By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


August 9, 2005

Brian Setzer
"Rockabilly Riot! Volume 1: A Tribute to Sun Records"
Surfdog Records

Former Stray Cats front man Brian Setzer dug through the Sun Records rockabilly vaults for 23 of that legendary label's most incendiary sides for his latest project, a fiery tribute that he hopes will turn younger people on to the greasy, sexy, beat-driven, fast-wheels music of the mid-'50s.

But instead of approaching it as an updated revival a la Stray Cats, guitar ace Setzer went for rockin' hillbilly authenticity, down to the original drum parts charted and played by Bernie Dresel (David Byrne and Brian Wilson), the left-hand-heavy piano of Kevin McKendree (Delbert McClinton's band) and the upright slap bass of Mark Winchester (Mark Knopfler's band). Setzer's virtuosity on guitar should not be taken for granted, either; the pompadoured one can flat out get it.

The Nash-Villains channel it all through vintage microphones and amps, even using a water cistern as an echo chamber rather than creating one digitally.

Setzer chose songs cut from 1954 to 1957, the prime Sun era of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Charlie Rich. Some of their best-known tunes are here: Elvis' "Just Because," Lewis' "Real Wild Child," Cash's "Get Rhythm," pre-balladeer Orbison's "Rockhouse," Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" (Elvis had the bigger hit) and Rich's "Lonely Weekends," featuring the still-marvelous background vocals of the Jordanaires.

Setzer also gives new life to Sun's midlevel stars such as Billy Lee Riley ("Red Hot," "Flyin' Saucer Rock and Roll"), Warren Smith (the Cash song "Rock 'n Roll Ruby," "Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache") and Carl Mann ("Mona Lisa").

But the treasures here are the songs and artists that even baby boomers might never have heard. Tops on that list is "Peroxide Blonde in a Hopped Up Model Ford," originally cut by Jumpin' Gene Simmons, who had a hit with the novelty "Haunted House" in 1964. "Blonde," originally credited to Sun engineer Jack Clement, was never released until a Simmons anthology saved it in the mid-'90s. Setzer tracked down Simmons and an undamaged snippet of the master track, reworked the song with Simmons and enlisted Simmons on backup vocals.

Other gems include Kenny Parchman's "Tennessee Zip" and "Get It Off Your Mind," Tommy Blake's "Flat Foot Sam," Ray Harris' "Lonely Wolf," Dean Beard's "Rakin' and Scrapin'" and the "Edwin" Bruce tune "Sweet Woman." Bruce, as Ed Bruce, would go on to a country music career and to write "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" for Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

But Setzer would be the first to say "let's not get bogged down on history and credits." Let's push back the sofa, roll up the rug and go, cat, go.