A Joy Ride With Brian Setzer

I'm gonna take my baby on a little joy ride
She'll be ghost-white pale
Sittin' by my side
Shakin' like a leaf and it ain't no wonder
Drive like lightning
Crash like thunder ...
-- "Drive Like Lightning (Crash Like Thunder)"
By Brian Setzer and Mark Winchester

SO BEGINS THE sixth track on the new release from The Brian Setzer Orchestra (Vavoom!, Interscope Records, 2000). And how beautifully it describes a telephone interview with the man himself.

Phoning in to talk about the fourth Brian Setzer Orchestra release, as well as his upcoming show at UA's Centennial Hall on August 1, Setzer quickly established that the chat would be as thrilling as a fast-paced peel down Pacific Coast Highway 1 in a hot-rodded '41 Ford Coupe. Energetic and charming, Setzer kept up a rapid pace that didn't slow until he tapped the brake to end the interview when an assistant reminded him that he had other calls to make. Otherwise, it appears that he would have kept on talking 'til he ran out of gas.

When Setzer's buses pull into the Centennial garage Tuesday evening, the musician will take the stage to promote the aforementioned Vavoom!--a 14-cut gem of a pop rock release. He'll have along his rockin' big band and some sexy back-up vocalists. In fact, this summer's road trip is called the Here I Go Draggin' 16 Guys (And A Couple Chicks) Around The World Tour.

Setzer is unconcerned with having been lumped in with the now-waning swing craze. "The swing comeback was a fad. Fads end. But you know, I can name three bands that I was out with on the last tour that are already broken up. Bands break up and so do fads," says Setzer. "What I do is a whole different animal, though. The only similarity between this and a '40s big band is the instrument lineup. I think that people...know that I am about rockabilly guitar and rock and roll. They really don't care what label is on my style of music."

Setzer's easily identifiable rockabilly guitar style has earned him legions of fans, many of whom reside in the pantheon of guitar greats.

Setzer was nominated for his first Grammy award while still a teenager. He was credited for exposing rockabilly music to a new generation with his band The Stray Cats. Thanks to Setzer, in 1982 one could buy a bowling shirt or a poodle skirt at Macy's.

The man is, and has always been, a trendsetter. Just have a look at the audience at a BSO show. "I think that if you talk about a person like me--it's about style, the way you wear your hair, a pompadour, you know, the cars you drive," he says. "At my shows it seems to be a couple kind of thing--the guys bring their dates. I get everybody, 60-year-old couples, 13-year-old kids, lot of people in their 20s and 30s. They have all got a notion of what I am about. They kind of dress up for the show--they put effort into what they wear. I love that," he enthuses.

"It's not a jeans and t-shirt thing. I wouldn't go out of the house with my hair not combed right. Some of my friends are like that, too. I hate going to Vegas and seeing guys in jeans and caps and t-shirts--I mean, it's Vegas, man, dress up! That other kind of thing is OK for going to the pool, but not out on the town!"

When asked who he likes to see in the audience, Setzer doesn't miss a beat. "Girls!" he laughs. "I just like to see people enjoying themselves. I like stand-up crowds. When they stand up, it's just a rock-out show--that is what I am all about. You don't get the same thing when they are sitting down."

It is unlikely that many Tucsonans at Centennial Hall will be sitting down. In addition to performing hit songs from the BSO's past eight years and new tunes from Vavoom!, Setzer says that this time out he'll give the audience a surprise. "We do a breakdown set in the middle of the show with just Bernie (Drexler, drummer), Mark (Winchester, stand-up bass), and me doing straight rockabilly as a trio. Then later on the big band comes back out and we finish up."

Setzer has been touring non-stop since the release of 1998's Grammy-winning The Dirty Boogie. When asked when on earth he found the time to write the songs for Vavoom!, he exclaims "Bless you! People always ask, 'When is the next record coming out?' Basically I try to write the best songs I can. You have to get the urge, you know? Sometimes I get out of the shower with an entire song. Of course, after I write them, then we have to have charts written and that takes time, too. Right now I feel like that record (Vavoom!) is done, and I am not really into writing songs. I just want to tour and get this batch out to people. One thing at a time, you know. People always ask me if I write on the road. No. When I am on the road I am thinking about the shows. I write at home."

As for what Brian Setzer does for fun, he reveals, "Surf, build hot rods, take my kids places they need to go. In between all of that I write songs. Being a good dad takes a lot of time. Also, I get so off on driving a hotrod really fast on PCH 1 when there is no traffic. I do it at least once a day--hop in that roadster and get up some speed. God, I love that!"

To get the same feeling without risking your license or your life, comb your hair, dig out your coolest threads, and catch The Brian Setzer Orchestra live at Centennial Hall on the UA campus, east of the main gate, August 1 at 7:30 p.m. Opening the show is Billy Bacon. Tickets are available at the Centennial Hall box office; charge by phone at 621-3341.
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