His big band is back again, ready for another sold-out night of big-band jingle jangle as only guitar rocker Brian Setzer can deliver.
He’s done so from the late-’70s rebirth of rockabilly with him at the wheel — The Stray Cats — to the 10th anniversary of his Brian Setzer Orchestra’s Christmas Rocks tour.
“I never imagined I could get this big band off the ground,” Setzer said during a recent telephone interview.
But here he is, a decade later, working up classics like his Gretsch-ed version of the classic “Nutcracker Suite”; a hilarious take on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”; an electrified, horn-laden “Dig That Crazy Santa Claus” and more. Each year, he adds new music to the mix — or new riffs.
The Grammy-winning, 54-year-old axe icon’s music is steeped in punk, swing revival, jump blues, jazz, rockabilly and good old-fashioned rock and roll. He’s a musician’s musician, and one most want to see again and again.
Asking him how many songs he has written — or rewritten — or how many albums he has made — or played on — is “like asking me how many tattoos I have,” he said, then laughed.
“I don’t know.” A lot is the answer. To know what he plays — or doesn’t — it’s really something only a concert can make clear.
“It’s called ‘live music’ — that’s what I do,” he added. “If you want to know what I play, you gotta come out and see it.”
A whole lot of people have done just that. This tour sells out annually and has built a following from related popular live DVD and albums that he has recorded over the years. He’s bringing it to Oklahoma for one show Friday at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Catoosa.
“I do see a lot of the same folks every year,” Setzer said. “People really do like this band.”
He plays solo, as a trio or as an 18-plus-piece band during this tour. Sometimes, he’ll do all three in one song, especially some of the Stray Cats classics like “Stray Cat Strut” and “Rock This Town,” which build into full-band, dancing-girl vocal backup productions with full horn sections. Often, he’ll play the same songs a different way every night. That’s his jazz influence, which he mixed with Vegas-style big band, classic early-era rock and a vibrance that gets people dancing in the aisles.
“It’s aces,” he said, his Gretsch guitar pluck-plucking in the background as he talked. There were intermittent riffs on The Flintstones theme song, and then he broke into “The Fishin’ Hole” (also known as the Andy Griffith Show theme)
as rogue jazz chords interjected themselves.
“Recognize that one?” he
asked. “People love to hear bits and pieces like that.
“I’m always adding new things to the show. There will be 4-5 new things this year, too.”
But don’t expect a line of guitar effects pedals or out-of-this-world gadgetry when he plays. The man plays.
“I use some back delay like they did in the ’50s, but pedals and gear and gizmos and bells and whistles are fun but grow old really fast.”
If he wants a new sound, he downtunes. Distortion? Turn up the amp.
“It’s really black-and-white for me,” he said. “For rock, amp up. For rockabilly, amp down.”
That keep-it-simple approach only highlights his mastery — and his singing and guitar styles as well as his gorgeous, custom Gretsch guitars. The leopard-print one and the green “Grinch” one — lordy, they are stars in their own right.
“But we still have to have the cord with the hollow body to get the sound we want.”