Browse Tag

Brian Setzer

Stray Cats

Stray Cats, neo-Rockabilly legends, formed in 1979, by Brian Setzer on guitar and vocals, Lee Rocker on double bass and Slim Jim Phantom on drums.

Stray Cats – Stray Cats

Stray Cats

Arista [1981]
Runaway boys – Fishnet stockings – Ubangi stomp – Jeanie jeanie jeanie – Storm the embassy – Rock this town – Rumble in Brighton – Stray cat strut – Crawl up and die – Double talkin baby – My one desire – Wild saxaphone

In the late ’70s, a trio of three young Rockabilly cats dug in their parents’ records collection. Without any complex and a good dose of naivety, they took 25-year-old music and made it sound fresh again (which led to a certain animosity from the purists.) Sure they liked Cochran, Vincent and Burnette, but they also grew up in New York during the heydays of Punk music.

The construction and the progression of the album itself are faultless. A-side opens with the hypnotic beat of “Runaway Boys” and ends with the rockin’ hymn “Rock This Town”. In between, two covers get the Stray Cats treatment (Warren Smith’s “Ubangi Stomp” and Cochran’s “Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie”) and two original songs. Of course, “Fishnet Stockings” is similar to Lew Williams’ “Bop Bop Ba Doo Bop”. That’s obvious. “Storm The Embassy” is a solid rocker but have nothing to do with rockabilly (actually Setzer played it in his previous band “The Bloodless Pharaohs” under the name “Boys Having Babies” and with different lyrics). The song is rather political and refers to the Iranian crisis and American hostages in the late ’70s. With a song so closely linked to the actuality, it didn’t allow them to perform it on stage long after 1981, which is a pity because, musically speaking, it rocks (listen to the live bootlegs issued from this period).

The B-side is more or less built on the same structure. The wild (also with a hypnotic riff) “Rumble In Brighton” opens the show. Depending on the pressing, one can hear Setzer yell “Ein, Swei, Drei, Vier” to open the tune, but you have to listen closely.

The origins of “Stray Cat Strut”, which became their signature song, were subject to questions. Of course, it’s the same chord progression as “Hit The Road Jack” and some advanced “Icky Poo”, an instrumental by the Nomads or “Lonely Travelin’” by Lonesome Lee as possible sources. But these are somewhat obscure songs, especially in the late ’70s, and it neglects the fact that Setzer grew up in New York and, as we said, was a Punk fan in his youth. That’s why I believe that the origin of Stray Cat Strut is to be found in Richard Hell’s Blank Generation (a band that often had as a support act the Bloodless Pharaohs). Listen to the guitar solo from Robert Quine and the “Woo-Woo” in the middle. It’s all here. Anyway, the band put enough of them to make it a great number and one of the highlights of their shows.

Crawl Up And Die” is a variation on Bill Allen and the Back Beats’ “Please Gimme Something” and shows another side of Setzer’s voice, the torrid one. The covers on this side are Ricky Nelson’s “My One Desire”, Vincent’s Double Talkin’ Baby and Roy Montrell’s “Mellow Saxophone” renamed here “Wild Saxophone.” Slim Jim Phantom provides a solid beat and Gary Barnacle (who played with the Clash) on sax. Brilliant.


Stray Cats – Little Miss Prissy

Arista – SCAT 5 [1981]
Little Miss Prissy / Sweet Love On My Mind – Something Else

Little Miss Prissy comes from Gonna Ball and shows the influence of Chuck Berry. The B-side features two unissued live tracks recorded in November 14th, 1981 in Newcastle: Johnny Burnette’s Sweet Love On My Mind and Eddie Cochran’s Something Else; both played in a wild and punkish manner.


Stray Cats – Gonna Ball

stray cats gonna ball

Arista [1981]
Baby Blue Eyes – Little Miss Prissy – Wasn’t That – Good Cryin’ Shame – (She’ll Stay) Just One More Day – You Don’t Believe Me – Gonna Ball – Wicked Whisky – Rev It Up and Go – Lonely Summer Nights – Crazy Mixed Up Kid

Following the massive success of their debut album, at least in Europe, the Stray Cats took a break in their heavy touring schedule. In August 81, they flew to Air Recording Studios in Montserrat in the East Indies to record their second album. This time the band took over the production duties with the help of sound engineer Heinz Hoven. The presence of prestigious guests augmented the trio. It included veteran Lee Allen (Little Richard, Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and later The Blasters) on sax and Ian Stewart (Rolling Stones) on the keyboard. Helped by that prestigious line-up, they played a bluesier form of rock’n’roll rather than the modern Rockabilly they were known for.

Half of the album consists of blues or blues-influenced songs. “Rev It Up and Go” and, to a lesser extent “, Little Miss Prissy” are obviously influenced by the great Chuck Berry. “You Don’t Believe Me” shows the influence of Elmore James with Setzer on slide-guitar. “Wasn’t That Good” proves that they are more than able to deliver a good jump blues (which they’ll later confirm with “Look At That Cadillac” and Lucky Charms”) and “Cryin’ Shame” features a fine harmonica part. Only “(She’ll Stay Just) One More Day” sung by Lee Rocker sounds weak and artificial. Though it features a nice organ part, the song is not great and Lee at that time wasn’t the singer he is nowadays.

Of course, there’s also some solid Rockabilly with Johnny Burnette’s Baby Blue Eyes and the raw Gonna Ball (actually a remake of the Wheels’ Let’s Have A Ball). The album also features one instrumental titled “Wicked Whisky”, which also cut as a vocal track under the name “Cross That Bridge” as a b-side and on Japan pressings. “Lonely Summer Night” proves that Setzer can top the greatest ballads of the ’50s, and “Crazy Mixed-up Kids” ends this album at a frantic pace.

This blues orientation confused the fans, and the “Gonna Ball” was only a semi-success compared to “Stray Cats”.


Stray Cats – Built For Speed

stray cats - built for speed

EMI [1982]
Rock This Town –  Built For Speed –  Rev It Up & Go – Stray Cat Strut –  Little Miss Prissy – Rumble In Brighton –  Runaway Boys –  Lonely Summer Nights – Double Talkin’ Baby – You Don’t Believe Me – Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie – Baby Blue Eyes

By 1982, the Stray Cats finally achieved success in their own country which led EMI to release this compilation featuring 6 tracks from their debut album, five from Gonna Ball and one new song, the title track, a great country-rockabilly.


Stray Cats – Look at that Cadillac

Look At That Cadillac / Lucky Charm [1983]
Arista 106-271

This is the 7″ that started it all for me. I still clearly remember the day I bought it with my older brother back in 1983 (I was 10, man, how time flies). The A-side is a classic jump blues with saxes and piano. Good song, if not very original, with Setzer talking about how hard he needs a Cadillac. “Look At That Cadillac” pleased me for sure, but the real jewel was on the B side. “Lucky Charm (oh Wee Suzie)” was – and still is – one of the best songs the Stray Cats ever wrote. Setzer’s voice is perfect. It looks like the curse of the great guitar player, as sometimes no one pays attention to their vocals. The song was probably recorded during the same session, as the saxes and piano are still here. This one is more a swingin’/rockin’ tune with every musician taking a hot solo each, especially a very inspired boogie-woogie part by Geraint Watkins (Crazy Cavan, Shakin Pyramids, and many others) and at the end, a short slap bass break. And at this moment I thought, “Woah! That’s what I want to hear!!!”. And now, more than 20 years later, I still listen to this single with great joy. I guess this is the power of the 45.


