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When the definitive history of Rock -n- Roll is written, Brain Setzer will go down as the ultimate revivalist. Setzer was the man at the forefront of not one but two resurgences of past popular music forms. In the early 80’s Brian helped bring Rockabilly back into vogue as the frontman of the Stray Cats. Then in the 90’s Brian realized his dream of fronting a Big Band with his Brain Setzer Orchestra; a project that placed Swing music once more into the mainstream of popular music. Now Brian has returned to his rockabilly roots with the '68 Comeback Special.

The eclectic Setzer’s melodic voice and distinctive  guitar sound has made him one of the most enduring musicians of the past two decades. As a child growing up in Long Island Brian dreamed of one day leading his own Big Band. He drew heavy inspiration from various styles of music, everything from punk to jazz, swing, and the heavy blues of Led Zeppelin. But fate had ideas of making Brian a star not from Swing but from a form of music that touched off the rock-n-roll explosion in the 50’s, Rockabilly. 

To bring his rockabilly revival into fruition Brian teamed up with drummer Slim Jim Phantom and standup bass player Lee Rocker in 1979. The trio dubbed themselves the Stray Cats and gained attention playing their boogie styled roots rock. The band decided to try out their rockabilly sound on Swinging London, which at the time was in the midst of the punk/new wave craze. The English music scene is always on the look out for new and interesting trends in popular music, so it didn’t take long for British fans to embrace the Stray Cats. 

America is the crown jewel of musical achievement for most bands. Thousands of artists through the years have had chart-topping success on other continents but couldn’t get arrested in the U.S. The fickle American Top 40 offers artists the ultimate paradox; most U.S. top 40-radio stations refuse to play music by artists without proven hit potential, yet it is virtually impossible for an artist to have a hit without radio airplay. Yet in 1982 when the Stray Cats released “Built for Speed” in America the album spawned three hit singles, “Stray Cat Strut”, “Rumble in Brighton” and “Rock this Town” with the aid of a new promotion medium, music video. 

The Stray Cats became favorites on the new cable music channel MTV. The MTV generation was turned on to new music with the channel’s 24 hour a day video format. In 1982 young fans discovered the style of music that turned pop culture on it’s ears in 50’s when artists like Elvis and Bill Haley brought teenagers to their feet with the R&B offshoot known as Rock-n-roll. 

1982 brought the Stray Cats international success. But the rockin trio were never to experience the same measure of success again. Their album "Rant And Rave with the Stray Cats" contained the hit single“(She's) Sexy + 17” but the album still failed to live up to the success of “Built for Speed”. The Stray Cats disbanded in 1984 and the three members went on to pursue solo projects. They had a short-lived reunion a decade later but they were never to reclaim the success of their glory days. 

After the second demise of the Stray Cats, Brian  realized his dream of fronting a Swing Band with his 17-piece band Brian Setzer Orchestra. Brian’s new project and style immediately caught fire with live audiences that led the group to recapture that magic on their first album "The Brian Setzer Orchestra". In 1996 Brian took his 17-piece band into the studio with producer Phil Ramone to record the group’s second album, “Guitar Slinger”. On this release Brian mixed cover songs with original numbers. “Guitar Slinger” also featured the song “Sammy Davis City”, a collaboration between Brian and Joe Strummer, the legendary frontman of the pioneering punk band The Clash. 

On the Orchestra’s third album, "Dirty Boogie", Brian teamed up with No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani for a cover duet of Elvis Presley’s “You're the Boss”. The album spawned a huge hit with the single “Jump Jive & Wail". "Dirty Boogie" helped Brian take his Swing vision to the masses. 

In 2000 the Brian Setzer Orchestra returned with “Vavoom!” a jumping swing album that won the group critical praise and undying loyalty from fans. However, Brian’s creative yearning were calling out for him to return to the style that first made him a star. In late 2000 Brian formed a new group with Orchestra slap-bassist Mark W. Winchester and drummer Bernie Dresel. Paying homage to the King of Rock-n-Roll Brian named this new trio the Brian Setzer ’68 Comeback Special after Elvis' famous '68 Comeback Special. 

The plans started out modest with a couple of live Los Angeles performances but the audiences took so feverishly to the new material that Brian decided that an album and World Tour were in order. 

The Brain Setzer ’68 Comeback Special took the world by storm in 2001 as fans from across the globe witnessed Brian’s return to his roots. The album aptley titled "Ignition" quickly became a favorite with the  jumpin rockabilly numbers that captured Brian's smooth vocals and virtuoso guitar playing. The album kicks into high gear from the beginning with the electrifying title track, “Ignition”; Brian’s boogie shuffle guitar riffing sets the fast pace of the song, then Brian chimes in with his melodic vocals which tell the tale of youth, fast cars and rock n’ roll, transporting us back to the day where Rockabilly was king.  From there Brian takes into Chet Akins territory with  “5 Years, 4 Months, 3 Days”, a rousing rocker with a classic rock meets country back beat.  “Hell Bent” lives up to its name with some of the finest guitar work of Brian’s career. The song falls into the musical spectrum somewhere between Johnny Cash and Elvis. On the 14 tracks of “Ignition” Brian and his rockabilly cohorts explore various aspects of early rockabilly from the styling of Chuck Berry and  Eddie Cochran to the country infused early rockin style of Chet Atkins and Carl Perkins. Only someone with the magical skills of Setzer could make this old music style seem so fresh and new here in the 21st century. Brian once again proves he is one "cool" cat.  When Brian took the '68 Comeback Special on the road the group's concerts recaptured the energy of the original Rock –n- Roll onslaught of the 50’s for a new generation. 

As this is being written the ’68 Comeback Special had just concluded their tour. It is unclear what musical direction Brian will take next, but judging by his history it is sure to be pretty damn cool! 
 
 

Do you want more?
Visit Brian's official website for more! 

Check out the '68 Comeback Special section at Rockabillyhall.com

Purchase Brian's music online and hear samples!

 

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