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Brian Setzer: The Undisputed King of Swingin’ Hot Rod Rockabilly Cool

Brian Setzer: The Undisputed King of Swingin’ Hot Rod Rockabilly Cool

Legendary guitar slinger Brian Setzer has successfully revived not one – but two – all-but-forgotten music genres: rockabilly and swing. No small feat.

As a teenager in the 1970s, Setzer discovered Gretsch’s first rock star, Eddie Cochran, and became obsessed with Cochran’s music, looks, sound – and guitar. Setzer bought an orange 6120 (like his hero Cochran) for $100 and formed a 50s rockabilly band called The Tomcats.

“Legendary Endorser” feature in Gretsch House Telegram, Vol. 135.

After changing their name to The Stray Cats, Setzer and his rockabilly trio found success in their 1982 breakthrough album, Built For Speed. With hits like “Rock This Town” and “Stray Cat Strut” playing constantly over the radio and on MTV, rockabilly, tattoos, pompadour hair – and Gretsch guitars – were once again cool.

In the early 1990s, Setzer set his sights on this most ambitious project of his career: fronting a 17-piece swing band with an electric guitar. The Brian Setzer Orchestra toured extensively and gave new energy and life to 40s and 50s-era swing and jump music. Setzer’s hard work paid off  in 1998 when his breakthrough Dirty Boogie album won two Grammys for the hit single, “Jump Jive An’ Wail,” and his instrumental version of “Sleepwalk.”

Setzer became Dinah and Fred Gretsch’s first guitar endorser in 1992, and Brian’s Signature Nashville model, with its distinctive dice control knobs, made its debut in 1993.

The Hot Rod model was added in 1999 and featured special TV Jones pickups and a wide range of car-inspired sparkled, two-toned, and solid color finishes.

Mr. Rockabilly Riot stays busy recording and touring, and his Brian Setzer Orchestra’s annual Christmas Rocks! tour has been a popular holiday tradition for more than a decade.

For more information, find Brian Setzer listed under the Artists tab on the Gretsch Guitars site and visit Brian’s website.

Photo by Russ Harrington