banged the skins for rock n
roll supergroup, Dead Men Walking.
Hes drummed for the
rockabilly star-studded 13 Cats.
Hes played with the Head
Cat, Col. Parker, his own Phantom
did I mention a
little band from Long Island, New
York called the Stray Cats? Hes
Slim Jim Phantom, rockabillys
man of a thousand faces.
Since picking up his first pair
of drumsticks at the age of ten,
Slim Jim Phantom has become
widely recognized as rockabillys
premiere drummer. With a
distinctive standup drumming
style inspired by the genres
musicians of yesteryear, Phantoms
skin skills are in high demand.
2007 could very well become the
Year of the Phantom: a U.S. tour
with Stray Cats mates Brian
Setzer and Lee Rocker, a new
album, and a trek to the base
camp of Mount Everest are all on
Slim Jims agenda. How does
he manage to do it all? I spoke
with Slim Jim Phantom shortly
before this summers Stray
Cats tour to find out.
by Denise Daliege-Pierce
Who taught you to play the drums?
I pretty much learned
fromtook lessons fromMousie
Alexander, an old time jazzy guy.
Benny Goodmans drummer, I
think. At least, thats what
he said. Id like to believe
How did your love of
rockabillyboth the music
and the lifestyledevelop?
I had always liked rhythm and
blues music. There were no
Hootenannies, no Viva Las Vegass
kind of thingnone of that
existed. I think that we [Stray
Cats] first discovered it with
the Beatles and Carl Perkins kind
of records. Nothing like that was
available at the time, really. We
rediscovered Elvis, really. We
knew the fat Elvis; that was it.
From there, we met English kind
of guys: teddy boy types. It was
just really trial and error.
Was it difficult to
switch from drumming in a sitting
position to drumming while
I dont remember it being
difficult. It was the cool thing
that no one else was really doing.
It was a different concept. I
kind of kept pushing it all
forward. It was pretty easy.
Who, would you say, have
been your biggest musical
Really, any of the original rock
n rollers. Elvis, of
course; Eddie Cochran, Gene
Vincent, Carl Perkins
Richard was a big influenceany
one of those original rock n
rollers. The Beatles; Led
anything that was
true to rock n roll.
Ricky Nelson; the Johnny Burnette
Triowe played a lot of
songs off of those records.
The Johnny Burnette Trio
was just incredible. I recently
read a book titled Rockabilly
Legends, in which the author
claimsIm not sure if
youve heard this storythat
the term rockabilly
was started by the Burnette
brothers song Rockabilly
Boogie, which they wrote
for their sons, Rocky and Billy.
I dont know. Id heard
that rockabilly was
first used by some record
executives or [Sun Records
founder] Sam Phillips. Its
all stories, and you never know
which ones are true. I just did a
gig with Rocky Burnette. I had
about twenty minutes notice!
What brand of drums do
Why do you prefer the
Well, they kind of endorsed me. I
think a lot of it has to do with
Gretsch having a certain history
with rockabilly and rock n
roll. Fred and Diane Gretsch met
me as a teen. Its American
just a great product.
I know that you are
frequently asked about your least
favorite Stray Cats album, but
which is your favorite?
Almost every guys first
record is their favorite. Look at
the Beatles; the Rolling Stones.
Its your greatest
accomplishment. The fact that the
gigs and the hard work have
finally paid off
this. The first record that
anyone makes is always their
favorite. You didnt really
make demos then. The fact that we
had a pretty unique storywe
moved from New York to London. We
had everything against us: no
money, no place to live; no one
was recording this music. We were
All-American, like the Yankees.
Now, new fans of rockabilly are
rediscovering our music. Our
music is like the Heartbreak
Hotel and Rockabilly
Boogie of today. Rock
This Town and Runaway
Boys are like that.
How was Phantom, Rocker
& Slick formed?
Wow, Phantom, Rocker & Slick.
Right after Stray Cats, we all
had to take time off. I think
that Earl Slick had just done
John Lennons record when he
was killed. I think that I met
Julian Lennon, and he said,
You should all get together.
Brian was doing a solo thing. We
had a deal with EMI. We had just
gone off a record with Stray
Cats, and didnt want to do
that, but everything I play winds
up sounding like me. We were
young and trendy. The first
record was really good. Phantom,
Rocker & Slick sounds a
little more rock n
roll; a little more metal. I
think we made the Top 20 with
that first record.
