Big Sandy & Fly-Rite Boys set course for fest
Written by David Dupont   
Monday, 02 September 2013 17:51
Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys have been on the right course for 25 years now.
The rockabilly combo is on the road three-quarters of the year, said Robert “Big Sandy” Williams, the band’s founder. But even 25 years after the southern California-based band took off, that travel hasn’t gotten old.
“I get real antsy when we’re home for too long,” Williams said in a recent telephone interview. “I love being out on the road. I like the social aspect, meeting new people and sharing a drink with new friends. I have a lot of old pals out on the road, and I like listening to new bands. Sometimes that’s the only way I get to hear the other bands making the rounds. I love everything about it.”
Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys road schedule brings them back to the Black Swamp Arts Festival, where they last played in 2011, for a Main Stage show Sunday at 2 p.m. followed by a set on the Acoustic Stage at 4 p.m.
Playing at a festival that offers such a mix of musical styles is a pleasure. Often the band plays for crowd already inclined toward the band’s rockabilly and early rock ‘n’ roll style. “I like to be up in front of people who don’t know anything about us, it’s certainly a challenge and a little more rewarding when you can win some of those people over.”
Williams was won over early to music. His parents were big fans with large record collections. The first live show he went to was a Ray Charles concert. At first Williams expressed his love of music as a fan. “I spent all my spare time looking for old records,” he said.
He’d taken a few guitar lessons and knew a few chords.
His first band came about in 1984 when he and a bunch of guys he met at a party convened in a garage to jam. Up to this point Williams had held a variety of jobs, including driving a school bus and working in an animal hospital.
“I kind of stumbled into this music thing,” he said, “and I thought this is what I’m meant to do.”
The Fly-Rite Boys came together several years after that first jam session. When the band put out its first recording, invitations from European festivals started coming in. “That cemented the deal,” Williams said.
Williams is the only member left from those earliest days. Guitarist and mandolinist Ashley Kingman has been with the band for 20 years.
When he brought together Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys he had a clear concept in mind, he said. “I always wanted music that was inspired by music from the past but wanted to do something our own with it, not just copy what came before.”
That was largely rockabilly and early rock, which the band played with a joy and light-heartedness true to the originals, and yet fresh.
“We’ve broadened the scope a little bit,” Williams said. “We still draw from older styles, but the music is drawn from a wider spectrum.”
In particular the band has added Jamaican sounds to the mix.
The band marked its 25th anniversary with the issue of “What a Dream It’s Been” on Cow Island Music. The recording features new, acoustic arrangements of songs from the band’s back catalog.  And it’s quite extensive. Williams said he recently checked the website of the licensing agency BMI and pulled up his songwriting credits. Several pages of his songs popped up, including “a lot of songs I’d forgotten.”
“That’s when I felt the time had passed,” he said.
Williams didn’t want a greatest hits collection. “We wanted to stick with songs that had fallen by the wayside, not our most popular. Songs that were never really staples of our live sets.”
On the band’s website he notes the title track comes from 15 years ago when a couple Fly-Rite stalwarts had decided to leave the band.
“Unsure if I would be able to continue on without them, this song sums up and pays tribute to the wonderful times that we had together.”
As it turned out, new Fly-Rites Boys were enlisted, and the dream has continued.
Last Updated on Monday, 02 September 2013 17:52

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