When Setzer and the Stray Cats first bopped on the scene with their rockabilly act at the beginning of the New Wave '80s, their retro '50s sound seemed as out of place as a Brooks Brothers suit at a Sex Pistols concert. But even if some rock purists preferred to linger at the Eddie Cochran bin in the local record stores, Setzer and his slicked-back fellow felines rocked their way onto the charts, striking gold with "Rock This Town" and "Stray Cat Strut." A decade later, Setzer reinvented himself as a big band leader with The Brian Setzer Orchestra, a 1994 album on which the guitarist and singer and his 16-piece group emulated the great swing bands of the 1940s. And though some jazz aficionados may resent the notion of neo-swing bands stepping into the king-size shoes of Louis Jordan and Count Basie, they should cut Setzer, 41, some slack. After all, he's helping new generations discover that the joy-inducing, gotta-dance rhythms, raucous energy and infectious good humor of early rock and roll owe as much to the jump swing and boogie bands of yore as they do to 1950s-style rhythm and blues.
Bottom Line: A former Stray Cat comes out swingin'