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Brian Setzer Orchestra

in AB/Albums/Contemporary artists/Reviews
Brian Setzer Orchestra - Don't Mess With A Big Band Live
Brian Setzer Orchestra – Don’t Mess With A Big Band Live

Brian Setzer Orchestra – Don’t Mess With A Big Band Live

Surfdog
Disc 1:
Batman – Drive Like Lightning Crash Like Thunder – ’49 Mercury Blues – Good Rockin’ Daddy – Your True Love – The Dirty Boogie – Sleepwalk – Honey Man – This Cat’s On a Hot Tin Roof – Summertime Blues
Disc 2:
Runaway Boys – Gina – Gene & Eddie – Fishnet Stockings – Stray Cat Strut – Jump Jive an’ Wail – Rumble In Brighton – Rock This Town – House is Rockin’

When Surfdog and Brian Setzer announced they would release live recordings found in their vault it sounded interesting. But the excitement soon turned to disapointment when the show and the setlist was revealed. Taken during the last Japan tour that took place in early 2009, the double album (19 tracks) contains once again Sleepwalk, Summertime Blues, The Dirty Boogie, Runaway Boys, Gene & Eddie, Stray Cat Strut, Rumble In Brighton and Rock This Town. Sure some of them are classics and must be in a Setzer show but why does the guitarist keep playing Gene & Eddie remains a complete mystery to me. This live was the occasion to release some unusual tracks, and you can have some regrets when you know that the band played some very rare songs during this tour like Cry Baby, Ring Of Fire, Maybe Baby, Peggy Sue, Orange Blossom Special or For Lisa with the violin and the clarinet.
Instead of that it’s once again the same thing. The sole songs that are not present on any previous live recordings are Batman, Honey Man (could be good without those awful singers) Gina and The House Is Rockin.
The band itself doesn’t sound very tight and the arrangements are loose especially in the trio part where the comparison with the team Winchester/Dresel is clearly not in favor of the new rhythm section. Sure the sound is good (but not exceptionnal either) but is that enough to buy this album (they could, at least, have included the full show) I let you judge.
Even the ugly cover reveals an hastily made project.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis


Brian Setzer Orchestra - Wolfgang's Big Night Out
Brian Setzer Orchestra – Wolfgang’s Big Night Out

Brian Setzer Orchestra – Wolfgang’s Big Night Out

Surfdog
Take The 5th – One More Night With You – Wolfgang’s Big Night Out – Honey Man – Yes We Can Can – Swingin’ Willie – Sabre Dance – For Lisa – Here Comes The Broad – 1812 Overdrive – Some River In Europe – Take A Break Guys

Note : the reviewers of the Rockabilly Chronicle have different points of view about this album which explains the two reviews.

Brian Setzer has widely been credited as being responsible for the revitalization of two music genres: rockabilly—as the frontman of the Stray Cats—and swing, as leader of the Brian Setzer Orchestra. When I heard of Setzer’s plans to record Wolfgang’s Big Night Out, an album of classical masterpieces with a big band twist, my curiosity was piqued. My exposure to the classics had been limited to hotel lobby music, Looney Tunes cartoons and my husband’s collection of Robert Schumann recordings. Could Brian Setzer breathe new life into one of the oldest music styles ever?
The answer? Yes, he can.
Setzer and company take an electrified romp through a dozen classical standards, from “Take the 5th”—an adaptation of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” , and a fine showcase of Setzer’s guitar wizardry—to “Take a Break Guys”, an interesting cover of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (think Cream playing Christmas tunes after an acid trip). Classical music novices will immediately recognize “Swingin’ Willie”—a reworking of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”—as the theme from television’s “The Lone Ranger”. The new version screams “big band” so loudly that you’d think your grandfather had cranked up the volume on his record player.
To supplement the traditional instrumentals, Brian Setzer and crew give an interesting spin to a couple of classics with the addition of vocals. “One More Night with You”, adapted from Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King”, swings with booming drums, a Setzer guitar solo and lots of horns. The remake is well constructed and so completely different from the original that one would think it to be a freshly composed song. “Honey Man”, an updated version of “Flight of the Bumblebee”, features BSO backup singers Julie Reiten and Leslie Spencer-Smith sharing lead vocal duties. Setzer’s fingers fly in a fiery performance, possibly his best on the entire album, proof positive that Brian Setzer is one of the finest guitarists around.
While “One More Night with You” and “Honey Man” are impressive, Setzer’s take on Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”, “For Lisa”, is not. The tune consists of a violin backed by acoustic guitar and a soft drumbeat, and lacks the joy and power of the majority of the record. The signature Setzer sound is noticeably absent from the song, which would have greatly benefited from Brian just ripping it out on his Gretsch.
Although it misses the occasional step, Wolfgang’s Big Night Out is a fine display of Brian Setzer’s ability to adapt any music style and make it his own. Unusual, energetic and, overall, entertaining, Wolfgang’s Big Night Out is a must-have for this Setzer fan.

