BETH COLLA INTERVIEW
Hi Beth, many thanks for that inteview
First of all can you tell us something about you: where you were born? what do you do? Hobbies, next projects, music you listen to…
Sure. I was born in San Jose California and lived in Northern California until I went to college at Long Beach State. I stayed in Southern California (mostly Hollywood) until about 5 years ago when I moved to Portland OR. I have mainly worked as an artist and designer in the toy industry. I worked making licensed products for companies like Mattel, Lucas Entertainment, DC Comics, Disney, Warner Brothers etc. I also did custom art jobs for bands, painting drumheads, designing logos and painting leather jackets. In Portland I am still doing some toy work on the side and am working as a real estate broker. Hobbies.. I love art, photography, writing, and weird 1950’s cookbooks. 😉 (see my instagram Spamnaspic.) I love a lot of different music. Old gypsy jazz, bluegrass, Elvis, Rockabilly, pop, disco.. I pretty much like any genre that is good. I am working on some scripts to try and sell and I would like to do a children’s book.
Could you tell us when and how you discovered Stray Cats music?
I was about 10 and I was watching MTV (which had just launched) and I saw the Stray Cat Strut video and that was it. I was hooked. I went to the record store and got Build for Speed and Gonna Ball and the first Stray Cats LP. I was totally mesmerized by their look and sound. I didn’t grow up with parents who listened to much music so I didn’t know about rockabilly (I knew of Elvis of course) but I didn’t have much music sophistication at the time. But I learned!
How did you get to meet Stray Cats’ members?
The cats were playin gigs around LA area in 1990-1991- I went to the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano and The Strand and saw them play live. My first Stray Cat show was at One Step Beyond in San Jose in I like 1988? It was awesome. Totally nuts. But I didn’t meet them until about 1991. I was wearing a black leather jacket that I painted up- I had the stray cat head on the back and Eddie Cochrane and the Indian motorcycle logo on the sleeve. One of the road guys saw my jacket and asked me where I got it. I said I painted it. He asked me for my phone number and didn’t hear from him for a month or so. But he called me and told me the Cats were playing a secret show at the Coconut Teaser on Sunset Blvd and got me on the list. I think this was 1991. That was such a wild show- the cats played so well and the club was packed. It was so hot I remember the ceiling was dripping wet with sweat. It was basically raining sweat on everyone. SO much fun. So the crew guy who had called me ended up becoming a really close friend of mine. His name is Bobby Gilcken. We hung out a lot and I painted a jacket for him and ended up getting art work gigs for the Stray Cats (painting Slim Jim’s drum heads). I ended up hanging out with Bobby a lot and ended up becoming friends with Jim and Lee and Brian. All super nice guys. I also became friends with Lee’s wife and Brian’s girlfriend (later to be wife) Christine.
Can you tell us any anecdote about you and Stray Cats?
We used to get together on the weekends and play baseball together at Santa Monica high school. Jim and Brian are really big baseball fans and a bunch of crew guys and other musicians would come out and we’d play baseball for hours. It was so much fun. I was really good and had played a lot of baseball as a kid and in high school so I was a welcome team member. Brian got smacked on the chin one game and his manager worried about him hurting his hands (golden guitar playing hands) so we stopped playing. It was probably smart because it would have been terrible if anyone got really hurt and couldn’t play their instruments.
Do you know something about the Cat´s Head logo story? In your professional opinion, why this logo has become one the most iconic symbols in R&R story?
You know you’d think I had more info on the history of the logo- especially after painting it so many times on different drumheads for Jim. I think a guy designed it in NY back in the day but I could be wrong- it could have been in UK. It is such a great design and tattoo’d on so many people (me included!). I think it’s so recognizable and such a cool logo that it just really stuck.
What do you think about adding the crown to the original logo during their second stint (Blast Off period and afterwards, 1988 onwards)? Did you like it?
Oh yes. I think it was probably the band who decided to add the crown. I did like it. I mean it was a fun addition to the original logo. It was more work to paint. HAHA but I thought it looked cool.
How did you get to work for Stray Cats and Brian Setzer? What kind of works did you do for them?
Bobby originally set that up and then as we became friends they would call me and ask for things. I did many cat drumheads (different versions for tours- Jim would have an idea for adding flags or different things depending on the tour. Crown, no crown etc. Also he liked the splatter background and the spray with the red and yellow.) I did several for tours and also for Hard Rock Cafes. I also did Brian’s original bandstands for his big band and later the logo with the martini glass and I also did these glitter Christmas stockings for the Christmas show. I even painted Brian’s daughter’s baby room. That was sweet and fun.
