Back in the glorious days of the 50's, the West Coast had a thriving country music and rockabilly scene, headed by artists like Merle Travis and Cliffie Stone. Today the scene is still there, although not on the same scale. Merle and Cliffie have been replaced by guitar whiz Deke Dickerson and Robert Williams. Williams is none other than Big Sandy, leader of the Fly-Rite Boys, a rockin' little outfit who carry their authentic sound across the country. Big Sandy himself is an unassuming man, always smiling and much like a modern day Fats Domino.

Over the years they have given their sound a Western Swing edge, and Sandy even went solo for a doo-wop album. Dedicated disciples of all things fifties, the band even travel on the type of tour bus that Bob Wills would have swung to town in.

The music that Big Sandy has recorded over the years, follows the sounds he heard from his parents hi-fi when he was a kid growing up in Orange County, California. His father listened to rockabilly and hillbilly whilst his mum dug rhythm and blues and doo-wop, both of which also had a healthy west coast history.

In the 80's he started hanging around the local scene and was influenced by the Intveld brothers, James who still plays and Ricky who was tragically killed with Ricky Nelson. Big Sandy's first gigs came as the front man for a little local band, The Moondogs but no records were made. He also picked occasionally with The Gravediggers, but all the bands played in a contemporary style and he wanted a more authentic '50s sound. By 1988 he had the nucleus of the Fly-Rite Trio and in January 1990 he they were recorded by Lee Josephs for his Dionysus Records label. With Wally Hersom, Will B and T.K. Smith they recorded their debut album, On The Go in Hersom's basement. The music was a joyous rocking affair with a couple of covers sitting alongside some great self-written numbers.

What I love about their stuff is the excitement and the happiness on Sandy's voice. It has an infectious quality that gives you the feeling that the band are having a good time themselves.

The years have seen the band grow in stature and they are now one of the most respected bands in the world. Although their music has ventured farther a field than their On The Go rockabilly, they have always maintained the authenticity, whether they're cutting in a rocking or a country vein. The original band split long ago, and the mainstays of most of their albums have been Sandy and Hersom (bass), Ashley Kingman (guitar), Lee Jeffries (steel guitar) and the great drumming of Bobby Trimble.

Recommended Listening:
Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Trio
Fly Right With (Dionysus, 1990)

A real rockabilly classic with no frills, just plain and simple boppers and some sterling covers like Johnny Powers' Rock, Rock and Narvel Felts' Kiss-A-Me Baby. This album laid the foundation for their future, and they've never looked back. An inspiring debut.

Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Trio
On The Go (Jeems, 1992)

More of the same with some great rockers like Draggen-It Boogie and Hi-Billy Music (perhaps the best way to describe their sound!) and Thru Dreamin'. The 2002 reissue included the dozen songs of the original release together with four bonus cuts including an early take on boppin' hillbilly neo-classic, Jake's Barbershop. Thoroughly recommended release.

Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Boys
Jumping From 6 to 6 (Hightone 1994)

To me this is the master album, the biggest canon in their considerable arsenal. The rockabilly songs intertwine beautifully with some hot hillbilly numbers, virtually all of it written by Sandy himself. Producer Dave Alvin captures the bands skill and virtuosity perfectly. I just love the fun-time tracks like Different Girl, Honky Tonk Queen and Lookin' For A Love Me Gal. Even better is the cover of Hank Williams' Weary Blues From Waitin'. A brilliant album - if you only ever buy one Big Sandy record, make it this one.

Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Boys
Swingin' West (Hightone 1995)

Again produced by Dave Alvin, the intensity of the previous album has gone, but the players are given more room to stretch out. There's a significant change to the sound as they move towards a rockin' western swing. Listen to My Sinful Days Are Over for an example of all this - it's a classic with hot guitars (lead and steel), great vocals and some superb drumming from Trimble, which echoes the skin playing on the best Capitol hillbilly of the 50's.

Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Boys
Feelin' Kinda Lucky (Hightone, 1997)

This album saw the band further mould their distinguishable sound that no-one else was really doing. The album was self produced and except for one track was self written as well. What's It To Ya? showed the boys could still rock, whilst Backdoor Dan showed he hadn't forgotten the sounds of his mum's r'n'b singles. Best song is the opener, The Loser's Blues where everyone is on top form, none more so than Big Sandy, whose vocals are a real joy.

Big Sandy
Dedicated To You (Hightone, 1998)

A labour of love, this album saw Big Sandy without the Fly-Rite Boys as he tackled an album of doo-wop covers. It's a great album that sees him working with Dewey Terry (Don & Dewey), Vicky Tafoya and the wonderful Calvanes. Choosing West Coast doo-wop to cover was an inspired decision and well chosen covers they were too. Rightfully ignoring biggies like Earth Angel, instead he tackled lessor known classics like Lonely Guy (The Gallahads), Pretty Girls Everywhere (Eugene Church), Death Of An Angel (Donald Woods), Guided Missiles (The Cufflinks) and Queen Of My Heart (Rene and Ray). The Calvanes sound as great and professional as they did at Hemsby and Big Sandy is totally convincing as a doo-wop lead - brilliant work and a special nod goes to Hightone for having the balls and faith to allow such a bold release.

Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Boys
Night Tide" (HighTone, 2000)

The sound on this album is full of life and is one of their strongest sets to date. Produced by label head Bruce Bromberg, it's more in-your-face than Feelin' Kinda Lucky and the songs are stronger. The album saw Jeff West take over double bass duties, and he wrote Give Your Loving To Me, one of the albums best songs along with the title track and Between Darkness and Dawn. Hey Lowdown is a road-burner for old times sake, and great it is too.

Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Boys
It's Time! (Yep Roc, 2003)

Haven't heard it yet, but I hear tell it's a real dandy. One day I'll let you know.

As well as the above there's a couple of other albums that you might want to seek out, like Big Sandy Presents The Fly-Rite Boys and Radio Favourites. This winter he's been working with The Lonely Blue Boys and Li'l Esther and her Tinstars, as well as doing some writing for the next Fly-Rite project.

2004/2005 will see them play the big American festivals (including Green Bay), as well as a couple of European Tours. This spring also see them play some west coast shows with BR549. The good news from this is that Big Sandy is still hungry for the road and you should be able to catch up with him and the boys somewhere down the line.

Shaun Mather
March 2004

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