Anaheim, Calif., based Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys have a greater command of classic '40s and '50s sounds than any of the current crop of retro-swing and rockabilly bands cruising across the U.S. in Econoline vans. Instead of copping the same sounds and riffs of musicians that defined the Western-swing genre, Big Sandy and company recreate styles they have a passion for, while moving toward what many fans perceive as a historically based sound all their own.
"It started out in '88 as a straight rockabilly band," says Sandy (born Robert Williams) of his band, first known as Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Trio. "In '91 other influences started creeping into the music, like country, honky-tonk, Western swing and stuff that we'd always listened to but never really had a chance to incorporate into what we were playing. I started digging around to find out what kind of music -- country, bluegrass, blues, jazz -- that led up to being rock & roll."
Several members of what would become Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys came from across the Atlantic. Lead guitarist Ashley Kingman, steel guitarist Lee Jeffriess and pianist Carl "Sonny" Leland all hail from England, while Californians Sandy, Wally Hersom on bass fiddle and Bobby Trimble on drums are the Yanks. "There was just a series of chance events that brought us together," says Sandy. "If someone had told me that eventually I'd end up with three Englishmen in my band, I'd have laughed at them."
Jeffriess was playing upright bass for boogie-woogie aficionado Trimble in the pre-Fly-Rite days. "Lee mentioned he played steel guitar, so we got together and jammed at a friend's house the next day," explains Sandy. "He ended up leaving Carl's band to join us. It's kind of funny, 'cause now Carl is in our band, too." Kingman caught a show in Los Angeles. After hearing about the departure of the original guitarist he got in touch with the band and asked to join.
With a number of records on the Hightone label behind them -- the most recent being 1997's "Feelin' Kinda Lucky" -- Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite boys are currently trolling for interest from a major label while on tour throughout the South. The Fly-Rite Boys recently released a "solo" record of mostly instrumental tracks called "Big Sandy Presents the Fly-Rite Boys," and Sandy plans to release his own doo-wop and R&B record in July.
Despite their efforts to stretch out, the future of Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys remains bright. "People have asked me what the future holds for the band, with the solo record for the band and my solo record," says Sandy. "Things are still going strong. There will still be a Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys and we're excited to pursue that. I just want to assure people that everything is cool."