Denise Daliege-Pierce


Playing classical music with a non classical band is not a new idea. Bob Wills did it in the 30’s with William Tell and Spade Cooley almost turned that into a trademark with tunes by Bizet (Carmen Boogie), Beethoven and Bach. In the jazz fields John Kirdy cut some wonderful and swingin’ side playing Beethoven and more recently Dave Edmunds, known for his collaboration with Setzer during the Stray Cats days, played Bizet with Love Sculpture and later released a full classical album. This is what Setzer did too for his first non Christmas album with the Brian Setzer Orchestra since Vavoom.
And when you look at his discography in the recent years one can wonder : does Setzer run out of ideas. Two Christmas albums mainly made of covers, one tribute to Sun, one particularly uninspired “ 13” , one live album and this one (again made of non-Setzer songs). The result is really weak which is sad when you know how talented this guy is. Only a few songs sound good. “Take The 5th” an adaptation of Beethoven’s Symphony N° 5 is quite good with a fine swingin’ rhythm, “Sabre Dance” is equally good with its arrangement taken from Edmunds’ version, nothing too exceptional but at least you don’t want to skip the song. By far the best one is “For Lisa” (Beethoven’s Fur Elise) which is turned into a gipsy jazz ala Django with violin, clarinet and subtle brushwork. Listening to this one and songs like Jumpin’ At The Capitol and Beautiful Blues, just imagine how good a full Setzer gipsy album would sound. The other one I would save is “Take A Break Guys” (originally God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen). It starts like a 60’s spy movie soundtrack reminiscent of Lalo Shiffrin with twangy guitar then turns into a 70’s exploitation movie with wah-wah pedal on the guitar.
For the rest, “Honeyman” (Flight Of The Bumblebee) with added lyrics sung by the vixens is unbearable and it’s hard to resist the temptation to destroy you stereo (better skip the song), “Some River In Europe” (Blue Danube) should be a hit in every retirement house, “One More Night With You” is the only one featuring Setzer on vocals and is to be forgotten very quickly. Even when you’re Brian Setzer you can’t turn poor tune into first class material and there’s no miracle with “Yes We Can Can” ( Offenbach ’s Can Can) which evolved into a parody of New Orleans jazz.
Hopefully someone will show Setzer his own DVD of the BSO at Montreal in 1995, when BSO meant excitement and it’ll give him some inspiration for his next release.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

