Interview by Ellie Roberts
Recognised as one of the rockabilly heroes of the 80’s, Slim Jim will be returning to the famous punk rock place that is Liverpool. He took the City in to his heart in the early 80’s when he performed on Mathew Street with his former band members from the Stray Cats’. We spoke to Slim Jim about his life as a rock and roll drummer and what’s on the horizon for 2015 and onwards.
Before you became a rock and roll icon, as a young and up and coming drummer, who would you say was your biggest influence?
I was influenced in the beginning, by all drummers. I was impressed and fascinated with anyone who could make a living at it and travel. I have always dug Ringo and Charlie Watts. I was also influenced by jazz drummers like Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones and Tony Williams as well as Pop, Blues and Funky guys like Mick Fleetwood, Jeff Porcaro and Bernard Purdie; I could listen to Buddy Rich solos all day long. When I found rockabilly music, it changed my life. After that, drummers like Dickie Harrell and DJ Fontana were the most influential.
You’ve said in the past you didn’t choose to play the drums, the drums chose you – what is your earliest memory of a desire to play the drums?
I always knew that I wanted to be in the biz in some way and saw the drums as a way to see the world. When I saw guitar, sax or piano players, I could not in a thousand years imagine being good enough to do it for a living. I could relate to the drums and the drummers. I was the guy that organised the band for parties, school dances or jam sessions. Getting together with the other two was the real game changer.
Did you perform at any gigs in Liverpool back in the day?
Yes, we played Liverpool on the first Cats’ tour at Eric’s on Mathew Street; I think it was a famous punk rock place. In an ironic twist, we played there in December 1980, the day John was lost. We took the train from London and saw all the newspapers, we as New Yorkers felt a funny connection. People were pilling bouquets of flowers in front of the club, I think the cavern had not yet been reopened and Eric’s was the nearest club. We suggested postponing the show but went on as planned. We closed with “I saw her standing there”, the audience understood it was a tribute and they loved it.
How will it feel returning to Liverpool and performing hits by the ‘Stray Cats’ without the original band members and are you looking forward to it?
I’ve been back to Liverpool many times on my own and always dig it. I shared a flat with Captain Sensible for a few weeks while we made an album in Liverpool in the early 2000’s, that’s a whole chapter right there! I always like coming here; it’s a rock and roll City and a unique place, unlike anywhere else I’ve been. Maybe like Memphis in its love of music and influence on the rest of the world. I would always like to play with the other Cats’ guys and hopefully will do it again.
Back in 2013 you visited Mathew Street and stopped to have a chat at the John Lennon statue and the cavern club. What is it about Liverpool that’s special to you?
I love rock and roll history and am a total Beatles nerd, I know all the facts and figures and all the inside stories. I knew George very well and hung out with him quite a few times. I asked him hundreds of questions and he would always be happy to answer them. He liked me and every now and then he would call and ask, “Is this Slim Jim from the Stray Cats?” I’d answer, “Yes.” And he’d say “This is George Harrison from the Beatles, you want to come over to my hotel and hang out for a while? I’d always say “Yes! I’ll be right there.” It’s a true blessing that I knew and had a relationship with George. I never met John but I know that he had rockabilly in his heart and I like to think he would have really dug the Cats. I saw Ringo in LA a few weeks ago and had a great chat with him. For me Liverpool was a mythic, musical place and another of the many things I’m grateful for is the fact that over the last 35 years I’ve got to go there many times and be accepted by the people there, who have a real knowledge and love for Rock and Roll music.
What can we expect from your gig at the 02 academy in Liverpool?
On this trip to Liverpool, I have a great young rockabilly band called the “Hound dogs” backing me, a special appearance from Liverpool locals “Furious”, who are backing me on a few of my other shows, fantastic local teddy boy inspired Rock and Roll, a few Cats’ hits and some family favorites. A good, fun night of Rock n roll is guaranteed by me!
What is your favorite ‘Stray Cats’ song and what one are you looking forward to performing the most?
My favourite Cats’ song is “Runaway boys”, it was the first one to get played on the radio and launched my extraordinary life.
What does it feel like to have gained such huge rock n roll icons such as Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Robert Plant to your fan base?
These guys were the biggest rock stars of the day and a few months before I was listening to their records in Massapequa New York. Then before I knew it they were coming to our gigs. It was surreal, but, at the same time we were so good and I understood why people wanted to come. I was just going along with it and loving every minute of it. I still see Robert plant and he is a true lover and supporter of rockabilly.
Do you feel as though your fans have changed through the generations of your career or do you believe that your original fans are the ones who still stand by you today?
I have a nice combination of fans. The original supporters always still come out and a rockabilly is still always a cool choice as it attracts new recruits all the time. I love seeing the new kids finding this music and I’m happy to be of assistance.
In your opinion, has the genre of rock n roll changed since you first begun in the business?
There are more things to put in the rock stew since I started. The same Elvis, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry records sound just as amazing to me. But Rock and Roll as a business and lifestyle is slightly more main stream and perhaps less outrageous but it’s still an alternative life choice and very difficult to make a long term living with. I feel fortunate every day and will continue to play as long as I live. I am in good shape so you might be stuck with me for a while!
What would you say is the highlight of your career?
US festival was a big one, just getting a record deal and getting the whole ball rolling was very impressive. We were the true alternative and very different. We brought our own brand of rockabilly into the mainstream. The Cats’ 2004 live DVD “rumble in Broxton” is a perfect rock show. The TV special with Carl Perkins and George and co, continues to be one that has legs in mind!
After your tour across the UK this August what is it we can expect from you next?
I’ve made a record under the band name, “The Jack Tars” with Captain Sensible, Mike Peters from The Alarm and Chris Cheney from the Living End. Look for an album and UK tour later in the year.
To win one of three pairs of tickets simply follow us on Twitter and tweet us with the answer to this question:
In what year did Stray Cats form?
Closing date for entries: 12 noon Friday August 7