Lee Rocker's Big Bass Sound He was a teenager when his band, The Stray Cats, had its first big hit. These days, Lee Rocker spends most of his time with his own group, which just released a new CD. And, true to his rockabilly roots, he still wields a mighty upright bass.
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Lee Rocker's Big Bass Sound

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Lee Rocker's Big Bass Sound

Lee Rocker's Big Bass Sound

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And I'm here in the studio with what feels like two guests. But really, it's bassist Lee Rocker and his very large instrument.


SIMON: The Stray Cats still play together occasionally. They're just off a U.S. tour this summer. But Lee Rocker spends most of his time with his own band. He has just released a new CD, and he's on tour. The new CD is entitled, what, Mr. Rocker?

SIMON: "Black Cat Bone."

SIMON: "Black Cat Bone." Thanks very much for being with us. It's a double bass, right?

SIMON: It sure is.

SIMON: My gosh, it's enormous.

SIMON: You know, it's a traditional bass, which, you know, people will play in orchestras that you'll see, you know, and chamber music. But I play it with some rock 'n' roll.

SIMON: Now, your parents - and we'll talk about them - are both concert musicians. Of all the instruments you must have met as a boy, what got you fascinated in this one?

SIMON: And those records that I loved all had an upright double bass on it. And me and my pals would - we discovered this music, and it was at that time in New York, nobody knew what rockabilly music was. And we started a band and, you know, we would play stuff. And we played "Blue Suede Shoes," and I got to say, most of the audience thought we wrote it.


SIMON: You wish. And what do you like about it?

SIMON: It's just - it's music. It's American music with energy and with passion and with drive. It has everything. You know, it's just - it's a pure American form of music.

SIMON: Let's listen to a cut, if we can, from this new CD. It's the title one, "Black Cat Bone."


SIMON: (Singing) Got a black cat bone. Ain't no monkey man. I'm a rolling stone. I'm a rambling man. I got a lucky charm, and I'm cold in hand. Got a black cat bone. I'm gonna take a stand.

SIMON: That has kind of a Stray Cat-ish sound, doesn't it?

SIMON: A little bit.

SIMON: You guys were in tour. Was it this summer, together for the first time in 15 years?

SIMON: Yeah. We did a - our first tour in a long, long time here in America. And it was a lot of fun to get back together with the guys. Definitely.

SIMON: Do you mind me asking, is it a little bit like trying to work with your - with, you know, several ex-wives, or what is it?


SIMON: I think it would have been a couple of years ago. Now, we all get along great.

SIMON: Let me ask you...


SIMON: Let me ask you about your instrument, Mr. Rocker, if I could. You play a style called slap bass. But what is that?

SIMON: That's a way of playing an upright bass where you're getting your fingers underneath the string and pulling up on it.


SIMON: And getting a kind of percussive sound. And I'll play...

SIMON: A slap. Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah. I'll play a little bit of it. You know, bass players have done it for a long time, but when rock 'n' roll really came along, some of the early records also didn't have drums. And it just has a lot of propulsion to it, and it sort of - the slap bass is the engine behind this kind of music. And it's kind of...


SIMON: That's terrific. So you can travel with your own percussion set?

SIMON: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: Yeah. And drummers, as we know, are the most temperamental members of any band. So anything you can do to cut down on the drummer.


SIMON: Do you think this was developed by a lot of the rockabilly players?

SIMON: Well, I mean, it definitely goes back before then. I mean, there were jazz players and even back to classical playing where they didn't do it exactly in the same way, but it's called pizzicato playing, which is without the bow. And they've done it on all string instruments - on violins, violas, cellos, basses. But this is kind of that taken a little to the extreme.

SIMON: Let's talk about your parents, if we could, who are extremely accomplished musicians in a form of music that is not the one you are presently emulating, let me put it that way.

SIMON: Sure.

SIMON: Is it your father, Stanley Drucker, is the principal clarinetist in the New York Philharmonic?

SIMON: Yes. And he's been there for - I hope I get this right - but 58 years. He's been the solo clarinetist in New York Philharmonic. And my mom is also a clarinet player, has a group called the American Chamber Ensemble and is a teacher and also plays at the New York Phil.

SIMON: And do you play together ever - your parents and you?

SIMON: Well, I mean, what we do is so different but, you know, growing up, there was always music around the house. I mean - and you know, there was all kinds of music. I mean, from jazz and blues on the radio and classical music, and rehearsals going on and, you know, I took over the garage and had the rock bands out there. And the closest we really got to playing together is just parties, where everyone would kind of, you know, there'd be some chamber music going on and then somebody else would get up with a guitar and do some rock and roll and someone else would come in and read poetry.

SIMON: Now, you performed with your sister.


SIMON: Whose name is Roseanne Drucker.


SIMON: Maybe we didn't mention that your name is - should we say what your given birth name is?

SIMON: Absolutely.

SIMON: All right.

SIMON: Which is Leon Drucker.

SIMON: Okay.

SIMON: And I have worked with my sister Roseanne, who's a fantastic singer and a writer. Actually, on this newest record on "Black Cat Bone," we wrote a song together called "What I Don't Know About Women."

SIMON: Well, let's listen to that.


SIMON: (Singing) I love girls in pictures. I love 'em in song. I've known me a few before she came along. This one tested my mettle. Yeah, she ground it down good. Turns out, what I don't know about women fills a mighty big book. She came without warning...

SIMON: Now, why would you sing this song with your sister?

SIMON: It's just kind of a fun song and I think it kind of helped as a writer to get a woman's perspective on that kind of subject.

SIMON: Does she tour with you?

SIMON: She's gotten up and sang with us but no.

SIMON: Yeah.

SIMON: The band - the touring band is Brophy Dale on guitar, Jimmy Sage on drums and Buzz Campbell on guitar.

SIMON: And they're not with you today. But there is a cut on your album that you can play all by your lonesome for us which we'd like to hear.

SIMON: Sure can.

SIMON: Yeah. What can you tell us about it? It's called "Free Bass."

SIMON: Yeah. I've been finishing the last couple of Lee Rocker records with me just kind of messing around in the studio, just solo bass things, and this is the newest one.

SIMON: All right. Let's hear "Free Bass" if we could.


SIMON: Thank you very much. All bass all the time. Who makes an instrument like this?

SIMON: This one, in particular, is - we call this one the Rat Rod. It's a flat-black paint, sort of like you put on a hot rod car and some red pinstriping on it. They'll do anything. I've got instruments that are metal flake, natural-looking ones, cherry red ones - all kinds of stuff.

SIMON: Well, Mr. Rocker, if you could play us out.

SIMON: Sure.

SIMON: Okay.


SIMON: This is Lee Rocker. He and his bass joined us here in our studio. And there's more of his music on our Web site, npr.org/music.

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