Mark Winchester, slap bass Rockabilly hero

in Interviews
Mark Winchester
Mark Winchester

Mark Winchester

He’s slapped his doghouse bass for Emmylou Harris’s Nash Ramblers. He performed with Sonny George and Eddie Angel in the rockabilly cult favorite group, the Planet Rockers. He’s penned songs for Randy Travis, was the longtime bassist for the Brian Setzer Orchestra, and was a member of Setzer’s ’68 Comeback Special trio. He’s Mark W. Winchester, rockabilly journeyman, and he’s pretty much done it all.
Although known for his ability behind the upright bass, Mark is a talented singer, as well. He provided vocals for the track “Rooster Rock” on the Brian Setzer ’68 Comeback Special album Ignition!, and recently release his first solo effort, All These Young Punks. The disc is a bit of a departure for Mark, showcasing his rich, southern-twanged voice and songwriting talents, as opposed to his bass playing capabilities. 
Although no longer a member of the BSO, Mark Winchester’s ties to Brian Setzer remain strong. He performed upright bass duties on Setzer’s recent Sun Records cover album, Rockabilly Riot, Volume 1; it was around this time that I conducted the following interview with the prolific musician.
by Denise Daliege-Pierce

When did you begin playing the slap bass?
Mark Winchester I started playing upright around 1982-83. I had just started college at the University of South Carolina, and was trying to start a band with me singing and playing guitar, but we could never find an upright bass player. I volunteered to get a bass and teach myself to play it, since I had taken three or four electric bass lessons in the eighth grade. When I finally found one, it immediately felt right in my hands.

Who were your greatest musical influences?
Mark Winchester I taught myself to slap to Johnny Burnette and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio album. I had a Sun compilation tape I listened to a lot. The first music that really got me excited was the Ramones, the Clash, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson; first Police record. I found that same energy when I started investigating ‘50’s rockabilly, and fell in love with all those records, too.

What brand of bass do you play?
Mark Winchester ¾ scale blonde Kay, early ‘40’s.

How many do you own?

Mark Winchester Just the big banana right now, the bass I played on “Jump, Jive and Wail”. At one time, I had three.

Who are some of your favorite slap bassists?

Mark Winchester The late Dorsey Burnette, Willie Dixon and Bill Black.

How did you break into the music business?
Mark Winchester I moved to Nashville [Tennessee], sat in with a band on my upright, got invited to be in a video because I looked “rockabilly”; met Eddie Angel on that video shoot, and he said he was starting a band. I said I play doghouse. That’s how I got in on the ground floor of the Planet Rockers.





The Planet Rockers
The Planet Rockers

What are some of your memories of the Planet Rockers and your time with them?

Mark Winchester Wow. This is a tough request. I remember the Planet Rockers being a great looking band onstage. We looked like a band. We sounded like a band. I didn’t realize, at the time, how rare that is. The chemistry, the vibe; that ingredient “x” that you just can’t put your finger on. We had a lot of fun.



Many people don’t realize that you toured with Emmylou Harris for some time during the 1990s. Describe that experience.
Mark Winchester It was an incredible honor to be asked to join the Nash Ramblers. To be included in the long line of stellar musicians she had had in her hands was humbling. I got a lot better quickly. I had to. I could go on and on about how wonderful those three years were. They changed my life musically, professionally and personally. I’ll always owe Emmylou a huge debt of gratitude for hiring me. She was really cool to work for.

You’ve played with an assortment of musicians from a variety of genres.

How are you able to adapt to a certain music style so quickly?

Mark Winchester Well, I don’t really have to do it all that quickly. I usually know beforehand what the gig I’m on calls for. You might get a curve ball on a songwriter session occasionally but, if they hired me, it’s usually pretty country/bluegrass/roots oriented.



How did you and Brian Setzer meet?

Mark Winchester He was scheduled to appear on Ricky Scaggs’s Monday Night Concert series that was being taped at the Ryman Auditorium [in Tennessee] for TNN. The music director called and hired me to be in the house band, so there would be a slap bass player to back Brian. That’s the first night I met him. There was a great unscheduled portion of the show where Brian, Elvis Costello, Marty Stuart and Ricky Scaggs decided to do a tribute to Sun Records. I found myself in a dressing room at the Ryman with all those guys, rehearsin’ Sun songs. Overwhelming. I’ll never forget that.

