session EP. Lee’s band play more of a role on this album and the overall sound is tilted more towards the rockabilly end of the spectrum. However, Lee has not lost all of the country flavour that marked out his last album. The country sounds pop up in some unexpected places on the album which I’ll cover in the track-by-track. Generally, the sound on the sound on the album is crisp, clean and very well levelled.

Track List

Rockabilly Boogie (Burnette, Burnette, Mortimer & Hawkins) – Rocker leaves no doubt as to his primary instrument as a thoroughly-slapped bass kicks this album off! The lyrics of this track make it one of my less appreciated on the album as I always feel rockabilly songs about rockabilly are a little thin. However, both guitarists and Lee are in fine form on this track so there’s still something for the instrumentalists to enjoy, even if the  solos are tantalizingly short.

Night Train To Memphis (Acuff) – The second track on the album starts off with a more gentle acoustic feel with one semi adding almost slide-guitar style riffs. Lee’s voice and tone suit this song perfectly and in many ways it reminds me of some of the gentler stuff on Lee’s strongest album, Black Cat Bone. Look out for the Luther Perkins-style guitar solo.

Slap The Bass (Rocker) – When I first heard the sample for this track I feared that this going to be Lee’s attempt at “Rockabilly Boogie” type song which had little originality in it and generally wouldn’t appeal. I must say that I’m pleasantly surprised by a number where Buzz Campbell’s jazzy playing and Comets-style riffs keeps proceedings interesting and adds a good deal of cool spice.

Twenty Flight Rock (Fairchild) –  I must start off on a controversial note here and say I generally don’t like Stray Cats’ covers of Eddie Cochran songs! I know this may sound very odd, with Cochran being a key influence on the band, but, to me, they miss that sense of cool Eddie had in his singing. To me, Cochran always sounded slightly laid back in most of his singing, like there was always another gear he could push on to but never used. The Cats however, tend to go for all out hell-for-leather covers that then lose that sense of cool. That said, this is a fair cover and one of the better efforts a Cat has made a covering an Eddie Cochran classic.

Wild Child (O’Keefe) – This version of “Wild Child” takes its inspiration most strongly from the cut that Jerry Lee Lewis recorded when he was at sun records and was also a track Brian Setzer chose for his covers album, Rockabilly Riot. Unlike Setzer, Rocker chooses to leave the piano at home at home for this track and it becomes a guitar led rockin’ chugger. Considering that two of the Cats have chosen to cover this song, it seems odd that it’s not surfaced on either any Stray Cats live album that I’ve heard, nor on the Stray Cats’ Original Cool.

Honey Don’t (Perkins) – This track is perhaps the closest to the original of any on the album. Having worked with Carl Perkins in the 1980s, I think this track is intended as a direct tribute to Mr Blue Suede Shoes. Overall, a strong performance where Buzz Campbell shines in particular through his delicate finger picking and rhythm playing.

That’s Alright / Blue Moon (Crudup / Monroe) – A medley of these tracks has been a regular staple of Lee’s career and he has released a live version on Burnin’ Love and Blue Suede Nights. This rendering is very much a studio recording of how Lee has played this live without the bass solo as the songs pass from one to the other.

Tear In My Beer (Williams) – My least favored track on the album. This is a strong country-and-western flavored track that would have felt at home in Rocker’s previous release. For me, this is too country and also it strikes me as being some of Williams’ weakest writing when compared to his other compositions, such as “You Win Again” or “Lost Highway”.

Lonesome Tears (Holly) – A relatively hidden gem in Buddy Holly’s catalogue is wonderfully brought to life by Lee Rocker. At this point I must mention the strength of Lee’s guitarists in referencing the styles of various 50s guitarists as various Tommy Allsup licks are spread over this track. Again, this is faithful to the original song and Lee’s vocals are top-notch.

Built For Speed (Setzer) – A interesting, quirky cover of this Stray Cats staple. When the album was originally advertised I expected several straight runs of Stray Cats classics with Lee singing. However, we have one, and straight it isn’t! The primary instrument here is not a chugging Gretsch but a banjo and an acoustic taking back towards Cover Session territory. A definite grower and an interesting twist to a track that any Stray Cats aficionado can hum in their sleep!

So Sad (Smith) – The first of a pair of Everly Brothers classics that see out the album. The two tracks together give a gentle, soulful close to the album and I feel give a timely nod to the Everlys, who are easily forgotten on much of the rockabilly scene.

