Brian Setzer

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Brian Setzer
Brian Setzer in 2006
Brian Setzer in 2006
Background information
Birth nameBrian Robert Setzer
Born (1959-04-10) April 10, 1959 (age 61)
Massapequa, New York, U.S.
GenresRockabilly, rock and roll, swing revival, jump blues
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter, record producer
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals
Years active1979–present
LabelsArista, EMI, Interscope, Surfdog
Associated actsThe Bloodless Pharaohs, The Tomcats, Stray Cats, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Drake Bell, Jeff Beck

Brian Robert Setzer (born April 10, 1959) is an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He found widespread success in the early 1980s with the 1950s-style rockabilly group Stray Cats, and revitalized his career in the early 1990s with his swing revival band, the Brian Setzer Orchestra. In 1987, he made a cameo appearance as Eddie Cochran in the film La Bamba.


Stray Cats[edit]

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.[1]

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 (Arista, 1981), which yielded two hit singles, "Stray Cat Strut" and "Rock This Town". The second album, Gonna Ball (Arista, 1982), was less successful. The band returned to America and released Built for Speed (EMI, 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 (EMI, 1983) produced the hit "(She's) Sexy + 17".[1]

The Stray Cats disbanded in 1984, though they reunited occasionally, recorded, and toured. After recording three albums with different producers, they returned to Dave Edmunds for Choo Choo Hot Fish (1992).[1]

The Brian Setzer Orchestra[edit]

The Brian Setzer Orchestra performing in the White House during a visit from Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, June 29, 2006

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.[1] On his first solo album, The Knife Feels Like Justice (EMI, 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.[2] His second studio album Live Nude Guitars followed in 1988 with Setzer serving as co-producer along with Larson Paine, Chris Thomas and David A. Stewart.

Setzer returned to his love of music from the 1950s, this time the jump blues of Louis Prima. In the 1980s, he resurrected rockabilly, and in the 1990s, swing. 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 (Interscope, 1998).[1] 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.[3]

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! (Surfdog, 2014) by Drake Bell and played guitar on two songs.[4][5]

Personal life[edit]

Setzer has been married three times, most recently in 2005 to Julie Reiten, a former singer with the Dustbunnies.[6]

Awards and honors[edit]


As leader[edit]

The Brian Setzer Orchestra

As member[edit]

Bloodless Pharaohs

  • Marty Thau Presents 12 x 5 (Red Star, 1980) two tracks
  • Brian Setzer and the Bloodless Pharaohs (Collectables, 1996)[10]

Stray Cats

As guest[edit]


  • Brian Setzer Orchestra Live in Japan (2001)
  • Rumble in Brixton (2004)
  • Brian Setzer Orchestra Live: Christmas Extravaganza (2005)
  • One Rockin' Night ('95) (2007)
  • Live in Montreal Jazz Festival (2010)
  • Rockabilly Riot! Osaka Rocka Live in Japan (2016)
  • Brian Setzer Orchestra Live: Christmas Rocks! (2018)

Musical equipment[edit]

Brian Setzer has a very large guitar collection which spans many decades and brands. He favours vintage equipment[12] and hollow body guitars,[13] and currently endorses Gretsch guitars.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Brian Setzer". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  2. ^ Deming, Mark. "The Knife Feels Like Justice". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  3. ^ "The Dirty Boogie". AllMusic. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  4. ^ Lipshultz, Jason (28 February 2014). "Drake Bell Talks 'Ready Steady Go!' Album: Exclusive Behind-The-Scenes Video". Billboard. Archived from the original on 1 September 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  5. ^ Wood, James. "Actor/Musician Drake Bell Discusses 'Ready Steady Go!,' His New Album with Brian Setzer". Archived from the original on 6 October 2014.
  6. ^ "The latest from the StarTribune". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on June 28, 2006.
  7. ^ "Home - Gretsch Guitars Blog". Gretsch Guitars Blog. Archived from the original on 13 July 2016. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  8. ^ "Awards". 30 April 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Brian Setzer | Album Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  10. ^ "Brian Setzer". 2009-10-13. Retrieved 2010-06-09.
  11. ^ "Brian Setzer | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  12. ^ "Fender Players Club". Archived from the original on February 7, 2009.
  13. ^ "Brian Setzer: Effects Pedals". Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  14. ^ "Gretsch Guitars and Basses". Archived from the original on January 2, 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-16.

External links[edit]