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 late 1990s with his swing revival band, the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
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 got 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. 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 (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".
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).
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 (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.
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). 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.
Setzer has been married three times, most recently in 2005 to Julie Reiten, a former singer with the Dustbunnies.
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