Brian Setzer – King of Rockabilly Swing

Brian Setzer – King of Swing

Brian Setzer hails from Massapequa, NY. Furthermore, he knew at a young age that music was his passion. He starts out playing his instrument of choice at the time, the brass horns. More specifically, the euphonium.  Shortly after, he moves onto guitars at the age of eight and finds his calling!  Meanwhile, his parents sees his enthusiasm for the guitar and finds a guitar teacher to help him develop his skills.

This teacher show him everything about the guitar, but also how to read music, compose it and arrange it. Quite honestly, we can’t thank his parents or that guitar teacher enough!  Because, by taking the time to hone his craft and develop his skills, Brian Setzer is an over the top talented guitar player!  He’s got the chops and the swagger! If you’ve seen him play live, you know that he’s a true professional when it comes to playing his music. 

His Early influences 

Obviously there are some jazz influences at play here and Setzer actually played in jazz bands at school. As well as going to the Village Vanguard to hear jazz bands. I can only imagine the amazing performances he saw there! His other musical styles include Blues, Rock, Punk, Country, Big Band, Swing and Rockabilly.  As he says in an interview I was listening to, “It all comes from the Blues!” Like those of us that grew up in the late 50s – the 70s, we were all influenced by the music we heard on the radio or shows on television. The same goes for Brian Setzer, he was influenced by the Allman Brothers, CCR, the Beatles and other bands and many others. 

In an interview, he talks about listening to the Beatles song “Honey Don’t” when he hears his dad singing along. He looks at his dad in surprise and says “How do you this Beatles song? His dad replies “Carl Perkins, I don’t who the Beatles are but, the song is a Carl Perkins song. Let’s just say this is an “a-ha” moment for Brian Setzer!  At this time, he realizes that some of the early Rolling Stones & Beatles songs were Carl Perkins songs. His influences in the 70s gives him a pretty clear path for what he wants to do musically. So, he starts a rockabilly revival band…

The Bands That Helped His Career

He is a member of the “Bloodless Pharaohs” and “The Tomcats”, which he began with his brother, Gary. The Tomcats become the Stray Cats circa 1979. When double bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom joins the band when Gary leaves. This trio starts performing gigs around town and at the time, their style is 1950s rock. 

Creating a following in the New York scene along with their boosted confidence, the band decides that they’re ready to take a chance with the U.K.  So, they take a leap of faith, and in a short time in the summer of 1980, while performing gigs all over, not only did they take a chance on the U.K. but they conquered it as well!  As well as a music contract!

Their break-out album “Built For Speed” crosses many borders throughout Europe as well as the United States and their  first single “Rock This Town” is a hit!  So much so, that it’s one of the most important songs in rock history!  Shortly after is the follow up called “Stray Cat Strut” a feisty punk song with some great swagger moments. In 1984, the band breaks up.

Afterwards,  Brian Setzer collaborates on a project with Robert Plant along with other heavy hitters on “The Honeydrippers.” Along with other heavy hitters in rock. In 1986, Setzer worked, on his solo releases and then hooks back up with the Stray Cats in the early 1990s touring and performing all over.  But Alas, they part ways only to eventually come back together in 2005 for a farewell tour. 

The Brian Setzer Orchestra

From a three-piece to an 18 piece band, In the 1980s, he resurrected rockabilly, and in the 1990s, swing. He assembles the Brian Setzer Orchestra, a seventeen piece big band that gets the public’s attention with a cover of Prima’s “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” from the album “The Dirty Boogie” in 1998. The song wins the Grammy Award for “Best Pop Performance” by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

While “Sleep Walk” from the same album wins him the Grammy for “Best Pop Instrumental Performance”. It’s another chance he took. Because in his mind, the big band era died and Rock n Roll is born. Plus, it’s the first time you really see a guitarist leading a big band orchestra. In between the Brian Setzer Orchestra, he releases  solo projects.

The Accolades, Fun Facts and Beyond

He’s sold 13 million records and receives the Orville H. Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award throughout his decorated career as founder/leader of the Stray Cats, his 19-piece Brian Setzer Orchestra, and as a solo artist. He’s cited as one of the world’s greatest living guitarists. 

He plays one of his idols, “Eddie Cochran” in “La Bamba”. Even more important, In 2002, Brian is one of the few musicians to be animated in an episode of “The Simpsons.”  As well as inducting Chet Atkins into the 17th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2006, he performs at the White House for the President.

Furthermore, he has an extensive line of elite Gretsch signature model guitars bearing his name. In 2014, Setzer receives the distinct honor of being asked by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. to donate a replica of his original 1959 Gretsch 6120 “Stray Cat” guitar, joining an elite collection of iconic treasures at the museum.

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