Stray Genius

Hello, all ‘ye sun chasers. (I could say “daylight chasers,” but I’ll save that form of address for our final week!)

As for today (yes, this Tuesday afternoon), I thought it might be fun to catch up with an old ax(e) player. Yeah, I know we talk a lot of music together, but this guy was/is special. (And no, the reference to the Moody Blues’ “Tuesday Afternoon” is not accidental. Just trying to make sure you guys are paying attention. (-:)

Anyhoo, as for the aforementioned top-cat guitarist – and just in case you don’t recognize him from that long-ago picture – how about a few clues to jog your memory. (And before we look at those, for you younger readers, just think of your favorite modern guitarist. I’ll bet dollars for donuts that the dapper gent in our photo could keep up with him/her on any given day. In short, this guy simply ROCKED!)

  1. Born 10 April, 1959 in Massapequa, NY
  2. Started out playing the euphonium (think of a miniature version of a tuba) in junior high, later learning guitar and developing an interest in everything from punk rock to rockabilly.
  3. While our man may have been experimental, it seems his heart was always with rockabilly. (If you’re not familiar with that music genre, think of sort of an offbeat mix of rock and roll and country music.)
  4. Started a band with his brother, Gary, in 1977 called The Tomcats, playing clubs on Long Island, NY. (NOTE: During those years, the two brothers also played in a band known as The Bloodless Pharaohs, primarily known for what was then known as “art rock.”) The brothers parted ways in 1979, leaving our Countdown Day 17 hero and a few of his buddies to leave Long Island behind, heading to England and forming their own group under a new name. (So, got an ID on him yet?
  5. Our man led his new trio across the water to London, perhaps changing up their name in part to suggest a vagabond (dare I say even a “stray”) musical existence. Stray or not, the new band quickly rose to prominence, scoring three top-10 hits, “Rock This Town,” “Stray Cat Strut,” and, of course, “(She’s) Sexy + 17.”

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Brian Robert Setzer to our countdown.

I suppose excellence in music, art – in all artful pursuits, I guess – is pretty subjective, but I don’t think I’m throwing the term “genius” around unduly here. I’ve talked to many musician friends, and like many of you, I’ve watched enough shows like Behind the Music to know that Mr. Setzer was – and is – right in there with the other great musos.

Rockabilly may have started way back in the mid-1950s, highlighted by the likes of Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly, but Brian Setzer had a lot to do with the musical genre’s revival in the late 1970s/early 1980s. In fact, for those of us old enough to remember The Stray Cats in their heyday, Setzer seemed to be the consummate cross-over artist, a high-octane virtuoso, paying homage to the past. And in terms of his connection to the past, some of you may remember him portraying the late Eddie Cochran in La Bamba (the Ritchie Valens biopic, 1987), performing Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.”

On a brief side note, Cochran, who left us all too early, would surely have been another key figure in rockabilly music. Over the years, many have felt that Cochran was being groomed to become a star, but, unfortunately, he died in a car accident at the age of only 21.

On a happier note, I’m pleased to report that Brian Setzer is alive and well. His most recent album, The Devil Always Collects, (released in September 2023) has paved the way for his first tour in four years; he’ll hit the road just after the calendar turn into 2024.

Have a great one, people.

And until tomorrow, ROCK ON!


@Copyright 2023 by John L. Fischer

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