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Rockin’ with Rocker 

Former Cat strays into town; Nightflying celebrates 24 years.

ROCKER: Stray Cats bassist.
  • ROCKER: Stray Cats bassist.
In the beginnings of MTV back in 1982, when videos spun by Martha, Nina, Mark and J.J. made up of the biggest chunk of airplay, the retro-rockabilly group the Stray Cats hit TV screens with songs such as “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut.” Lee Rocker, the upright bass player in the trio led by Brian Setzer back then, makes a solo appearance Thursday, Dec. 9, at Sticky Fingerz. Rocker, calling earlier this week for an interview about 90 minutes late from his home in Orange County, Calif., sounded tired, his voice raspy. Was he sleeping one off a performance the night before, still rocking like he was some 20 years ago? “I hate to admit it, but yes,” he confessed. Rocker, reflecting about the Stray Cats’ boom in the early ’80s and the influence of music videos on their success, said, “I feel like we would have still made it, but we would have had to work a lot harder. We were basically just a bar band in New York. We went to England to work and then came back with this great reaction to our videos. And, it was a great time for music, with some bands emerging like the Clash. There were also some terrible bands from the same era.” Rocker enjoys what he hears from the new-school rockabilly revivalists such as Reverend Horton Heat and Mike Ness. “I like all those guys; they have more of a punk element in their music. I lean towards a Carl Perkins-inspired rock ’n’ roll vibe,” Rocker said. After several years with the Stray Cats, Rocker went solo for a while, then reunited with bandmates Setzer and Slim Jim Phantom in 2003 for the huge SoCal rockabilly “Hootenanny” festival. They regrouped again this summer for a well-received European tour, in which a new DVD, “Rumble in Brixton,” was recorded live at the Brixton Academy of Music in London. As a solo artist Rocker has released “Blue Suede Nights,” “No Cats,” “Lee Rocker Live” and, most recently, “Bulletproof” and “Burnin’ Love.” Rocker says he doesn’t mind changing up the setlist from venue to venue, depending on audience want and energy. “I’ll throw in some covers from Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and of course Stray Cats with new originals from ‘Bulletproof,’ ” Rocker said. “I like to keep each show fresh.” Backing up Rocker will be his long-time tour mates Brophy Dale on guitar and Jimmy Sage on drums, along with guitar-great Buzz Campbell of Hot Rod Lincoln. Austin, Texas, roots-rock band Back Porch Mary opens at 9 p.m. Admission is $8. Nightflying’s first headline, “John Lennon Murdered,” was an inauspicious way for the free music pub to start its maiden voyage, but it’s a trip that has lasted 24 years. Publisher Peter Read remembers hearing the news about Lennon on the radio in the late-night hours as he prepared the first cover to be sent to print, on Dec. 8, 1980. During the next 24 years the magazine has served a happier calling in highlighting local and statewide artists, sending acts to the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, and interviewing music promoters and movers and shakers around the scene. Read, who battled back from a brain aneurysm last year, is having a shindig to celebrate 24 years with two events planned on Thursday, Dec. 9. The first starts at 7 p.m. at Juanita’s Cantina Ballroom, and then it moves next door to Midtown Billiards, which stays open until 5 a.m. The “cast of thousands,” as Read calls them — area musicians from the past 24 years — will jam, including Mojo Depot, the Amy Garland Band, Liquid Groove Mojo, Big John Miller, the Jeff Coleman Band, Barbara Raney, Doug Treadway, Travis Caudell and Aces Wild, Tony Nardi, Apple Kahler, Dean Agus and Marc Turner and Blue Cahoots. Expect a few surprise guests to attend as well. Admission is $6 to the 7 p.m. show at Juanita’s. The show begins at midnight at Midtown; admission is $3 for members and $7 for a new membership and admission. The Arkansas River Blues Society’s long-time Tuesday Night Blues Jam has moved to Monday nights at Juanita’s to make room on Tuesdays for Juanita’s Local Edge Live, a local rock band play-off sponsored by 100.3 the Edge. Participants are eligible for prizes, and the winner will have the opportunity to have their demos heard by major label record execs. The station will have a live remote every Tuesday, and the 9 p.m., all-ages event has a $5 cover. The next installment, on Tuesday, Dec. 14, will feature 13X, Sychosis and Plexis; on Dec. 21 Strange As Fiction, Faultline and Between the Second will play. Finals will be held Dec. 28. The ARBS will still have a Tuesday jam but at a new locale: Celebrities Restaurant and Lounge (formerly Tang’s) at 1521 Merrill Drive. The club is hoping to attract the age-25-and-up crowd, according to management, and features live music or DJs most every night. Celebrities is closed Sundays. Admission to the blues jam is $2 for members and $4 for nonmembers at either venue. Acoustic Sounds Cafe welcomes former shepherd Philippe Bertaud on Friday, Dec. 10. His love of acoustic guitar took him from rural southern France to study at the National Conservatory of Nice, and headlining concerts beginning at age 16. A true “artist without borders,” his world travel experience (from France to Asia, Brazil to Albania — and everywhere in between) is combined with impeccable technique and interpretation of classics from Scarlatti and Handel to more contemporary selections. Local drummer turned fingerstyle guitarist Steve Davison (who competed in the 2002 and 2003 Arkansas Acoustic Festival competition in Conway) opens at 7:30 p.m. Acoustic Sounds Cafe is at the Second Presbyterian Church, 600 Pleasant Valley Drive. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for students. Looking ahead: Make plans to see pop-rock recording artist Edwin McCain at the next Peabody Rooftop Party in the Peabody Grand Ballroom on Thursday, Dec. 16. Doors open at 5 p.m. and McCain takes the stage at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 at the door for ages 21 and up. Call 399-8047 for more information.
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