What caused the group to
Well, Brian called and wanted to
do the band again. The Stray Cats
are first priority.
I own a copy of the Carl
Perkins television special from
the mid-1980s in which you, Eric
Clapton, George Harrison, Ringo
Starr and numerous other
musicians performed with the
rockabilly legend. What was that
experience like for you?
Ive been very lucky to get
these historic kind of events.
David Edmundshe produced
three or four of the really good
Stray Cats recordswas the
musical director for the show. He
called the Stray Cats, but wed
split up. He hired Lee and me for
the rhythm section. The cool
thing was we rehearsed about a
week before the show. Ringo
Starr, Eric Clapton, George
Harrisonall the older guys
kind of kept to their selves. We
were the young guys. I went up to
George and broke the ice. We
became pretty friendly after that.
The show went so well; such a
positive kind of experience.
George was reclusivewas out
of music for about six years. For
a good three years, we became
friendly. He gave me some things,
like some old boots from the
Beatles. You could sense a
certain enlightenment about him,
or elevation. I spent the day
with him before he diedhe
was just an amazing character.
How did you obtain your
role in the Charlie Parker biopic
I got it pretty much by accident.
I can mention that I worked with
an Oscar-winning actor and
director at the same time. How
many people can say that? Forest
Whitaker is, probably, the best
actor around. Clint Eastwoods
an award-winning director. Itsomehowhad
to do with the agency I was with
needed a drummer who looked like
they were playing the drums, but
not, and who could talk, at the
same time. And my wife at the
time was an actress. So, I did itfive,
six, eight linesfor a month.
I didnt really want to do
it, but my son was being born,
and SAG [Screen Actors Guild]
insurance kicked in and covered
it. I was nervous about my lines.
I repeated them a billion times.
So, I get down to the set; theres
an old little trailer. Someone
took me inside and introduced me
to Forest. We were hanging out
and talking. Forest and I became
good friends for a few years
Did you ever consider
pursuing acting on a larger
No, it seems too hard, going to
auditions; the rejection of it.
How did you become a
member of Dead Men Walking?
Dead Men Walking is just another
chancy, cool thing. On the first
Stray Cats tour of England in
1980, we got to the first gig.
Mike Peters of the Alarm, his
band was the opening act. Mike
and I became pretty good friends.
After a few weeks, we found out
theyd just brought their
instruments and started playing.
They made believe they were the
opening act, but they werent.
But, by then, they were so
entrenched in the tour
often, in rock n
roll, do you meet someone and
stay friendly with them for 25
years, putting together a thing
of a group with three or four hit
songs each that everyone knows?
It was Mike, [Spear of Destinys]
Kirk Brandon, [the Damneds]
Captain Sensible and me. We did
it mainly acoustic. Mike called
me one day at home and said,
Ive got this concept.
I said, Im doing it.
I cant say no to Mike. We
made a record this year.
Ive heard that you
sang lead vocal on Runaway
Boys during a recent DMW
tour. How did that feel?
Oh, it was good. I can warble my
way through it. I sing most of
the Stray Cats songs. I can
warble my way through most of the
songs, except Stray Cat
Strut. Brian and Lee can
sing. You have to be a singer to
sing Stray Cat Strut.
Mike Peters has a great voice and
sings it on the tour. I know what
Ringo felt like when he sang with
the Beatles. I think that the
audience appreciates me singing
For those who may not
know, you have recently become
involved with the Love Hope
Strength Foundation, an
organization dedicated to
providing treatment and support
for cancer patients. How did your
affiliation with the group come
Thats Mike Peters. Like I
said, I cant say no to Mike.
Mike Peters is a cancer survivor.
Twice. The first time, he had it
nine years. Nine years. It came
back when we were on tour. We
only cancelled one show, because
he had to have tests done. After
six months of lockdownchemo
and remissionwe walked the
steps of the Empire State
Building. We recorded the
performance on the deck. It was
another one of those great
historic events. Were gonna
do the Eiffel Tower [in the
I understand that you,
along with a number of musicians
associated with the Love Hope
Strength Foundation, are going to
climb Mount Everest later this
year. Are you undergoing any
special training in preparation
of the climb?
