The Rockabilly Revival

30 years after its conception, Rock N’ Roll music had under gone a hand full of metamorphoses. From glitzy glam rock to soul soothing folk rock, interpretations of the 1950’s genre were erupting the charts, crafting Rock N’ Roll into a vast catalog, and presenting sub-genre’s suitable for just about any listener. Rock N’ Roll music had been shipped across the world, experimented through the lens of different cultures, and enjoyed by people of all ages.

By the early 1980’s, the most shocking and fresh sound a rocker could produce would be to hearken back to those seemingly prehistoric, bare bones, hollow body guitar, upright bass, stripped down drum kit, simple, yet thrilling, days.

Enter, the Stray Cats.

Initially infatuated by the jamming sounds of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, a young Brian Setzer (lead guitarist and vocalist for the Stray Cats) wrongly assumed that the Beatles, “Honey Don’t” had been written by the band themselves. It was until Setzer’s father set him straight, stating, ‘Those four guys with the long hair didn’t do that song. That’s by Carl Perkins. You don’t know “Blue Suede Shoes”?’

Setzer then found himself in Rockabilly love.

Consuming all things 1950’s Rock N’ Roll, Setzer, and his Stray Cat band mates, (double bassist Lee Rocker, and drummer Slim Jim Phantom) didn’t just master the music, they dressed the part. Dawned in a tall pompadour hairdos, styled in leather jackets and bowling shirts, the Stray Cats clearly stood out amongst the late 1970’s and early 1980’s crowd.

Initially attempting to break onto the music scene during the ever prominent Disco era in the U.S., the Stray Cats and their slightly punk’d out version of 1950’s Rockabilly, were deemed as outcasts.  Tony Bidgood, an expatriate Englishman familiar with the British rock scene from the mod days, dug the Stray Cats sound and appearance. Bidgood suggested that they take their act across the pond, certain they’d find success they deserved.

Luckily for the Stray Cats, England appeared to have never truly gotten over Rockabilly music. Bill Haley and Gene Vincent had experienced success in Britain long after their prime, and the same can be said for a number of legendary American Blues musicians. Despite the obvious popular presence of the punk and glam rock scenes, Rockabilly appeared to remain prevalent.

Due to this admiration for music from America’s past, Tony Bidgood was right, the Stray Cats did find success in England.

After booking one sold out gig after another, the Stray Cats began to form a loyal following. Eventually, they met musician and producer, Dave Edmunds who was passionate about their sound and intent on promoting their music, keeping it as true to them as possible while adding a professional twist.

In November of 1980 their first single, “Runaway Boys” hit the pavement and shot the cats into the British Top Ten. Next, “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock this Town” proved the band to be much more than a nostalgia act, but as an innovative force. Their success in England sparked a revival of Rockabilly clothing and forged the way for their accomplishments within the U.S.

The attention and notoriety the Stray Cats gained within the United States provided a gateway for other 1980’s Rockabilly groups such as the Blasters, and Rockats. Additionally, the Stray Cats gained an astonishing fandom when the likes of the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin praised the band for honoring the music that inspired them to first pick up the guitar.

The Stray Cats did the seemingly impossible. They crafted original tunes that respectfully maintained the essence and style of the early Rock N’ Roll music, providing a whole new generation with an appreciation for the roots of such an iconic genre. The Stray Cats brought the past into the present, reminding everyone exactly what Rock N’ Roll is and to never forget where it came from.

–Victoria Shaffer

“Biography.” Stray Cats,
“Brian Setzer – Interview – 11/4/1984 – Rock Influence (Official)” Youtube, uploaded by Docs&Interviews on MV, 26 September 2014,
Loder, Kurt. “The Stray Cats’ Vintage Rock.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 3 Mar. 1983,
“Stray Cats, Blasters, Rockats in 80s rockabilly revival interviews” Youtube, uploaded by John Fun, 25 February 2011,



9 thoughts on “The Rockabilly Revival

  1. Nicely done! I saw the Stray Cats on tour in 1983 … and will be seeing their one and only US reunion gig next month in Las Vegas (as well as seeing Sun legends like Narvel Felts and Jerry Lee Lewis, and the brilliant guitarist Duane Eddy).

    I’m enjoying your forays into musicology. Keep it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember when Stray Cats came out. They were like a breath of fresh air to the other music being played. Setzer had style. It resurfaced later when he brought back another type of music, which may be the subject of one of your future posts.

    Liked by 1 person

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