Interview: Slim Jim Phantom

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I believed that I was speaking to someone surrounded by an aura of dazzling, living color, when I had the honor of chatting with the vivaciously spirited and epic drummer of the “Stray Cats”, Slim Jim Phantom. Although we conversed via the phone, he was so animated, and vibrant, that I felt as though he were standing next to me.

The “Stray Cats” is a magical fairy tale about 3 friends from Massapequa, New York, who loved to play music together. In the process they became one of the most respected, liked and admired groups in the history of Rock N’ Roll, not only by fans, but by fellow artists. Together they conquered the world of “Rockabilly”, in the 1980’s.

Slim Jim, gave of his time quite generously, and talked very enthusiastically about the up and coming “Rewind” Festival, as well as his very impressive life, the artists he knew and played with, and his up and coming new autobiography, set to be unveiled shortly. By the time we had concluded, I was almost convinced that I had been talking with an old friend….

Louder than War: So tell me about “Rewind”

Rewind is pretty much about the celebration of the 80’s.  I did it last year, and everyone was on it! Everyone that we knew, Kim Wild, ABC, King Creole, it was pretty much like the backstage of a night club in London, in the 80’s. Everyone was very friendly, the audience was dressed up. There were various stages of Madonna, they were dressed up like Adam and the Ants, there was a  Stray Cat thing…it was people, really having fun. To me it was a celebration, everyone having fun. Everyone being cool…Everyone played for a half hour, pure hit songs. It was really positive. There’s no down side to it.

Where and when is it?

This year there’s one in Scotland, way up in Scotland…that will be some fun train journey. This one is further then I’ve ever been. There’s one in Cheshire, that’s near Liverpool. At this point it’s all celebratory and fun. These guys are in their 20’s and their so into rockabilly. They have enthusiasm, so it’s fun , for me. Adam Ant is on the Festival. I knew him so early on. He was an original fan of Stray Cats. So again there’s no downside, we’re not tryna be cool anymore…we are cool because we’ve lasted this long. The Stray Cats were accepted by all. A hundred years later, all the various tribal things going on with pop music, the Stray Cats were embraced by all of them. The skin heads, the Reggae people, and the pop, everyone liked the Stray Cats.

You guys were different than anyone else.

We were respected by the fans and all the musicians. Everyone could play, the other two guys were virtuosos. Especially the early, early days, we’d go to England, and there was a very positive excitement about the whole thing. We really meant it, and believed it. I’m going to go in early July, and meet my old buddy Glen Matlock, from the “Sex Pistols”.

Where are you going to play?

With Glen, we’re going to do a few in Spain, one in Newcastle, and then the 9th of July there is the 40th anniversary for Punk Rock this year, so Glen was really one of the guys, and there’s a show at the O2.

Brixton 02? I just saw Adam Ant there last week.

No, not there. Brixton is a famous place. When I played there with the Stray Cats, I fell off the stage and broke my arm. That’s a place that will live in my own infamy.

And I was just about to ask you what the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you live was?

Embarrassing….that would probably fit. I don’t know if it was as much embarrassing as bummed. Everyone was there. There was a “Sex Pistol”, a “Pretender”, a “Clash”…everyone was there. All our buddies. They all came to see the Stray Cats playing Brixton Academy. The gig was over, I was walking back and a few things happened at once, and I stumbled and fell right into the Orchestra pit. I broke my arm, and we had to cancel the rest of the tour. It was a giant nightmare. That was one of the legendary rock occurrences I think.

So when you were walking through the streets of Massapequa, as a kid, who did you listen to on the radio?

When I was really young and I learned how to play the drums, I really liked anything that was on the radio. When I was 17 we discovered “Rockabilly”. It was like a bolt of lightening! I didn’t know that  Elvis started in the 50’s. That kind of led to Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis. Then our lives became taken over by it. Before that, it wasn’t popular really. I had a couple of older cousins. They had The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, I took all the records I could get, because records were ten bucks. I couldn’t afford a record. Then I started to play. Lee and I played a lot as kids. I was very much into the blues and I took lessons from an old jazz guy named Mousiest Alexander. So I was very much into that old time jazz. Who would have known that 100 years later I’d be with a band that made a pretty good dent in pop culture…..Rewind you get a good kind of reelection of everyone who is still around.

Rewind is going to be epic this year.

It’s done every year.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Punk, and the line up is awesome…. Adam Ant, ABC, Annabella’s Bow Wow Wow….

How is Adam Ant?

He never sounded better.

He’s totally cool. He was ahead of us, like maybe by a year. When the Stray Cats started playing in England, he loved it. On the first album we had a sticker that came out with the record kind of thing. He put it on his guitar. That was in the paper. Is he doing the South? I’m doing the North.

Just like you, he’s doing Sunday July 24th, in Perth, at Scone Palace. Also like you he’s doing Saturday August 6th.

What’s good about Rewind is when you hit a certain age in this business, we all know we’re all gonna be there, but it’s not a regular job, whether we’re writing, or in a band, or taking pictures, giving autographs…it’s really good to help everybody. That’s what it all about.

For more information: www.slimjimphantom.com

www.rewindfestival.com/Scotland/lineup

http://m.ticket.co.uk/rewind-festival#tour

All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.

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