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Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys

Photo by Dave Harrison In the beginning, Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys were a band half their present size with half their present musical diversity.

In the early days they specialized in reproducing that old roots-of-rock sound, recalls Sandy. They practically played the scratches off those old rockabilly records, they were so reverent. Over the last nine years the band and their repertoire has expanded. They still have a late '40s, early 50s vibe, but are now confidently original, doing what the hot small bands did then, blending country, Western swing and R&B to come up with a signature sound.

Sandy's singing is central to the band's style. It's a sweet, soft voice in conversation. When singing, he works in various styles, from country to Western swing smoothies to jump-blues shouters and loudmouth rockabillies.

The steel and electric guitar players, Lee Jeffriess and Ashley Kingman, make the Fly-Rite Boys' sound. Their specialty is playing off each other in a way that some compare to Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant. If you've followed the Boys this far, don't miss this show, when their new boogie/barrelhouse/stride piano player, Sonny Leyland, makes his area debut.

While Big Sandy's sound is quintessentially American, it's interesting to note that those three are from the UK.

"Originally I was opposed to [hiring the Brits]," says Sandy, who grew up in Orange County, CA. "I felt, this is American music!" But his heart softened when he finally found somebody who could recreate that Speedy West steel guitar sting. In touring, the Boys found that in Europe there is an even bigger, more enthusiastic audience for the music of their favorite era than here. The British folks learned the music the same way Sandy did, ferreting out old discs and then learning them by heart.

"I was lucky enough to be raised in a household that had a lot of old records," says the 32-year-old Sandy. His dad had country and Western swing, mom had R&B and doowop.

Sandy is stubborn in his concept of how the band's ever evolving sound should be presented. The HighTone CD, Feelin' Kinda Lucky, has the band's live sound, exactly as you'll hear it in concert, less the new piano player. Sandy is confident that the band has no flaws needing to be buried in the studio. He's also confident that the band generates energy, "but not the fake way, by cranking up the volume." He knows he's got the music that makes people stop and listen, and best of all, get up and dance.

-- Mary Armstrong - 07/17/97

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys have amassed a loyal national following doing what some have thought impossible - injecting a shot of glamour into Western style. They blend Western swing that lifts skirts thigh-high, jump boogie that sets feet twitching, and rockabilly riffs to complement six-inch denim cuffs on vintage Wranglers.

When Sandy and the Boys play the Five Spot this Wednesday, look for them to emphasize songs from their two recent releases, Big Sandy presents His Fly-Rite Boys and Dedicated to You. The first, released in May, showcases the songwriting talents and musical chops of the Fly-Rite ensemble, with Big Sandy stepping aside, gentleman-like, to share the spotlight. Dedicated to You is all Big Sandy, crooning in the R&B and doowop styles of the early '50s. Sandy and the Boys' performances are something of a rabble-rousing, floor-stomping, wall-trembling romp. There's always an undeniable bass line groove to dip into, a tinkling piano and the unmistakable twang of steel guitar to loop around melting cocktails. Have no fear of a lackluster time - their sets usually whip an audience into such a tizzy the walls sweat.

-Elva Ramirez - 08/27/98

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