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PostSubject: Brian Setzer   Brian Setzer Icon_minitimeSun Aug 01, 2021 5:52 pm

Brian Setzer Image

I have a long way to go in my efforts to be anti-racist. No longer supporting  those who endorse white supremacy is a start.

I was a Brian Setzer superfan for many years. I ignored Setzer's career-long love for the confederacy and the confederate flag, and the fact that he wore a Nazi swastika pin in a 1981 photoshoot where the photographer noted, "We wrapped this session early and went to the Roxy to see Muddy Waters." (Sources below.)  That some of the offensive imagery was later photoshopped or buried or quietly dropped made it easier to ignore. In '81 Setzer was just a dumb 22-year-old sporting biker fashion, right? The confederate flag tattooed on his arm is just about "rebellious spirit" to him, right?

Then Setzer made racist comments about the blues while promoting his new album in 2014: "Rockabilly music should be up there in regards with blues music. It should be playing in arenas. And, I think, it’s better than the blues because it has a style to it, it has accomplished musicians playing it and it’s totally American. So I think it’s very underrated music that should be more in the forefront of our culture." The implications are that blues has no style, that accomplished musicians don't play blues, that blues isn't American, and that historically Black music shouldn't be in the forefront of our culture.

In January 2021, in a very long and contentious Facebook thread,  Setzer's bass player John Hatton, Setzer's wife, Julie Reiten-Setzer, and Setzer's good friend Lisa Preston (wife of Dibbs Preston, co-writer of two songs on Setzer's upcoming record), supported Donald Trump and defended the Big Lie about election fraud.

I don't know how Brian Setzer feels about Donald Trump. But I do know we are in an urgent time in history. Fascism cannot be accepted. Racism, and symbols of Nazism and the confederacy, cannot be tolerated. We have a responsibility to do better.

I have sold my Brian Setzer Signature Gretsch guitar and Setzer memorabilia. Proceeds will be donated to non-profit organizations that support struggling musicians, and the voices of people of color. I welcome suggestions of 501(c)(3) organizations doing good work and making good trouble.

I am grateful to Mercy Morganfield, daughter of Muddy Waters, whose words about racism are what finally made me take a hard look at my own actions and allegiances. It is long overdue.

I encourage all aspiring anti-racists allies to listen to Black people and people of color,  and to examine their own allegiances. Sources and resources follow.


Nazi swastika pin:

https://rockpaperphoto.com/products/brian-setzer-of-the-stray-cats-hollywood-1981 - the watermark didn't cover the swastika, and the price for a print of the image was $50 less, when I first grabbed a screenshot of this page in February 2021. Note the Muddy Waters story.

Confederate uniform:

Confederate flag:
Tattoo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnreillyphoto/2910956199/sizes/h/

http://www.rockabillyhall.com/PhilShaun.html#setzersun - Setzer wears his band t-shirt bearing the confederate flag. A bandana later replaced the flag on merchandise, as partially shown in the photo on this post, which I took on September 6, 2009.

Blues music: Guitarworld magazine, May 19, 2014: https://www.guitarworld.com/features/brian-setzer-discusses-his-new-album-rockabilly-riot-all-original

Time magazine, June 24, 2014: https://time.com/2913709/brian-setzer-premiere-lets-shake/

John Hatton, Julie Reiten-Setzer and Lisa Harris-Preston: https://imgur.com/a/hdvWLkP


Anti-racist resources:

So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo: https://smile.amazon.com/You-Want-Talk-About-Race/dp/1580058825/

How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi: https://smile.amazon.com/How-Be-Antiracist-Ibram-Kendi-ebook/dp/B07D2364N5/

White Fragility, Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism - Robin DiAngelo: https://smile.amazon.com/White-Fragility-audiobook/dp/B07D6XQQRY
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PostSubject: Re: Brian Setzer   Brian Setzer Icon_minitimeMon Aug 02, 2021 2:32 pm

I applaud the courage of your convictions.  There's no question this was a difficult decision to make.  And yet, you have a clear vision for doing so.