Stray Cats – Rant n’ Rave

Arista / EMI [1983]
Rebels Rules – Too Hip Gotta Go – Look At That Cadillac – Something’s Wrong With My Radio – 18 Miles To Memphis – Sexy & 17 – Dig Dirty Doggie – I Won’t Stand In Your Way – Hot Rod Gang – How Long Do You Wanna Live Anyway

Following the success of Built For Speed, the Stray Cats reunited with Welshman Dave Edmunds in 1983 to record “Rant & Rave” in London. They opted to return to what made their success and went back to their rockabilly roots (with an exception or two) after the blues-inspired “Gonna Ball”.

Rebels Rule” is an excellent choice to start the selection. With a strong Diddley Beat, Slim Jim playing like a madman on his toms, and Setzer yelling, “Rock’n’Roll is never too loud!” the pace is quickly set. The Stray Cats are back!

The next one, “Too Hip Gotta Go”, is a good rockabilly and shows Setzer ability on the strings. A fun one to play (see the time Setzer takes to explain it on his instructional video), it’ll remain in their live setlist for a very long time. “Look At That Cadillac” is a fine jump blues with juicy saxes and piano. Though it’s more a “sax” tune, Setzer plays an exciting rhythmic pattern in the background.
Sexy & 17” opens the b-side. It’s a good song with a solid solo, and it’ll make its niche in the charts. Inspired by Roy hall’s Diggin’, the Boogie, “Dig Dirty Doggie”, is one of their most rockabilly effort with huge slap bass.

The style changes with “I Won’t Stand In Your Way”, a delicious ballad with a doo-wop arrangement. The band is joined by the vocal group 14 Karat Soul for this song. An acapella version exists too.

Hot Rod Gang” was undoubtedly written with Gene Vincent in mind and features a fine Cliff Gallup influenced solo. The album ends with “How Long You Wanna Live Anyway?” the closest thing to Psychobilly the Stray Cats ever played with heavy guitar and pounding drums.

With ten songs and not a weak track, the Stray Cats star rose high. Sadly one year after the release of Rant & Rave, the band disbanded, and though they made different come-back with some solid songs and albums, this is the end of the golden age of the Stray Cats.


Stray Cats – Rock Therapy

stray cats rock therapy

EMI [1986]
Rock Therapy – Reckless – Race With The Devil – Looking For Someone To Love – I Wanna Cry – I’m A Rocker – Beautiful Delilah – One Hand Loose – Broken Man – Change Of Heart

By 1986 each member of The Stray Cats was deeply involved in his solo stuff. Setzer had released his first solo album, “The Knife Feels Like Justice”, in a John Cougar vein at the beginning of the year. Lee and Jim teamed with David Bowie’s guitarist Earl Slick in Phantom, Rocker and Slick for two albums if far to be exceptional contain some interesting things if you’re curious or nostalgic of the ’80s (and dig crazy hairdos). But the three of them were tied to EMI with, according to Setzer, a bad contract. The best way to solve it was to record this album.

So from the start, it wasn’t really a “new” Stray Cats album. One can suppose that they logically wanted to keep their best material for their solo career. This also explains why half of the songs are covers. But this album has its good moment, and even a half-successful Stray Cats album is better than 90% of the rest. The five covers are very well done, the best being Gene Vincent’s Race With The Devil. But it’s true that, except for Charlie Feathers’ One Hand Loose, the band is in a well-known territory with Johnny Burnette, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry (the trio often played “Beautiful Delilah” on stage around 1982).

Things are a bit different when it comes to the band’s songs. Setzer’s own “Reckless” shows the influence of his solo stuff and announces with an advance of 5 years how the Stray Cats would sound on Let’s go Faster. “Broken Man” is far better with its banjo. Setzer had already toyed with the banjo on stage, playing tunes like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”, which can be heard in the solo part. Phantom and Rocker provide “I Wanna Cry”, sung by Lee, that owes more to their solo stuff than the Stray Cats. And when I listen to the guitar solo (a crappy heavy metal mush), I wouldn’t swear that Setzer plays on it but blame Earl Slick for it. Finally, the three join forces to write “I’m A Rocker”. Nothing original here, just a solid rocker with a strong train rhythm and two wild guitar solos, but that’s enough. “Change Of Heart” is different from what the Stray Cats ever released, more pop, but eventually very pleasant. After this session, they returned to their respective solo career but quickly reformed the Stray Cats, this time for good, in late 1988.


Stray Cats – Bring It Back Again

Stray Cats – Bring it Back Again 7″

EMI 12MT 62 [1989]
Bring It Back Again – Runaway Boys (live) – I Fought The Law

Bring It Back Again” was co-written with Jonnie Barnett (real name Jonathan Barnett Kaye – 1946-2002). Jonnie Barnett was a singer and songwriter who began his career as a solo guitarist opening for Cheech and Chong, Frank Zappa, Eric Burdon of The Animals, Ronnie Milsap, Dion, Tom Rush, Hank Williams Jr. and others. For the last 18 years of his life, he became a well-known songwriter on the Nashville music scene. He wrote songs for Etta James, Johnny Adams, Dobie Gray, Clay Walker, Hank Williams Jr., Eric Burdon, Irma Thomas, Dan Penn and many more.

The B-side features a live version of Runaway Boys (recorded at the Ritz on October 18, 1988.) and a studio version of I Fought the Law. According to some early promo sheets, I Fought the Law was considered for the album (Blast Off) but didn’t make the final list. This version, produced by Dave Edmunds, is far superior to the slicker one recorded a couple of years later at Virgin Convent Studios in Los Angeles for “Original Cool”.

Bring It Back Again” was performed live during the 1989 tour, the 2004 reunion tour, some dates in 2007 and during the 2008 farewell tour (and this time Lee sang it lead).

Lee Rocker also performs this one during his live shows.

The single peaked at #35 in the US Rock charts and #64 in the UK.


Stray Cats – Gina

gina

EMI USA – MT 67 [1989]
Gina – Two Of A Kind – Stray Cat Strut (live)

Though it seems written explicitly for the Stray Cats by the Paine Brothers (who wrote several songs for the Rockats), this song had a long journey before ending on the band’s fifth album.
Then, three years later, in 1984, Josie Cotton recorded it for her second album, “From the Hip”, also produced by Bobby and Larson Paine. Eventually, the Stray Cats finally covered it in 1989 for “Blast Off” and slightly adapted the lyrics. They accentuated the Buddy Holly feel with Slim Jim adding a tom to his drumkit to emulate a Jerry Allison pattern.It remained a favourite of their live set, sometimes performed acoustically.

