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Brian Setzer

Every decade has its own retro craze spearheaded by a true believer who brings classic sounds and style back into vogue. Brian Setzer performed this trick not just once but twice, first as the leader of the Stray Cats, the trio that brought rockabilly back into the charts during the '80s, then he helped popularize the swing revival of the '90s with the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Both of these sounds were grounded in the '50s -- that's when rockabilly was born but also the heyday of the kind of jump blues Setzer loved, music by Louis Prima and Big Joe Turner -- and while the Stray Cats were purists of sorts, indebted to the big beat of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, as a solo act Setzer wound up fusing these aesthetics together, playing rockabilly guitar to a swinging beat. With this jumping sound, he cultivated a loyal following -- consisting of not a few latter-day disciples -- that stretched well into the new millennium, developing the long-running, successful career that many of his idols never had.

Those idols -- Cochran, Vincent, Elvis, Carl Perkins -- loom large in Setzer's oeuvre, but as a kid growing up in Long Island he initially fell for big-band jazz. His first instrument was the euphonium and he played brass in a variety of jazz bands while in school. He'd sneak into classic clubs like the Village Vanguard but he also developed a taste for blues-rock and punk, which led him down the road to rockabilly. Picking up a guitar, he formed the Tomcats with drummer Gary Setzer and Bob Beecher in 1979, the latter also being a running mate of Brian's in the Bloodless Pharaohs. As his infatuation with rockabilly intensified, Setzer devoted himself to the Tomcats, which evolved into the Stray Cats when bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom entered the lineup in late 1979.

Sensing the U.S. wasn't quite ready for their rock & roll, the Stray Cats departed for London in June of 1980, hawking their instruments to get across the Atlantic. Within a few months, they earned the attention of roots rocker Dave Edmunds -- who just happened to appear in the 1973 film That'll Be the Day, playing in a band called the Stray Cats -- and he took them under his wing, producing their 1981 eponymous debut for Arista. Thanks to the singles "Rock This Town" and "Stray Cat Strut," it was a hit, but its 1982 sequel, Gonna Ball, didn't do as well, but highlights from the two LPs were culled for the American album Built for Speed. Thanks to those aforementioned singles, which both received heavy MTV airplay, Built for Speed turned the Stray Cats into stars in the U.S., paving the way for 1983's Rant n Rave with the Stray Cats, which had another major hit in the form of "(She's) Sexy + 17" and a minor one in the form of "I Won't Stand in Your Way."

Success came to the Stray Cats but the group fractured in 1984 and Setzer responded by acting as a sideman for a variety of rockers, most prominently playing in Robert Plant's oldies band the Honeydrippers on a tour. Setzer launched a solo career in 1986 with The Knife Feels Like Justice, a record that found him right in line with the heartland rock of the mid-'80s but didn't generate any hits and, perhaps coincidentally, Setzer returned to the Stray Cats fold that year for Rock Therapy, a reunion that also failed to stir sales. Next up was 1988's Live Nude Guitars, a record that moved him closer to Stray Cats territory but also failed to gain an audience. Next up was another reunion with the Stray Cats, one that lasted for three albums over four years. First was 1989's Blast Off!, which they supported with a tour opening for Stevie Ray Vaughan, but the record reached no higher than 111 on Billboard and EMI dropped them in America. Undaunted, they teamed with Nile Rodgers in 1990 for Let's Go Faster!, a record that appeared on Liberation to little attention; then they returned to their roots for 1992's Choo Choo Hot Fish, a final record recorded with their original producer, Dave Edmunds.

This was the last go-round for the Stray Cats and it was time for a reset for Setzer. He found one with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, where he refashioned his rockabilly boogie for the neo-swing era. Their eponymous debut appeared on Hollywood in 1994 and it did OK on the charts, reaching 158; then corporate restructuring pushed him over to Interscope Records, which put out Guitar Slinger in 1996. That record failed to chart but it laid the groundwork for 1998's The Dirty Boogie, which was a smash hit thanks to a hit cover of Louis Prima's "Jump Jive & Wail." The single peaked at 23 and the record went all the way to nine on the Billboard 200 and if Setzer never scaled those heights again -- the 2000 follow-up, Vavoom!, reached 62 -- he nevertheless found his niche and ran with it, releasing all manner of swinging big-band records in the new millennium, ranging from a series of Christmas albums (there are at least five seasonal albums in his discography) to swinging covers of classical compositions, most released on SurfDog Records. At times, Setzer would step outside of the Orchestra to return to his rockabilly roots, beginning with 2003's Nitro Burnin' Funny Daddy, running through Rockabilly Riot, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Sun Records in 2005, and extending to 2014's Rockabilly Riot! All Original. Another holiday album, Rockin' Rudolph, showed up in time for the Christmas season of 2015. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Rockabilly Riot! All Original