I've tried for years not to put Brian Setzer on too high a pedestal.  He is a human being, with flaws.  I don't know him personally, so I've tried to separate the art from the artist a long time ago.  But I enjoy his music.

We've discussed before the Confederate Flag as an iconic symbol in rockabilly music.  While that should be a huge warning sign of racism in the genre, I wonder if most of the people using it chose not to examine it as a symbol of hatred.  There's no question it is, and always has been.  But I don't think most people in the 70s and 80s rockabilly revival, punk, Southern Rock, and even Country music genres intended this when they used it.  Of course, there's no way for me to know what's in the hearts of the people using it, but I suspect many weren't racist in their intentions.  I've seen several examples of the Stray Cats onstage with the Stars and Bars, and the Confederate jacket photo from what seems to be 1980 is certainly regrettable, although when I first saw that photo years ago, I thought "Adam & the Ants" before I thought "Confederacy."  I truly believe the Confederate Flag was widely used in multiple music genres and in pop culture, often without consideration of the larger implications.  Even with the tattoo, I'm not willing to write off Brian Setzer as overtly racist over it.  And I don't know how much direction artist Vince Ray was given when creating the Nashvillains logo in 2005, but certainly Brian signed off on the bandana for the final design, and I remember cringing when I saw it.  I do know at the time that flag was all over the European rockabilly scene, and much less so in the US.  And when discussed, it was largely international fans who came to its defense.  I know 2005 really wasn't all that long ago, but if you look at what has happened in the last 5-6 years in terms of societal change, it might as well have been 60 years ago.  To his credit (or management's covering his ass) that part of the logo was gone before the end of the year.  If Brian were to embrace the flag at any point after this, I would have been done. The embracing of the iconography is disappointing.  But even you have said you have revised your views on the Confederate Flag in 2021.  What were they in 2005?

I've considered the interview where Brian bashes the blues, and I just don't see it as racist as much as sour grapes about how popular blues music has become in contrast with rockabilly music.  I do not agree with just about anything he says here, unless by "style," he means the scene of enthusiasts he bashed in "Rockabilly Riot."  If he's talking musically, then I would argue there are some great musicians in the blues scene, just as there are some three-chord hacks in rockabilly.  Some have argued that Setzer's guitar pyrotechnics don't belong in rockabilly.  If he's truly confused as to the lack of mainstream popularity in rockabilly music, he could revisit the frame of mind he had when he wrote "Really Rockabilly."  The infighting, the lack of versatility, the lack of diversity... take your pick.  I think Brian just saw Blues filling arenas, festivals, cruise ships, and was jealous rockabilly did not have as high a profile.  I do not agree with your assessment of Setzer's words here.

The swastika pin is tough for me to reconcile.  There's no "rebel spirit" mistaken identity on this one.  I do remember punks circa 1978 occasionally wearing a swastika as a point of shocking and pissing off the establishment.  Searching for "what would be the most offensive thing I could display to rebel against society?" I can think of nothing that would explain or justify this wardrobe choice.  I would hope if someone asked Brian about this he would express nothing but sincere regret for that choice.  Outside of this one 1981 photoshoot, I've never seen that pin on Setzer, ever.  But it doesn't change the fact that at one time he thought it was a good idea to wear it.

There's a saying, "You are who you run with."  It means that the company you keep says a lot about who you are. It is a disappointment to see anyone buy into the "Stop the Steal" nonsense.  I don't know why I would have thought Spazz was above that.  It's hard not to imagine Brian would be on board with the views of his wife and his friend's wife.  Even now, I try not to view people who I know voted for Donald Trump as the worst possible caricature of a QAnon follower.  I've never mistaken Brian Setzer for Bruce Springsteen in terms of social awareness.  But this is disappointing to read.

