Stray Cats Rock This Town

Ja­cob Quist­gaard tran­scribes an in­fec­tious Brian Set­zer piece with a retro rock­a­billy vibe, flam­ing licks and a gui­tar sound to die for.

Guitar Techniques - - Play: Rockabilly -

With flam­boy­ant gui­tar chops, a knack for writ­ing catchy songs and a strong front­man per­sona, Brian Set­zer has spear­headed the launch of two re­vivals dur­ing his im­pres­sive ca­reer; rock­a­billy and swing.

Brian was was born in April 10, 1959 in Mas­s­ape­qua,New York and built his mu­si­cal foun­da­tion from a healthy ob­ses­sion with the Sun Stu­dios record­ings of the 50s. Af­ter per­form­ing lo­cally un­der dif­fer­ent band names, Set­zer de­cided to take a huge leap of faith with drum­mer Slim Jim Phan­tom and bassistLee Rocker. In the sum­mer of 1980 they packed their bags and sold their in­stru­ments and gear, get­ting just enough money for three one-way plane tick­ets to the UK - they fig­ured their mu­sic would be bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ated over­seas.

They de­cided to call them­selves the Stray Cats, as orig­i­nally sug­gested by Lee Rocker be­cause of their sta­tus as ‘strays’. Af­ter per­form­ing for no more than a few months in the UK their strong 50s rock­a­billy re­vival style was spotted by record pro­ducer Dave Ed­munds. They sub­se­quently re­leased a slew of suc­cess­ful sin­gles, pro­vid­ing a stark con­trast to Lon­don’s vi­brant punk scene.

Much like Jimi Hen­drix’s early suc­cess in the UK, the Strays didn’t im­me­di­ately trans­late theirs to their na­tive US. How­ever, with the re­lease of their third al­bum Built For Speed (1982), they fi­nally caught Amer­ica’s at­ten­tion, scor­ing two Top 10 hits with Rock This Town - the sub­ject of our tran­scrip­tion - and Stray Cat Strut, which got to Num­ber 3.

I’m not God’s gift to rock­a­billy. There’s great play­ers out there, and some of them de­serve a lot more than they’ve got­ten. Brian Set­zer

The al­bum was es­sen­tially a re-re­lease of many of the songs from their two pre­vi­ous of­fer­ings. Im­pres­sively, the pres­ti­gious Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame has since listed Rock This Town as one of the 500 most im­por­tant songs in the his­tory of rock and roll.

Sadly, af­ter only four years in the game, the Stray Cats of­fi­cially parted their ways in 1984, re­unit­ing spo­rad­i­cally on sev­eral oc­ca­sions since then to record al­bums and go on tour. From 1985 to early 1986, Set­zer ap­peared as lead gui­tarist on tour with­Robert Plant’s The Honey­drip­pers and the sum­mer of 86 also saw the re­lease of his first solo al­bum, The Knife Feels Like Jus­tice. This al­bum marked a huge move away from Brian’s trade­mark retro ap­proach, head­ing to­wards a more main­stream ‘rock-roots’ sound. It has be­come a bit of a cult favourite. In the 1990s, Set­zer also suc­cess­fully formed a swing re­vival band, The Brian Set­zer Orches­tra, where he melded jive-style tunes with roar­ing lead gui­tar.

Our tran­scrip­tion is mainly based on the Stray Cats’ orig­i­nal stu­dio record­ing, al­though a few bits have come from some of their jaw-drop­ping live per­for­mances. Head over to YouTube and spend a few mo­ments check­ing out some of the live ver­sions of this track. You’ll see the Strays were clearly a fan­tas­tic live act, de­vi­at­ing from their orig­i­nal ar­range­ments with some wild im­pro­vi­sa­tion. How­ever, they al­ways kept it very much within the con­text of the song and style – in­spired, skil­ful and pas­sion­ate stuff!

As al­ways, re­mem­ber our au­dio track is for you to re­fer to and play along with and when you feel up to it, our stripped down back­ing will pro­vide a fun ve­hi­cle for you to bang out Brian’s stonk­ing collection of riffs, fills and fiery licks. En­joy!

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