Acclaimed rockabilly bassist Lee Rocker has been performing for more than 25 years both as a solo artist and as a founding member of the Stray Cats. The Cats were nominated for a Grammy in 1982 and appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine that same year. They reunited last year for a 25th anniversary tour. Rocker has been coming to Reno often to play with his own band at The Garage in the Reno Hilton for five years now, and he just released his latest solo disc, Curse of Rockabilly. On this disc Lee “covers” himself with a new version of the Stray Cats hit “Rock This Town.” To hear some sample tracks, check out www.leerocker.com. Rocker will be playing at the Garage Oct. 21 with the Saddle Tramps.
What was it like being on the cover of the Rolling Stone?
That was in 1982 and at the height of the Stray Cats. That was an amazing, amazing time. It was unbelievable; it was a definite high point, one of the goals that I think for anyone ever is to be on the cover of the Rolling Stone. Richard Avedon shot the photos, both the cover and the inside shots. I have still have an original copy hanging on my wall.
When you were a teenager up in your bedroom singing or playing guitar to the mirror, and then—bam!, you hit it big—did it turn out like you thought it would?
It pretty much has been. I don’t know how much thinking I did at that point in my life. When the Stray Cats had our first record deal, I was 17. I was still a kid, really. Being a kid, I knew what I wanted to do, but I never really thought more than a couple of days into the future. But it’s been an amazing trip, and I don’t have a complaint in the world. I’ve had this career now for more than 25 years, touring all around the world and making records and having a blast doing it. I’ve got to play with my heroes and make records and do what I wanted to since I was a kid.
You’ve played with George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Jeff Beck, Robert Plant, Carl Perkins and many others. Is there anyone you haven’t played with that you would like to?
I would love to do something with Bob Dylan. He’s been on my list forever. And it hasn’t happened. We’ve come across each other over the years, but I’ve never got to work with him.
What do you think you and Dylan would sound like together?
I think that the upright (bass) would lend itself to a lot of his stuff. I’m just such a big fan. There are a lot of good musicians and styles of music out there. But there are very few that are important as Dylan.
Is there anybody else you’d like to play with?
Not to work with in that sense, but as for a producer, I’d like to work with Rick Rubins. I love his production; his stuff with Johnny Cash is so perfectly done. I’ve produced myself for many years now, and I like having that control, but I’d be happy to give up that control to have his input.
How do you like playing in Reno?
I look forward to playing in Reno. It’s about twice a year we play at the Garage. I love the room, and I love the sound in there. It’s definitely a blast.