The B-side is one of the Stray Cats hidden gems. It’s a superb rocking ballad and proves that the band’s B-sides are often superior to the others’ A-side. The first EMI promo sheets show it was considered to be included on “Blast Off”, though it was later dropped, maybe because it was too similar to Nine Lives.

The maxi version also featured a live cut of Stray Cat Strut, recorded at the Ritz in October 1988, and a poster.


Stray Cats – Blast Off

stray cats blast off

EMI [1989]
Blast off – Gina – Everybody needs rock n roll – Gene and Eddie – Rockabilly rules – Bring it back again – Slip slip slippin in – Rockabilly world – Rockin’ all over the place – Nine lives

In 1988, after respective solo careers not entirely convincing – to say the least – Setzer, Phantom, and Rocker reunited and returned to what they do the best: rockabilly. Even the fourth Stray Cat (like George Martin could be the fifth Beatle) Dave Edmunds was back in the producer’s seat. Slim Jim Phantom said, “It’s probably our most rockabilly effort”, and he’s right. Rockabilly with a modern edge and a 90’s sound, but the backbone is here. They cover Eddie Bond’s “Slip, Slip Slippin’ In”, and half of the songs borrow from 50’s rockabilly tunes. “Gina” is a Buddy Holly influenced song with Phantom adding a floor tom to get the Jerry Allison pattern. “Blast Off” sounds like “Jungle Rock” on speed but has good enough lyrics to be original. “Everybody Needs Rock’n’ Roll” bears more than one common point with Glen Glenn’s Everybody’s Movin. And of course, “Gene And Eddie”, Setzer’s tribute to these two pioneers, is very effective if not very original (the song is made of various verses from Vincent and Cochran songs). “Rockabilly Rules, Ok” – the title says it all – and “Rockabilly World” reinforce the rockabilly orientation. You also have a clear attempt to chart with the more commercial “Bring It Back Again” lifted as a potential single (sadly, it’ll fail to climb very high). The best track is “Nine Lives”, a jazzy variation around “Stray Cats Strut”, with clever lyrics, outstanding guitar solo and vocal from Setzer. Indeed this album marks a turning point in Setzer’s vocal. He seems more confident in his talent as a singer, and his voice has gone more profound and more mature. This album may suffer the lack of powerful hits (like Stray Cats Strut, Rock This Town or Runaway Boys) and originality (four songs with the word Rock in the title might sound a bit cliché).

Nevertheless, it’s a solid rock album, very well produced and most of all, the listener can feel the fun and the joy to play together. The gigs to promote this one were good, energetic and fans had big hopes for the next album. Alas, a big disappointment was waiting for them.


Stray Cats – Let’s Go faster

stray cats - let's go faster

Liberation records D30519 (AUS) [1990]
Toshiba-EMI TOCP 6520 (JAP)

Cross of love – Town without pity – Shotgun baby – Struck by lighting twice – Thing about you- Baby don’t drag me down – Tight black leather – Give it to me – Let’s go faster – Keep on running – Runaway train – Gonna be your rock (Japan only)

We wanted to try something new” is what Setzer said in 1991 about this album. Probably disillusioned by the lack of success of “Blast Off”, the Stray Cats hired producer Nile Rodgers (Chic, David Bowie, Madonna…). On the paper, this association sounded quite weird. In reality, it was even worse. At best, the result sounds like Setzer solo stuff (and some songs come from his solo period: Cross Of Love, Thing About You), and at worse, you have bad and already out of fashion 80’s new wave. Very little can be saved from this wreck: “Let’s Go Faster” (nothing original but a solid rock song with a riff ala Eddie Cochran), “Give It To Me”, another one written with Buddy Holly in mind and on the contemporary side “Keep On Running”. The remaining songs are mostly weak, and the production is weaker. Looking for a modern (and a chart appealing) sound, the band has lost its identity and specificity. The result is the absence of the slap bass (replaced by an electric bass), a key element of their sound the same way the Gretsch and the stand-up snare are. The band was probably disappointed by the result and issued “Let’s go Faster” only in Japan and Australia. Later a bootleg album appeared with the demos. The lame songs stayed lame, but at least the good ones weren’t wasted by the production.

The Japanese edition has a bonus track called “Gonna Be Your Rock”, which is, in my own opinion, in a good place for the title of “Worst Stray Cats song ever”.


Stray Cats – Struck By Lightning

stray cats - struck by lightning

Liberation Records – K10340 [1991]
Struck By Lightning / Give It To Me

This 1991 single was released in Australia only. Struck By Lightning is a heavy rocker, with a threatening riff, maybe closer to Setzer’s solo stuff than the Stray Cats, but that remains a solid song. The B-side is Give It To Me, a lighthearted love song, that sounds like a modern version of Buddy Holly. Both songs were played by the trio during its 1990-1991 tours. One can find on Youtube an amazing live version of Struck By Lightning in Tokyo and of course Give It To Me was captured on video for Rock Tokyo.


Stray Cats – Choo Choo Hot Fish

Choo Choo Hot Fish

Pump Records – 50286 [1992]
Elvis On Velvet – Cry Baby – Please Don’t Touch – Sleepwalk – Lust’n’Love – Cross Of Love – Beautiful Blues – Can’t Go Back To Memphis – Jade Idol – My Heart Is A Liar – Let’s Go Faster – Mystery Train

“Choo Choo Hot Fish” can be seen as the successful version of “Let’s Go Faster”. It is innovative yet still with a feet in the tradition and is their most ambitious effort to date. It also sees the return of Dave Edmunds behind the glass.

The opening track is representative of that mood, pumping sound, modern drums mixed with rockabilly elements for a tribute to Elvis. Next is “Cry Baby”, a non retro melodic rockabilly tune. It is an instant Stray Cats classic and has that timeless sound that makes the trio so special. And with Edmunds on second guitar and on duet vocal it reminds the good old days of “The Race Is On”.

Johnny Kidd’s Please Don’t Touch rocks like hell in Setzer and Rocker setlist in their respective solo careers. Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” appears here for the first time, long before the orchestra and the Grammy Award. Though I grew rapidly tired of the heavy orchestra version, this one still sounds fresh today.

Both “Lust’n’Love” and “Can’t Go Back To Memphis” harden the sound with heavy guitar and Jim hittin’ the drums as hard as he can. “Lust’n’ Love” keeps the backbone of rockabilly while “Can’t Go Back…” is not that far from ZZ Top and it’s very interesting to listen to this album today and compare it with Setzer’s most recent albums (“Nitro Burnin’ Funny Daddy” and “13”). Many elements were already presents 15 years earlier. In the same vein is “Cross of Love”. I suppose that Setzer saw a lot of potential in this one as he recorded it twice before this album (once on “Let’s Go Faster” and once during his first solo stint between 86-88).

The best song to appear on “Choo Choo Hot Fish” is “Beautiful Blues” co-written with Larson Paine. It’s a splendid jazzy song with rich gipsy chords, astounding solo and superb brushwork from Slim Jim. Don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of his drumkit this guy can really play. “Jade Idol” proves it too. This is a stunning atmospheric instrumental that would fit a James Bond movie to perfection. My definition for this kind of tune is “Music to drink Martini with…”. “My Heart Is A Liar” is a fine acoustic ballad in the vein of Chris Isaak with once again a rich assortment of percussion. The last two numbers are solid rockers.

