Lee Rocker: Road Tested, American Made
AAJ: What does the music of those artists, and others like them, mean to you?
LR: It was really fun and it kind of evolved over a little bit of time, you know? "That's All Right and "Blue Moon of Kentucky are songs that I've done on and off since I started, from Elvis doing them on the Sun Sessions. I played some of those songs with Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana, with Carl Perkins, it's just part of the vocabulary in a way.
And Jerry Reed, I always have loved his guitar playing and just his whole vibe. He's a maniac, it's hysterical. He's a monstrous player. It has that great harmony solo from "Eastbound and Down, and we just kind of threw that thing in the middle. We've messed around with putting Jerry Reed in the middle of a few things: Once in a while, though we haven't recorded it, but live we'll do "Mystery Train and then about halfway through we just kind of slip into "Guitar Man. It's perfect.
AAJ: There's a Carl Perkins song on the new record ("Say When ). Was it an obvious choice to you, or did you work a couple out and then decide on this one, or...?
LR: I worked a lot with Carl before he passed away, we did a lot of different things together. He was a great friend and a hero and obviously very "ground zero with rock and roll. And a great songwriter, a great guitarist, and I had done a Carl song on a couple of albums in a row.
This song was one that I had never heard before and I don't think was ever released. I found it, I was on tour in Europe, picked up a giant box set that I think Bear Family had put out on Carl Perkins. So I'm on the road a lot and throwin' in these CDs and I come across this track, I think it was two or three different takes of it. I'd never heard it. I don't think it was ever released, at least in the States. I don't think it was released anywhere, from the history of it. It's a '60s song, "Say When.
I wanted to do it, I loved the feel so we kinda messed around with it, we do some dual guitar stuff again, played around with it and really made it our own, with a tip of the hat to where it came from.
AAJ: How did you hook up with Alligator Records?
LR: I've known about Alligator since I'm a kid. They've always been on my radar screen because they're one of the few labels that I think really has an identity. When I was growing up I hit the record shops in New York and down in the Village because you could get good stuff, you wouldn't find anything good on Long Island. So, going into the city, shopping, just so many great blues records.
So I was always aware of it, that it was always the real deal stuff. So over the years, sort of, I've been in touch with them a few times, they called me about a few different projects that didn't happen. More recently, I was doing a festival in Spain that Koko Taylor was also on. Koko and I did a shoot for a Spanish newspaper, we hit town, a lot of the Alligator folks were there, and it sort of got us back in touch.
It seems like a great thing to try for both of us. I've been really happy, they're a great label. They're the first label, maybe ever, that can really say they know the lyrics to the third verse of the fourth song. It's cool that they're about music, they're not just counting beans somewhere.
AAJ: Speaking of this new record , that leadoff track needs to be cranked up and turned out loud!
LR: Yeah, "The Girl From Hell.
AAJ: A couple of your other favorites from this new record?
LR: "Runnin' From the Hounds is a track that I wrote a lot of years ago and went back to re-cut it, I cut it in 1985 the first time. Going into the record...it was a song I had always loved and wanted to do again, though it doesn't really fit what I was trying to do with this record. But it's a great vehicle for Brophy Dale, one of the guitar players in the band who is a fantastic slide player. I'm always looking at what all of the musicians I'm working with, what's in their arsenal, kind of. So I kind of leaned toward that, 'Ooh, this would be a nice way to do it.' So I think I'm real happy with that.
AAJ: That is the last song?
LR: Yes. It's the instrumental.
AAJ: I kept waiting for your bass solo and it finally showed up here in the last song. Why did you wait until the last song?
LR: Yeah, I'm not big on solos. I'm liable to do one or two a night. But that's a track I really had fun doing. It is a swing number. I guess it's a little snide in a way, the title, in terms of the whole commercial swing thing that came through a couple of years ago. A little Les Paul-like, I think, in terms of the harmony. Just a fun little number, it's great to do that one live. Jimmy Sage, the drummer, gets to play some really great stuff on that.
I'd say "Race Track Blues is more than a lot of things on this record more firmly kind of rooted in rockabilly. Everything's rooted in rockabilly, but what I do with it is, like we were saying, it's not a museum piece; you don't blow the dust off of it and recreate something. But this does have its roots firmly in that. I was at the horse races a couple of years ago, out in San Francisco at a race track, and I don't know how the hell I wound up at a race track, I'm not a race guy, but I went there and was just kind of amazed at the whole scene, just the sound, people kind of running around and stuff, and wrote down not a song but a couple of pages of stuff I had seen and thoughts...and lost it. I lost those pages. Then a couple of years later, I go, "Oh, shit, that's right!, and ended up putting it together into a song!