By Andrew Gilhooley / 411
In the 1950s, the West Coast had its very own rockabilly and country music scene. As the 50s drifted into the 60s and the pop revolution began to happen, however, these styles of music became marginalized. Fans of rockabilly music in California had slim pickings for several years, until there was something of a rockabilly revival in the 1980s. It is at this point that the story of Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys begins.
Big Sandy was born Robert Williams in Orange County, and grew up listening to his parents’ records. His father was into rockabilly and hillbilly music, whereas his mother preferred doo-wop and R&B. In the 80s, Williams began going to local music clubs and hearing the new wave of rockabilly bands. He began singing and playing guitar with local bands the Moondogs and the Gravediggers, but found that the musicians wanted to play music with a more modern sound than the authentic 1950s style that he preferred.
Williams set about forming his own band, dedicated to reproducing the true sounds of rockabilly. By 1998, he had assembled the Fly-Rite trio, and they began seeking out old 78 rpm discs and learning the songs and the licks by heart. Two years later, the band signed to Dionysus Records and recorded their debut album, “Fly Right With…” Comprising a mixture of originals and classic covers, the album was a big hit with rockabilly fans, and was followed by “On the Go” in 1992. The band also became a hot live attraction, noted for their authentic sounds and even their authentic 1950s tour bus.
As the band’s popularity grew, they expanded both their repertoire and their line-up. By 1994, the Fly-Rite Trio had become Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys, gaining two more members, and the music now encompassed Texas Swing, old-time Country and other similar musical styles, as can be seen by the band’s subsequent albums. Big Sandy even recorded a solo album of doo-wop songs in 1998 entitled “Dedicated to You.”
The Fly-Rite Boys’ most recent release is “It’s Time,” which has received glowing reviews from the LA Times and Time Out New York among others. Ever authentic, the band recorded the album at Hollywood’s classic Electro Vox studio using vintage microphones, amplifiers and reverb units. Even the band’s instruments have a 50s vibe; guitarist Ashley Kingman plays a 1957 custom Magnatone and steel guitarist Jimmy Roy plays a 1950s Sho-Bud. Founding member Bobby Trimble on drums and standup bass player Jeff West complete the line-up of the band, who storm through fourteen songs about “longing for the past or daydreaming of something better in the future.”
The album, the band’s first for Yep Roc Records, looks set to gain Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys new fans as well as satisfying long-time aficionados. Their tour stops off at Henflings Firehouse Tavern in Ben Lomond this Friday and looks set to be a sell-out show, so you are advised to buy your tickets early.
First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, June 17, 2004
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