1. Let's Shake

2. Rockabilly Blues

3. Vinyl Records

4. Lemme Slide

5. Nothing Is A Sure Thing

6. What's Her Name?

7. Calamity Jane

8. The Girl With The Blues In Her Eyes

9. Stiletto Cool

10. I Should'a Had A V-8

11. Blue Lights, Big City

12. C**k-A-Doodle Don't

x

Track List: Rockabilly Riot! Live From The Planet

1. Ignition (Live)

2. 49 Mercury Blues (Live)

3. This Cat's On A Hot Tin Roof (Live)

4. Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder) (Live)

5. 8-Track (Live)

6. Slow Down / Folsom Prison Blues (Live)

7. Put Your Cat Clothes On (Live)

8. Blue Moon Of Kentucky (Live)

9. Pickpocket (Live)

10. Rumble In Brighton (Live)

11. Runaway Boys (Live)

12. Cry Baby (Live)

13. Great Balls Of Fire (Live)

14. Red Hot (Live)

15. Seven Nights To Rock (Live)

x

Track List: 13

1. Drugs & Alcohol (Bullet Holes)

2. Take A Chance On Love

3. Broken Down Piece Of Junk

4. We Are The Marauders

5. Don't Say You Love Me

6. Really Rockabilly

7. Rocket Cathedrals

8. Mini Bar Blues

9. Bad Bad Girl (In A Bad Bad World)

10. When Hepcat Gets The Blues

11. Back Streets Of Tokyo

12. Everybody's Up To Somethin'

13. The Hennepin Avenue Bridge

x

Track List: Rockabilly Riot! Volume One: A Tribute To Sun Records

1. Red Hot

2. Slow Down

3. Real Wild Child

4. Rockhouse

5. Put Your Cat Clothes On

6. Lonely Weekends

7. Get It Off Your Mind

8. Just Because

9. Glad All Over

10. Flatfoot Sam

11. Rock 'N Roll Ruby

12. Blue Suede Shoes

13. Tennessee Zip

14. Mona Lisa

15. Peroxide Blonde In A Hopped Up Model Ford

16. Get Rhythm

17. Stairway To Nowhere

18. Boppin' The Blues

19. Rakin' And Scrapin'

20. Sweet Woman

21. Flyin' Saucer Rock And Roll

22. Lonely Wolf

23. Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache

x

Track List: Nitro Burnin' Funny Daddy

Disc 1

1. Sixty Years

2. Don't Trust A Woman (In A Black Cadillac)

3. When The Bells Don't Chime

4. That Someone Just Ain't You

5. Rat Pack Boogie

6. Ring, Ring, Ring

7. Drink Whiskey And Shut Up

8. Smokin' 'N Burnin'

9. Wild Wind

10. St. Jude

11. To Be Loved

12. When The Bells Don't Chime (Banjo Mix)

Disc 2
x

Track List: The Brian Setzer Collection '81-'88

1. (She's) Sexy + 17

2. Rock This Town

3. Summertime Blues (Studio Outtake)

4. The Knife Feels Like Justice

5. Boulevard Of Broken Dreams

6. Echo Park (Studio Outtake)

7. When The Sky Comes Tumblin' Down

8. Cross Of Love

9. Every Tear That Falls

10. Thing About You (Studio Outtake)

11. Waitin' For Desiree (Studio Outtake)

12. Bobby's Back

13. Keep Your Lovin' Strong

14. Living Souls (Studio Outtake)

15. The Rain Washed Everything Away

16. I Won't Stand In Your Way (A Cappelle Version)

17. Runaway Boys (Live)

18. Chains Around Your Heart

Comments

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Bad
Boy!!!
Love it!!

Lol
0;o)))

Great music...
BOOGIE!!!!