A new version of “Let’s Go Faster” far better and richer than the previous one (courtesy of Dave Edmunds and his good sound) and a “Hey we have 5 minutes left in the studio how about doing a Elvis song?” version of Mystery Train. They clearly recorded this one live and it perfectly captures the feel and the excitement of the band. It also features a yodel part from Mr Setzer. Funny to see an album opening on Elvis On Velvet and ending on Mystery Train.

Sadly, “Choo Choo Hot Fish failed to reach a large audience.


Stray Cats – Original Cool

original cool

Toshiba [1993]
Somethin’ Else – Oh Boy – 20 Flight Rock – I Fought The Law – Lonesome Tears – Your True Love – Be-Bop-A-Lula – Blue Jean Bop – Can’t Help Falling In Love – Flying Saucers Rock ‘n Roll – Train Kept A Rollin’ – Stood Up – Let It Rock – Trying To Get To You – Chet Ditty (Hidden Charms)

The Stray Cats last studio album was a bit of a disappointment. Of course, Setzer gives some of his best vocal performances (listen to Ricky Nelson’s Stood Up), and the band is on top form (with Jeffrey Baxter guesting on steel guitar). Even the production, though a bit slick, is not that bad. But why, at this point of their career, release an all cover album, especially of songs that one has heard a zillion times. This incredible band deserved a better career-ending than this “not-good-nor-bad” album.


Stray Cats – Live From Europe

stray cats live from Europe

Surfdog Records 44045 to 44059 [2004]

Neo-rockabilly kings, the Stray Cats produced some mighty fine records but were mainly known for their wild and furious Rockabilly live shows. Strangely, they never issued an official live album, letting the door open to a bunch of bootleggers. When they reformed in summer 2004 for a European tour, the Stray Cats must have thought that they wouldn’t let bootleggers make money on their back this time. The result is here, 17 gigs and 15 CDs. Don’t look for booklets, photos of the show etc. The covers design is the same for all, except the colour. The sound is not top quality, they manufactured them very quickly, and they didn’t take time to produce them. I know many bootlegs that sound better than that. So depending on the records, you can’t hear the drums, have too much bass etc. Also, why didn’t they include the whole show on the cd’s (only 17 songs, no more, no less)? This is the first question one will ask. But the answer seems evident when you realize that the songs not on Paris CD are on the Bruxelles one, and so on… It really looks like an economical choice as they know that many fans will buy a maximum number of records to have all the songs.

On the other hand, it’s good to hear tunes the Stray Cats rarely performed live (18 Miles to Memphis, Rev it up and Go), a few covers never played on albums (Unchained Melody, in french for Paris; That’s All Right, Blue Moon Of Kentucky celebrating the 50 years of rock’n’roll; Red Hot). But I think these records concern primarily those who attended the shows. But if you weren’t there and want to buy one, I’d recommend the second part of the tour as the band is getting better and better as the tour progresses. I suppose they used the first shows as rehearsals (too bad that I went to Paris, the opening show).


Stray Cats – 20\20

Stray Cats - 20/20

Arista – 74321131172
Runaway Boys – Rock This Town – Can’t Hurry Love – Rumble In Brighton – Stray Cat Strut – Double Talkin’ Baby – Cross That Bridge – Baby Blue Eyes – Built For Speed – (She’s) Sexy + 17 – Lookin’ Better Every Beer – Cruisin’ – Lucky Charm (Ooh Wee Suzy) – I Won’t Stand In Your Way (a cappella) – Look At That Cadillac – Rebels Rule – Looking Out My Backdoor- Drink That Bottle Down -Sweet Love On My Mind -Something Else

20/20 is probably one of the best (if not the best) Stray Cats compilation or best-of ever released. Not only it contains the well-known and best songs from the first three albums (the Arista years) but what makes the difference with the other releases is that it also contains the b-sides and some rarities, most of them being unavailable on cd before.

It includes covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Supremes, Gene Vincent but also originals like the excellent jump blues “Lucky Charm” (b-side of Look At That Cadilac), the a Cappella version of “I Won’t Stand In Your Way”, the country-tinged ballad “Looking Better Every Beer”, and “Built For Speed” the original that gave its name to the compilation album gathering Stray Cats and Gonna Ball for the American market.


Stray Cats – 40

Stray Cats - 40
Stray Cats – 40

Surfdog / Mascot M75895
Cat Fight (Over A Dog Like Me) – Rock It Off – I’ve Got Love If You Want It – Cry Danger – I Attract Trouble – Three Time’s A Charm – That’s Messed Up – When Nothing’s Going Right – Desperado – Mean Pickin’ Mama – I’ll Be Looking Out For You – Devil Train – Cry Baby (Live) (Bonus Track – Deluxe CD only) – Double Talkin’ Baby (Live) (Bonus Track – Deluxe CD only)

The first three Stray Cats albums blew me away. Maybe Gonna Ball had some fillers but these initial trilogy was perfect. After that, and the 1984 split, their albums were either good (Blast Off, Choo Choo Hot Fish thanks to the Edmunds touch), forgettable (Original Cool, Rock Therapy) or almost plain bad (Let’s Go Faster.)

However, on stage, they were still one of the best rockin’ band on the planet. So when the trio announced that they would record a brand new album full of original material, though I tried not to be too excited, the teenager inside me was smiling from one ear to another.

The name of Peter Collins to produce the forthcoming album surprised me. Even if he produced Setzer’s Dirty Boogie and Rockabilly Riot, Peter Collins was notorious for his work with Bon Jovi, Rush and Nick Kershaw to name but three. Nothing to make me feel that he was the ideal guy to replace Dave Edmunds. Most of all he was the producer who sabotaged the Stargazers’ Ain’t Nobody But Here but us Chickens.
The cover design also came like a warning. Here came guys who didn’t release anything for 25 years and to celebrate that they used the laziest design and ugliest cover possible. Hum…

I carefully changed my mind little by little and came to the conclusion that I would be happy with a basic Rockabilly album.
Then Cat Fight the first song was released. Nothing too original. A rock’n’roll song like you’ve heard a thousand times before. At that moment I was kinda resigned, this is not gonna be great, maybe good, at least average. But both Rock It Off, a rip off of Eddie Cochran’s My Way and Cry Danger a recycling of the riff of Aztec on Setzer’s debut solo album almost sealed the fate of that album for me: don’t expect anything.

I finally received the album and my fears were soon confirmed. It’s a shame that a band that returns with a new record after such a long hiatus didn’t put more work in it. The compositions are at best average (Mean Pickin’ Mama which is at least a Rockabilly number) but most of the time the term ‘lazy’ pops to mind. From the boogie blues riff of the aptly named That’s messed up that you’ve heard a zillion times to Three Time’s A Charm which is nothing but a variation of Setzer’s Hot Rod Girl, or I’ve Got Love that borrows its intro to Ubangi Stomp and its melody to You’re Humbuggin’ Me (Lefty Frizzell, Fabulous Thunderbirds…) and Desperado an instrumental which is a carbon copy of the Shadows’ Apache, it’s hard to believe Setzer when he says in mumerous interviews that he started writing these songs one year ago. Actually many songs sound like an embarassing caricature of Setzer’s Live Nude Guitar or Let’s Go Faster when trio tries to venture into unfamiliar territories (I Attract Trouble with – what a surprise – a quote of Pipeline).

