Rockabilly is derived from a time when ladies were ladies, gentleman wore sweaters and pomped up their hair, cars were massive, and leaving the house without putting lipstick on was unheard of. It is American nostalgia at it’s finest. In this whirlwind of culture you will find Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys. With their Rockabilly Roots and Western Swing twang, they will have you twirling and rock stepping in no time.
Big Sandy, born Robert Williams, formed the band in 1988. With the knowledge that there were a couple of other Robert Williams on the scene, a stage name was necessary. The original bass player, Wally, suggested Sandy based on the simple fact that Robert wore an old work jacket with a name patch that read “Sandy” on it. They became Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys and have now been playing together for nearly 25 years. When I asked Big Sandy how he connected with the Fly-Rite Boys he responded with, “We were all friends on the LA/OC music scene. A couple of us had been in other rockabilly bands before. With this new band, we wanted to try to form a more traditional rockabilly outfit. So many of the band’s within that genre in the 80’s had a more contemporary approach to the music. We wanted to set ourselves apart from the pack.”
While plenty of bands in the rockabilly world have come and gone, Sandy and his Fly-Rites have been a solid fixture for quite some time. The Fly-Rite Boys consist of Ashley Kingman on guitar, Kevin Stewart on bass and Joe Perez on the drums. Sandy says, “Over the years a few of the players have changed over, but I’ve never had to look very far for a replacement. There’s always been a great network of bands and friends around me that I’ve been able to draw from, and for that I feel that I’ve been very fortunate.”
If you have never seen these boys live you are really missing something fantastic. They attract some very fancy footwork to their shows. Girls come in dresses that are made for twirling. West Coast Swing is necessary and even a little Lindy Hop slides in. With all that time spent on stage, I had to ask Big Sandy, can you dance? “Well, not really! I’ve been known to get out on the dance floor after a few drinks… but I wouldn’t call myself a dancer by any means! I’d like to learn, though! Lessons, anybody?”
They have released album after album, each one unique, and a complete success. Jumping from 6 to 6 will have you dancing your ass off in no time, while Night Tide sends you into a honky tonk trance. Big Sandy’s solo album Dedicated to You has the perfect balance of country mixed with doo-wop . Truthfully every album has its own twist, but you still find the heart of the bands roots implanted into every song. Their last album,Turntable Matinee, was released 6 years ago. Big Sandy describes it as, “…a bit of a departure for us…I think we were feeling a bit more experimental and musically adventurous.”
Their new record has just been completed and plans to release at the beginning of the year. Elements of Jazz, Country, Soul, Rocksteady and Rock & Roll are “woven throughout the album.” Sandy describes it as,”…a completely different approach. It’s an all acoustic album, with quite a few different things going on rhythmically.” After a lot of consideration, time and planning they are ready. “We went through our entire catalogue of songs, everything we’ve done over the last twenty-something years…we are really excited about what we’ve come up with.”
The show this past Saturday at The Townhouse was all that could be expected from the band. After an outstanding opening from Sacramento’s own Twilight Drifters, a warmed up audience happily hit the dance floor. The ladies crowded around the front of the stage blushing over Sandy’s songs and bringing him drinks throughout the show. Ashley’s guitar playing was phenomenal. I am not sure if there could have been a more enthusiastic bass player and the brush work on the drums was perfect for all the swaying hips that filled the room.
They band played old favorites and some of their new album. A Christmas song or two was thrown into the mix and one lucky lady even had the band serenade her with a birthday song. After nearly an hour and a half of playing Sandy said goodnight, the band waved and they ducked into the darkness. It didn’t take too much for an encore, the guys happily returned to the stage to end the night with an all-time favorite, Jumping from 6 to 6.
It is no wonder why Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys have been so successful. Not only will you find that they are exploding with talent, they are personable. They interact with the fans while on stage, taking requests throughout the show, making jokes and flirting with the girls. Once the show was over they didn’t rush out of the venue like so many bands do. They waited on cleaning up and stuck around to hang with everyone. It is rare that you meet such a sweet man as Robert Williams. He was genuinely happy to talk with every fan, and to take a photo with every girl who eagerly requested one. He put it quite simply, ” To me, it is still as exciting to perform as it was the very first time we stepped on stage. It’s truly a passion for me — for all of us, really, and I can’t imagine not doing it.”
If you missed your chance seeing Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys play at The Townhouse, you may still be in luck.The band will be playing in Grassvalley New Year’s Eve at The Vet’s Hall. For more information on the band or on the upcoming show visit www.bigsandy.net