Flying high

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys play at 6:30 p.m. July 24 at the Wingfield Park Amphitheater.

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys play at 6:30 p.m. July 24 at the Wingfield Park Amphitheater.

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys have toured around the world, but they’re especially excited to come back to Reno.

“We always try to bring an energetic, passionate performance with us wherever we go,” said Robert Williams, otherwise known as Big Sandy. “But there is something about playing outdoors down by the river that lends itself to a rollicking good time.”

As a part of the Fly-Rite Boys, Big Sandy has breathed life back into the kind of malt-shop rock 'n' roll that would do any greaser proud. The band's particular twist on the genre feels at home in the crossroads between Western swing and jump blues, just before they were to eventually merge down to one highway. Instead of the slick-as-a-bowling-alley finish placed on many rockabilly revival acts, the Fly-Rite Boys are masters of the sweatier, grittier atmosphere undoubtedly present in Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash's practice rooms before making it to the big-time.

Jumpy, infectious, and catchy, the music of Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys is made for hopping around and dancing like a fool. With “shoo-wops” and pompadours to spare, prepare to twist and shout your heart out to these veterans of revival roots rock.

The band formed when a group of friends gathered in a garage in 1988 for rehearsal in Anaheim, California. They've traveled thousands of miles and released 14 albums in those 27 years, but haven't lost their hungry edge, still trying to top themselves with each new release and each new gig.

“It can get really rough at times, like when there isn't enough time to get any real rest, or when the van breaks down in the middle of nowhere,” Williams admitted. “But the moment we step on stage, it all feels worth it.”

With his styled hair, his acoustic guitar slung over his back, and his dark suit, Big Sandy has the classic look of the early Western swing/rockabilly heroes, and the stage presence to boot. It's a carefully groomed act that began at an early age, before music became his lifelong career.

“I would tell any aspiring touring musicians to get out and do the work while you're young,” said Williams. “We did a lot of miles of touring for little money when we were younger, laying the groundwork.”

Even young artists could learn a thing or two from Big Sandy's youthful vigor, which is recognizable to crowds of all ages. The Fly-Rite Boys have enjoyed audiences from many different generations; older listeners will recognize the sound of their golden years, and a resurgence of interest in roots and rockabilly music has brought younger people to the dance floor.

The band has also enjoyed national exposure, including television and radio appearances, most notably on Late Night With Conan O' Brien and Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Williams writes all the music for the band these days. Inspiration comes to him when he's on a long drive, or doing chores around the house. Sometimes, songs are inspired by an overheard conversation, or a line from an old movie.

“But I find that my best songs are the ones that seem to materialize out of nowhere,” he said.

Reno holds a special place in the hearts of Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, whose last experience here left a strong impact. They hope to make a similar connection with their audience again.

“We've never made it rich, but we're making a living doing something that we have a passion for,” said Williams. “And for that, I feel blessed.”