I've been aware of Mercy Morganfield and her work.  I believe the last time I read about her she had called out Kenny Wayne Shepherd for proudly displaying his "General Lee" replica car, complete with a Confederate Flag on the roof.  He was to receive a "blues-rock" award and she called into question his worthiness of the award for choosing, in 2021, to display a symbol of racism on social media.  My White privilege didn't permit me to see it that way at first, as "The Dukes of Hazard" was a fixture on television when I was in Jr. High.  I get that the car was as iconic as a TV car can be, second possibly only to the Batmobile from the 1966 TV series, but I also get that its time as an icon had passed, or perhaps never should have been.  But I also don't think Kenny Wayne Shepherd thought he was flaunting a symbol of racism, either.  And that's certainly part of the problem.  The "not seeing" it.  It's part of the difference between being "not racist" and an "anti-racist."  I need to work on that.

You make a very strong argument for your position.  I understand it, and admire it.  For some of us who won't swear off Setzer yet, I still believe your words have made an impact.  

People less invested in Setzer as a fan will probably scream at me "SWATISKA!"  "CONFEDERATE FLAG!" "CONSERVATIVE WIFE AND FRIENDS!"  "WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED???"  

Honestly, I don't know.  There may come a day when listening to his music will create a visceral reaction that turns my stomach.  But I'm not quite there yet.  If I do get there, know that you will have played a big role in that journey.  Your decision didn't happen overnight.  Neither will mine.

Last edited by Rickabilly on Mon Aug 02, 2021 3:13 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Clarification on Springsteen comparison)
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PostSubject: Re: Brian Setzer   Brian Setzer Icon_minitimeTue Aug 03, 2021 9:48 am

In the interest of timesaving I'm cross posting my reply to my Facebook thread:


I had a crush on Brian Setzer from the moment I saw him on MTV when I was nine years old in 1983. I saw him perform over 30 times in 4 countries. I met him and spent time with him probably a dozen times. I interviewed him on my radio show in 1998. A photograph I took is the back cover of Setzer's 2009 album. I did photography for John Hatton's solo record, and for an upright bass endorsement. I became acquainted with and have been shown incredible kindness by many of Setzer's road crew, folks at his label, musicians who play or played with him, not to mention all the friends I made because of our shared Setzer fandom. Brian Setzer introduced me to nearly all of the music that I'm passionate about today. Setzer's covers of The Nat King Cole Trio, Etta James, Wynonie Harris, Roy Montrell, Tarheel Slim and The Wheels and many others are why I fell in love with original blues and rhythm and blues. (That Setzer was influenced by and covered all this early Black music does not make him not a racist. My love for this music also does not make me not a racist.)

Brian Setzer quite literally changed my entire life.

Jan (a member here at the HDVDL), we have known each other since we met at a Brian Setzer Orchestra show in, what, 1995?! My friendship with you, as well as a few other dear friends, are some of the best things to come out of my love of Setzer. I am so grateful to know you. You and I have in common at least one Setzer friendship that has ended over these issues, as you've mentioned. After this post, I imagine others will end too. All of this is incredibly personally painful.

The situation in this country is painful - and dire. If you've mistakenly carried symbols of hate in the past and see those same symbols used by Trump supporting white supremacists as they murdered a woman in Charlottesville in honor of the confederacy, and attempted a coup in Washington DC to topple our democracy, you have a responsibility to publicly renounce the symbols and the people - unless you agree with them.

Your silence is approval.

Republicans are doing their damnedest to continue the fascist global far right power grab, as my friend Brooke Binkowski calls it, that Trump accelerated during his presidency. If we don't recognize how dangerous all of this is and speak out and actively work against it, it will destroy us.


Rick, read the blues quote again. Break it down into its individual parts.

Rockabilly is better than the blues because rockabilly has a style to it. And blues doesn't.

Rockabilly is better than the blues because rockabilly has accomplished musicians playing it. And blues doesn't.

Rockabilly is better than the blues because it because rockabilly is totally American. And blues isn't.

