The Stray Cats bassist and solo artist continues to rock this town and beyond.
By Sharon Stello
Acclaimed bass player and Laguna Beach resident Lee Rocker is still strutting his stuff, slapping and spinning his giant upright bass in concerts from San Juan Capistrano to Canada.
Rocker, who has gone solo with about a dozen albums and nationwide tours, is part of the Grammy-nominated band Stray Cats, the popular rockabilly revival trio formed in the late 1970s and known for hits like “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock this Town.”
Born Leon Drucker, he eventually became known as Lee Rocker. Originally from New York, his parents were both well-known clarinet players, but Rocker gravitated toward stringed instruments from cello to bass guitar and upright double bass.
“My father, Stanley Drucker, was a musical prodigy and the first [chair] clarinet for the New York Philharmonic for 61 years,” Rocker shares. “[My] mom, Naomi, was a clarinetist and professor at Hofstra University, so I think my decision to play bass and rock and roll was 50% rebellion and 50% me just playing the music I love.”
The Stray Cats really took off when Rocker moved with guitarist/vocalist Brian Setzer and drummer Slim Jim Phantom to London. Later, Rocker came to California, eventually settling in Laguna.
“My wife, Deborah, and I moved to Laguna Beach in 1990,” Rocker recalls. “My wife’s father lived in town and we just fell in love with Laguna. We were about to have our first child and he told us, ‘Get out of LA and move to Laguna—it’s a great place to raise a family.’ We did, and he was right.”
When not traveling, Rocker can be found at some of his favorite restaurants in town, from Brussels Bistro to 230 Forest Avenue, La Sirena Grill and O Fine Japanese Cuisine. Rocker also sometimes shares his musical talents locally, at least once guest starring with the Laguna Community Concert Band. And, in 2011, he received the Visionary Award from the Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts at its annual Art Stars Awards ceremony.
Among many other accolades, Rocker has recorded or performed with music legends including George Harrison and Ringo Starr of The Beatles, Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, John Fogerty and Carl Perkins.
In 2021, music from his latest album, the critically acclaimed “Gather Round,” was used in a rock ballet commissioned by Laguna Dance Festival and performed by Complexions Contemporary Ballet. That same year, Rocker performed at the Library of Congress and the First Lady’s Luncheon for Jill Biden.
“That was epic for me. I’ve been fortunate to have an amazing career and performing in Washington, D.C., for the First Lady … and members of Congress and the Senate at the Library of Congress was one of the high points. I’ve spent my life playing rockabilly—a uniquely American music—and was moved to perform in the capital.”
No matter where his career takes him, Rocker always returns to Laguna. What keeps him coming back? “Well, that’s easy—the beauty, the beaches, the people,” he says. “Laguna Beach is one of the few places that still maintains its uniqueness. It has character and personality. It’s not like anywhere else. Let’s all work to keep Laguna weird.”
Laguna Beach Magazine: What do you love about playing music?
Lee Rocker: Playing music, for me, is going to another place in my mind where other thoughts vanish. I am immersed in sound. It’s another world. I think it’s similar to meditation or swimming in the ocean. It’s bigger than one’s self.
What inspires you and your music?
LR: Everything from memories and emotions to books, politics and everyday life
What kind of music do you listen to?
LR: Classic rock, jazz, blues, opera—I’m a lover of all genres.
In addition to touring for performances, are you working on any new albums?
LR: I’d like to release a new record in 2024. My last one, “Gather Round,” dropped in 2020, so I’m due.
Any other hobbies?
LR: My favorite thing to do is spend time with my wife, Deborah. When not on tour or home in Laguna Beach, we love to travel around the country in our Airstream RV. I do have other hobbies and they are all inspired by my family. I’m a runner; Laguna is an amazing place to run. My son, Justin, is truly the runner athlete and he has inspired me to hit the streets. My daughter, Sadie, is an artist and wherever we are in the world, we hit the museums.