“….We’re gonna rock this town/Rock it inside out/ We’re gonna rock this town/ Make ’em scream and shout…”
So goes the refrain of the Stray Cats classic “We’re Gonna Rock This Town.” And former Stray Cat Lee Rocker, accompanied by the Laguna Concert Band, will rock the town for a return engagement Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 21 and 22, at the Laguna Playhouse.
Following the sell-out success of last year’s first performance, Rocker and the concert band decided to team up again. “Last year was so much fun, I am looking forward to hitting the Playhouse stage again,” said Rocker, a rockabilly star known for his mastery of the double bass. “We are expanding the number of songs; it will be bigger and better.”
The stage marriage of the 70-piece ensemble with one of the town’s better-known residents may appear an odd union. But, concert band director Ed Peterson and Rocker agree that it is a fine-tuned relationship. “The beauty of the concert band’s performances is its wide spectrum of music. We always aim for creative programing and pick our guest artists to keep widening our repertoire,” said Peterson, who typically conducts repertoire that spans jazz, swing and big band charts.
Actually, the two have more in common than meets the ear. Both received Art Star Awards from the Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts. In 2011, Rocker received a visionary award and served as keynote speaker. Last year, Peterson and the Laguna Concert Band won a $5,000 grant to compose and produce a musical score for “The Sock Thief,” an animated film produced by students of the Laguna College of Art and Design.
Rocker’s recognition spills past the town’s borders, too. He received a lifetime achievement award from Bass Player magazine in 2013 and is a member of the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
Rocker has lived in Laguna Beach for 26 years where he and wife Deborah raised their two children. He also keeps a residence in New York City and teaches master classes for bass players in London.
To give the divergent musical genres full due, Peterson, Rocker and arrangers Charlie Warren and James McKee Smith have divided the concert into two parts. The first will features big band and the second Rocker, his son Justin Drucker and Buzz Campbell on guitar.
Rocker, 53, strutted into the rockabilly orbit as bassist for the Stray Cats , the‘80s hit band he founded with school pals James McDonnell, aka Slim Jim Phantom, and Brian Setzer. Rocker, a former classical cellist né Leon Drucker, taught himself to play the double bass and morphed into his signature persona. “It’s a natural transition from cello to bass: both have four strings and technically use of the left hand is similar on both instruments,” he said.
He explained that the upright bass, always acoustic, drives rockabilly rhythm. “Rockabilly music is the spark that everything else came from for me. I connected with the passion, with the rhythms, the sounds. It also makes the connection between how I dress and comb my hair. I have my pompadour and the leather jacket; it’s who I am,” he said.
His idols include Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, to name a few. He has performed/recorded with George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, Leon Russel, Keith Richards and John Foggerty, among other luminaries.
His signature move, strumming the bass like an outsized guitar is his own invention. “I have fun on stage, sometimes I play the bass on my shoulder. It’s all entertainment,” he said. Is the thing heavy? “Yes, but it keeps me fit,” he says.
Music and art run in his family. His mother, Naomi, and father Stanley Drucker, were both classical clarinetist and, coincidentally, he and his father were both nominated for Grammy Awards in 1982. Drucker Sr. is the retired principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. His sister Roseanne sings and writes music. His wife Deborah is a fashion designer, son Justin a musician/screenwriter and daughter Sadie, who graduated from Cal Arts and is currently enrolled in post graduate classes at Laguna College of Art and Design.
Currently Rocker is working on a new record based on new material he has written. “Writing music is a compulsion, it’s an addiction and what I should do,” he said.
He explained that when he writes, the melody comes first. Lyrics are inspired by cars, life and love, overheard conversations, stories he makes up or a random title that just pops up in his head. “I write fun things; no political music,” he said. He added that he writes from the perspective of a grown man, inspired less by the past and more by present and future, aiming for insight and humor.
He said that collaboration with the Laguna Concert Band involves a lot of beneficial give and take. “I feel that performing with the band and collaborating with Ed is a way of giving back to the community,” he said.
But, this year Rocker is going to face a little competition from a grand piano donated to the concert band by the Balboa Bay Club. It has a permanent home at the Laguna Playhouse now and will make its debut, played by Kathie Schroeder. “We are delighted to learn that our once lonely piano will now ‘rock this town’ again and again,” said Aaron Trent, director of the club’s member relations and events.
Lee Rocker & The Laguna Concert Band, Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m & Feb.22, 3 p.m. Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd. (949) 497-2787 www.lagunaplayhouse.com