The Brian Setzer Orchestra takes a three-day residency in Oklahoma on its annual Christmas tour 

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’Tis the season for legendary rockabilly and Swing revivalist Brian Setzer to take his 19-piece orchestra on its national Christmas tour.

Unlike Santa Claus, Setzer can’t hit all of his stops in one night. Instead, the artist behind hits like “Rock This Town” and “Rumble in Brighton” takes more than six weeks to play 32 cities on his 13th annual Christmas Rocks! Tour, including three nights at Oklahoma venues.

The Stray Cats guitarist and frontman started his Swing and blues ensemble The Brian Setzer Orchestra in 1990 as a way to experiment with a guitar-led big band. The orchestra has produced a number of Christmas albums over the years, including 2015’s Rockin’ Rudolph.

In addition to performing with his big band, Setzer has spent the last few years promoting and touring his most recent solo studio album Rockabilly Riot!: All Original, released in 2014. On Nov. 4, he released a live DVD version of the album recorded in Osaka, Japan.

Setzer recently spoke with Oklahoma Gazette about the new release and his trio of Oklahoma shows.

Oklahoma Gazette: On your new concert DVD Rockabilly Riot: Osaka Rocka — Live in Japan 2016, it was interesting to see how big you are in Japan.

Brian Setzer: Yeah, I’ve always done well in Japan and in Europe. It was fun to record that show in particular. Osaka is a town that differs from the other cities in Japan. You feel like you have a whole army behind you there because they’re so loyal. They sing all the songs, which is really something to think about because English isn’t their language.

OKG: How did you decide

which city to record in?

BS: We didn’t have Rockabilly Riot on DVD. We were headed to Japan when the idea came up. Normally, you’d pick New York, Los Angeles or Tokyo — one of the big cities. I said, “Why don’t we choose Osaka?” for that reason. Tokyo is kind of like New York. It’s a great crowd and it’s always a good show, but I remember Osaka being kind of like Chicago — a very loyal following, very energetic.

OKG: Do you look forward to doing these Christmas shows all across the country every year?

BS: I love doing the Christmas tour. First of all, I get to play with the big band. I mean, how many of those are on the planet where you can actually bring it to a town? It’s pretty special to be able to play with that thing. And then, this is year 13 with the Christmas tour. It’s Christmas-themed, but I kind of play whatever I want. I do Stray Cats songs; I do songs like “Jump Jive an’ Wail.” This year, we’re going to do a little rockabilly breakdown in the middle. We’re going to do just a three- or four-piece with the piano. I like to change it up and do whatever I want in the set.

OKG: Do you think these Christmas shows are something you will continue doing?

BS: I really like to do this, and I think I will until I can’t do it anymore. I really enjoy this tour. It’s become a staple, you know? The other things I like to do are, of course, the Rockabilly Riot, and maybe the year after next, I’m just going to go out with a guitar.

OKG: Does the audience react differently when it’s just you on stage compared to you with a 19-piece band?

BS: Not really. It’s pretty much the same whether I’m by myself or with the Rockabilly Riot or the big band; it’s pretty much the same reaction. Maybe that tells me something: Maybe they’re coming to see me.

OKG: Is it more fun for you to play on stage with all those people in the big band?

BS: It’s all a little different. I think I was put here just to hear those different things. When I play with the big band, man, and I hear those horn sections, it brings out the musician in me. I love just pointing to the saxophone and saying, ‘Go; take a solo.” I can hear all of this different music — it’s really musical. When I’m out there with the Rockabilly Riot, it’s pretty much all about me. It’s flat-out rock ’n’ roll. It’s a lot more physical. Believe it or not, that’s a lot harder set for me. An hour and 40 minutes of the four-piece and, whew, it kicks my ass.

OKG: In December, you perform three nights at three venues across Oklahoma. What comes to your mind when you think of Oklahoma?

BS: When I hit Oklahoma, it breaks away from the rest of the country. We’re usually coming in from Nashville, let’s say, and Oklahoma has a different feel. I’ve spoken about this with other people. When I’m in Oklahoma, I feel like I’m out West as opposed to a place like Nashville. When I get there, I’m like, “OK; we’re out West now and we’re starting the western part of our tour.” It has a distinct feel, and it definitely feels different from the rest of the country.

OKG: There is somewhat of an ongoing debate here about what region the state belongs to — south, southwest, midwest.

BS: I never knew that. I definitely think West, and I think Western swing, you know? I get that wide-open feeling.

Print Headline: ’Homa for the holidays, The Brian Setzer Orchestra returns to the Sooner State for three shows in three cities over three days.

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