Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rock(abilly)-Out with the Rockats

Text by Nancy Foster
Article © 1980; introduction © 2010 by FFanzeen
Images from the Internet

The following article about roots rockers The Rockats was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #6, in 1980. It was written by Nancy Foster.

The day that the Clash performed at Bonds in Times Square, the Rockats played the Ritz, recording their live album. Nancy and I sold our Clash tickets to go down and watch the taping, for which we were both happy. The Rockats’ finale was a rousing version of Chuck Berry’s (the
true king of rock’n’roll) “Round and Around.” A mic was handed down from the stage to Nancy, as we were standing near the front as always, who joined in the singing. Though it never made it to the album, this was a highlight of the evening. – RBF, 2010

The October 7 and 8 Rock Lounge gigs were the hottest Rockats shows I’ve seen so far. I never saw them when they were Levi and the Rockats, except on television. My first time experiencing the Rockats’ rockabilly fever in the flesh was at The Other End, August 1. I walked into their first set late and was stunned by their devastating color flashing like neon, their hot-to-trot drive-in back-seat sexuality, and their good-time rock’n’roll dynamics.

The energy transmitted in their interplay is overtly sexual: Dibbs’ mussing up Smutty’s hair or pinching his nipples – and all that erotic hair combing. It is no wonder the Rockats have made screaming females an integral part of rock’n’roll again. (Excitable girls should always have Sucrets on hand for when Smutty and Tim take off their shirts!)

In August, Smitty and his then-pink stand-up bass (coordinated with [then-Rockat] Jerry Nolan’s pink drums) were a major focal point, and the whirling nucleus for the group’s hyperactive hijinx. Though Smutty is, for many, the main attraction, each member has a definite personality.

There’s Barry Ryan – the moody, melancholic, strawberry blond that the girls want to cuddle and console. There’s Dibbs Preston – the long, lean, blond, stray Briton alley cat with evocative / provocative dance steps, pointed humor and a big, beautiful voice that fills a room with that ‘50s ambience and gut-wrenching emotion. There’s Tim Scott – the more mystical member.

As I admired a photo of Tim, I said to an acquaintance, “He looks like a warlock or vampire!” The answer came back, “He is! He has such cynical eyes!” Perhaps Tim could star in the rockabilly version of A Clockwork Orange. His perfectly chiseled features, his crazed shrieks, the tight set of his almost cruel yet sensual mouth, and his dangerous laser-blue eyes make him perhaps the group’s most intriguing member – and the perfect foil to the swoon-inspiring, sweet nineteen, baby faced, angelic, “Tattooed Love Boy,” Smutty Smith.

Although Jerry Nolan did look a bit like the overseeing (debauching?) uncle amongst the Rockats boys, at least he fit in. The new drummer looks like he should be in an Italian hard-rock band (Ozone, maybe?). Whoever said that looks do not matter has never seen the Rockats. Outside of the visual incongruity of the new guy, everything is tightly unified and all elements – looks, clothes, moves, and sound – reinforce and enhance each other.

Smutty is the acrobat of the group, skittering all about the stage, balancing high atop his bass, and even hovering precariously over the fans like a precipice threatening to tumble down at any moment. Avalanche!

And yet, Tim is getting in a few acrobatic riffs of his own. At the Rock Lounge gigs, Tim jumped down amongst the crowd, slashing at his gorgeous blue guitar in violent frenzy. Then he jumped back, seating himself on the edge of the stage, continuing to wring the neck of his instrument. Then came the back-flip, executed with finesse, leaving both guitarist and guitar intact. Once returned to his original stance, his arresting manner of balancing on his toes and rolling his eyes like planets enhanced the wacky charisma of the Rockats.

From the opening number, the tone is established immediately. Rock’n’roll, drive-ins, late-night fun, love/lust – what else is there? The Rockats’ rock’n’roll utopia is uncluttered by adult problems and preoccupations. It is the realm where dementia praecox reigns supreme and everyone is sixteen forever.

Merde on the old or young fogeys who cannot get it up for the Rockats, because they are not old, southern, or ugly. As much as I adore Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, early Elvis, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holley, et al., and even the new rockabillies like Tex Rabinowitz or Billy Hancock, it is still more fun to hear and see this raw, sexually hyperactive music from boys who look young enough to still have wet dreams. Besides, Carl Perkins never was a convincing teenager.

Moreover, it does not seem wrong to me that the two original members – Dibbs and Smutty – are British. In fact, the British always appreciated Vincent, Cochran, and other rockabilly songs more than their own countrymen. Yes, leave it to the British to play great rockabilly while the true decedents of The Killer and The King sit down in the bayou and numb their brains with too much pot and Molly Hatchet.

The Rockats have a mastery of musical dynamics that would be admirable even in veteran rock’n’roll. They execute with appropriate fervor both slow, poignant Blues-flavored numbers like “You Ought to Be with Me,” “I Miss Your Lovin’,” and “Start All Over Again,” and the fast, super-upbeat numbers like “Be My Rockabilly Doll,” “Love This Kat,” “Tanya Jean,” “Room to Rock,” and their other danceable, impassioned rock’n’roll numbers.

Another one of the fabo things about the Rockats is that it is not a dictatorship. None of this So-And-So-And-the-Blanks stuff. They are all Rockats – a real tight group. Tim Scott takes the vocal spot on one smoldering, manic-paced number as Dibbs landing in, playing Tim’s guitar.

The Rockats are signed to Island, so our rockabilly babies will be down in the grooves soon. By the time of this printing, the Jerry Lee Lewis and Rockats gig at the Ritz has probably taken place and proved to be one of the best rock’n’roll events of the year.


  1. Wow, that takes me back. I saw them once with Levi and twice on their own that year, and I thought they were better without him.

    I seem to recall that the gimmick regarding the release of the Ritz album was that it was rush-released, available for sale just a couple of days after it was recorded, which was kind of a big deal in the days of LPs.

  2. Having never watched them with Levi (that I can remember) I can't make a fair comparison, but I do know that the Rockats rocked so much harder and better than some of their better-known contemporaries (like the Stray Cats).

    I had forgotten about that whole quick-to-stores bit about the record, but now that you mention it, yes, that was part of it. Still sounds great to this day.