The last time that Stray Cats founder/drummer and all-around rockabilly ambassador Slim Jim Phantom came to San Diego, he was part of the Head Cat – a supergroup trio that also featured Motorhead founder Lemmy Kilmister and Rockats guitarist Danny B. Harvey.
Well, he's back, and this time, Phantom, aka James McDonnell, is bringing a whole new trio of rockabilly all-stars with him. His current project, the Whammy, features McDonnell, Guana Batz bassist Jonny Bowler and the Polecats’ singer Tim Polecat. The threesome will hit the Casbah on Friday night. Like the Head Cat, it’s a project that was born out of longtime friendships.
“We’ve all been pals for over 20 years,” McDonnell said recently from his Los Angeles home. “Everyone lives local, and we wanted to get out and play a little bit. We did a gig with Wanda Jackson earlier in the year, and it sounded good, so we decided this was a good excuse to get out and goof around a little more.”
While the trio is built on the foundation of Stray Cats and Polecats songs, they don’t shy away from rockabilly classics and have even written a few new songs together.
“We cut a couple of new songs,” McDonnell said. “And now, we’ve got a couple month’s worth of shows. It’s all about staying busy. I get antsy if I sit around for too long.”
Thanks to the Whammy, the iconic drummer won’t be doing much sitting. For the duration of their tour, McDonnell will assume his pioneering “standing” position at the kit.
“That’s the good and the bad of making something up a long time ago,” McDonnell said. “Now they expect it. But I’ve been doing it so long that I’ve adapted my style around it. Really, I think it’s healthy to do both. But people like to see you do the thing that they recognize -- and I’m proud of it.”
McDonnell is also gratified by the fact that 30-plus years after the Stray Cats helped re-introduce rockabilly to the scene, new music lovers are still seeking it out.
“There are still a lot of young people at the gigs,” McDonnell said. “There’ll always be kids who don’t exactly take what they’re given. They seek alternatives. And I think it’s easier to do that these days. When the Stray Cats started, we were doing it on Long Island. There was no template for it. It didn’t exist. But now you can find it if you want to. And it does re-generate itself.”
While the Whammy haven’t yet released an album, one may be coming in the near future.
“Hopefully that will happen,” McDonnell said. “We’ve been rehearsing, and Tim’s got a great home studio. We’ve written a bunch of songs, and we’re going to cut them live. We’ll see what works. But we’re excited to get them out there regardless.”