The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s 15th Annual CHRISTMAS ROCKS! Tour

From the Stray Cat Strut to Stuffing Santa’s Stockings with Musical Joy

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 870   By: Robert E Martin

08th November, 2018     0

Iconic guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and three-time Grammy-Award winner Brian Setzer and his 19-piece ORCHESTRA are wrapping-up the package on their musical gift to audiences spanning the globe, adding a very special bow this year as their acclaimed  Christmas Rocks! Tour busily prepares for its 15th Anniversary excursion of 25-cities on this annual holiday showcase, landing in Detroit on Sunday, Nov. 18th at the Fox Theatre.

 “People tell me all the time what joy I bring them over the holidays,” says the ex, yet consistently cool, stray-cat .  “I don't take this for granted. People don't say something like that unless they mean it. When we get a standing ovation at the end of the Christmas show, it means something just a little extra.”

The group’s set list will feature music off their latest Christmas album Rockin’ Rudolf, plus music off their three previous best-selling holiday albums and original material spanning Brian’s illustrious career, who’s trademark guitar work and vocal stylings will be matched with his 19-piece orchestra‘s rockin’ big-band horn arrangements, making for a reliably unbeatable combination.

For those unfamiliar with this musical legend, Brian Setzer belongs to an elite group of artists fortunate to experience  four super successful phases of his career:  from his ground-breaking 3-piece Rockabilly-Proto-Punk band,  The Stray Cats in the 1980s, to solo albums, the Rockabilly Riot and the BSO. The BSO show seamlessly encompasses music from all these phases.

“The music I play in the big band is rock n’ roll with a jazz influence,” says Setzer. “What keeps it fresh is the quality of the players in the band. Also, a big part of keeping the big band fresh is the arrangements; writing the arrangement for 18-19 people is like writing a song within a song. It makes the song you might have heard many times sound new again.”

Review:  Congratulations on the 15th anniversary of the Christmas Rocks! Tour, which apart from Bob Hope’s legendary excursions to entertain the troops during war-time, is one of the longest running and biggest holiday tours ever.   Why do you feel it is so successful?

Brian: “I realized when I started playing shows around Southern California, people wanted a rock-n-roll based holiday show.  Being that Christmas music, in general, is more orchestral, a three or four-piece rock-n-roll band wouldn’t cut it.  This is where my Big Band fit in perfectly. The mixture of my take on rock-n-roll and my new Big Band arrangements seemed to work magic on the audiences.”

Review: What is the challenge of keeping it fresh, particularly for your fans who return year after year?

Brian: “Part of the reason people keep coming back year after year is that they know they will get a new show. They can expect new outfits, new props, and new arrangements of practically any song in any genre.  The Christmas Rocks Tour has become such a tradition for people and their families that they come every year. Classic Christmas songs are very well written gems. It’s a real challenge to deconstruct some of these and make them my own. I can tell you it’s never boring playing them!”

Review: Looking back, when did you realize the tour had real legs as an annual tour that could just keep on going?

Brian: “Once I realized the tour could make money taking 37 people, four coaches, two semi rigs, a full crew and two dogs on the road, I knew I was on to something!   Sometimes it feels the world is so increasingly bleak, and then comes the return of the Christmas Rocks! tour which makes everything feel, if only for one night, like maybe we’re all gonna be OK.

“The power of music not only gave me something to live for, it became my basis for life. Besides getting me out of a lot of trouble and getting me through hard times, it’s what I breathe and what I live for.”

Review: For nearly four decades, you and your signature Gretsch guitar have been making a sound that legions of fans worldwide love. Seeing as you’ve been working with the Orchestra for over 25 years now, how lucky do you feel to still be playing the type of music you want to play after all this time?

Brian:  “Well, when I started playing with The Stray Cats, I was taking this outdated music that most people hadn’t heard of, and I just loved the feel and the rawness of it. That music moved The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, too. I dusted it off and I kinda put my stamp on it. And when I wanted to try another musical idea and put BSO together, people just laughed at me. It feels like I’ve taken this monumental, impossible task and have been able to do this for 25 years. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Review:  Basically, with the BSO you’ve managed to start a second-generation of American Swing music when you started working with the Orchestra in the 90s…

Brian:    “I don’t know how that got started, because I don’t look at it that way. I just take all the music I love and put it all together in a big bowl of chili, really. Blues, jazz, country, rockabilly, swing, rock and roll. I just mix it all up. I don’t know why or what I choose from those genres, that’s just what comes out. Regardless of whether it’s a 3-piece or a 19-piece band, I’m still playing with the same feeling.  I still want it to be a rock and roll experience. I don’t want it to be this kind of snobby jazz experience, because that’s not what I am. It has to be rockin’!”

 “There’s no doubt that as I get older I realize, what else could I have been put here to do except to play? I was put here to play that guitar; that’s certainly obvious, and that’s really what it’s all about for me. Life’s too short to do it any other way.”

The 15th Annual Brian Setzer Orchestra ‘Christmas Rocks!’ Tour is happening Sunday, November 18th at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.  Tickets are available through





Please login to comment



Current Issue


Don't have an account?