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Stray Cats: Stray Cat Strut

American rockabilly band the Stray Cats has been back on the road for the first time in ten years - with fans rocking in the aisles like they did in the 1980s, when the trio were at the peak of their success.

The band was formed in 1979 in Massapequa, Long Island, by guitarist and vocalist Brian Setzer, drummer Slim Jim Phantom and double bassist Lee Rocker. They based their style on the sounds of the Sun Records' artists of the 1950s and other rock 'n' rollers, such as Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Carl Perkins.

Stray Cats Band

Born in April 1959, in Massapequa, Setzer learned to play the euphonium as a kid and was playing in jazz bands while still at school, although he became more interested in rock and punk as he grew up during the 1970s.

Originally known as the Tom Cats, the Stray Cats’ sound was a blend of rockabilly with modern punk elements. The group dressed in a mix of 1950s style garb, such as brothel creeper shoes and drape jackets, with a 1970s twist, including tight black zipper trousers and exaggerated gravity-defying quiff hairstyles.

 

UK move

In the late 1970s, the band played live in several New York underground punk clubs, such as CBGB and Max's Kansas City, but after their career was slow taking off in the United States, they decided to move to the UK in 1980, on the back of the '50s rock 'n' roll revival beginning at the time.

British rockabilly bands, such as the Polecats and King Kurt, were spearheading the movement. Subsequently, the Stray Cats enjoyed greater success in Britain and members of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who were spotted at their London gigs.

Producer Dave Edmunds also caught one of their live shows in the capital and liked what he heard. He took the band into the studio to cut their debut album, Stray Cats. It was released in the UK on Arista Records in 1981, peaking at number six in the album chart and setting the band on the road to success.

 

Hit singles

They also enjoyed chart success with their debut single, Runaway Boys, plus the two follow-ups, Rock This Town and Stray Cat Strut. While their first two singles had been fast, rousing rock 'n' roll, Stray Cat Strut was a slower, slinky tune, more in the mould of Heartbreak Hotel.

Written by Setzer and released on 17th April 1981, it reached number 11 in the UK singles chart and number three in the US Billboard Hot 100.

The lyrics give a stray cat human attributes, saying he "ain't got enough dough to pay the rent", so he lives in an alley, "flat broke". But he "don't care", as he's a "ladies' cat" and a "feline Casanova". All of this was depicted in the video, which was filmed in an alley.

The live video of the band members was interspersed with clips from a 1949 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon, called Bad Luck Blackie, in which a white kitten mercilessly tormented by a bulldog is helped by a black alley cat, who makes sure the bullying dog suffers all sorts of bad luck as a punishment. Bad Luck Blackie was voted number 15 in a poll of the best cartoons of all time in 1994.

 

Popular culture

Stray Cat Strut is probably the most famous of the Stray Cats' singles and after the band split up, Setzer reworked it with his subsequent group, the Brian Setzer Orchestra, formed in 1990.

Several bands did cover versions of the song, including Los Renegados in 1989, Jacky Los Daniels in 2006 and Reel Big Fish, also in 2006. It also featured in two video games, Rock Band in 2007 and Guitar Hero in 2008.

It even popped up twice on the television show Dancing with the Stars, when contestants Karina Smirnoff and Rocco Di Spirito danced a foxtrot to it in the seventh series, followed by another foxtrot, this time by Cheryl Burke and William Levy during the 14th season of the show.

 

Later career

After the success of Stray Cat Strut, the band went on to record a series of hit albums and singles. Despite splitting up a number of times - most notably in 1984, at the peak of their success, due to unspecified "internal conflict" between the band members - they subsequently re-formed in 1986.

Although not working together full-time, they continued to play live gigs from time to time, although they had been quiet for the past decade, until re-forming again in 2018 to play at the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend. This was followed by a gig at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa in late August, in front of a 14,000-strong crowd.

Although Stray Cat Strut shows alley life as being cool for cats, in reality, most felines would rather have a nice warm bed indoors!

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