69 Cats Provides Purr-fect Blend of Rockabilly and (Goth) Roots
Finland sometimes gets a bad rap. While its Scandinavian neighbors Sweden, Denmark, and Norway are lauded for beautiful scenery and beautiful inhabitants, Finland is mostly dismissed as a far realm of the great white north – a land of dark, dismal cold and misery where people shudder in a vast frozen tundra and rarely see the light of day. That’s a stereotype of course, but it leaves little room for any other possibilities.
Enter the 69 Cats, a Helsinki-based trio fronted by singer and DJ Jyrki Linnankivi (or, as he’s known on stage, simply Jyrki69). Their affection for rockabilly and the seminal sounds of authentic Americana evolved out of his earlier outfit The 69 Eyes, a band that leaned more toward glam and goth. During their occasional acoustic sets, Jyrki often indulged his affection for the Stray Cats and the Cramps, a tangent that fans found fascinating. His Elvis-like croon and insurgent attitude made the performances all the more appealing, and after connecting with veteran Texas guitarist Danny B. Harvey (Rockats, Headcat, Wanda Jackson, Nancy Sinatra), lanky Cramps bassist Chopper Franklin, and later, Blondie drummer Clem Burke, 69 Cats was born.
According to the band’s website, Jyrki became aware of rockabilly’s inherent appeal after witnessing it firsthand. ”No matter where I was deejaying around the world, whether it was a Goth or metal night, I always spun some ’50s rock and roll in the last part of the night,” he recalls. “And [it] drove everybody crazy and filled the dance floor. … It’s always the same records. [It’s] no new happening band.”
The new happening band began soon after Jyrki69 put 69 Eyes on hiatus and recruited Harvey, Franklin, and Burke for a series of concerts that affirmed 69 Cats’ penchant for sharing their energy and intensity in a rootsy sort of way. They further asserted their authenticity by incorporating several exceptional covers in their set – the Doors’ “People Are Strange,” Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon, selected songs by Elvis Presley, and a couple of surprising entries, like “Girls on Film” by Duran Duran and “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by the goth-rock outfit Bauhaus. Several of those songs are included on their first two offerings, the album Transylvanian Tapes and an EP titled Bad Things. Revered rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson also guests on the former, taking the lead on a version of Elvis Presley’s “She’s Not You.”
“It’s rock and roll, pure and simple,” Harvey told Patrick Hickey Jr. in an interview with Review FX. “You can come up with clever descriptions like ‘dark rockabilly’ or ‘gothabilly,’ but in the end it’s just rock and roll with rock tracing all the way from Elvis to Bauhaus.”
Of course, it remains to be seen how an international collaboration that finds the band’s chief instigator living in Finland and his bandmates residing in the States can create the logistics necessary to make 69 Cats an ongoing entity. However, a second full-length effort is already planned and all agree there’s enough symmetry to keep the Cats going. “We all work together pretty seamlessly,” Harvey said in the same interview. “Jyrki and I share the same love for music that covers many genres, and we seem to like the same artists and songs from different eras. I’ve worked with Chopper on many occasions in the past and have been recording and touring with Clem Burke since the late ’80s as a rhythm section. They’re my mates.”
That’s four way-cool Cats indeed.