Slim Jim Phantom has secured his place as a true rock ‘n’ roll icon. As the legendary drummer for the Stray Cats, Phantom, alongside band mates Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker, spearheaded the neo-rockabilly movement of the early 80s. With a love for 50s rock ‘n’ roll, the Stray Cats took inspiration from that bygone era and mixed with their youthful energy and aggression produced the updated hard-edged rockabilly sound that saw them conquer London, Europe and later the U.S., gaining fans among the likes of Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Robert Plant along the way.
Born in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City, Phantom grew up listening to his parents’ jazz records and by the age of ten took up the drums. Immersing himself in the art of drumming and the world of music, he took lessons with Mousie Alexander (who played with Benny Goodman), which included the study of jazz and working through books by Jim Chapin and Ted Reed.
By the late 70s, Phantom was playing in bands with school friend and bassist Lee Rocker and they soon joined forces with guitarist Brian Setzer. The rest, as they say, is history. The Stray Cats had numerous hit singles in the early 1980s, their classic album “Built for Speed” went double platinum, and their song “Rock This Town” is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”
Summer 2008 saw Phantom and the Stray Cats reunite for an extensive tour of Europe. In February 2009 the band headed to Australia and New Zealand for the first time in 18 years – a tour which was eagerly anticipated by Australian fans.
In addition to the Stray Cats, Phantom has worked with some of the world’s top artists and has played a part in many successful groups – notably Phantom, Rocker, and Slick (featuring long time David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick) which produced two popular albums; The Swing Cats featuring guitar ace Danny B. Harvey; and Dead Men Walking, an all-star affair which has boasted original members of The Sex Pistols, The Cult, and Big Country among the rotating line-up of notable musicians. He’s also enjoyed a stint playing with The Killer, rock ‘n’ roll originator Jerry Lee Lewis, and even performed in a now-mythological band called The Cheap Dates with acting legend Harry Dean Stanton, his long-time pal.
Phantom has worked on numerous other projects including his own explosive self-named roots-rock trio, and HeadCat, co-starring Lemmy Kilmister and Danny B. Harvey. In addition, 2009 saw the launch of Slim Jim’s musical project, The Forgotten Saints, a band co-founded with old friends and former Dead Men Walking bandmates Captain Sensible and Mike Peters. A changing guest role for a fourth band member added an exciting dimension to an already prodigious line-up. He’s worked with diverse friends and true artists, including Sex Pistol Glen Matlock and Earl Slick. He’s also partnered with British guitar ace Darrel Higham under the band name Katmen and the pair released a critically-acclaimed rockabilly record on Decca records, toured extensively, and appeared on the British TV show Later…with Jools Holland.
In August 2016, Phantom released a book, A STRAY CAT STRUTS: My Life as a Rockabilly Rebel, within which he explores the highs and lows of being in a successful rock band and the extraordinary friendships he has made along the way. He shares the story of the Stray Cats and how they reinterpreted rockabilly music and took the world by storm.
Phantom is deeply committed to charitable works, too, climbing both Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro for Love Hope Strength Foundation (an organization co-founded by Mike Peters of The Alarm that benefits cancer research) with fellow rockers Peters, Robin Wilson from the Gin Blossoms, Cy Curnin from the Fixx and Glenn Tillbrook from Squeeze. The treks were filmed for a National Geographic documentary and shown on National Geographic channel and VH1. In December 2014, he attended the World Cancer Congress in Melbourne, Australia with the Love Hope Strength group to promote cancer research, spreading the word with music and wisecracks.
Over 30 years and millions of record sales later, Slim Jim Phantom continues to inspire and excite audiences worldwide. With a sound, style, and image that remain as fresh today as ever, Phantom has cemented his place among rock royalty. Considered by many as the coolest drummer in rock ‘n’ roll, Phantom’s influence is still clearly felt on today’s music scene with countless rockabilly drummers imitating his pioneering stand-up style.
Photo: Justice Howard.