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Monday, September 20, 2010
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys at Billy's Lounge Sept 21
Big Sandy occupies a unique space as originator and survivor. The suave doo-wop crooner and debonair rockabilly front-man considers himself lucky to have lived through the swing music revival of fifteen years ago. He knows first-hand the excitement and frenzy of the hipster scene that reigned mighty from the mid-‘90s until the end of the decade. A pre-internet grassroots movement turned cultural happening if there ever was one. According to legend, it was Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys right alongside another instigator of the LA scene--the horn-fueled Royal Crown Revue.
“They were one of the bands that came up with us in the late 80s who started to make noise around town. I know there were quite a few other bands who, more or less, copied their style. Either that or they were heavily influenced by the Revue and wanted to get something going like that for themselves,” said Sandy.
“The Royal Crown Revue kind of created the scene here on the West Coast, in my opinion, as far as the swing thing goes. They started to attract a lot of dancers here in Southern California and up in San Francisco,” says Big Sandy (aka Robert Williams).
At first it was a tiny natural organic embryo of a small snowball.
“How it happened was kind of cool, an underground faction that built on itself. Other people took notice and it began to spread places,” says Sandy sometimes called Big Spanky in certain circles.
“We had our own thing going when swing started to boom. We got booked on shows with RCR, many times advertised as Swing Night. Suddenly the crowds doubled and tripled. Even though we didn’t quite fit into the mold of the time we were able to adapt a little bit to make it work.”
As the phenomenon began to take hold, Sandy found himself on the same bill with RCR at an LA club called the King King.
“The original place was one of the first clubs to actually pay us decent money. We started to bring people in and there were lines around the block. It felt like something was happening there.”
“At the same time up in San Francisco there was a group of guys who started to throw these warehouse parties. That began to attract all kinds of people. Regular kids started showing up in their 40s and 50s clothes. I think it was a big turning point,” notes Sandy.
“We’ve seen different little things come and go. Sometimes we’re able to fit in with them. We’ve tried to carve out something of our own so we’re not completely affected by trends along the way.”
According to Big Sandy today’s LA rockabilly scene remains vital. One of the more recent developments includes the participation of Latino youth.
“On the West coast there are tons of kids still coming into the scene and discovering it for the first time. A lot of them are good musicians who are starting to form bands now,” says Sandy.
“There is a record label out here called Wild Records who is starting to round them up. It reminds you that it’s living and breathing; still an ongoing thing.”
The version of the Fly-Rite Boys appearing at Billy’s on Sept 21 will be minus a seemingly integral part of the western swing sound: a pedal steel guitar.
“We’re back to just a four piece now. We’ve been playing without a steel guitar for about four years,” says Sandy.
Only the best can readily adjust.
“We had two-weeks off from a trip a while ago. Our pedal steel player was Canadian and he went home to Vancouver BC. While there he lost his passport. We had shows coming up and he couldn’t make it back in the states,” explains Sandy.
“We did some shows without him, kind of fumbled our way through that. Then he took his time getting his new passport and we had more and more shows without him.”
“Then it started to fall into place. I kind of liked the way it was feeling,” said Big of the stripped down tougher sound.
“It’s just another phase of the band. We’re kind of back to how we started--a little leaner" sayeth Sandy.
“I like it for now. We’ll see what happens next,” said Sandy with that famous grin.
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys wsg The Rhythm Dogs (GR) and featuring rockabilly DJ Del Villarreal (Ann Arbor) between sets. Doors:8:30 Show:9:00 (Big Sandy on first) $12 (at door) 21+