I found this on my old hard-drive, it’s an interview I did on the telephone with Slim Jim Phantom a few years back but as it’s mainly talking about ‘the old days’ I thought I’d post it for anyone who’s interested. Comments appreciated!
Interview with Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats
We were all very young when we first got to England, Lee and I were around 18 and Brian was a bit older, we had been playing in New York and doing pretty well but nobody knew about rockabilly there. We kept bumping into English rockabillies who told us that the scene was huge over there, and that everyone knew about Gene Vincent and that Eddie Cochran’s birthday was virtually a national holiday. We thought that England sounded the place for us and jumped on a plane with one-way tickets. When we landed we expected to be greeted by a nation of rockabillies, but of course it wasn’t like that. We just sort of looked at each other and said, ‘Well what do we do now?’ The answer to that was we did nothing, just bummed around Hyde Park and various squat houses. We got friendly with Keith Altham, we just knocked on his door, we had no name, no demos, nothing, we just did a show in his office, we gave it our all, stood on the drums stood on the bass and just went wild. He loved us and let us sleep on the floor of the rehearsal room but still nothing happened. Then when we were on the verge of going home we were sat in a pub sharing a packet of crisps and half a lager because we were so poor and in walked this guy dressed in full ted gear, he got talking to us and it turned out to be Ronnie Lane of the Faces. He took us under his wing and took us back to his big house in Twickenham and let us stay.
That’s when it all started to change, he got us some gigs, 3rd on the bill to start with, but all we wanted was the chance to show people what we could do and gave it our all, we played The Greyhound and Golden Lion amongst others, there was an immediate buzz all of a sudden we’d be playing at these little pubs and we’d spot Keith Richards, Robert Plant and Chrissie Hynde in the audience. It all went from there, which is amazing because we were so close to going home.
What about the Brixton Gig
Well the Brixton gig was the gig of a lifetime, it was the first time we had done anything that big in England, and previously we had been at places like The Hammersmith Odeon. It was almost a homecoming gig because London is where we first became popular. Contrary to what people have said, we have always wanted to keep playing and we have always been friends and have been since grade school but everyone has been occupied, Lee was doing his solo stuff and Brian hit with the Orchestra so had to keep running with it. We did manage to get together to do one show in LA, but we didn’t really know what to expect, we thought maybe we had been forgotten about and that just a handful of middle aged rockabillies would turn up, but on the day it was amazing, 11,000 kids going mad. That gave us the inspiration to do more, we couldn’t believe all those kids were into us, so we all agreed to keep 2004 free and do this tour. Going back to Brixton, it was a very special show, we had loads of friends and family there, everything went right, it was perfect and very emotional, a very special night.
What about the future, any bands who might take the Stray Cats crown?
Well the rockabilly scene is huge and underground the world over, it ebbs and flows with popularity, in California the hot rod culture keeps it alive and makes it pretty big, as for taking over from us, well I don’t know, we were the first band to break into the singles charts and nobody else has managed that. The Rev Horton Heat is great and very popular but has had no hit records. One of the best bands that came really close to getting the hit to break them was The Living End.
And the Cats?
It’s easy for us now, there is no pressure on us so it’s great fun we are all laid back and can enjoy ourselves, we are doing some TV shows and recording some new songs for an album that will be out next year, yeah just want to play and have fun.
Interviewed by Simon Nott