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Brian Setzer Orchestra

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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

Brian Setzer

in Reviews
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 - 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.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

 

 

Stray Cats

in Reviews
Stray Cats
Stray Cats – S/T

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 70’s, a trio of three young Rockabilly cats dug in their parents records collection and without any complex and a good dose of naivety took a 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 very 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 kinda political and refers to the Iranian crisis and American hostages in the late 70’s. With a song so closely linked to the actuality, it didn’t allow them to perform it on stage long after 1981, which is bad 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 of the pressing one can hear Setzer yell “Ein, Swei, Drei, Vier” at the beginning but you have to listen closely.
The origins of “Stray Cat Strut”, their signature song were subject to questions. Of course it’s the same chord progression than“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 rather obscure songs, especially in the late 70’s 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 the reason 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 Quineand 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 highlight of their shows.
Crawl Up And Die” is a variation on Bill Allen’s “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” (sounds like the band used to listen to a lot of Imperial Records), Vincent’s Double Talkin’ Baby and Roy Montrell’s “Mellow Saxophone” renamed here “Wild Saxophone” with Jim providing a solid beat and Gary Barnacle on sax. Brilliant.


gonna-ball
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 huge success of their debut album, at least in Europe, the Stray Cats took a break in their heavy touring schedule and 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 trio, augmented by the presence of prestigious guests including veteran Lee Allen (Little Richard, Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis and later The Blasters) on sax and Ian Stewart (Rolling Stones) on keyboard played a blusier form of rock’n’roll rather than the modern rockabilly they were known for.
Half of the album is made of blues or blues influenced songs: “Rev It Up and Go” and in 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 and “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 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, Rockabilly is never very far with Johnny Burnette’s Baby Blue Eyes, the raw Gonna Ball (actually a remake of the Wheels’ Let’s Have A Ball) and the instrumental “Wicked Whisky” 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 50’s 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 if you compare to “Stray Cats”.


straycats-built
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. Back to the song, it 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 one 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.
Fred “Virgil” Turgis


rant-n-rave-with-the-stray-cats
Stray Cats – Ran’t & Rave

Stray Cats – Ran’t & 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 a good 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 set list 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 a very interesting rhythmic pattern in the background.
Something’s Wrong With My Radio” is a wild rockabilly and the first side (or the first half for you cd’s addicts) ends with “18 Miles To Memphis” a superb country tune with another brilliant guitar solo by Mr Setzer, followed by another brilliant solo this time on steel guitar (still by Mr Setzer) and a galloping rhythm provided by Jim & Lee.
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 a huge slap bass.
The style changes with “I Won’t Stand In Your Way” a delicious ballad with a doo-woop arrangement. For this song the band is joined by the vocal group 14 Karat Soul. An accapela version exists too.
Hot Rod Gang” was undoubtedly written with Gene Vincent in mind feature 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 10 songs and not a weak track, the Stray Cats star was rising 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

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 and 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 80’s (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 each of them 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 5 covers are very well done the best being Gene Vincent’s Race With The Devil. But it’s true that, with the exception of Charlie Feathers’ One Hand Loose, the band is in well known territory with the likes Johnny Burnette, Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry (“Beautiful Delilah” was often played on stage around 1982).
When it come to the band’s songs things are a bit different. 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 of them 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 something 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 - Blast Off
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 went back 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 to 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 and 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 singer and his voice has gone deeper 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 out of ten 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

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 its 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. Probably disappointed by the result the band 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 good place for the title of “Worst Stray Cats song ever”.


Stray Cats - Choo Choo Hot Fish
Stray Cats – Choo Choo Hot Fish

Stray Cats – 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 didn’t touch a large audience.


Stray Cats - Original Cool
Stray Cats – Original Cool

Stray cats – 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 performance (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 great band really deserved a better career ending than this “not-good-nor-bad” album.


Stray Cats - Live in Europe
Stray Cats – Live in Europe

Stray Cats – Live in 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 opened to a bunch of bootleggers. When they reformed in summer 2004 for an European tour the Stray Cats must have thought that this time they won’t let bootleggers make money on their back. The result is here, 17 gigs and 15 cd’s. Don’t look for booklets, photos of the show etc. The covers design is the same for all, except the colour. Musically, the sound is not top quality, they manufactured them very quickly and they didn’t take time to produce ‘em. 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. Why they didn’t put the whole shows on the cd’s (only 17 songs, no more no less) is the first question one will ask? But the answer seems evident when you realize that the songs that are not on Paris are on Bruxelles and so on… It really looks like an economic choice as they know that many fans will buy a maximum records to have all the songs. In 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 album (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 this records concern mostly 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 (too bad that I went to Paris, the opening show of the tour).


Stray Cats - 20/20
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 « 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.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis


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 simply 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.

Fred “Virgil” Turgis

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