Featuring: Brian Setzer

Today I’m featuring a very talented, rebellious and sweet musician who goes by the name Brian Setzer. Somewhat underrated, this cat with enormous flair and musical soul is a great entertainer and live performer. He put rockabilly back on the map, reinvented it, and gave it world wide fame with his band the Stray Cats.

Setzer was born April 1959 in Massapequa, New York. He started on the euphonium and played in jazz bands when he was in school. He found a way to hear jazz at the Village Vanguard, though as he got older he became more interested in rock, punk, and rockabilly. He was a member of the Bloodless Pharaohs and the Tomcats, which he began with his brother, Gary. The Tomcats became the Stray Cats when double bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom joined and Gary left the band. In 1980, thinking they might have more success in England than in America, they sold their instruments to pay for airplane tickets and flew to London.

After performing in London for a few months, they met Dave Edmunds, a guitarist and record producer who shared their love of rockabilly and 1950s’ rock and roll. Edmunds produced their debut album, Stray Cats (1981), which yielded two hit singles, “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock This Town”. The second album, Gonna Ball (1982), was less successful. The band returned to America and released Built for Speed (1982), produced again by Dave Edmunds, with songs collected from their first two albums. Helped by their music videos on MTV, the Stray Cats became popular in America. Their next album, Rant n’ Rave with the Stray Cats produced the hit “(She’s) Sexy + 17”.

The Stray Cats disbanded in 1984, though they occasionally reunited, recorded, and toured. After recording three albums with different producers, they returned to Dave Edmunds for Choo Choo Hot Fish (1992).

After the Stray Cats disbanded in 1984, Setzer began a solo career that included working as a sideman for other acts, such as the Honeydrippers led by Robert Plant. On his first solo album, The Knife Feels Like Justice (1986), he turned away from rockabilly and moved toward rhythm and blues (R&B) and the heartland rock of John Mellencamp. The album was produced by Don Gehman and featured Kenny Aronoff on drums. Both men had worked on albums by Mellencamp. His second studio album Live Nude Guitars followed in 1988. While this album retained some heartland rock elements, it found Setzer moving in more of a straight-ahead blues rock direction, comparable to George Thorogood’s style; Setzer served as co-producer along with Larson Paine, Chris Thomas and David A. Stewart. He went on tour with Thorogood later that year.

Setzer returned to his love of music from the 1950s, this time the jump blues of Louis Prima. Whereas he had resurrected rockabilly in the 1980s, he resuscitated swing in the 1990s. He assembled the Brian Setzer Orchestra, a seventeen piece big band that got the public’s attention with a cover version of Prima’s “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” from the album The Dirty Boogie (1998). The song won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, while “Sleep Walk” from the same album won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.

The album Wolfgang’s Big Night Out (2007) featured Setzer’s interpretation of classical pieces, such as Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” and “Für Elise”. Wolfgang earned Setzer his eighth Grammy nomination, this time for Best Classical Crossover Album.

He executive produced the album Ready Steady Go! (2014) by Drake Bell and played guitar on two songs.

Setzer has sold 13 million records and received the Orville H. Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award throughout his career as founder/leader of the Stray Cats, the 19-piece Brian Setzer Orchestra, and a solo artist.

Setzer has been married three times, most recently in 2005 to Julie Reiten, a former singer with the Dustbunnies, and lives in Minneapolis.

Brian Setzer has a very large guitar collection which spans many decades and brands. He favours vintage equipment and hollow body guitars, and currently endorses Gretsch guitars. At one time Setzer stated: “Nothing feels right after a Gretsch”.

In 2019 Setzer had to cancel his Christmas tour as a result of severe tinnitus (noise/ringing in ears). He has always liked playing loud.

On June 25, 2021, Setzer announced a new solo album, his first in 7 years, titled Gotta Have the Rumble. The rumble is about his love for motorcycles and hot rods, which have been a part of Brian’s life since he was 15 years old. He loves the adrenaline rush he gets by going fast.

According to Brian, the “rumble” also refers to two other things, one musical and the other medical. Brian likes to stand quite close to his vintage Fender Bassman amps to get his trademark sound, which causes his guitar to “rumble.” Unfortunately, the loud sound exposure has caused what Brian calls a rumble in his ears because, as aforementioned, he has developed a hearing loss with tinnitus. Fortunately, Brian’s symptoms have improved with a decrease in noise level exposure.

This awesome vocalist and guitarist has always pulled my heartstrings with his sweet rocking’ chords, and humbleness has turned this man into a fine individual.

Check him out (or not):

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, interweb, poetpas©️

Bluma

you pull
my heartstrings
with your unpredictable notes
up and down
the ladder
your melody
connects
with my melancholy
and directs it
to a feeling
of playful happiness
all Bluma
your lyrical finesse

I wrote these words to an instrumental song played by Biréli Lagrene. He was only 13 when he recorded it. He was a child prodigy and today, and/or to this day, he is one of the best (jazz) guitarists out there.