It’s kinda weird to have Lee Rocker say “We are the best band that has ever played this music.” and find so few Rockabilly (even with a wide definition of it) on ‘40’.

And the production doesn’t help either. The drums sound buried and muddy and the fans of Lee Rocker will be surprised to find barely no slap on that album.
A couple of years ago I regretted that the Stray Cats ended their recording career with the uninspired Original Cool, but listening to this poorly written and badly produced effort, it was not that bad, after all.

PS – Don’t expect the so called “deluxe” version (two live tracks, two stickers, two coasters and a postcard) to save things.


Stray Cats – Rocked This Town From LA To London

Rocked This Town From LA To London

Surfdog records 85968-2 [2020]
Cat Fight (Over a Dog Like Me) – Runaway Boys – Too Hip, Gotta Go -Double Talkin’ Baby -Three Time’s a Charm – Stray Cat Strut -Mean Pickin’ Mama -Gene & Eddie -Cry Baby -I Won’t Stand in Your Way -Cannonball Rag – Misirlou – When Nothing’s Going Right – (She’s) Sexy + 17 -Bring It Back Again -My One Desire -Lust ‘n’ Love -Fishnet Stockings -Rock This Town -Rock It Off -Built for Speed -Rumble in Brighton

Despite what its title may suggest, “Rocked this town, from LA to London” is not a testimony of the Stray Cats’ latest international tour to promote 40. Setzer Rocker and Phantom recorded it in various US cities (but not in LA), and some of the songs were even recorded during the 2018 tour.

That said, it’s an excellent live album. It’s very well recorded, and the band is in fine form (way better than the 2004 tour). Moreover, it features five songs from 40. Not only they sound way better than the poorly produced studio versions, but it adds some diversity to the usual setlists of the band that turned to be quite repetitive over the years. It also features two instrumentals (Cannonball Rag and Misirlou.) Besides these two tunes and Double Talkin’ Baby and My One Desire on the vinyl version, the set focuses on the band’s songs rather than covers, thus allowing some place for a song like Lust’ n’Love. I was a bit sad to find no songs from Gonna Ball but with only 23 songs, I suppose that you have to made choices.
After all these years, the Stray Cats, especially on stage, still remain the kings of modern Rockabilly, and this live album is here to confirm that.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

Brian Setzer

Brian Setzer - The Knife feels like justice
Brian Setzer – The Knife feels like justice

Brian Setzer – The Knife feels like Justice

EMI [1986]
The Knife Feels Like Justice – Haunted River – Boulevard Of Broken Dreams – Bobby’s Back – Radiation Ranch – Chains Around Your Heart – Maria – Three Guys – Aztec – Breath Of Life – Barbwire Fence

In 1984, Setzer came to a point in his career where he felt too limited with the labels “Rockabilly” and “Guitar Hero” sticked to him. He wanted to show and prove he was more than a Grestch guy who sings about Cadillacs an Pin-Ups. With a more ambitious vision in mind he parted way with the Stray Cats and reinvented himself as a heartland rocker (on a side note it was also the beginning of the mullet period). He was helped in this process by Don Gehman the man behind the sound of John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow and, according to his own words, by a “real band” (understand two guitars, a full drumkit, a keyboard and an electric bass) including members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp) and Tommy Byrnes who was for a brief period the fourth Stray Cats.
After an apparition at the first Farm Aid, the debut album from the “new” Setzer was released in 1986. If the result is not entirely convincing and really sounds dated by moment (especially that typical 80’s drums sound), the curious and open-minded listener will find a couple of good things.
The title track opens brillantly the disc and sets the pace (though the lyrics are still obscure to me). “Bobby’s Back” is a dip into R&B (via MTV) and was already present in the Stray Cats setlist in 1984, as is “Barbwire Fence” another highlight of the album. “Radiation Ranch” is a solid rocker based upon a simple but efficient guitar riff, later recycled to write “Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder)” more than ten years later.
But the real good surprises come from “Aztec” (co-written with Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell) and “Maria” (another collaboration, this time with Steve Van Zandt) both with a strong social comment revealing a new side of Setzer. Even though some stuff is just average, the whole album remains coherent. But Setzer didn’t pursue in this way and without a clear vision of what to do of his “freedom” (without a pre-definite musical genre) he oriented himself toward FM rock on the catastrophic “Live Nude Guitar”, but this is another story.

Brian Setzer Radiation Ranch


Brian Setzer – Live Nude Guitar

EMI Manhattan [1988]
Red Lightning Blues – Rockability – Rebelene – Nervous Breakdown – Every Tear That Falls – Temper Sure Is Risin’ – When the Sky Comes Tumblin’ Down – She Thinks I’m Trash – Love Is Repaid by Love Alone – Rosie in the Middle – So Young, So Bad, So What – The Rain Washed Everything Away

After The Knife Feels Like Justice failed to convince the audience (but was he really convinced himself?), Setzer knew he had to return to familiar territories. He dropped the second guitar and the keyboards and reduced the line-up to a power trio. With the faithful Tommy Byrnes switching on bass and Jerry Angel on drums, Setzer put back his guitar up to the fore. If he couldn’t be considered as a serious songwriter, he could still play the rocker card.
Ironically, if Setzer left the Stray Cats in 1984 to be free from the Rockabilly image, it appeared that he didn’t know what to do with that newly acquired freedom. If its predecessor showed some coherence, trying to follow the steps of John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen, Live Nude Guitars is a collection of songs that go in every direction possible. For better and mostly for worse.
Things begin not that bad with Red Lightnin’ Blues (a heavy rocker) and Rockability that could have been a Stray Cats track. Rebelene is still good though a bit wasted by the production. On Nervous Breakdown, Setzer sounds like a parody of himself. How Setzer, who claimed his love for Cochran everywhere, can miss this cover? It’s beyond me.
Every Tear is even worse; it’s one of the worst songs of the album: a pop ballad with an awful FM production.
Temper Sure Is Risin’ gives you hope. It’s not great, but it’s a boogie-rock with a hot guitar solo and Bruce Willis on harmonica.
But these hopes vanished instantly with When the Sky Comes Tumblin’ Down. It’s not enough that the song is terrible, but the production is awful, and the synthesizer horns nearly made my ears bleed.
Once again, the terrible production waste the few qualities one could find in She Thinks I’m Trash.
Love Is Repaid By Love Alone is a good song. It’s too much on many aspects (the strings, Setzer who tries to put as many notes as he can) but, somehow, it works.
With just a light guitar and an accordion, Rosie In the Middle seems a bit out of place. It’s without a doubt the best song of the album, and one can regret that Setzer didn’t go more in that direction for that record. But it’s not enough to save Live Nude Guitar. Especially when it’s followed by So Young So Bad, So What (can you do something more cliché? I don’t think so.) and The Rain Washed Everything Away. After all these years I still wonder if it’s a joke or not.
Setzer toured briefly during the Summer of 1988, but by the end of the year, the Stray Cats were back on tracks.

