I loved the early days of the Stray Cats back when they were young, raw and fresh from Long Island. Seeing lil’ Brian Setzer in these grainy old pics (if you can help out with any photo credits, I’d appreciate it!), some even from his pre-tattoo days built like a matchstick with a pile of hair that entered the room a full minute before he did…well, they are a sight to see. Their style was pretty tough back in the hungry years before the big payday when they rocked on a steady diet of engineer boots, creepers, skinny jeans, polka dot thrift shop tops with cut-off sleeves, bandanas and a sneer. Soon the look was gobbled up by the mainstream made-for-MTV crowd and regurgitated into a uniform with elements of new wave / new romantics fluffy hairdos, argyles, leopard print, gold lamé, Zodiac boots, and over-sized sportcoats.
Give the Stray Cats their due. Not only were they heavily responsible for a resurgence of interest in American roots Rock, Rockabilly, Swing, and Greaser culture– Brian Setzer was honored with being the first artist since Chet Atkins to be granted a Gretsch artist model guitar built and named for him. A true reflection of how strongly he was identified with Gretsch, and how he helped cement them with a new generation as the true player’s guitar for anyone serious about Rockabilly and the like. After the Stray Cats, guys like the Reverend Horton Heat, Mike Ness (Setzer played on Cheating at Solitaire) and others like them have carved-out their own sound and legacy on a Gretsch– and they owe a nod to Brian Setzer for paving the way.
A young and well-coiffed Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats back in the early 1980s
1982, Paris– A couple of lean, mean rockers Thierry Le Coz & Brian Setzer. Brian and the Stray Cats hit the road for the UK and Europe early on, as the Teddy Boy movement and the strong love abroad for the Sun Records & rockabilly music legends (Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Duane Eddy, and many more) called them there to make their mark. Thierry (yep, he’s French) is a great guitarist and started out in the Rockabilly band Teen Kats back in the early 1980s, and met Brian and the boys while they were there touring Europe. Le Coz moved to Austin, Texas in ’84, played with Will Sexton in Will and the Kill among others, and is still doing his thing. I love that pic of them, great style.