Lol
08oD
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LEAD SINGER FOR STRAY CATS
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Truly this Rock-in-Roll
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Don't read this. You will be kissed on the nearest possible Friday by the love of your life. Now you've started reading this if you ignore you will have bad luck. Post this on 5 songs in 143 minutes. When your done press the space bar and your crushes name will appear on the screen
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andymacsinka
Drunk Drivin' and Jail.This guy knows his cchitt inside and out.
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This guy is awesome! However, I'd say he's the exact opposite of a pioneer- he's keeping his style of music Alvie!
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alka setzer what a relief
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hocking, not hawking
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Awesome stuff! He's a pioneer.
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Setzer, Sorry
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Seltzer is a Pure Genius, ELVIS would love this guy!!!
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How can you sit down!!!!! Love it !!!!!
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Take any guitarist who has been playing for decades, show them some Setzer concert footage where he plays styles ranging from rockabilly to jazz to classical and they will all tell you the same thing- Brian Setzer is the greatest living guitarist.
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I love listening to this while driving
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garammasala1 9 6 8
Brian Setzer is my favorite of all time!!!
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Nona I'm 11 and iv had this music my whole life and I just simply love it
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I dance every time I here this
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I'm 12 and I love this bluesy swing rockabilly stuff really keeps me going
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A true heart, love his evolution, his old NY days, and now the master.
Young lads, if you seek the lady's hand, try a little Setzer on that, it will work wonders
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Love it!
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Love his beat, very energetic, feel likebI'm on speed
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Brian is one hep cat. Go, daddyo.
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julie_ann6
I was 13 too-but not the only one...! That was in full Stray Cat glory days. Brian's music is still some of the very besssst out there! Jams me through my workdays!! Thanks Mr. Stray Cat!
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Love this instrumental version! Setzer is one of the best! Loved watching him w his orchestra in Los Angeles 2 X-mases ago! They rocked the joint!!!!!
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Brian Setzer must be my all time favorite musician of all time!!!
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sandahltim
Funny thing, Setzler has a home in Mpls and hangs out a NE Mpls bar that I frequent. Was totally blown away when one day this funny looking guy buys the whole bar a round...turn s out it was Brian!
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Noah, you are NOT the only 13 year old that listens to Rockabilly, I promise! :) Keep listening, kid. :) I was the only 13 year old I knew that listened to it back then, too. :)
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I saw BSO LIVE just FABULOUS !
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Im 13 and im the only kid that listens to Rockabilly and blues
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Last BSO show I attended (4 total now) was the Christmas show at the Ryman in Nashville. Took my kids of 17 and 14 and they loved it. It's very cool to be driving with my younger son and him asking to hear some BSO. Rock lives on thanks to Brian Setzer. Cool cat!
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I started a station with squirel nut zippers. Now BSO is taking over. Simply cannot turn up the volume enough! Have to see them live no matter the cost
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keep jamming, brian came to santa rosa ca a few years back ,the back row was $100.00 ouch ! i regreted not going .
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pookie.bug73
Coolest Cat there is! I have his portrait tattooed on my arm and even have gretsch guitars because of him! By far the most underrated guitarist there is!!!! Listen to those licks....... D a m n !
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Smokin...... .
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wloughran600
This is a multi talent next to none he rocks he rolls he swings he does it all
Wish I could see in person someday god willing!
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Just back from the Minneapolis Christmas show on Nov 17th 2012. AMAZING show. Forgot for a long time about his abilities until I rediscovered my intrest from the 80's. This is a MUST SEE artist!
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This guy is massively underrated as a guitarist, saw him in Kettering Ohio and he melted the stage- Rumble in Brighton left everyone spent...
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I will be seeing Brian Setzer this coming September 14, 2012 'I can't wait, it will be my first time seeing him perform at the Hollywood Bowl in So Cal'.
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theykilledke n n y 8
Sorry my whole point of my comment was Brian Setzer came out to watch Bob Dylan. Who wouldn't? He was very gracious to all the fans that came to talk to him even though you could see he was exhausted. He put his all into a show in Tallahassee as an opening act. I admire him for that.
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theykilledke n n y 8
I saw The Brian Setzer Orchestra open for Bob Dylan in Tallahassee years ago. I know most of the people I knew, where there to see Brian Setzer. It was a great show. My mom went with me to see Bob Dylan but in the long run preferred the opening act.
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ladydi51
I am dying to see them in the U.S.! (Western Mass) Doesn't look like anytime soon though :(
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jstagirl2004
I have seen BSO many times and everytime I see him he amazes me. Not only is he a great musician but he is also very nice and funny as I have met him a few times. He loves the music he plays and he is very thankful for his fans. Brian I hope you never stop doing what you love.
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scottdustin7 0 5
Tried to get my Gretsch pick guard signed by Brian, but didn't happen. But the concert was AWESOME! Front row, center!
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im only 14 and only kid at school who love this stuff!!!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
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johnsonjeann i e
This cat can swing, love his xmas cd's !!!!!!
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I
ADORE this guy! the xmas cd's are so awesome!! His music is sexy!!!!
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saw them in the early 80s as the cats and brian setzer orch. in 97 rip it up
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Leaving this one to Kevin Norton...one of the kool cats on trumpet.
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Love Brian Setzer and his Orchestra!
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Not a bad version, but not the original. Still, a good version...Br i a n is an accomplished musician.
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