Brian Setzer Live nude guitar


Brian Setzer Collection 81-88
Brian Setzer Collection 81-88

Brian Setzer – Brian Setzer Collection 81-88

EMI
(She’s) Sexy + 17 – Rock This Town – Summertime Blues – The Knife Feels Like Justice – Boulevard Of Broken Dreams – Echo Park – When The Sky Comes Tumblin’ Down – Cross Of Love – Every Tear That Falls – Thing About You – Waitin’ For Desiree – Bobby’s Back – Keep Your Lovin’ Strong – Living Souls – The Rain Washed Everything Away – I Won’t Stand In Your Way – Runaway Boys – Chains Around Your Heart
EMI released this compilation album when, call that a coincidence, Setzer was toping the charts with his 17-piece big band and the excellent Dirty Boogie album.
Chances are the newly converted to the sound of the Orchestra might have been surprised by the stuff included in that album. With the exception of four Stray Cats songs that sound a bit out a place, the songs date from a period when Setzer tried to reinvent himself as a serious rocker closer to Tom Petty, John Mellencamp or Bruce Springsteen. Nothing wrong with that, and despite a production that sounds terribly dated now,  there’s a lot of good things on the two albums recording during that era (the Knife Feels Like Justice and Live Nude Guitar) but they lacked of that little something that made the difference with the Stray Cats or his later solo stuff.
What really makes this compilation worthwile, especially for Setzer hardcore fans, are the the B-sides  and the many unreleased outtakes, some being very good like the Springteen-esque Waiting For Desiree. Some of the songs from that period (Cross of Love and Thing About You) would later be recorded by the Stray Cats. It also includes the version of Summertime Blues than the one recorded for the movie La Bamba.


Brian Setzer – Nitro Burnin’ Funny Daddy

Brian setzerSurfdog Records 44022-2 [2003]
Sixty Years – Don’t Trust A Woman (in A Black Cadillac) – When The Bells Don’t Chime – That Someone Just Ain’t You – Rat Pack Boogie – Ring, Ring, Ring – Drink Whiskey And Shut Up – Smokin” n Burnin’ – Wild Wind – St. Jude – To Be Loved – When The Bells Don’t Chime (banjo Mix)

Recorded with Johnny Spazz Hatton on bass and Bernie Dresel on drums and released just after the fabulous Ignition, Nitro Burnin’ Funny Daddy came, at first, as a disappointment. Only years later, I gave this album a second chance, and boy, was I right to do so. Nitro Burnin’ Funny Daddy deserved to be rediscovered.
The first two tracks, Sixty Years and Don’t Trust A Woman, sound like Live Nude Guitar with a hint of ZZ Top blues in the guitar for the former. Setzer also achieved a similar sound with songs like Can’t Go Back To Memphis on Choo Choo Hot Fish. More or less in the same vein is Drink Whiskey and Shut Up. This tune, propelled by a powerful jungle drum beat, wouldn’t be out of place on a George Thorogood album.
When The Bells Don’t Chime is a country song with a sixties feel and lovely harmony vocals. One can find two versions of this song; the second one puts the banjo to the fore, giving the song a more bluegrass feel.
That Someone Just Ain’t You dates from the early ’90s. The Stray Cats demoed the song for Let’s Go Faster, but it never was recorded for the album. It’s nice to have it resurrected, for it’s an excellent Doo-wop inspired song like the Stray cats could do.
Rat-Pack Boogie is an instrumental, with Setzer demonstrating his massive talent on the fretboard, mixing Jazz, Country picking and Rockabilly all into one song.
Ring Ring Ring is a perfect example of Setzer’s brand of Rockabilly, similar to Slip Slip Slippin’ In. Smokin’n’ Burnin’ sounds like Carl Perkins’ Matchbox revisited by the 68 Comeback Special. Not very original, but terribly efficient. Wild Wind is a slight adaptation of Frankie Laine’s Cry of the Wild Goose, a cinematic tune that creates pictures of wide-open spaces in your mind. It would have been a perfect tune for a western.
The next tune, St. Jude, is the album’s weak point. This gospel-tinged number is way too much, both musically and lyrically. Fortunately, To Be Loved, a cover of a Doo-Wop tune by the Pentagons is way better.
The Japanese version features a bonus instrumental titled Jumpin’ at the Capitol with Tony Garnier (Robert Gordon, Bob Dylan) on double bass, Greg Bissonette on drums and Sid Page on violin. It’s a hot Jazz tune with echoes of Gypsy Jazz. 
Also, a two-Cd edition exists with Setzer singing Sinatra’s Luck Be A Lady backed by the Brian Setzer Orchestra on the second CD.


Brian Setzer - Rockabilly Riot a Tribute to Sun records
Brian Setzer – Rockabilly Riot a Tribute to Sun records

Brian Setzer – Rockabilly Riot Vol. 1 A Tribute To Sun Records

Surfdog Records 44068-2 [2005]
Red Hot – Slow Down – Real Wild Child – Rockhouse – Put Your Cat Clothes On – Lonely Weekends – Get It Off Your Mind – Just Because – Glad All Over – Flatfoot Sam – Rock N Roll Ruby – Blue Suede Shoes – Tennessee Zip – Mona Lisa – Peroxide Blonde (In A Hopped Up Model Ford) – Get Rhythm – Stairway To Nowhere – Boppin’ The Blues – Rakin’ & Scrapin’ – Sweet Woman – Flyin’ Saucers Rock N Roll – Lonely Wolf – Red Cadillac & A Black Moustache

Brian Setzer’s  idea for this album is simple, and lays in the title, it’s a tribute to the greatest rockabilly label, the one that started it all: Sun records.
One can wonder what the use of recording such a record, especially with tracks like Blue Suede Shoes, Boppin’ the Blues, Just Because and Red Hot. Setzer claims that he made it to introduce these songs to a new generation. Well, this is a noble cause, so let’s give him credit for that, and we know that he didn’t make it for money, NOBODY makes money with rockabilly.
The recording itself is very good. What you have is a very inspired Brian Setzer, and if you want to compare to another all cover album it’s far better than Stray Cats’ Original Cool. His voice is very strong and it goes without saying that his guitar play is top notch. Though the fans of his flashy style could be deceived, Setzer serves the songs rather than his own glory. He’s perfectly supported by Mark Winchester on double bass and Bernie Dresel on drums (the best rhythm section Setzer ever worked with) and Kevin McKendree adds a solid pumping piano to the ensemble. Even the Jordanaires join in on a couple of songs. They remain very faithful to the original versions which is both a strenghth and a failing. Sure there’s no betrayal, and if you dig the originals you’ll like Setzer’s but in the end this album lacks of originality (which is often the case with tribute albums). At leats it proves that Rockabilly and Rock’n’roll are the kind of music that Setzer plays the best.
One last thing: I still wonder why this album has been recorded in Nashville instead of Sun studio? The liner notes also surprised me when I read Setzer saying “Isn’t it funny how modern rockabilly rarely incorporates acoustic guitar”. Give me a call Brian, I have some records you really should listen.