Rockabilly is better than the blues. It should be more in the forefront of our culture. And blues shouldn't.

Because of Brian Setzer and the Dukes of Hazzard, I too thought of the confederate flag as just a rebel/outlaw thing.

You should become disabused of that notion when you start actually listening to the people most harmed by the flag and what it actually represents.

If you don't, what kind of person are you?
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PostSubject: Re: Brian Setzer   Brian Setzer Icon_minitimeTue Aug 03, 2021 3:04 pm

If I didn't make it clear before, I abhor the Confederate Flag, and maintain its sole use now is to spread hate and racism.  I was attempting to explain how I feel that many of its past uses, and possibly even in Setzer's case, it was used recklessly and thoughtlessly without overt racist intent.  That does not excuse it, but I still believe context matters when damning its use.  Call it out, but before you attack those who used it in the past, be sure of their intent.  By 2021, everyone should know better, and its use in any form is inexcusable.  I see it now.  I didn't see it 40 years ago.

I get critical of some blues music.  But is it necessarily a racial criticism, when such a large amount of today's blues artists are white?  I'm not a fan of Joe Bonamassa, for example, although I recognize he's an extraordinary talent.  He is perhaps one of the biggest names on the blues scene.  The late James Harman, Elvin Bishop, Mike Zito, Chris Duarte, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Carolyn Wonderland, the late Candye Kane, the Allman Brothers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Thackery, Jimmie Vaughan, Kim Wilson, William Clarke. Eric Clapton... they are not people of color.  Clapton himself also been called out for his racist history.  I think the Blues is a very diverse genre.  Far more diverse than rockabilly.  Is it possible that Setzer, in his criticism of the genre, is not specifically speaking to race?  

I agree with almost nothing he says, other than rockabilly music is under the radar and not nearly as popular as the blues.  In my opinion, he is making the case (albeit poorly) that rockabilly music should be as popular as the blues.  He thinks it is better, which is subjective, and not a statement of fact.  He's also promoting an album called "Rockabilly Riot" in the interview, and I'm sure he was asked numerous times by music writers to define or explain rockabilly and why he likes it.  He is also giving an off-the-cuff response to an interviewer (unless you think he wrote out his responses, which is possible).  It was a couple of sentences.  It was not an essay.  In it, he does a poor job of explaining why he thinks its better.  For example, I don't know what he means by the rockabilly being "more American."  Especially when its fan base is much larger outside the United States.  To break it down is to give it more weight than it deserves, in my opinion.    You clearly feel strongly otherwise.  I respect that.

I will allow for the interpretation that the comments about the blues could be racist.  I cannot say with 100% certainty they are.  That the case can be made for a racist interpretation speaks to the recklessness of the words.  I would love for Setzer to hold enough relevance to be asked in greater detail about it.  Who knows?  With the timing of your announcement synching up with his new album release, maybe someone will catch wind of this and hold his feet to the fire on the issue.  I would love to get his perspective on the the use of Confederate iconography in rockabilly, and allow him to clarify what he means about why he likes rockabilly better than the blues.  And see him have a real conversation about it.  

I believe people can find the racism in almost anything if they are looking for it.  It doesn't mean it isn't there, but I think it is important to find out how deep-seeded the racial biases are.  Racism doesn't always stem from hatred.  Sometimes it's ignorance.  In that case, a conversation can prompt reflection and effect change.  Since none of us have that connection to Brian personally, the only thing we can do is act on our own behalf.  Do what we feel is right for us.  Given how so deeply invested you have been as a fan of his music, it makes perfect sense to exorcise Setzer from your life.  You can't be "all in" in your support of the man and reconcile it with your beliefs.   You haven't completely convinced me to follow suit, but you have given me a lot to think about and in doing so, sown the seeds of change.  It can only be to my benefit as a person.  Thank you.

Last edited by Rickabilly on Wed Aug 04, 2021 8:48 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : "sewn" vs "sown")
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