From Sexy + 17 to the 90s Swing Movement – Brian Setzer Was Cool All the Way
band that would first make him famous, the Stray Cats. Their rockabilly sound was fresh for 1980, an era in which the charts were largely dominated by either new wave or schlocky pop. Sensing that their style might have a greater appeal across the Atlantic, Setzer took his band over to London where rock icon and producer Dave Edmunds heard them play, clearing the path towards a record deal.
The Stray Cats made it big in 1982 with two top ten singles from his album Built for Speed, "Stray Cat Strut" and "Rock This Town." He brought back some of the 50s look and feel to music, with a relentless energy and focus on musicality that in many ways was missing from the sterile aesthetic being promoted by the synth-driven bands Setzer shared the record shelves with. The Stray Cats would crumble under the stress of stardom, but rather than disappear Brian Setzer continued to record in a variety of different styles, stretching himself musically and building a strong fan base.
Setzer's second brush with stardom came in 1998, when he released The Dirty Boogie. This album, recorded with his Brian Setzer Orchestra big band, crested the wave of interest that had built up around the swing genre. Led by the smash single "Jump, Jive an' Wail, Setzer's take on swing music was heavy with his rough and dirty guitar sound, complemented by tight arrangements that made the album very danceable. He managed to dress up his rockabilly bad boy persona in fresh duds and import it over to swing, making him unquestionably the most popular artist of the 90s' brief flirtation with retro sounds.
There are, of course, other musicians that have successfully transitioned from one decade to the next, but what makes Brian Setzer stand out is the very different styles of music that he made so famous. Not only did he move from the 80s to the 90s and beyond, but he also dragged previously-extinct musical styles kicking and screaming along with him. This is in contrast to an artist like Madonna, who despite her serious staying power in the music business has remained faithful to the expectations of her pop/dance genre.
Recognition for Setzer has come in the form of the previously-mentioned Grammy awards and many prestigious gigs played at venues as diverse as at the White House and Dancing with the Stars (October 21, 2008). He has continued to record off and on throughout the 'oughts, both as a solo artist and with his Orchestra, proving that amazing talent can survive any number of sea changes in the music industry.