Brian Setzer - Red Hot & Live
Brian Setzer – Red Hot & Live

Brian Setzer – Red Hot & Live

Surfdog Records  [2007]
Red Hot – This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof – Get It Off Your Mind – Slow Down – Put Your Cat Clothes On – Take A Chance On Love – Broken Down Piece of Junk – Peroxide Blonde (In A Hopped Up Model Ford) – Tennessee Zip – Mini Bar Blues – Runaway Boys – Stray Cat Strut – Rocket Cathedrals – Fishnet Stockings – Rock This Town – Gene & Eddie

To be honest, although I’m a huge Setzer fan I didn’t really know what to expect with this live album recorded in 2006 in Japan with Robbie Chevrier on piano, Ronnie Crutcher on bass and the great Bernie Dresel on drums.
On one hand the idea of an album made for one third of Setzer classics heard many times before on live records (both official and bootlegs), one third from the pleasant but not very original “Tribute to Sun Records” and the remaining third from the highly disappointing “ 13” had nothing to excite me.
On the other hand I was more than curious to hear those classics played with a new arrangement with piano or a second guitar (a configuration not used by Brian Setzer since The Knife Feels Like Justice era 20 years ago) and maybe the tunes from “ 13” would sound better on live than on the studio takes.
And I must admit that once again, Setzer caught me.
This album is nothing less than excellent. It manages to capture perfectly the excitment of the live performance, and it’s amazing how much a piano or a second guitar can change the sound compared to the trio format. The sound is full and pure rock’n’roll. The Rockabilly/Sun tunes are all excellent with sparkling guitar and real rockabilly piano courtesy of Robbie Chevrier. What could sound sterile on record takes here its real dimension, one of the best exemple being “Put Your Cat Clothes On”. The songs from “ 13” sound raw and good when they are played live with this this line-up, especially the glam “Rocket Cathedrals” (do I hear a electric bass on this one?) and the instrumental tour de force “Mini Bar Blues” quoting Les Paul and Jimmie Bryant.
But the real surprise to come from this album is the way they inject new life in those classics that are “Stray Cat Strut”, “Runaway Boys” (one of the best version I heard and believe me I have quite a few bootlegs) and “Rock This Town” which starts like a good ol’ boogie woogie to quickly evolve into a pure rock’n’roll gem.
This album proves (if needed) that when he doesn’t waste his talent in Christmas albums or pre-marketed album for Japanese audience, Setzer can rock like nobody else.


Brian Setzer goes Instru-mental
Brian Setzer goes Instru-mental

Brian Setzer – Setzer Goes Instru-Mental

Surfdog 233291 [2011]
Blue Moon Of Kentucky – Cherokee – Be-Bop-A-Lula – Earl’s Breakdown – Far Noir East – Intermission – Go-Go Godzilla – Lonesome Road – Hillbilly Jazz Meltdown – Hot Love – Pickpocket

Well, fine, Brian Setzer is a damn good picker but how I wish I could have loved this album more. This is not bad but it just sounds like a missed opportunity.

Some songs are just quick reworking of classics that Setzer plays for years and really don’t bring anything to his glory. Seriously who wants to hear another version of Blue Moon Of Kentucky or Be Bop A Lula, even by Brian Setzer? And when he picks his banjo you can expect something new, why not a real bluegrass number with mandolin or dobro or whatever. Instead of that what you have is a clean (in the sense of “sterile”) version of Earl’s Breakdown a song he plays live since 1983. Cherokee is a bit better but reveals the major flaw of the album: its production. The sound is way too clean, totally disembodied and for the most part evokes a cd one can find with guitar methods. And the lack of interaction between the rhythm section and the solist doesn’t help either. Let’s quickly forget Go-Go Godzilla that sounds like a self-parody to concentrate on the few good numbers of the albums. “Far Noir East” seems to have been written for the Brian Setzer Orchestra album “Songs From Lonely Avenue” like a cross between Harlem Nocturne and the Stray Cats little known jewel Jade Idol. Intermission is really jazzy, with a strong Charlie Christian feel and a guest vibraphonist and you regret that there aint no more guests on this album to enhance the final result. For example Lonesome Road is really good too, more or less in the Jimmy Bryant style and it’s too bad that there is not a guest steel guitar on that tune (or why not, Setzer on both as we all know that he plays steel too). And though enjoyable, the remaining songs seems to have been improvised on the spot around a single riff.
It seems that this is not this time that my dream to hear him do an instrumental album with a small jazz combo will come true.


Brian Setzer - Rockabilly Riot! Live from the Planet
Brian Setzer – Rockabilly Riot! Live from the Planet

Brian Setzer – Rockabilly Riot! Live from the Planet

Surfdog 253147 [2012]
Ignition – ’49 Mercury Blues – This Cat’s On A Hot Tin Roof – Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder) – 8-Track – Slow Down / Folsom Prison Blues – Put Your Cat Clothes On – Blue Moon of Kentucky – Pickpocket – Rumble in Brighton – Runaway Boys – Cry Baby – Great Balls Of Fire – Red Hot – Seven Nights to Rock

Though his recent studio albums vary in quality, Brian Setzer remains one of the top rockabilly acts when on stage. His latest live album, recorded during a tour that took him, two drummers (including Slim Jim Phantom), tow bassists and a pianist from Europe to Australia with Japan and North America in between is another proof, if needed that he’s still the king of modern rockabilly.

The first good surprise comes from the set-list. Setzer has dropped songs like Stray Cat Strut, Gene & Eddie and Rock This Town to make room to rare covers (Great Balls Of Fire, Seven Nights To Rock) or lesser played songs like Cry Baby or 49 Mercury Blues, the latter in a trio version way more powerful than the studio version with the Orchestra. Two songs from his latest release (Instru-Mental) are also included and though I had major reserves about the studio versions, they take all their sense on stage (partially due to the excellent recording work). the other good surprise is simply the performance. You have to go back to Ignition in 2001 to find him in such a good form. The band is tight and Setzer’s playing is inspired and creative and what you hear is a band that works together, not a singer/guitarist and a backing band. This is particularly audible on Slow Down/Folsom Prison Blues on which you can hear the pleasure that Setzer has to trade licks with Kevin McKendree on acoustic guitar. An excellent album from start to finish, more than that a lesson of Rock’n’roll.
Rock This Town, Stray Cat Strut, Sexy & 17 and Fishnet Stockings are available in mp3 format.


