The Stray Cats at Tuts, Chicago, Illinois — December 1981
One day, in June 1981 I was hanging out with Dick Verucchi, the drummer of The Jerks, when he played “Ubangi Stomp,” a song by a group called The Stray Cats for me.
“What do you think?” Dick asked as he handed me the album cover. “Do these guys rock or what?”
They definitely rocked.
Back then, The Stray Cats were still pretty much an unknown band in the States unless you managed to get your hands on their debut album, which was an import from the UK. There was a bit of a rockabilly revival going on—a few months earlier I had seen The Rockats, a New York-based band open for The Romantics at SIU—and I would soon start listening to The Polecats and The Meteors. Of course, The Cramps were still playing their own twisted style of rockabilly that was often dubbed “pyscho-billy.”
If you were into Punk Rock’s/New Wave’s musical evolutions which spawned such early 80’s bands like Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Heaven 17, or Bow Wow Wow, you might have thought The Stray Cats were just another one of those bands breaking onto the scene. Sure, it might have been convenient and easy to lop them in with the rest of the class of 1981, but The Stray Cats defied any such pigeonholing. The Stray Cats were pure rock and roll with or without any labels attached. Of course, having help from the seminal rocker and legend in his own right Dave Edmunds didn’t hurt.
A few months later, on a cold, December night, some friends and I journeyed to Chicago to see The Stray Cats on what was their first tour of the US. They were playing at Tuts one of my favorite bars in the city.
When we got to Tuts, we went up the narrow stairway to the club on the second floor, but we could not go inside where the bands played. We hung out at the bar for awhile. I had never seen so much leather in my life—almost everyone was wearing leather jackets and the women leather mini-skirts. A lot of pastel colored shirts and “creeper” shoes. The air was scented with hair wax and hairspray with many women sporting a rockabilly “middy” hairstyle and the men pompadours.
It was a rockabilly night that was for sure.
Finally, we were told that we could go inside. The doors opened and all these Japanese businessmen and their wives walked out. There must have been some meeting or other event going on inside. We all just stood there and stared at each other—all these Japanese in suits and all of us in our leather. Must have freaked some of them out, I guess. Maybe they thought we were going to roll them or something.
We got right in front of the stage, which wasn’t too high off the floor. Got to stand right in front of guitarist Brian Setzer. Can’t get any closer to rock and roll than that.
A few months later, their album was finally released in the States and soon, “Rock This Town” became their big hit. I always preferred some of the other tracks on their import album like “Ubangi Stomp,” “Stray Cat Strut” and “Fishnet Stockings,” but “Rock This Town” was okay until MTV overkill of the video.