Brian Setzer

Today is the 39th birthday of Brian Setzer, the lead guitarist and

vocalist of the '80s rockabilly trio the Stray Cats and current

frontman of the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Setzer was born in New York

City but raised on Long Island. Starting at age 8, he played the

tuba-like euphonium for 10 years. Although attracted by punk rock as he

grew up, this early interest in horns gave Setzer the idea to one day

form a rock band based on horns; before he put together a brass-centric rock

band, however, he formed the Stray Cats in Massapequa, N.Y., in 1979. The

Cats, who also included Slim Jim Phantom on drums and Lee Rocker on

string bass, were a rockabilly outfit specializing in a cartoonish

variation of this classic, '50s musical genre. After playing clubs in

Long Island for less than a year, the group moved to London in 1980,

where they became wildly popular. They signed with Arista and had a

Dave Edmunds-produced debut single, "Runaway Boys," hit the U.K. top


By the time the Cats opened dates for the Rolling Stones' 1981 tour

in the U.S., their U.K. debut album had become a popular import in America.

In 1982, the band signed with EMI America, which released Built for

Speed in the U.S., an album comprising songs from the band's first

two U.K. LPs. MTV began playing the videos for the singles "Stray Cat

Strut" and "Rock This Town" heavily, making them top-10 hits. The album

eventually sold over 2 million copies. But the popularity of the Stray

Cats' retro-swing was short-lived. Subsequent albums sold poorly and

the band broke up in early 1984, periodically re-forming throughout the '80s

and early '90s to record and perform. In 1985, Setzer joined

Robert Plant's Honeydrippers one night on "Saturday Night Live," which

led to a week of gigs in Long Island clubs with the ex-Led Zeppelin

singer and his band. After a few years as a solo rocker, Setzer,

influenced by recordings of Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman and other big-band

leaders, formed a 16-piece big band in Los Angeles for a series of club

dates. In 1994, the Brian Setzer Orchestra released its self-titled

debut album. In 1996, Setzer released Guitar Slinger, an album

blending jump blues and swing Texas blues that featured the Clash's Joe

Strummer. Meanwhile, the Orchestra contributed to movie soundtracks,

including Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Jingle All The Way." The Brian

Setzer Orchestra will begin a North American tour in June.

Other birthdays: Bobbie Smith (Spinners), 62; Bunny Livingston (Bob Marley

and the Wailers), 51; Terry Roche (the Roches), 45; Steve Gustafson (10,000

Maniacs), 41; Babyface, 39; Afrika Bambaataa, 38; Shinehead, 36; Reni (Stone

Roses), 34; Tim "Herb" Alexander

(ex-Primus drummer), 33; Malik "Phife-Dawg" Taylor (A Tribe Called

Quest), 28 ... Nate Nelson (Flamingos), 1932-1984.