Since his debut with the Stray Cats in the early 1980s, Brian Setzer has remained true to his initial inspiration. While he created a big band in the 1990s, Setzer has always kept a firm toehold in rock and roll. A generous and charismatic showman, his shows have been singled out for their intensity. In 1994, flanked by a large orchestra that would rival that of Count Basie, he treated fans at the Festival to an anthology concert. Sixteen years later, the Brian Setzer Orchestra was called upon to play the opening outdoor concert at Place des Arts.
Guitarist, singer, songwriter and band leader Brian Setzer was born in Massapequa, New York. At the age of eight, the young boy received his first instrument, the euphonium, which he played assiduously for nearly a decade. Dreams of fronting his own big band were temporarily shelved when the musician took a keen interest in 1950s R&B and rockabilly.
They're Gonna Rock this Town
At the end of the 1970s, Setzer teamed up with old chums Slim Jim Phantom (drums) Lee Rocker (bass and double bass), playing in bars from New York to Philadelphia under various names.
After recording a demo as Brian & The Tom Cats in June 1980, the three musicians left for London. Rechristening themselves the Stray Cats, they soon found themselves on the crest of the rockabilly wave which swept across England. In 1981, the Stray Cats recorded their self-titled debut album with musician/producer Dave Edmunds. By the end of the year, they already had another LP in the can.
Returning to their homeland in 1982, the Stray Cats enjoyed a great deal of success with the US album Built for Speed, which compiled material from their first two efforts, including hit singles Rock This Town and Stray Cat Strut - both songs found a wider audience through MTV. The following year, the group released Rant N'Rave with the Stray Cats, which comprised of 10 self-penned titles including (She's) Sexy + 17.
In 1984, Brian Setzer embarked on a solo career - alrhough he would carry on recording with the Stray Cats in the years to come. On his first endeavour, The Knife Feels Like Justice (1986), the guitarist favored a more contemporary rock sound, echoing that of John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen. Live Nude Guitars followed three years later, around the same time as the Stray Cats effort Blast Off.
The early 1990s saw the musician resurrect his childhood dream of fronting a big band. The Brian Setzer Orchestra released their first album in 1994 and found themselves spearheading a jump blues and swing revival. The same year, the 17-piece ensemble embarked on a tour which culminated at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. The organizing committee had planned for an outdoor performance, but the BSO ended up playing two nights at Spectrum. They would return the following year and in 1997.
Setzer launched two records in 1998. Solo effort Rockin' by Myself mixed original songs with 1950s rock'n'roll standards. Credited to the BSO, The Dirty Boogie managed to crack the top 10 in the United States. In 2004, the Stray Cats reunited for the umpteenth time. The trio played a string of European dates, one of which spawned live album Rumble in Brixton.
Rock On, Montréal
In 2009, the Brian Setzer Orchestra played the Festival for the first time in 12 years. Their indoor show at Place des Arts was one of the many high points of the 30th edition. The following year, Setzer and his troupe returned to play a memorable opening concert for tens of thousands of festivalgoers on the main stage of Place des Festivals.