Grammy Award-nominated Stray Cats bass player Lee Rocker is ready to rock his hometown inside out. The Laguna Beach resident and rockabilly icon will debut his newest show Sunday at the Laguna Playhouse.
Rocker calls the performance a hybrid of many things – not just a concert of his former band and solo career hits. Before he even picks up his double bass to play, a short film will be presented on a large screen featuring footage from Rocker’s early music career, including The Stray Cats’ 1981 performance on “Saturday Night Live.”
“This show is a time for me to tell stories about my time on the road and in the music business for the last 35 years,” he said. “It’s a twist on what I normally do; it’s a concert but has a theater feel to it and enables me to communicate to my audience in a different way, as well as play music.”
Formed in 1979, the New York-based Stray Cats consisted of Rocker and his schoolmates James McDonnell and Brian Setzer, who developed a large following in the New York music scene before taking their rockabilly punk sound to the United Kingdom in the early 1980s. The band experienced major success here and overseas, selling over 10 million albums featuring chart-topping hits such as “Stray Cat Strut,” “Rock This Town” and “Runaway Boys.”
Rocker, known for making his upright double bass appear as if it were a lightweight instrument as he spins, throws it in the air, catches and plays it on stages throughout the world, will share stories about his adventures in lugging the giant piece of equipment around.
“I was 17 when the band and I moved from New York to London,” he said. “We actually bought four plane tickets, three for the band and one for the bass. We were virtually kids and quickly realized we hadn’t thought this through and had nowhere to stay, so we ended up sleeping in all-night movie theaters pretty cheaply. One of them played ‘The Three Stooges’ and one of the others played adult entertainment, which was less restful,” Rocker said with a laugh.
Each story will be followed with performances by Rocker’s current four-piece band, consisting of guitarist Buzz Campbell, drummer Larry Mitchell and keyboardist Joey Guevara, including a special appearance by Rocker’s son and Chapman University alum Justin Drucker, who plays guitar. Film and photo images will be displayed throughout the show.
Rocker, whose solo career has included performing with the likes of George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, Leon Russel, Keith Richards and John Fogerty, will also perform a selection of songs from his solo albums, including “Night Train to Memphis,” “Racin’ the Devil” and “The Curse of Rockabilly.”
Rocker says the inspiration for his newest show came from being cast as as bassist Clayton Perkins, the brother of Sun Records recording artist Carl Perkins, in the Broadway musical “Million Dollar Quartet” in 2011 for a 12-show.
“I had a great time being on a stage in a different setting other than playing music,” he said. “The part itself wasn’t really acting; I was portraying a bass player so it wasn’t a stretch, but it sort of taught me to tell stories and convey music, instead of just getting on stage and performing. This new show took me about 12 months to put together, and the Laguna shows will allow me to share it in an intimate setting with my audience.”