Slim Jim Phantom, born James McDonnell on March 21, 1961 in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City, NY, is an American drummer best known for his work, alongside bandmates Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker, in the 80s neo-rockabilly group, The Stray Cats. Phantom's unique drum set-up with The Stray Cats, which involved him standing while playing, incorporated only a bass drum, snare drum and a crash cymbal — rather than a full drum kit.
Jim grew up listening to his parents’ jazz records and by the age of ten took up the drums. Immersing himself in the art of drumming and the world of music, Jim took lessons with Mousie Alexander (who played with Benny Goodman), which included the study of jazz and working through books by Jim Chapin and Ted Reed.
By the late 70s Jim was playing in bands with school friend and bassist Lee Rocker and they soon joined forces with guitarist Brian Setzer. The rest, as they say, is history. The Stray Cats had numerous hit singles in the early 1980s, their classic album “Built for Speed” went double platinum, and their song “Rock This Town” is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “The Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”
Summer 2008 saw Jim and the Stray Cats reunite for an extensive tour of Europe. In February 2009 the band headed to Australia and New Zealand for the first time in 18 years — a tour which was eagerly anticipated by Australasian fans.
In addition to the Stray Cats Jim has worked with some of the world’s top artists and has played a part in many successful groups – notably Phantom, Rocker and Slick (featuring long time David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick) which produced two popular albums; The Swing Cats featuring guitar ace Danny B. Harvey; and Dead Men Walking, an all-star affair which has boasted original members of The Sex Pistols, The Cult and Big Country among the rotating line-up. Jim also enjoyed a stint playing with The Killer, rock-n-roll originator Jerry Lee Lewis, and even performed in a now-mythological band called The Cheap Dates with acting legend Harry Dean Stanton, a long-time pal of his.
Jim has worked on numerous other projects including his own explosive self-named roots-rock trio, and HeadCat, co-starring Lemmy Kilmister and Danny B. Harvey. In addition, 2009 saw the launch of Slim Jim’s musical project The Forgotten Saints, a band co-founded with old friends, and former Dead Men Walking bandmates Captain Sensible and Mike Peters. A changing guest role for a fourth band member added an exciting dimension to an already prodigious line-up.
In the last several years, Slim Jim has continued to work with diverse friends and true artists, including Sex Pistol Glen Matlock and Earl Slick. He’s also partnered with British guitar ace Darrel Higham under the band name Katmen; the pair released a critically acclaimed rockabilly record on Decca records, toured extensively and appeared on the British TV show Later … with Jools Holland. This year finds Jim working again with Dead Men Walking, a punk super group that currently includes long time collaborators Mike Peters and Captain Sensible, plus new members Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses, Chris Cheney from The Living End and long time fan and fellow Long Islander Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live and Portlandia. A tour is in the works and the group plans to record in January 2015.
Jim is deeply committed to charitable works, too: he climbed both Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro for Love Hope Strength Foundation (an organization co-founded by Mike Peters of The Alarm that benefits cancer research) with fellow rockers Peters, Robin Wilson from the Gin Blossoms, Cy Curnin from the Fixx and Glenn Tillbrook from Squeeze. The treks were filmed for a National Geographic documentary which was shown on National Geographic channel and VH1. In December 2014, he’ll attend the World Cancer Congress in Melbourne, Australia with the Love Hope Strength group to promote cancer research, spreading the word with music and wisecracks.
Over 30 years and millions of record sales later and Slim Jim Phantom continues to inspire and excite audiences worldwide. With a sound, style and image that remain as fresh today as they ever were, Phantom has cemented his place among rock royalty. Considered by many as the coolest drummer in rock-n-roll, Phantom’s influence is still clearly felt on today’s music scene with countless rockabilly drummers imitating his pioneering stand-up style.
Phantom currently plays in the band Kat Men with Imelda May guitarist Darrel Higham; he resides in Los Angeles, CA when not touring.