Roots rockabilly

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys play Rollin’ on the River on July 24 from 5:30-8 p.m. at Wingfield Park, corner of First Street and Arlington Avenue, with openers The Trainwrecks. Free. For more information, visit, or go to and click “N&R Events.”

Back when Big Sandy was little Robert Williams in Orange County, Calif., he would listen to the R&B greats on vinyl and daydream about being the one onstage singing their songs.

He eventually got his chance in high school when he was invited to a house party and asked to sing a few Elvis songs. The band, The Moondawgs, later pulled him aside at their rehearsal and asked him to be their lead singer.

It was the early ’80s, and rockabilly and R&B weren’t what you would call the thing—regardless of the Stray Cats uprising. But Williams knew he had found his calling. “Once I got a taste of it, I knew that this is what was I supposed to do,” he said.

After a few years with the Moondawgs, Williams became Big Sandy and formed Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Trio in 1988. Nearly five years later, they became Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, which now includes Jeff West on bass, Joe Perez on drums and Ashley Jingman on guitar.

For Rollin’ on the River, the band will be playing a line-up of songs of different moods and textures, spanning genres of all American roots music from rockabilly to R&B to Western swing and rock ’n’ roll. Through it all, the purpose of the band’s music is to rekindle the memories of the greats and to showcase the band’s music that’s authentic to their R&B roots, while still injecting their own style and flair.

The band has released more than a dozen albums and singles, but their current single, “Power of the 45-Part 1,” is Big Sandy’s personal homage to the great singles and artists of the ’50s and ’60s.

“To me, I guess a lot of younger people now, they have their CDs or mp3s,” said Big Sandy. “But I have fond memories of growing up with records—with the 45s—and to me, there’s this sort of magic knowing that you put that needle in the groove, and you hear that scratchy sound on the vinyl, and that’s something that really moved me.”

Today Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys have toured across the United States, playing gigs such as the Conan O’Brien Show and the Grand Ole Opry. This February, Big Sandy finally played with one of his great rockabilly influences from his teen years, Sleepy LaBeef in the Rockin’ Race Jamboree in Torremolinos, Spain. The band members, with slicked back hair and vintage steel guitars, continue playing in dive joints and open-air festivals. As a result, they’ve also been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, where Big Sandy joins some of his heroes, like Glen Glenna and Etta James.

Big Sandy’s voice is reminiscent of Buddy Holly with the spirit of Chuck Berry. The Fly-Rite Boys each add their own special sound to the band, sharing their take on their heroes. Although there’s always that looming feeling of remaining true to the gods and goddesses of rock ’n’ roll, the band has come to the realization that, frankly, that’s a bit limiting of a mandate.

“Now, I think the music flows more naturally, and I think it comes from our heart and soul now,” said Big Sandy. “But I think it was a great starting place.”