The Stray Cats formed in Massapequa, Long Island, New York, in 1979 in the midst of the punk/new wave scene, playing retro-rockabilly style.
Heavily influenced both musically and visually by Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Bill Haley & His Comets, the trio quickly developed a large following in New York playing at CBGBs, Max’s Kansas City as well as venues on Long Island.
When the band heard there was a revival of the 1950s Teddy Boy youth subculture in England, the band moved to the UK where they caught on quickly.
Their original songs and some top-notch production by Dave Edmunds quickly moved them into the UK charts.
Their self-titled debut album was released in England in 1981 on Arista Records and they had three hits that year with Rock This Town, Stray Cat Strut and Runaway Boys.
The UK follow-up album, Gonna Ball, was not so well-received, but the combined sales of the first two albums was enough to convince EMI America to compile the best tracks from the two UK albums and issue an American album (titled Built for Speed) in 1982.
The LP went on to sell double platinum in the US and Canada and was the Number Two album on the Billboard album charts for 26 weeks.
The band returned to the US just in time to mine the early mother lode of MTV video-land and enjoyed a number of further hit singles, including (She’s) Sexy And 17 and My One Desire.
Musical and personal conflicts began to emerge as Slim Jim Phantom married actress Britt Ekland and Brian Setzer made guest appearances with stars like Bob Dylan and became the concert guitarist for Robert Plant‘s Honeydrippers project.
In late 1984 the band added guitarist and fellow Long Island native Tommy Byrnes on second guitar and harmony vocals but called it a day after a European and US tour.
After various – mostly unsuccessful – solo projects the original trio regrouped in the 1990s with their style relatively unchanged. The group still reunite periodically for live tours.
Lee Rocker (Lee Drucher)
Slim Jim Phantom (James McDonnell)