Brian Robert Setzer (born April 10, 1959) is an American guitarist, singer and songwriter. He first found widespread success in the early 1980s with the 1950s-style rockabilly revival group Stray Cats, and revitalized his career in the late 1990s with his Swing revival band, The Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Setzer was born in Massapequa, New York. Beginning in January 1979, he fronted the rockabilly band The Tomcats before transforming them into the later successful Stray Cats.
After performing locally from New York to Philadelphia under various band names with no real success, singer and lead guitarist Setzer, drummer Slim Jim Phantom (born James McDonnell) and bassist Lee Rocker (born Leon Drucker) decided in June 1980 to go to London, England where they believed people would better appreciate their sound and style.
To obtain the money for their plane tickets, Setzer, Rocker and Phantom went to Sam Ash Music on 48th Street to sell their instruments and gear to the store, for enough money for three one-way plane tickets. Upon their arrival, they decided to call themselves the "Stray Cats", a name suggested by Rocker because of their status as 'strays'. After performing for only a few months they drew the attention of the British record producer Dave Edmunds, and released a series of successful singles in the UK, which countered the already-entrenched punk scene in London.
After releasing several singles and two albums in England, the Stray Cats finally caught America's attention with the 1982 album Built for Speed, which included the two Top Ten hits, "Rock This Town" (#9) and "Stray Cat Strut" (#3). This album was basically a re-release of many of the songs from the two previous albums, the self-titled Stray Cats and Gonna Ball, which have never been released in America. Their follow-up 1983 album Rant 'N Rave with the Stray Cats included the two successful singles: "(She's) Sexy + 17" (#5), and "I Won't Stand In Your Way" (#35).
After only four years, the Stray Cats separated in 1984, but reunited briefly to record albums and mount tours several times all the way through the early 1990s. From 1985 to early 1986, Setzer was the lead guitarist for the touring version of Robert Plant's ensemble band, The Honeydrippers.
In the summer of 1986, Setzer released his first solo album, The Knife Feels Like Justice, which marked a huge move away from his trademark sound and towards a more mainstream 'rock-roots' sound, which was popularized at the time by such other artists such as John Cougar Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen. The album was given little promotion by his label and as a result it only found minor success, peaking at only number 45 on the Billboard US album charts. The album has become a cult favorite among those who understood the message Setzer was trying to attempt, such as the world's nuclear proliferation, the immigration issue, the understanding of religion and the 'working man's blues', such as unemployment, loneliness, etc.
In 1987, Setzer played the part of Eddie Cochran in the biographical film on the life of Ritchie Valens, La Bamba.
In the mid-1990s Setzer once again resurrected an older form of youth-oriented music, swing and jump blues music, when he formed The Brian Setzer Orchestra, an ambitious 17-piece ensemble project, which released four studio albums, a Christmas disc and several live releases between 1994 and 2002. His group's biggest success (and Setzer's outside the Stray Cats) came in 1998 with the release of the album The Dirty Boogie which cracked the top ten on the US album charts and featured a hit single, a cover of Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive an' Wail".
Setzer continued to release solo-billed albums sporadically, including a solo live disc Rockin' By Myself in 1998. In 2001 he released an album titled Ignition with his new trio billed as the '68 Comeback Special. In 2003 he released Nitro Burnin' Funny Daddy. A tribute album titled Rockabilly Riot Vol. 1: A Tribute To Sun Records was released on July 26, 2005, in the United States. An album simply titled 13 was released in October 2006.
On September 25, 2007, the Brian Setzer Orchestra released Wolfgang's Big Night Out which features Setzer's take on classical pieces, such as Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5" and "Für Elise". Wolfgang earned Setzer his eighth Grammy nomination, this time for Best Classical Crossover album of the year.
On October 13, 2009, the Brian Setzer Orchestra released a new album titled Songs From Lonely Avenue. For the first time in Setzer's career, he was the sole writer on every song. Frank Comstock, the 87-year-old big band arranger whom Setzer collaborated with on Wolfgang's Big Night Out, orchestrated most of the horn parts for the album.
On December 14, 2009, Setzer was unable to complete a performance in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was briefly hospitalized because of "dehydration, high altitude sickness and vertigo," After Colorado Springs, Albuquerque has the second highest elevation of any American city of more than 100,000 people and many visitors experience oxygen debt and require ER treatment.
In 2011, Setzer toured extensively throughout Europe. The premiere night of The Brian Setzer Rockabilly Riot! Europe Tour 2011 was at the 10 year celebration of the Azkena Rock Festival on the June 25, Vitoria Gasteiz, Spain to crowds of over 50,000 people.
The tour then went onto dates in Zurich, Switzerland; Luxembourg City, Luxembourg; Weert and Amsterdam in the Netherlands; Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne in Germany; and Peer in Belgium. The Scandinavia leg of the tour was in Copenhagen, Denmark, Stockholm, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland ending at the Helsinki Ice Hall.
Further gigs were held at the famous Brixton Academy, London and in Dublin, Ireland. The tour is planned to continue into Japan in September 2011. The Brian Setzer Rockabilly Riot Tour! featured a special set with Slim Jim Phantom, and was supported on the major shows by the cult Swedish punk rock band The Knockouts in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
Setzer was awarded the Orville H. Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1999 Gibson Awards. As of 1999, the previous recipients of this award were B. B. King, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill and John Fogerty.
Since 2000, Setzer has earned three Grammy Awards: Best Pop Performance Duo/Group for "Jump Jive An' Wail", and two Best Pop Instrumental Performance awards for "Sleep Walk" and "Caravan". In December 2006 he received his seventh Grammy nomination for his version of "My Favorite Things", again in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance category.
Setzer has been married three times: DeAnna Morgan from 1984 to 1992, with whom he has a son, Cody; Christine Schmidt, from 1994 to 2002, with whom he has two daughters, Dane Lily and Darindee ; and Julie Reiten, a former singer with the Dustbunnies, in 2005 (they met when she auditioned - and was hired - as a back-up singer for the Brian Setzer Orchestra in 2000). Setzer and Reiten reside in Minneapolis.