Downtown music

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June 6, 2005 // UPDATED 1:55 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Holly Day
Holly Day

Retro is rite

Over the past decade, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys have released some of the sweetest sounding retro music this side of Buddy Holly, incorporating rockabilly, folk, bluegrass, Western swing, Cajun and mariachi music into their repertoire.

Big Sandy, a.k.a Robert Williams, has a gentle, sincere croon and the lyrics to such songs as "Love Debut" and "How Did You Love Someone Like Me?" are so heartfelt and humble that any girl'd be tickled to find them written in a valentine.

"I came from a family of music lovers, and I grew up in a house full of old records," Big Sandy said of his musical beginnings. "My grandfather was a musician, way back, but I never knew him. They tell me he was a fantastic musician. My grandmother used to have a lot of stories about him. So that may have passed down to me through the bloodline."

Inspired by the rockabilly revival of the early 1980s, he began to perform with a variety of neo-rockabilly bands in Southern California, until he and friends Wally Herson and Bobby Trimble formed Big Sandy & Fly-Rite Boys.

"When this all got started like, in '88, we were looking for a name," Big Sandy said. "We wanted to put someone's name up front, but there had already been a couple of well-known Robert Williams, so we thought it'd be better for me to use some sort of made-up stage name. I liked to wear this jacket, an old mechanic's jacket from the '50s, that had a little name patch on it that said 'Sandy,' so Wally suggested the name 'Big Sandy.'"

He added, "There's a little bit of a story behind the jacket itself. It was given to me by my uncle Santiago, and he worked as a mechanic when he was a teenager, and the boss told him his name was too long to fit on a patch, so he said he'd shorten it to 'Santy.' And when the jacket came from the shop, it was misspelled at 'Sandy.' So people started calling him that. My cousin got the jacket, and when he was giving me some of his old clothes, the jacket was in that pile. So that's the whole Sandy connection."

Along with performing beautiful, old-timey music, The Fly-Rite Boys, currently consisting of Bobby Trimble on drums, Jeff West on bass, and Ashley Kingman and Jimmy Roy on guitars, perform on a series of beautiful, old-timey and custom instruments. Kingman's guitar is a 1957 custom Magnatone solid body designed by the legendary Paul Bigsby, while Roy's steel guitar is Sho-Bud serial number 2 that used to be own by 1950s guitarist Ben Keith. For their last record, "It's Time," the band chose to record in the former Electro Vox Studio in Hollywood, now called "Joey's Place."

"Some of our instruments are old, but some of them just look old because they're falling apart," laughed Big Sandy when I complimented his ensemble's choice in instruments. "A lot of the instrument companies are reusing their older styles, so the instruments are actually brand new, but they have an older look. There are things we have that are, like I said, they have an older look, but actually are things we bought pretty recently."

Throughout their existence, Big Sandy and his Boys have maintained a pretty hectic schedule, touring almost nonstop during the warm parts of the year, packed into a small tour van like those fish you put on pizzas.

"It seems like when we are home, it's just for such small periods of time that we don't really have time to get back in synch with things, you know?" Big Sandy said. "Just when you're beginning to catch up with all the business at home, it's time to leave again."

He paused, then continued thoughtfully, "I'm not sure what the numbers add up to, what percentage of the year we're away, what percentage we're home. I think we're out on the road about three-quarters of the year."

Wisely, Big Sandy & the FRB spend their winters close to home, safe in the OC. "We usually do a couple of tours up and down the West Coast in the winter," he said. "We quit going anywhere else around Thanksgiving. We've broken down in the snow too many times to go through the Midwest in the winter.

"I don't know what our booking agent is thinking sometimes because sometimes he tries to send us out there in the middle of winter. I remember being in Minnesota one winter, where it was physically painful walking down the street. You know, my head just hurt so bad, you know, with the wind whipping up my coat? Man, it felt like my face was going to break! It's character-building, though, right?"

- W June 8, 9:30 p.m.Lee's Liquor Lounge, 101 Glenwood Ave.$8. 338-9491,