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It's time for Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys

By Jon Johnson, July 2003

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Interestingly, Williams says that at one point while on HighTone the band had been courted by Sire Records, a label which had a unique history of signing interesting country acts but not being quite sure what to do with them once they had them under contract. In the case of Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys, Sire wanted to release an album of Bob Wills covers, an idea which the band wasn't terribly keen on.

"We'd met with them a few times; one time in New York and another time in L.A. We started to get a funny feeling about it because (they had) some concepts for our first record, and that was one of them. It didn't seem like that was a good idea, particularly for a first album with a label. I don't think they knew exactly what we were about as a band."

In April, Williams performed a rare solo show at the annual Viva Las Vegas rockabilly festival, where he regularly also acts as one of the festival's three emcees. Backed by L.A. doo-wop trio the Lonely Blue Boys, Williams performed a set of material primarily derived from his 1998 solo album "Dedicated to You."

"It was great. I was really surprised by the response we got. It's not something I do all the time, though it's something I'm starting to do a little more often. I recorded the 'Dedicated to You' album a few years back and never really got a chance to perform that material. It's only been in the last year that I've gotten together with the Lonely Blue Boys."

In late April, Williams traveled to New Orleans' Ponderosa Stomp roots music festival where he was coaxed onstage with two of Elvis Presley's original sidemen to perform a few numbers.

"The setting was so much different than Viva Las Vegas; just regular people there soaking up the music. I had just gone there to hang out, (but) I got called up on stage, and I found myself up there with Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana. Paul Burlison was up onstage, too. It was dreamlike. I still feel like I'm a fan more than anything else, and to say those guys are legends is an understatement. We did 'That's Alright, Mama,' 'My Baby Left Me' and 'Lonesome Train.' To be backed up by Scotty and D.J. and singing Elvis songs is pretty mindblowing."

In contrast to many performers who never look past the usual album/tour/album/tour cycle, Williams comes across as someone with the mind of a chess player - thinking six moves ahead and bristling with ideas and projects for the future.

One idea which Williams is currently mulling over is the concept of a tour including all of his past and present bandmates from the Fly-Rite Trio of the late '80s and early '90s to the Fly-Rite Boys of the present day, which also includes longtime guitarist Ashley Kingman, drummer Bobby Trimble (the only remaining member from Williams' Fly-Rite Trio days), bassist Jeff West and steel guitarist Jimmy Roy, a British-born musician best known for his previous work with Ray Condo's Ricochets.

Williams took a small step towards this idea last year when he reunited the original Fly-Rite Trio - himself, Trimble, Hersom and guitarist T.K. Smith - for a performance at the Green Bay rockabilly festival.

"It was a little funny going back to it. It was sort of a messy situation at the time. When T.K. left, he kind of left us hanging. It took me a little while to feel comfortable with being back together. It kind of felt like rehashing stuff we'd done before. There's a lot of people who used to come out to shows who don't really come out anymore. And now when I run into them around town they say, 'C'mon man, you've gotta do that Fly-Rite Trio stuff again.' And I was reading some of the things Phil Alvin had said about the Blasters reunion - he didn't want to turn his back on the guys who are with him now."

"But I think now I feel okay with going back. I can have fun with it now. I think we've grown since then. When we were up there on stage it felt great. And we've reincorporated some of those songs back into our current lineup. Lately I've been thinking about doing a package show of all of the material that I've done with all of the different players we've had in the band."

"I (also) have an idea for a garage/soul kind of (band). Our drummer Bobby and I have been talking about doing a trashy kind of soul band. There's other things. For instance, a singer/songwriter sort of thing. Maybe focus on the songwriting a little more than we have been."

Williams is currently planning on doing some writing with former Bellfuries leader Joey Simeone, who left Texas for California following that band's breakup last year. During their brief existence the Bellfuries had developed a dedicated following owing to Simeone's remarkable vocals and songwriting, which brought a melodicism to rockabilly that it had rarely seen since the heyday of the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. Combined with Williams' own clever writing it could well be an unbeatable combination.

"I'm so turned on by what he's done in taking rockabilly to a different place. I'm hoping that hanging out with him will rub off on me a little bit. I had a long conversation with him last night. I guess he's been listening to our stuff for a while and - it's kind of funny - I guess we're sort of feeding off each other right now."

"He knows all these other chords that I haven't even thought of."

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