Rock This Town
Slim Jim Phantom, Lee Rocker and Scotty Moore - July 1,
Photo © Robert
In 1993 Lee
Rocker met Scotty for the first time while recording in Memphis with
his band "Big Blue". Lee's guitarist, Mike
Eldred, a long time fan of Scotty's had recently began a friendship
with him and at his invitation Scotty traveled to Memphis for the
sessions. Since then Scotty and Lee have become good friends and
on many occasions through the years have shared bills and performed
Mike Eldred, Scotty, Henree DeBaun and Lee Rocker - Big Blue
Lee, while with the Stray Cats helped reintroduce
Rockabilly music to the pop world and a style of playing upright bass
reminiscent of Bill Black when he played with Scotty and Elvis in the
'50s. Unknown to a lot of people, Lee, in addition to bass, is
also a phenomenal guitarist in his own right.
Tara, Scotty, Lee and Brophy
The Gibson Lounge February 16, 2002
photo© courtesy Gibson
As recently as 2002, Scotty went on tour with Lee's
current band which features Lee on bass, Tara
Novick and Brophy
Dale on guitars and Jimmy
Sage on drums. They toured all around the mid-west, mid-south
and northeast hitting many venues from Memphis to New York and Boston.
Scotty has lots of fun playing with them and affectionately refers to
them as "The Little B**tards".
Scotty, Lee and Brophy
House of Blues in Cambridge, MA May, 19, 2002
The following article was originally published online in The
Memphis Flyer and is included here for posterity.
Music legend Scotty Moore hits town with a Stray Cat
and a Country Gentleman.
It's been almost half a century since guitarist Scotty
Moore reinvented rock-and-roll with Bill Black and Elvis Presley down at
706 Union Avenue. In those days, Sam Phillips' Recording Service and Sun
label were hardly tourist attractions. Even locals scarcely glanced at
the small storefront on the west side of town, and had anyone noticed
the activity going on inside -- bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf and Ike
Turner coming and going, wannabe singers recording acetates for $3.98
plus tax, and hillbilly groups like Moore and Black's Starlite Wranglers
trying to catch Phillips' ear -- they would've shaken their heads and
walked on, hardly aware that within those four walls a revolution was
When Phillips put Elvis (who, in the beginning, was one of those
$3.98 customers), Scotty, and Bill together, nothing jelled until the
group took a break. Elvis was fooling around on his guitar when the
blues song "That's All Right, Mama" popped into his head.
"All of a sudden," Scotty told author Peter Guralnick,
"Elvis just started jumping around and acting the fool, and then
Bill picked up his bass, and I started playing with them." Sam
Phillips stuck his head out of the control room to ask the trio what
they were doing. "Back up," he said. "Try to find a place
to start and do it again."
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Elvis, Scotty, and Bill inspired countless would-be rockers, from the
Beatles and the Rolling Stones on through Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. Yet
until the Stray Cats came along in 1979, no one took what they did --
the sound, the style, the lyrics -- and reinterpreted it so literally.
Formed in the midst of the mainstream punk/new wave movement, the Stray
Cats -- Lee Rocker and his pals Brian Setzer and Slim Jim Phantom --
took rock-and-roll back to the ground floor with their songs about fast
cars and faster women, house parties, street rumbles, and cool
For the Stray Cats, all natives of Long Island, Memphis was their
mecca -- home of not just Sun Studio and Elvis Presley but also Dorsey
and Johnny Burnette and Paul Burlison (the original Rock and Roll Trio),
Charlie Feathers, and Jerry Lee Lewis. But Presley, Black, and the
Burnette brothers were dead by the time the Stray Cats came on the
scene, and despite occasional flickers from Feathers and Lewis, Memphis
rockabilly was forgotten. When Lee Rocker finally found the nerve to
look up Scotty Moore, he discovered that this hero, too, had abandoned
the Bluff City in 1964.
Back in '57, Moore and Black had resigned their positions backing the
world's biggest rock-and-roll star after Elvis refused to bump their
salaries up from a paltry $200 a week. Moore began engineering and
producing around Memphis, working for the Fernwood label (where he
produced a Top 10 hit, Thomas Wayne's "Tragedy") and at Sam
Phillips' new studio at 639 Madison
Avenue, just around the corner from
Sun. But in early '64, after he recorded his own instrumental album -- The
Guitar That Changed the World -- Phillips let him go, and Moore
headed straight to Nashville.
Soured, Moore hung his guitar up for 24 years. But he continued to
work behind the scenes as co-owner and engineer at Music City Recorders.
He opened a tape-duplicating business and bought a print shop. Moore was
a hardworking businessman when Rocker called him in '94. The Stray Cats
had broken up the previous year, but Rocker had a new band, Big Blue,
that was set to record in Memphis. "I came down there and we just
hit it off," Moore says. It marked a career high for Rocker, who
was ecstatic about working with the legendary guitarist.
"Scotty put his guitar in the car and drove over to
Memphis," Rocker recalls. "We were recording at Kiva [now the
House of Blues Studio], and he came in and did two songs with us --
'Little Buster' and Jimmy Reed's 'Shame, Shame, Shame.' It was just
Moore was familiar with Rocker's work. "I had seen [the Stray
Cats] two or three times on television. I kept wondering why they were
playing that stuff so fast," he laughs. "Lee's a great bass
player. The stuff that he does is right in the groove. We've been
working together ever since."
Though a 30-year age difference separates the two musicians, it's
obvious that they enjoy working together. "We do some of the stuff
that Lee's recorded, of course some Elvis tunes, some different blues,
Carl Perkins," Moore says. "What I'm real proud of is how the
music's held up over all these years. This is still what people want to
And the two are excited to bring their act to Memphis and the Gibson
Lounge. "I don't know, offhand, when I last played in
Memphis," Moore says. "I'm looking forward to playing the
Lounge. That's how I like playing, in a real small room. We're gonna be
in your face!"
Moore should feel at home in the Gibson-operated club -- he's been
playing Gibson guitars since 1952. "I played a Fender Esquire for a
little while, when I was in the Navy," he says. "But when I
started playing standing up, it wasn't comfortable, which is why I
switched to Gibson." Although he currently plays a Chet Atkins
Country Gentleman model, Moore played an ES-295 when he was with Elvis.
A few years ago, Gibson issued twelve Scotty Moore signature guitars,
"a modified ES-295," he relates. "There's one in the Rock
'N' Soul Museum [in Memphis], but I want to design a guitar from
"In fact," says Moore, lowering his voice conspiratorially,
"the Country Gentleman I'm playing -- I made a few changes on it. I
made it feel good -- like an old pair of house shoes or like cuddlin' a
girl up in the cradle of your arm."
When, at the end of our conversation, Scotty Moore declares,
"I'm glad I'm still playing," it's obvious he means it.
"I didn't realize until I started back how much fun it was,"
he says, taking a deep breath. "When I'm playing with Lee, I feel
at home on stage. I have a lot of time to make up for."
more photos of Lee Rocker and Scotty Moore at The Lounge,
Saturday, February 16th and others in the scrapbook photopage