Later Mark Allan Miller did logos and art for Brian. He also worked on the crew and toured with them. He is a super great guy and a very talented artist. I loved the designs he did for Brian.
What´s your Stray Cats favorite album? Why?
It’s funny because I feel so different listening to the different albums. When I was a kid I couldn’t get enough of the earlier stuff like Built for Speed and Rant n Rave. I love Rant n Rave I think best because it just takes me back to that place where I was so into them. I think that would be my favorite. As I got older and became less of a fanatical teen (heehee) I still loved every album but not as crazy where you play it over and over. Choo Choo Hot Fish was awesome and I loved Elvis on Velvet. When Original Cool came out I was already friends so it had a whole different feeling. There was the band I idolized as a kid and that music made me feel a certain way and then there was the music from when we had become friends- and that was a unique experience. Having personal memories and hanging out with them etc. It’s hard to explain fully but I love all the albums in different ways for different reasons and points in my life.
Being USA citizen, why do you think that Stray Cats moved to Europe to become successful and then why did they hit the USA charts by playing rockabilly music and reaching the Billboard number 2 just topped Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”?
I think they were playing the clubs around Long Island but weren’t really hitting success the way they envisioned. I know they been given advice to try and make it in UK and that they would be well received there and get more attention. The adventure and possibilities was too appealing and off they went! I have some friends from The Rockats who had come to NY from London and were in the rockabilly scene. I remember Smutty from the Rockats telling me he told the Stray Cats to go over to England and play. I don’t know how many Brits the cats knew at the time but I think feeling stagnant in the NYC scene lead them to the UK and we all know how that worked out! GOOD MOVE GUYS! Their sound and look was so unique for what was happening in the late 70’s and early 80’s and they were such a solid group that their success was not that surprising. Also if you’ve seen them live you just can’t believe the energy those 3 guys could kick up!
Why do you think they split up being at their peak of popularity? What do you think they would have got if they had kept playing together?
Knowing lots of people in bands (successful and not) it is really hard to keep up a band with so many artists and different ideas. It’s like a marriage and most marriages fail at some point so with the cats being SO successful, so young, and each member being really creative and talented it made sense that the trio would eventually split off to pursue other artist endeavors. I can’t imagine touring for years in close quarters and being able to get along and keep that up forever. I have no idea how the Rolling Stones have done it. I was heartbroken when they split but at the same time the split allows for different experiences and the ability to step away and get clarity on the artistic desires. I would think that if they stayed together the music may have suffered. It’s the time away and then the coming back together after years that I think creates better music. Everyone needs space and time. I think the cats got to each do different cool projects away from one another and I hope they will regroup every so often to bring it back again!
The Stray Cats Story is the name of the book that I will shortly be launching in Spain and it will be the first biography published of the band in the world. Is it strange that in 40 years nobody have written a book about the trio, which has been the reason?
That is a great question! I know Jim has a book out about his experiences, but I have not seen a biography on the cats and I think it’s long overdue so THANK YOU for creating this book. I know there’s an interested audience!
Are there still followers of the band in the USA? How do you think they are noticed currently in your country?
I think so for sure. I mean it’s a subculture and you see them out en masse at Viva Las Vegas and the Hootenanny in Orange County. I know many of the cat fans see Brian play with his big band. There are local clubs in LA and mostly Orange County that have a big rockabilly vibe. It’s not as popular in the US as it was of course but I know the fans are still out there. I hope there’s a resurgence of the rockabilly scene again like in the 80’s. The fashion is so fun and the music so pure and just great to dance to. It makes you feel good.
Thank you so much Beth for your time and for your awesome pictures and have warm greetings from Stray Cats fans
I Hope this is ok. Its funny because all these questions I wanted to know myself over the years (the cat logo etc) from the guys but I was too shy to just geek out and ask them Stray Cat questions. We just hung out and played baseball and did artwork and had fun at parties. I’ll look for my pictures for you!
I do have a fun experience with Brian. He was in Vegas playing at Ceasar’s Palace (I think it was 1999 or 2000?) After his big band show he was out gambling a little bit. I was in the casino playing too and we connected in the high roller slot machine area. Brian was playing a $25 slot machine. He called me over.. Beth come here I need lady luck! So he said to me – I’ll put the money in and you pull the handle and whatever we win we split down the middle. So he put $50 in.. I pulled.. no win. He did one more for $50 and we hit $3000!!! It was so exciting. He split it with me just like he promised and we just stood there screaming and laughing over it. Such a good memory. J I’ll always love Caesars Palace.