Slim Jim Phantom

Interview by Dennis Morgillo

Slim Jim Phantom 
Interviewer - Dennis Morgillo

Slim Jim Phantom, aka James McDonnell is the influential drummer for The Stray Cats.  Alongside band mates Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker, he spearheaded the neo-rockabillymovement of the early 1980s. Phantom performed with the Stray Cats standing up, using only a bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat and a crash cymbal, rather than a full drum kit.
Phantom has been in many projects over the years and has played with Lemmy, Earl Slick, Glen Matlock, Captain Sensible and many others.
Slim Jim was married to Actress Britt Ekland and has a son with her. 
He has many projects in the works and currently has an autobiography out, ‘A Stray Cat Struts: My Life As a Rockabilly Rebel”.

Madhouse: What were your musical influences as a young kid?
Slim Jim: I just wanted to play the drums. I played whatever I could get my hands on. I played whatever was the music of the day. I borrowed Records from my cousins and learned them. Alice Cooper, The Rolling Stones, anything I could learn from. It was Long Island, so early Billy Joel records as well. Then through research, we got into the rockabilly stuff. It was just game over when we found the Elvis Sun Records stuff, Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran and all that stuff. It just changed our lives completely. 

Madhouse: You guys went to England to make it. What was that like. 
Slim Jim: We were young, and we heard London was happening, so we said OK let’s try it. We had nothing though. We slept in the park, movie theaters, abandoned houses or peoples couches. That was fun for a minute but no one likes to be hungry at the end of the day. But we couldn’t go back home with our tail between our legs, and we didn’t have money to get back home. We couldn’t get a legitimate job, so we had to get gigs and earn some money. After a few months we got a few gigs and got to know some people. Then the buzz got started about us, so we figured let’s stick it out and get a record contract. We became friends with some cool people like Lemmy, Clash, Sex Pistols, and Chrissie Hynde.

Madhouse: You guys were revolutionary at this time. There was nothing else like it. You had the look, the style and you were amazing musicians. 
Slim Jim: In London, we appealed to Mods, Skin Heads, Punks, Ska fans, Teddy Boys. We were not stuck in one category. 

Madhouse: When did you start to get hot over in London?
Slim Jim: Yeah we started to get hot and were playing a few nights a week. One night we were playing a club and all the guys from The Rolling Stones came to see us. And they loved it. This was the Stones roots. Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Elvis, Chuck Berry, that was what they loved. They loved us, and we took pictures with them and we were in the news papers the next day. We met Dave Edmunds at the same time and everything lined up. 

Madhouse: You recorded 2 albums in England, did they receive any play in the USA?
Slim Jim: They were not released in the U.S. We made a compilation of these 2 albums which became ‘Built For Speed’.

Madhouse: How did you come up with playing the drums standing up? I never saw anyone do that before you?
Slim Jim: I saw a photograph of Gene Vincent & The Blue Caps. A tiny picture on the back of the album, and the drummer Dickie Harold was standing up. He later became a friend of mine. We were playing so much at this time, I could experiment. We tried it out with 3 guys in the front and all of us standing, we knew we were onto something cool. It was completely organic. 

Madhouse: What was it like playing at the US Festival in front of 500,000 people. 
Slim Jim: It was crazy. It went on for 2 miles. This was what we were working for. We wanted to bring rockabilly to the masses. We achieved that. We had a rockabilly record on the charts. That was our day. 

Madhouse: A Stray Cat Struts: My Life As A Rockabilly Rebel
Slim Jim: I tell in details all these stories. Stories about Lemmy, he was a good friend of mine. Hanging with The Stones. My adventures in the 1980s. I opened a club in LA during the 1980s, and my marriage to Britt Ekland. An interesting Rock n Roll Life. 

Madhouse: Now is there any truth to the Stray Cats Reunion tour rumors.
Slim Jim: I hope so. I say yes. We all have to put the time aside. It used to be so easy, but now it’s a complicated thing. Write to your congressman. 

Madhouse: Of your heroes, who did you enjoy meeting?
Slim Jim: Keith Richards is that guy. He is that pirate guy. He is going to hand you that bottle of Jack Daniels. Lemmy too. But they are gentleman also. Same thing with Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols. He is a big rock star, but he makes his bed and cleans the dishes. 

Madhouse: How did you remember all of the stories for your book, with all that partying?
Slim Jim: Well I had a little help. Britt remembered some things. Boxes of old photographs helped. Lemmy and Keith could remember everything.

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