Brian Setzer breaks down his love-hate relationship with vintage
Gretsches and the deep roots that fed the dizzying array of styles
—from bluegrass banjo to archtop jazz and rockabilly revelry
—on his new album Setzer Goes Instru-MENTAL!
BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
FEATURE > BRIAN SETZER
With his trademark pompadour, flashy rockabilly licks, swin- gin’ jazz comping, and expert showmanship, Brian Setzer
is one of guitardom’s most iconic musicians. But he wouldn’t have
achieved such pinnacles of fame if he weren’t a deeply musical guitarist, as is apparent from one listen to his latest effort, Setzer Goes
Instru-MENTAL! It’s his first entirely vocal-less outing, and the
disc’s exciting synthesis of rockabilly, bluegrass, and jazz make for
an instantly pleasurable listen.
Setzer, 52, has been playing guitar for four decades now. He
grew up in the Long Island, New York, town of Massapequa and
started playing his first instrument, the euphonium, at age 8 before
focusing on the guitar in his teens. While he copped licks from his
father’s rockabilly records, he also became fascinated with jazz and
periodically made trips to nearby Manhattan to sneak into clubs
like the Village Vanguard.
In the early 1980s, Setzer fronted the Stray Cats—a rockabilly
trio that became hugely popular in America after making a splash
in Europe. On hits like “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut,”
Setzer sang and mated hot rockabilly licks with the occasional fancy
jazz chord—a sound far removed from the diatonic electronic tim-
bres that came to rule the era.
116 PREMIER GUITAR MAY 2011