Rocker has recorded with Carl Perkins, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Willie Nelson. (Photo courtesy of Lee Rocker )
After finishing a 12-show run with the musical “Million Dollar Quartet” on Broadway, the Stray Cat’s Lee Rocker is ready to step out onto Santa Ana’s Galaxy Theatre stage with his stand-up bass, March 5, to celebrate the release of his new solo EP “The Cover Sessions.”
Rocker built his career playing rockabilly music, which is a mixture of blues, swing, and high-energy rock ‘n’ roll, with the Stray Cats in the ‘80s, but said he took a different direction with this album.
Rocker said in the last few years he began collecting various folk instruments such as banjos, mandolins, autoharps, accordions, washboards and other instruments from garage sales and music stores, and wanted to incorporate them in the making of his new album.
“This isn’t a rockabilly record, but an acoustic record with many different elements,” Rocker said. “I’ve done rockabilly all my life so this is like being an painter and painting with different colors and things.”
According to Rocker’s publicist, this new album features covers of The Beatles’ “Come Together”, Elton John’s “Honky Cat”, The Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man,” and three other songs that influenced Rocker throughout his career.
“I found myself playing songs I heard on the radio as a kid, and it evolved into these cover sessions,” Rocker said.
Another musician who deeply influenced Rocker is Carl Perkins, who appeared in the original “Million Dollar Quartet” alongside Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis in a famed recording session on Dec. 4, 1956. The Broadway musical “Million Dollar Quartet” is based on this recording session.
In the musical, Rocker played Perkins’ brother Jay Perkins, as well as providing the shows bass lines. Because Perkins was a dear friend and long-time hero of Rocker’s, he said his part in this show had special meaning for him. He was also thrilled that this musical portrayed Perkins’ story and his impact on rock ‘n’ roll.
“That’s what was fantastic about it was that it told Carl’s story.” Rocker said. “Most people, or music fans, know Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, but Carl Perkins is the forgotten founder of rock ‘n’ roll and this told his story.”
Perkins’ music, and other rockabilly and blues artists such as Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker, initially inspired Rocker to begin playing the stand up bass. In 1980, Rocker and the Stray Cats became immensely popular playing rockabilly in London with hits such as “Rock this Town” and “Stray Cat Strut”, and eventually moved back to the U.S. to experience even bigger success.
In 1983, while performing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., Rocker met Perkins personally for the first time. Rocker said after their set the band ran off stage, but heard how the crowd was screaming for them.
“So we ran out for an encore and we saw Carl Perkins was running out with us,” Rocker said, “He grabbed a guitar and started playing with us.”
After four hard years of touring, the Stray Cats broke up in 1984, but have reunited for shows and various albums intermittently since then. Rocker has continued to record solo albums, his latest EP “The Cover Sessions” will be available March 15.
According to his website, he has recorded tracks with Carl Perkins, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Willie Nelson.
Rocker has over 30 years of experience in the music industry, and said that to be a professional musician you have to know that music is not an easy job, but you just have to have a thirst for success, whatever that may be.
“You’ve got to bring joy to it, and you have to approach things like you’ve never done them before and just give your whole self to it,” he said. “You can’t just go through the motions, every time has to be like the first time.”
For Rocker, music is his passion and said when performing “I feel like I’m doing what I’m made to do, there’s a lot of happiness, a lot of joy, it’s just a lot of fun and it feels right.”