Phantom, Rocker & Slick

It has come to my attention that the short-lived mid-‘80’s trio Phantom, Rocker & Slick have reunited to play live shows, and the U.K. label Rock Candy is set to reissue their self-titled 1985 album Phantom, Rocker & Slick on April 17th. To the best of my knowledge, this will be the first time the album was ever available on CD. This trio was originally formed during the temporary breakup of the Stray Cats, the band that singlehandedly spearheaded an early-‘80’s rockabilly revival in the U.K. and the U.S. While the Stray Cats’ singer/guitarist Brian Setzer began his solo career (several years before the formation of his successful swing orchestra), bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom joined forces with Earl Slick, sometime guitarist for David Bowie, to record two albums in the mid-‘80’s. Lee Rocker was the trio’s frontman, and was a less colorful singer than Setzer.

On the self-titled Phantom, Rocker & Slick album from 1985, the trio does not entirely abandon the rockabilly sound of the Stray Cats, especially on “Time Is On My Hands” and the thrilling rave-up “Runnin’ From The Hounds”. But there is little that can be described as retro-‘50’s about this album. The production and attitude are very mid-‘80’s, and Slick’s guitar playing (which is quite good) keeps the album in a mainstream rock mode. Slick’s glam-rock past is sometimes evident as well; the opening song “What You Want” bears more than passing resemblance to T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)”. Slick’s guitar heroics make the longish “Men Without Shame” a standout. Guest pianist Nicky Hopkins adds flavor to the otherwise standard ballads “No Regrets” and “Lonely Actions”, while the one and only Keith Richards lends his guitar work to “My Mistake”. Not a dull album, but not a distinguished one, either; Phantom and Rocker are better off working with Brian Setzer.

The trio’s 1986 album Cover Girl, their second and last, basically contained more of the same mainstream-rock-vaguely-derived-from-rockabilly, but it’s slightly better than its predecessor. Pete Solley’s less-heavy production gives this album a more natural sound, and the quality of the songs is more consistent, especially on the second side. The material is still undistinguished, but is pleasant enough. Most of the tracks have a post-1970’s hard-rock spine thanks to Slick’s guitar, although the title track, “It’s Good To Be Alive”, “I Found Someone Who Loves Me”, and the cover of the Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress” are a bit more reminiscent of old time rock and roll. As of this writing, Cover Girl is still in out-of-print limbo.

As fate would have it, it wasn’t long at all before Phantom and Rocker reunited with Brian Setzer to record the Stray Cats album Rock Therapy, which also was released in 1986. (Earl Slick gets a “Special Thanks” mention in the credits). The reported reason for the recording of this album was to fulfill a contractual obligation. The ten tracks are split 50/50 between ‘50’s covers and quasi-‘50’s originals. The band produced Rock Therapy themselves, eschewing studio polish in favor of spontaneity, showing little or no concern for commercial considerations. Similarities to the members’ concurrent works pop up on this album. The Phantom/Rocker composition “I Wanna Cry” features a lead vocal by Rocker, and sounds like it may have been intended for one of the albums recorded with Slick; however, this track serves to demonstrate that Phantom and Rocker sound more at home working with Setzer. The Setzer-penned “Broken Man” is an awkward bluegrass attempt that sounds more like an experiment than an inspired move. It’s possible that it may have been cast off from Setzer’s solo album The Knife Feels Like Justice. (That album was also released in ’86; it’s no wonder that Rock Therapy sounds like it was made so quickly). But Setzer comes off much better on three rockabilly originals (“Reckless”, “I’m a Rocker”, “Change of Heart”). The covers are also well done, as the trio does justice to Chuck Berry (“Beautiful Delilah”), Gene Vincent (“Race With the Devil”), Buddy Holly (“Looking For Someone To Love”), Johnny Burnette (the title track), and Charlie Feathers (“One Hand Loose”). Rock Therapy is an authentically good rockabilly album, although it lacks the immediacy of the earlier Stray Cats recordings. (Note: Rock Therapy is currently out of print, but it was available in the U.S. as recently as 2008 on the now-defunct Hep Cat label).

Track Listings:

Phantom, Rocker & Slick “Phantom, Rocker & Slick” (EMI America ST-17172) 1985

1. What You Want
2. My Mistake
3. Hollywood Distractions
4. No Regrets
5. Well Kept Secret
6. Men Without Shame
7. Runnin’ From The Hounds
8. Time Is On My Hands
9. Sing For Your Supper
10. Lonely Actions

Phantom, Rocker & Slick “Cover Girl” (EMI America ST-17229) 1986

1. Cover Girl
2. The Only Way To Fly
3. Sidewalk Princess
4. It’s Good To Be Alive
5. Still Got Time
6. Can’t Get It Right
7. Going South
8. I Found Someone Who Loves Me
9. Enough Is Enough
10. Dressed In Dirt
11. Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress

Stray Cats “Rock Therapy” (EMI America ST-17226) 1986

1. Rock Therapy
2. Reckless
3. Race With The Devil
4. Looking For Someone To Love
5. I Wanna Cry
6. I’m a Rocker
7. Beautiful Delilah
8. One Hand Loose
9. Broken Man
10. Change of Heart