All I Have To Do Is Dream (Bryant and Bryant) – This is another recent staple of Lee’s gigs. From what I’ve seen, the song is performed live by Lee and Buzz Campbell singing together Everly-style. However, on the record the whole band is in place. In this faithful covering it’s hard to tell if the second voice is Rocker overdubbed or Campbell supporting the, clearly, Rocker vocal lead. My guess is that it’s the former.

Overall I prefer Night Train To Memphis to its predecessor as I prefer the stronger rockabilly stamp that this album holds. Night Train To Memphis is an enjoyable listen where all the musicians shine and the performances are generally strong. However, after two covers releases, I’m now looking forward to hearing more original material from Rocker that can match the superb serving we got on Black Cat Bone.

Lee Rocker – Night Train To Memphis – 7/10

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Buzz Campbell – Shivers and Shakes

The early 2011 album, Shivers and Shakes, is the first of Buzz Campbell’s ‘solo’ albums as it no longer carries the name Hot Rod Lincoln, his long time rockabilly band. Campbell is an American rockabilly guitarist/songwriter/singer inspired in no small part by the 1980’s rockabilly giant: Stray Cats. Indeed, Hot Rod Lincoln toured with the Cats in 2008, had songs written by Brian Setzer and  Lee Rocker and Campbell is now a lead guitarist in Rocker’s solo band.

The sound of the album is set in fairly safe rockabilly territory but that isn’t to say that there are no style changes between Shivers and Shakes and earlier Hot Rod Lincoln albums. Campbell himself mentioned in an interview at the tail end of last year that this album has a much edgier feel than the Hot Rod Lincoln sound. This is noticed most in the echo surrounding the vocals and the style of the songs being a lot less gentle than tracks such as ‘Runaway Girl’. The sound of the album is largely consistent, but there are a few separate sounding tracks and I shall pick those up in my track by track listing.

‘Crazy When She Drinks’ – This track originally appeared on Rocker’s brilliant Black Cat Bone. Campbell’s version is faithful to the original, well sung and well played. A good opener to the album even if it’s nothing new.

‘Rockabilly Heart’ – A Rodney Crowell – sounding track bemoaning being a rockabilly in an uncool world. The song is not a hard rocker by stretch of the imagination but it’s got a pleasant enough feel. The guitar solo is impressive and certainly highlight of the track.

‘Shivers and Shakes’ – The title track is the edgiest track on the album. The echo is high on the vocals and most of the the song is in minor key. The song rocks well and is a definite highlight of the album.

‘My One Desire’ – A 50’s original by Ricky Nelson I believe. This is a faithful cover of the Stray Cats recording of the track. It’s hard for me to judge this song fairly as the 2003 version at the Stray Cats reunion gig is one of my favourites. Nonetheless, this is a good version with some smart guitar.

‘I’m on Fire’ – Upon seeing the title I assumed that this a cover of the early ’60s track by Jerry Lee Lewis. However, it is rather a Campbell original. A slow – country flavoured track and not a favourite on the album for me.

‘Bag of Bones’ – A mid-tempo rockabilly track focussed on the singer’s inability to balance his work and his sex life with his girl! The song is securely within the rockabilly genre but I certainly couldn’t see this appearing on a Hot Rod Lincoln album, the style change is certainly present on this track.

‘Another Rooster In The Henhouse’ – The low point of the album personally. This sounds very much like one of the ’50s rockabilly cash-ins that sprang up as Elvis kicked off the rockabilly style. I’m not sure whether this is a Campbell original or a cover of an earlier track but either way the lyrics really don’t appeal to me at all and the song does very little for me.

‘King Of Fools’ – The first heartbreak track on the album. This is still a mid-tempo track but has a much gentler feel matching the subject of the song. Pleasant if not special in my opinion.

‘Time’ – An interesting cut that sits across the jazz/ rock’n’roll line.A track with a clear hooking riff begging a girl to spend a little more time …

‘Baby Don’t Go With Him’ – A pure rockabilly track that shows up the strength of the bass player in the band. The vocals have quite an Elvis touch to my ears – ‘Baby don’t-a-go with-im’.

‘Love, Lies and Heartaches’ – A rockabilly track closer to the country end of the spectrum. Some of the underlying finger picking reminds me very strongly of a Buddy Holly track but I can’t place which one it is.