Brian Setzer – Gotta Have The Rumble

brian setzer gotta have the rumbleSurfdog 68102 [2021]
Checkered Flag – Smash Up On Highway One – Sytack my Money – The Wrong Side Of the Tracks – Drip Drop – The Cat With 9 Wives – Turn You On, Turn Me On – Rockabilly Riot – Off Your Rocker – One Bad Habit – Rockabilly Banjo

Brian Setzer has a new album out after six years of silence (well, not really, since he reformed and toured with the Stray Cats during this time.)
This new album is produced by Julian Raymond, whose credits include, among others, Cheap Trick and Glenn Campbell. One could fear that having someone coming outside the Rockabilly/Rock’n’Roll circle could not work. But to the contrary, I find that it forces Setzer to reinvent and challenge himself. Also, Setzer didn’t call back his usual crew but chose to play with session men, namely Victor Indrizzo on drums and David Roe Rorick on bass. Rorick toured with Johnny Cash and played bass on John Mellencamp, Dwight Yoakam, and Billy Joe Shaver’s albums. Indrizzo recorded with Sheryl Crow, Meat Loaf, Depeche Mode and Boyzone (ouch! I can hear some Rockabilly teeth cringe from here).
Against all odds, this eclectic mix works fairly well.
Co-written with Slim Jim Phantom, Checkered Flagg features heavy pounding drums and a menacing riff. Not the most original nor the best of the set, so it’s good to have it as an opener so that you can fully enjoy the rest of the disc. Smash Up On Highway One is far more original, a wild tune, with a riff inspired by Dick Dale. Stack My Money is pure Rockabilly gold and proves if needed that Setzer’s bag of rockabilly licks is bottomless.
The Wrong Side Of the Track is one of the highlights of the album. The melody reminds me of Ghost Radio, Setzer’s collaboration with Joe Strummer. But Setzer totally turns the song into something different by adding strings, and the result wouldn’t be out of place on Songs From Lonely Avenue. Drip Drop is more lighthearted, even though the singer laments about lost love, and when you didn’t expect it, bam!, a stunning Rockabilly solo. The Cat With 9 Wives is pure Swingabilly with Setzer’s guitar all over the place. What happens when you mix Hot Rod music with Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love? The answer is Turn You On, Turn Me On. Despite its name, Rockabilly Riot is almost Punkabilly. It’s a full-throttle rocking charge. One Bad Habit sounds like an outtake from Ignition, and as usual, Setzer’s solo takes you to places you’re not used to. Both Off Your Rocker and Rockabilly Banjo were penned in collaboration with Dibbs Preston of the Rockats. I was thrilled to see two of my favourite artists collaborate. Off Your Rocker is different from the Rockats song of the same name. It’s a middle paced rocker featuring female backing vocals, and Rockabilly Banjo is, of course, a banjo-led ditty also featuring Paul Franklin on pedal steel guitar.
Setzer delivers a superb album, supported by a solid set of originals and a perfect production. Not for the purists, but they already know that, but more for those curious to see how you can add modern ingredients in a 70-year old genre.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

 

 

Lucky Jones

Lucky Jones – This Ain’t Memphis

Lucky jones

Farraday Records
Runaround Blues – L.A. Woman – Don’t Say So Long – Hammer Down – This Ain’t Memphis – You’re My Baby

I don’t know much about Lucky Jones. On this mini-album, he sings and plays guitar (and some bass too), Illinois Jones plays drums Heath Williamson played some bass too
But what I know is that it’s a neat mini-album featuring five originals and one cover.
Runaround Blues is a powerful yet melodic Rockin’ tune. The next song is not a cover of the Doors but a hard-hitting Rockabilly tune, sounding like Billy Lee Riley on speed. Things calm down with Don’t Say So Long, a superb country ballad with a haunted steel guitar. Back to hi-octane Rockabilly with Hammer Down, a song that will please fans of Brian Setzer’s 68 Comeback Special. This Ain’t Memphis is a tribute to Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, sung in the same manner with that distinctive boom-chicka-boom and musical quotes of Cash’s greatest tunes. The last song pursues the Cash filiation. It’s a cover of You’re My Baby, a song Cash wrote for Roy Orbison, and Jones delivers a mighty version on which you can hear the influence of Brian Setzer in the guitar.

Available here

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

Slim Jim Phantom

Slim Jim Phantom Featuring Jennie Vee – Locked Down In Love

slim jim phantom


Last Hurrah Records – HURRAH-14 [2020]
Locked Down In Love / What Goes On

Let’s start with the obvious: Slim Jim Phantom is not a great singer, but he never pretended so either. But, on the other hand, this guy is a legend, and he has every right to indulge himself by recording a single with a handful of friends and his girlfriend. And “fun” seems to be the main word here, so why not party with them?
Let’s talk about the band. You’ll find a bunch of seasoned musicians from various horizons like guitar players Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses) and Josh Jove (Silvertooth Loos and the Witch), Jeffrey Baxter on steel (who previously guested with the Stray Cats), Teddy Zig Zag (Alice Cooper) on piano and Thomas Lorioux (Silvertooth Loos and the Witch, Frantic Flintstones, Surf Rats to name but three). Jenny Vee co-sings the A-side and can be heard doing the backing vocals on the B-side.
Surprisingly, coming from Slim Jim Phantom, who played in the best modern Rockabilly band, this single has a very strong country and western flavor. This is an excellent idea. After all, one will always have the temptation to compare this single with the Stray Cats, Setzer, or Rocker‘s solo stuff if he had played Rockabilly. Here, Phantom plays by his own rules. The A-side is an original penned by Phantom and Vee, with prominent steel and powerful slap bass. The flip-side is a cover of the Beatles’ What Goes On. Initially sung by Ringo Starr, this song is probably the more country-tinged tune the Fab Four ever recorded, approaching very close from the Bakersfield sound played by Buck Owens. Phantom and crew do great justice to this tune, and one can hear the fun that was had by all.
Icing on the cake, this Neon Pink Translucent vinyl piece comes in a beautifully designed cover, limited to 500 copies.

Brian Setzer Orchestra

brian setzer orchestraThe Brian Setzer Orchestra ‎– 25! Live!!!

Surfdog Records ‎– 56800-1 [2017]
Let There Be Rock – Gene & Eddie
Brian Setzer and Surfdog released this 12″ single for Record Store Day in 2017. Only one thousand copies were pressed.
The A-side is a cover of AC/DC’s Let There Be Rock. And it sure rocks! The orchestra and the leader are firing on all cylinders, while the song seems to have been written for a big band. One can’t say the same of Gene and Eddie. This tribute to the two pioneers is originally a shot of pure Rock’n’roll, but the big band arrangement makes it sound more like Elvis in Las Vegas rather than 1956 and doesn’t bring much to the song. Other Stray Cats songs, like Look At That Cadillac, Lucky Charm, or Beautiful Blues to name but three, would be more adapted.
Anyway, this is a beautiful object in colored vinyl, and Let There Be Rock is one of the best covers recorded by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. So if you stumble upon a copy, don’t hesitate!


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

I Wanna Cry

Written by Lee Rocker and Slim Jim Phantom

“I Wanna Cry” appeared Rock Therapy. Lee sings lead on this composition co-written with Slim Jim. It’s very far from the rockabilly style the band created and sounds as it may been intended to be include on a Phantom, Rocker and Slick album. Actually it is unclear if the guitar part is played by Brian Setzer or not as it really sounds like Earl Slick (who gets a “thank you” in the credits). As the Stray Cats didn’t tour to support the album, it was never played live.

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