All Setzer for a Riot-A-Billy

 

Brian Setzer

Article by MICHAEL DWYER
The West Australian
March 23, 2012

Read the original article here.

 

Brian Setzer is trying to get his head around the Hollywood Bowl. The three concerts with the venerable theatre's resident orchestra and conductor Thomas Wilkins aren't happening until September but there's almost a note of panic in his voice as he talks the concept over.

 
"It was my manager's idea," he says incredulously. "And, of course you wanna do it but you have so many questions. This is up to a 100-piece symphony. Who writes all those scores? Me?
 
"I'm gonna sing Runaway Boys, a song I wrote 35 years ago, and I'm gonna have an 80-piece string section behind me. Mixing rockabilly and these huge orchestral strings? I mean, that's just insane to me. But it'll fit. It will work. I'm excited about it."
 
Perhaps the most renowned rockabilly guitarist alive, Setzer has made an astounding career of unlikely musical arrangements.
 
Not least of these was the bare-boned attack of his original trio, the Stray Cats, whose passion for the 50s echo and twang of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent was like an electric shock to the post-punk synth wave of the early 1980s.
 
"I didn't think anybody within spitting distance would even listen to us," he reflects of the multi-million-selling trio today. "I mean, here I was, taking a music that was never even popular in the 50s but I had to do it because I just loved that. I did what I thought was right and it just kind of went off the charts."
 
The Stray Cats' importance to the endurance of the lean, energetic rockabilly ethos can't be overestimated. The Living End, one of Australia's most consistently successful bands of the past 20 years, are inconceivable without Setzer, drummer Slim Jim Phantom and upright bassist Lee Rocker.
 
The tail end of their meteoric success remains a source of disappointment for Setzer, even 25 years on.
 
"It was silly to break up the Stray Cats at the peak of our success," he says. "We were just stupid kids. We should have acted like men, licked our wounds and come out swinging."
 
Which is exactly what Setzer did in 1994 after a mixed decade of collaborations, solo records and Cats reunions
 
The first, self-titled Brian Setzer Orchestra album was another instance of following his heart in the opposite direction to musical fashion. It peaked at No. 158 on the US charts. Four dogged years later, their Dirty Boogie LP put big band swing back in the Top 10.
 
"People thought I was just nuts," Setzer says.
 
"To put 16 people together on the road? The enormity and expense of that - well, that's why those bands died out. And then to put a guitar in front of it? Nobody had any idea as to what I was trying to do with that."
 
Happily, he says, the gamble kept growing every year until he could afford to do theatres, then he could pay everybody and put beer in the dressing room. "And that's a lot of beer, believe me," he says.
 
The backstage rider will be smaller but the vision no less epic when Setzer's Rockabilly Riot tour of Australia kicks off at Fremantle Arts Centre on Saturday.
 
The line-up is "like three bands in one", the guitarist says, and the set will cover all phases of his career. "I thought wouldn't it be cool if I started out with one band, did some solo songs and some big band songs I've written for horns? Then my piano player comes out and we do some old-school rockabilly; then I bring up Slim Jim and another bass player, Chris D'Rosario, so we can do some Stray Cats songs - and then all six guys come up and it's like this crazy rockabilly riot."
 
No more or less crazy than playing Runaway Boys with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. But when push comes to shove, Setzer has to admit that straight-up rockabilly is more his speed.
 
"I think that's where I live," he says.
 
"I like to use it as a springboard and jump into deeper water from time to time but I always go back to that little rockabilly island."
 

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