Brian Setzer's 68 Comeback Special (Brian Setzer, Mark Winchest
Brian Setzer’s 68 Comeback Special (Brian Setzer, Mark Winchester and Bernie Dresel)

You performed with the Brian Setzer Orchestra until 2001. Why did you leave the group?

Mark Winchester During my tenure with the Orchestra, my wife and I had twins which, in addition to our two daughters, brought our total number of children to four. I had a hard time being away from them for long periods of time, so I chose to get off the road.

You’ve also performed with Setzer and fellow Stray Cats member Slim Jim Phantom on a handful of shows. Did you feel as though you would be compared to the group’s bassist, Lee Rocker?

Mark Winchester Sure, I thought about that. When they called me about those two gigs in Japan, I was extremely honored. At first, I thought it was just gonna be us in a club situation, and that worried me; that I might be pelted by tomatoes by irate fans who wanted all the Cats there. But when I found out it was a huge festival with a bunch of bands and 10,000 people, I knew I’d be out of range of projectiles—or at least I’d see ‘em coming. Brian and Jim treated me so great. It was a wonderful experience. When we all met in the lobby of the hotel that first night to go over to the gig, Brian and Slim Jim looked so Stray Cats—hell, they were them! It hit me then, I’m going to be on stage with the Stray Cats. Couldn’t help feeling 18 again!

Tell us about reuniting with Brian Setzer for his Rockabilly Riot album.

Mark Winchester So, so cool to be back in a studio with Brian and [BSO and ’68 Comeback Special drummer] Bernie Dresel. It was rockin’ from the downbeat of the first tune. Brian picked some great Sun songs, rare and classics. To be recording those songs with someone of Brian’s stature was a thrill; just a blast all the way around.

You’ve finally released your first solo record, All These Young Punks.
Mark Winchester I’m very proud of it. I think that everyone should rush to www.cdbaby.com/mwwinchester and buy one immediately. I played my ’61 Harmony Rocket guitar on it. No bass—probably not a clever disclosure, given I’m being interviewed about my bass playing, huh?



Who performed with you on the album?

Mark Winchester Larry Atamanuik, who played drums in Emmylou’s Nash Ramblers, played drums. He’s supported my excursions into solo projects since the Nash Rambler days. When I first started playing out, I somehow found out about a wonderful musician in town named Dave Francis, and from the first time he played electric bass for me, I just knew he got where I was coming from. He’s on the whole record. Jim Hoke is a genius musician living in Nashville. Many years ago, he came up after a Mark W. Winchester Trio gig and said he had a friend working at a label, and would I let him cut some sides on me to send him. Four songs on the new record are from that session. When I finally got around to finishing it, I asked Jim to help again, and play sax. We got the best engineer—in my opinion—in town, Neil Cappelino, who recorded those earlier tracks, and we finished the record in about four days. It all fell right back in place.



What was the inspiration behind the album’s title?
Mark Winchester “All these young punks” is a line from a song on the [Crickets’s] album called Back in Style. It seemed to fit as a title, because this record is a batch of songs that reflect my British pub rock influences, more so than my rockabilly influences. It won’t be what fans of my slap bassin’ would expect, although I don’t think anyone will be disappointed or bored. It’s another side of what I do that not a lot of people are hip to…yet.

Thanks for your time, Mark.

Are there any closing comments or thoughts that you’d like to share?

Mark Winchester Rockabilly has a special place in my heart, obviously, and I truly love to slap the bass. It’s like my “free” space on the bingo card of life, and I’m grateful to have been given the talent to do it, and the opportunity to do it with some seriously rockin’ cats over the years.

Note: Since this interview, Mark released two more solo albums, played on Brian Setzer’s Rockabilly Riot All Originals as well as the excellent Return of the Planet Rockers the latest album of the newly reformed Planet Rockers.

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