Massapequa, New York

Rock This Town by Stray Cats

We're gonna rock this town
Rock it inside out
We're gonna rock this town
Make 'em scream and shout
Massapequa, c 1890
America is the birthplace of dozens of musical genres (among other non-musical inventions and innovations) including rock & roll, jazz, and the blues. Additionally, each of these genres contains dozens of sub-genres, two of which are rockabilly and swing. Few artists have had both the passion and natural talent to blend (or mashup) two genres as seamlessly as Brian Setzer has done during his career, first with the Stray Cats and then with his self-titled Orchestra.

Rockabilly is a style of music that combines elements of folk, bluegrass, and country, with rhythm and blues (the "billy" comes from hillbilly). The term has since become synonymous with "classic" rock & roll. The genre utilizes strong rhythms and vocal twangs and was made popular by well-known musicians and performers, such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

Swing and jump blues developed in the 1930s and 1940s as the interim between full orchestras and the four- and five-piece rock & roll bands of the 1950s. Big bands comprised only small elements of full orchestras, yet maintained their "big" sound in the clubs and dancehalls of the era. Created in America (just as its descendant would be), swing became popular because of its beat and energy – allowing youths to dance like crazy to it. Interestingly enough, music critics lambasted swing in its heyday similarly to the way they did in the '50s and '60s with rock & roll, and in the '80s and '90s with rap and hip-hop. In fact, many musicians who failed at performing "serious" music eventually switched to big band swing in the '30s and '40s.

Born in Massapequa, New York, in 1959, Setzer surrounded himself with rock & roll as well as swing jazz. He learned to play the guitar at a young age, and as a teen, formed a trio he called the Tomcats – a name he later altered to the Stray Cats. Heavily influenced by such '50s greats as Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins (who also heavily influenced the Beatles), and Bill Haley, the Cats developed a large following in the underground punk scene of New York City during the late '70s. Their fan base expanded so quickly that they found themselves being courted by no less than a half dozen record labels in 1980.
Brian Setzer, c 2006
(thanks, Marcos C.)
Surprised by the popularity of a sound essentially 25 years old, Setzer opted to record and produce the Cats’ debut album across the pond in jolly old England, and in 1981 the first three singles broke onto the charts: "Runaway Boys," "Stray Cat Strut," and "Rock This Town." While the success of the Cats was short-lived, Setzer parlayed his quick-finger guitar playing and love of rockabilly and swing for a further three decades (the neo-swing movement saw a revival to the big band sound mixed with alternative rock, punk, and ska between the late 1990s and early 2000s).

Part of Oyster Bay, Long Island , Massapequa was originally founded by the Lenape tribe and has since spawned such celebrities as Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, actress Helen Slater, the notorious Long Island Lolita debacle's Joey Buttafuoco, actor Alec Baldwin (and his brothers), and Jerry Seinfeld. It stands to reason that Setzer spent his teen years in the '70s doing what kids always did: cruising the strip, drinking and smoking, having fun, dating and messing around with the girls, and listening to and playing rock & roll. He also might have hung around Adventureland Amusement Park in East Farmingdale – also the inspiration for the 2009 film of the same name.

Whether rockabilly, rock & roll, rhythm and blues, or swing jazz, Brian Setzer really seems to know his stuff when it comes to composing and performing music that just fills the listener with the need to get up and dance. "Rock This Town" has become a classic rock staple on radio stations, rocking towns across the country.
~ Justin Novelli

For more info on Oyster Bay, see also: Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.


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