Well, I havent, which I
didnt do for the Empire
State Building. Its more
like hiking. I just do it like a
drummer. I keep going. Were
going to the base camp of it,
which is 20,000 feet up. Then,
the real climbers take over. Ill
do some training. Were
gonna record a song at base camp
and put it up on i Tunes.
How did you meet fellow
Head Cat members Lemmy Kilmister
and Danny B. Harvey? How did the
three of you come together to
form the group?
Lemmy is another guy Ive
known27 years. He was one
of the first guys at a Stray Cats
gig at a pub in London. There
were, like, ten people thereKeith
Richards was there; Chrissie
Hynde was in the audience. Lemmys
a very hip guy, very
knowledgeable; a big Buddy Holly
fan. We became friends back then
and stayed friends. He moved to L.A.
on the street next to me. We
played one track on a tribute
album to Elvis. Me, Lemmy, Danny
B. and Johnny Ramonewho we
also lost to cancergot two
or three songs we wanted to play
and came back every day for two
weeks, until we had a record. Ive
known Danny B. since [his days
with] the Rockats.
Danny B. Harvey is just
tremendous. He can, pretty much,
do anything musically.
Danny is as good as everybody: as
good a guitar player; as good a
Are there any plans for
the Head Cat to record an album
of original material?
Im back in the studio with
Lem in September to record a new
album with some originals.
Jumpin From 6 to 6s
readers may be unaware that you
own a West Hollywood, California
nightclub called the Cat Club.
How do you juggle your numerous
music projectsStray Cats,
Dead Men Walking, the Head Cat,
Slim Jims Phantom Trio, 13
Catswith your Cat Club
duties and family life?
Me, my little trick is I have a
very big calendar with big
squares that I hang on the wall.
I have bad handwriting. I use a
Sharpie. Like musicwhen the
Cats call, that kinda trumps
everything. E-mails great.
E-mails perfect, cause
the time doesnt matter. If
I have a question for Captain
Sensible, I can send an e-mail
anytime. Everyone has it, except
Lemmy. Sometimes, things overlap.
Guys in rock n roll
are more together than you think.
On a different note, are
there any contemporary rockabilly
musicians that you enjoy
Guys who I became very friendly
with is Living End. [Guitarist/vocalist]
Chris Cheneys become a very
good friend of mine, and they
wanted to meet me. My son played
a record for me, and I loved it.
I think that Big Sandys
very good. Hot Rod Lincolns
very good. Sue Toreno; Tiger Army.
Reverend Horton Heat is very good.
Hes become a friend. Danny
B. has a group called Lonesome
Spurs with Lynda Kayshes
a star. Shes the real deal.
Lonesome Spurs is like a country
version of White Stripes, which
is my favorite band. I just did a
couple gigs and needed a bass
player, so I used Rory Justice.
Hes very good. Eddie Angels
great. He has a band, the
Neanderthals. I think the
Neanderthals are the most
entertaining band around. Were
gonna try to plan a little tour
with the Neanderthals and the
I know that Brian Setzer has
developed ear problems as a
result of years of playing
electric guitar. Have you had any
wrist pain after drumming for so
No, Ive been pretty
What is your favorite
Stray Cats-related memory?
Its my whole life, really.
So many things that have happened
came from that. Probably hearing
the first record for the first
time; hearing Runaway Boys
on the radio for the first time.
The odds were stacked against us
for making it. No one was playing
this music. There was no template
How did the Stray Cats
become involved in this summers
Were always looking for
something to do. This tour just
became available, I guess. Were
offered things all the time. Its
just a matter of getting everyone
on the same page. This just was
the right time.
I know that all of our
readers will be anxious to hear
the answer to this question. Now
that the Cats are back on tour,
are there any plans for a new
Well, I hope so. I cannot speak
for the others, but I like to
think that this would be the germ
of it all that flowers into a
great record. I vote we try it.
Thats how it works with the
Cats: we vote on it. I think weve
got one great record left in us.
Jim, thanks so much for
taking the time to speak with me
today. Do you have any final
thoughts that you would like to
share with the readers of Jumpin
From 6 to 6?
I do a lot of work with ONE.org.
They dont want any money,
just an e-mail address. Go check
it out; sign up. It takes two
seconds. Just two seconds, and
youll be doing something
nice for me.
information on Slim Jim Phantom,
the Love Hope Strength
Foundation, ONE.org, or to
purchase some of Slim Jims
music, check out the following