The Rockats, hybrid English/American rockabilly specialists, were formed by singer Levi Dexter, whose appreciation of ’50s American rock infused the band with a real traditionalist ethic. They made only one record together before splintering; bassist Smutty Smiff subsequently kept the Rockats’ name alive. Louisiana Hayride, recorded live in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1979, bristles with feeling but lacks something in recording quality (epecially as regards the mix). And if there was an audience at that gig, no one bothered telling them to clap.
Live at the Ritz, cut in New York over a year later, is a much slicker affair — a premonition of the Stray Cats but without a magnetic personality like Brian Setzer. With Levi gone and a new lineup in place, the playing’s fine, the sound quality is great and the tunes all sound like Johnny Cash should be singing ’em. (One of the new members — guitarist Tim Scott — went on to a solo career and later formed the Havalinas.)
Make That Move, with a new guitarist and drummer in the quintet, attempts to effect a stylistic escape. Produced by Mike Thorne, one side isn’t rockabilly at all; keyboards are used to build an energetic but characterless soup. On the flip, the overbearing “Go Cat Wild” contains more drums than all of the Stray Cats’ records put together. Only the title song and “Never So Clever” recapture the band’s original sound with a glimmer of the old spirit.
Dexter, for his part, sticks to the straight and narrow on The Fun Sessions. Sharing production with Richard Gottehrer and employing a basic ‘billy trio, he hiccups his way through five cool tracks exploding with understated energy. Not innovative by any means, but his earnest copies beat the Rockats’ boring originals any day.