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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 he 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. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

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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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Awsome song! Good beat.
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Korn? What is this 1996? Dr.Dre's last album was in 2000! These kids with their loud music and baggy clothes, hippin' and hoppin' all the time with their hair bands! Awesome.
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lillybellera d i o
You're mostly right Keith. When I talk classic rock with my friends, it's pretty much a monologue. However there are younger people like MJL and I trying to share the classics with others. It's just hard for them to accept something that isn't what the media wants them to like (Miley). Don't give up hope on kids; fads pass, but true classics live forever.
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Hey Keith, I'm 16 year old girl and in love with this band, 50's, ska, and jump blues. So... don't give up on teenagers just yet. And don't generalize.
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Saw BSO at the Gibson Amphitheatre on 12/19. It was an excellent show, full of fun, Christmas music, hits, covers, and just plain good stuff!
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Saw him and the band at Foxwoods last night. A fantastic show and performer.
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brian was never with the polecats (who were excellent), his first band was The Bloodless Pharoes and the original name of the Straycats was the Tomcats.
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BRIAN CAN PLAY ORIGINAL ROCK N ROLL BETTER THAN ANYONE
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how delightfully retro - i had a drummer that wanted to try to cover Brian's stuff and I thought, "yeah - and what club owner could ever pay us enough", lol good stuff..
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pwv1954
Long live David Lee Roth???? He wishes he had half the talent Brian Setzer has.

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