|Stray Cats, Guns vets revive classic rock
By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Elvis might be dead, but his infamous manager lives on.
Col. Parker -- or rather the late Svengali's name -- has been appropriated by a "supergroup" of music notables who hope to bring their classic rock influences to record-buyers perplexed by what passes for commercial rock these days.
The group, headed by former Guns N' Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke and ex-Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom, has teamed up with a record label owned by actor Mel Gibson to release its debut album, simply titled "Rock & Roll Music."
Col. Parker's influences are proudly derivative -- Rolling Stones, Beatles, Faces and T-Rex -- no-nonsense rock 'n' roll that seems to have been replaced on the charts by angry young groups with rapping vocalists, turntables and members in masks.
"I don't enjoy bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn," Clarke, 39, said in a recent interview with Reuters. "I don't feel old. I still like to buy music, but when I go to a record store I just go, 'Which George Harrison record don't I have? Oh, there's a new T-Rex record.' That's what I buy."
If more traditional current acts like Tom Petty or Sheryl Crow release new records, Clarke will gladly give them a few spins, but he laments their lack of "dirt."
"I want to buy 'Exile' again," he said, referring to "Exile on Main Street," a famously lo-fi Rolling Stones record. "I wanna buy a dirty old record again, and I think that there's a lot of people that feel the same way that I do."
Adds Phantom: "People want to hear the guitar. It's about that 10-year cycle that they want to hear the guitar again."
Clarke and Phantom, longtime pals on the Hollywood club circuit, formed the nucleus of Col. Parker about two years ago. It started as a covers band whose fluid lineup allowed celeb chums like Rod Stewart, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Axl Rose to make impromptu performances during the group's Thursday night gigs at Phantom's tiny Cat Club bar on the Sunset Strip.
Michael Lustig, a friend of Phantom who runs Gibson's Icon Records, signed them to a deal. Icon usually releases soundtracks, but Gibson allows Lustig to sign one act annually. The members of Col. Parker have yet to have direct contact with Gibson or with Richard Branson, the British billionaire whose V2 Records label is distributing the album.
The initial idea was to make a covers record with various guests, but Clarke and Phantom then focused on original material and the project became more serious. Bass player Muddy Stardust (L.A. Guns) came aboard to share vocal duties, while Teddy Andreadis (Slash's Snakepit) played keyboards.
Chastened by their experiences with their former bands, Clarke and Phantom said the main idea was to keep the process fun, simple and democratic.
"No blond guys who sing," said Phantom, jokingly referring to his friend and former Stray Cats colleague Brian Setzer. "They're right out! The two of us have both been on the opposite end of it, like dealing with the lead singer dynamic of the business, and we both know that that's not kinda what we want."
Phantom (born Jim McDonnell), 40, found stardom in the early 1980s with rockabilly trio the Stray Cats, whose hits included "Rock This Town" and "Stray Cat Strut."
After the group broke up, Phantom and Stray Cats bass player Lee Rocker rebounded in 1985 with Phantom, Rocker & Slick, a short-lived combo with veteran session guitarist Earl Slick. Setzer reinvented himself as a swing revivalist at the helm of the Grammy-winning Brian Setzer Orchestra.
AXL ROSE -- MYSTERY MAN
Clarke learned about rock 'n' roll camaraderie the hard way from his four-year stint in Guns N' Roses, one of the biggest bands of the early 1990s. After replacing Izzy Stradlin in 1991, he toured with the group and played on "The Spaghetti Incident?" -- a Guns covers album his own family refused to buy because it contained a song written by Charles Manson.
Clarke eventually was fired by singer Axl Rose, who got rid of almost everyone in the end. Clarke has released several solo albums and tours often. He still has business dealings with Rose. And though he doesn't call his former colleagues on the phone anymore, he occasionally bumps into them at events.
When the reclusive Rose paid an unannounced visit to the Cat Club last year, Clarke did not even recognize him.
"Jim came up to me and goes, 'Dude, is that Axl at the end of the bar?,"' Clarke recalled. "And I look over, 'No, that ain't him."'
Undeterred, Phantom dragged Clarke toward the mystery man and tapped him on the shoulder, prompting him to turn around. Clarke still wasn't sure it was his former bandmate until Rose greeted him.
Clarke sings about his Guns days in the opening track, "Dropping Out," recounting the "mid-day blackouts and Vicodin cocktails" that ruled his life when he tried to get through a European tour with a broken wrist.
"I was on so much Vicodin I don't even remember some of those gigs. That's mild compared to what those guys do, but to me that's my experience."
In the bluesy "Can't Get That Stuff," which had been part of the Thursday sets, Clarke bemoans the sanitization of tourist haunts such as Times Square and Bourbon Street.
With his husky voice, Stardust (born Mark Dutton) recalls Rod Stewart's heyday 30 years ago on "Harmony."
"Rod could use that song on some of his current records," Phantom slyly noted.
True to the original concept, the album features two covers -- Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz" and the New York Dolls' "Pills."
Since Clarke and Phantom already have scaled the rock 'n' roll heights, their hopes for Col. Parker are modest -- some radio airplay, perhaps an opening slot on a tour and the greenlight for a second album. In the meantime, they have scheduled a handful of dates throughout California, with forays into Las Vegas and Phoenix.