Catching Up With…

Slim Jim Phantom

The drummer’s bold playing and even bolder stage presence with the ’80s rockabilly icons the Stray Cats helped prompt a resurgence of interest in rock’s roots. Though that wasn’t necessarily the plan from the start.

Anyone familiar with Slim Jim Phantom’s role in the Stray Cats knows that he played standing up, making for one of the enduring images of ’80s new wave. “It’s been that way since I was a kid,” Phantom says. “The Stray Cats were young yet forward-thinking. We knew that we wanted to do a band that no one had done before, which meant bringing the drummer up to the front. In other words, we were all frontmen. We honed it and got good at it.

“I grew up in Massapequa, New York, on Long Island,” Phantom continues. “Like others at that time, I was influenced by guys you could see on TV or hear on the radio, namely Ringo and Charlie Watts. I worked in the local music store, and my dream was to study jazz. I ended up taking lessons with jazz great Mousey Alexander, who replaced Gene Krupa in Benny Goodman’s band. Whether it was by accident or not, my future bandmates Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker and I were looking for something not exactly mainstream, something that wasn’t influenced by the Beatles, and we found rockabilly music. That’s when I discovered drummers like D.J. Fontana [Elvis Presley], Dickie Harrell [Gene Vincent], and Jerry Allison [Buddy Holly and the Crickets].”

Among Phantom’s recent projects is Easy Piracy, the debut album by Dead Men Walking. Phantom plays with his signature swing and swagger—a style he calls “punk rock around the campfire.” The fifteen explosive tracks feature high-octane rock with fat backbeats, splashy cymbals, a kick you can feel, and a snare tuned for maximum bite. Dead Men Walking, which is being billed as a supergroup of sorts, features Mike Peters of the Alarm on vocals, Captain Sensible of the Damned on bass, and Chris Cheney from the Living End on guitar. Aside from his drumming, Phantom contributes lead vocals to “Song for Eddie,” his personal tribute to rockabilly legend Eddie Cochran.

“The Cats went to England in 1980,” Jim says, recalling his first encounters with the future Dead Men. “We were looking for adventure and trying to get a record deal at the time. That’s where I first met Mike Peters and Captain Sensible. About seven years ago, Mike had the idea to do a catalog of each of our hits, with four or five of us contributing to each. Chris Cheney came on board, and now we’ve released an album of originals.”

A string of live dates accompanied the release of Easy Piracy earlier this year, and in August Phantom performed a number of solo shows in England. As you read this, Dead Men Walking should be embarking on a tour of the eastern United States.

Bob Girouard