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Big Sandy spins a turntable matinee

By Ken Burke, July 2006

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Eventually, HighTone was forced to scale back operations, and Big Sandy joined several former label mates at Yep Roc. "Well, we were kind of shopping around and Glen (Dicker) from Yep Roc was the first that we heard back from and the most passionate about the possibility of working together," says Sandy of the Yep Roc head. "He flew out here, and we were just taken by his enthusiasm. 'Wow, we like this guy. Somebody who's just as whacked out about music as we are.' It's been a completely positive experience working with them."

The label move also signaled a change in how often the band tours. "A couple of the guys are married now, and they want to spend a little more time at home," states Sandy. "We used to be away from home about three-quarters of the year. Now, it's about half of the year."

Of equal concern is the cost of travel, i.e., rising gas prices. "Aw, it's killing us, man," reports Sandy. "It really is. I talk to a lot of my other friends like Deke Dickerson - who's on the road constantly - we just start to wondering, 'Man, can we keep on doing this?'"

Band business vagaries have also resulted in a changing musical lineup. Drummer Bobby Trimble and guitarist Ashley Kingman are the only original members left. "There's been some changes, but I think I've been able to make each combination of players work," Sandy reflects. "I've never had to look for musicians. When one guy has left, there's another guy who has fallen in my lap or is already one of our friends."

One of the newer components is bass-slappin' Jeff West, who is featured prominently. "(We) have a relationship that is just beginning," says Sandy of his bass player. "We're developing creative interaction that I think is going to lead to bigger and better things."

The relationship has already yielded creative results. West contributed three of the new disc's songs, singing two of them and pitching the bittersweet ballad "You Don't Know Me at All" to his leader. Characteristically, Big Sandy was hesitant. "He recorded a demo of that song by himself, and it was so beautiful and so personal. I thought, 'Man, it wouldn't be right for anybody else to do this song.' But Jeff said, 'No, I really had your voice in mind.' He really wanted me to sing it."

For his own songs, Big Sandy tried to tackle more universal themes. "On this record, I wanted to change up the perspective on things a little bit instead of always writing in the first person," he explains. "But some of the songs come from personal experience."

"'The Ones You Say You Love' describes a situation that you see too often on the road. Musicians are out wandering the country doing their thing, and sometimes there's a little one at home that doesn't quite know what's been going on out there. I have a lot of women friends, so I end up hearing the other side of the story too many times."

The inspiration behind the atmospheric rockabilly noir piece "Spanish Dagger" was especially personal. "Well that song came together instantly in my mind and my heart," Sandy wistfully recalls. "I met a woman at a car show - a beautiful Latina woman - and that's the sound that I was hearing in my head. And, that's what happened. I saw her cross the room and was completely taken by her. I wrote the song the next day, and the day after that we recorded it."

However, the album's true highlight comes via a completely authentic sounding soul track featuring Memphis style horns and a shockingly forceful vocal. "'Slippin' Away' started out more like a hillbilly tune," says Sandy. "Then we started fooling around with it at sound checks, Jeff started to do a different type of bass line to it, and we started thinking, 'Wow! This might work as a soul thing.' But at first I thought, 'Naw, that would be too weird. I don't know what people would make of a soul song from us.'"

Despite the track's success, a full-blown soul album might have to wait a while as the artist is seldom idle. Touring behind "Turntable Matinee," a disc he considers a personal high water mark, is his top priority. Afterwards, projects featuring Los Straightjackets, Los Lobos, and a return to his L.A. R&B/doo wop roots with pianist Ernie Vargas are on his personal agenda.

A multi-genre threat, does he ever envision life without the Fly-Rite Boys? "I have fun sitting in with other bands," he admits, "but man there's nothing like working with your own group of people. I really lean on them a lot. I spent so many years doing it just for fun, and now we're kind of taking it seriously. But we're also having more fun than ever doing it. I still stay up all night working on new songs, and I just love to sing. There's no other feeling like it."

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