‘Rawk-a-billy Fever’ – Another track that sounds straight out of those ’50s rockabilly cash-ins, some of the lyrics make me believe that this is an original by Buzz but I’m not quite sure.

‘Scot-Mo’ – Buzz rounds the album with a quiet country/rockabilly track to show the strengths of his finger picking. This wouldn’t sound out of place on Setzer goes instru-MENTAL.

Overall this is a decent rockabilly album. There are certainly plenty of tracks on the album that I really enjoy and the few that I would consider skipping are certainly in the minority. The album makes a good addition to any rockabilly collection and I can’t imagine that a fan of the Stray Cats or similar would want to turn this one down.

Buzz Campbell – Shivers and Shakes: 7/10

Article first published as Music Review: Buzz Campbell – Shivers and Shakes on Blogcritics.

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Lee Rocker – The Cover Sessions EP

A relativity low key release by Lee in early 2011. The Cover Sessions EP began life entitled The Midnight Radio and marked Lee’s recordings of a series of the songs he grew up with on the radio on Long Island, New York. There are six tracks on the EP and Lee plays most of the stringed instruments on the recordings. He claims that the recordings are neither rockabilly nor country but fall somewhere in between.

As you’d imagine, the bass dominates throughout the EP and Lee is slapping away with the abandon we’ve come to expect from the bass player for the greatest rockabilly band in the world! The feel of the EP is certainly very different to previous material, such as Black Cat Bone. I would say it’s closer to country than it is to rockabilly in feel and this may not be to the taste of all. As the press for the album indicates, most of the instrumentation is acoustic and apparently much comes from Lee’s collection of stringed instruments he has gathered across his career.

Track List

Come Together – The only track that I’m confident that I knew before hearing the EP, being a cover of The Beatles’ track from Abbey Road. The track kicks off with a new bass riff from Lee and some rockabilly style picking in the background. Lee’s vocals then kick in a sort of breathless, half-whispered style. From the second verse different instruments kick in, harmonica supports and then banjo plays a solo. An interesting rockabilly take on a famous track and one Lee takes well and makes his own.

Drivin’ My Life Away – A track originally laid down by Eddie Rabbitt (I believe!). Perhaps the most of the hybrid rockabilly/ country crossovers here. The backing rhythm has certainly been rocked up but the laying down of the banjo over the top keeps the country feel very much present. The vocals are strong and have been double-tracked for the chorus.

Honkey Cat – Originally written and recorded by Elton John, the mix is familiar here with the banjo covering a rocked up rhythm, dominated by Lee’s slapping bass, covered by a banjo over the top. At this point special mention has to be given to Rocker’s vocals which are strong throughout the EP and a highlight of all the tracks on the EP. An acoustic guitar solo features here.

City of New Orleans –  This is an interesting track with a strong American Folk feel to it, having been a hit for Arlo Guthrie. Lee keeps true to that feel on the cover where an acoustic guitar dominates the rhythm, placing the track somewhere between folk and country. This is a personal highlight on the album, I find the lyrics very expressive and the performance strong.

Ramblin Man – The most country of the tracks on The Cover Sessions, a cover based on the recording of The Allman Brothers Band. Lee’s cover perhaps is more country than the original, having banjo, slide guitar and washboard featuring strongly throughout. An interesting foil to his strongly rockabillyed cover of Hank Williams’ Lost Highway on Black Cat Bone.

Come Dancing – A spainish/ Mexican flavoured rendition of The Kinks’ track from the early 1980’s – when Lee was in full swing with Stray Cats. With the style mentioned above, this an interesting cover and I must say that I do prefer Lee’s vocal rendition to the original. This is the only track on the EP where the electric guitar features prominently, whether this is Lee, Spaaz or Bruce Campbell I wouldn’t like to say. An interesting cover and gives the EP a reflective finish about what has been lost since times past. I would hazard a guess that many of the Stray Cats’ early haunts are no more.

Overall this is an interesting EP in what feels new musical territory for Lee Rocker’s recordings. The musicianship is strong on all the tracks and goes to show Lee’s immense musical talent on all stringed instruments. However, on a truly personal note, the style of the EP isn’t really for me and I think I am looking forward more to the rockabilly album promised for May this year. The album is a good vehicle for Lee’s talents on a variety of instruments.

Lee Rocker – The Cover Sessions 6/ 10

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