Big Blue Loses Cool, Cranks Up the Heat


Lee Rocker knows about cool. First as bassist for the Stray Cats and now as leader and namesake of Lee Rocker’s Big Blue, he has explored the cool side of pop music through rockabilly, blues and R & B.

On stage Friday at the Coach House, with his dark, slicked-back hair, silky purple shirt, black pants and leather jacket, he appeared the very essence of cool.

Yet he also knows how to turn up the heat, and did so throughout the trio’s 85-minute set before a less-than-capacity but boisterous crowd.


The temperature rose steadily as Rocker, lead guitarist Mike Eldred and drummer Hank Deluxe locked into a passionate, tight groove while mining the predominantly heated blues domain of love, lust and heartbreak.

The warmth extended to Rocker’s singing over the course of a rousing, and arousing, set of originals, choice covers and pair of old Cats tunes.

On the group’s two solid albums for Black Top, Rocker’s vocals can sound rather ordinary. But live, while handling everything from mid-tempo rockers and rockabilly rave-ups to more vulnerable, slower-burning blues, his singing was far more expressive and pliable.

His upbeat tone and delivery ably steered the frenetic, lighthearted verses contained in several party-time rockers, including “Little Buster,” “Darlin Darlene” and Jimmy Reed’s gem “Shame Shame Shame.”

Yet Rocker was equally impressive during a more emotionally challenging sequence of sultry ballads. This was exemplified by a trilogy that began with “Take It Slow,” a tale of desire in which Rocker crooned with obvious longing: “Take it slow, baby / Just enjoy / You’re my plaything / And I’m your toy.”

Next came more raging hormones at the heart of “Hear You Moan,” which found Rocker still on a quest for sexual satisfaction. Satiating physical needs has psychological and emotional repercussions, and the three-song mini-drama concluded with the heartache in “Goin’ Down Hard.”


Enhanced by Eldred’s stinging guitar lines and Deluxe’s bashing, Rocker’s improved vocals authoritatively conveyed the sudden despair surrounding a bitter romantic break-up.

The mood loosened up and the good rockin’ resumed when the band ended its pre-encore set with some vigorous instrumental stretching. Rocker’s signature upright bass plucking took center stage in a bluesier rendition of the Stray Cats’ “Drink That Bottle Down.”

Eldred then assumed took the spotlight during a wild instrumental titled “The Hucklebuck,” in which he reeled off both focused, tender riffs and more free-wheelin’ rock explosions.

The three players functioned so well as a cohesive body that the absence of the Memphis Horns and organ embellishments--which contributed a soulful, sassy ingredient to a portion of their studio work--became only a minor disappointment during a few songs.

In a 45-minute opening set, San Diego rockabilly trio Hot Rod Lincoln offered a mixed musical bag that drew heavily from its debut album, “Hot Rod Lincoln.” Such uptempo dance numbers as “Tear It Up,” “Johnny Jump” and “Cradle Robber” fared best and spotlighted Chris “Buzz” Campbell’s spirited guitar work. But their narrow thematic focus on cars, girls and cars points to a needed songwriting tune-up.

A group featuring San Clemente High School seniors formed yet another trio--this one called Ostracized--whose second-billed set was lacking in focus and delivery. At 17, lead singer-guitarist Jonas Heitkemper not unexpectedly still needs to work on his stage presence, but also on his enunciation. Still, the teens ended on a promising note with the melodic and likable originals “Now You’ve Lost Me” and “Mercy.”