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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Fly-Rite Boys Take Wing at Bogart's


In their show Friday night at Bogart's in Long Beach, Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys proved themselves to be one forward-looking retro band.

Though nothing the Orange County-based country-rockabilly quintet does would have sounded out of place on Cliffie Stone's Hometown Jamboree show in 1956, singer Robert (Big Sandy) Williams and crew leap into their songs with a joyful immediacy that bears no hint of mothballs.

The thought of seeing a rockabilly band in 1993 might leave some with the taste of thrice-chewed gum. When the roots music style last resurged 13 years ago with the Stray Cats and a host of big-haired others, it hung around longer than it did when it was the real thing in the mid-'50s. And though there was some earnest and well-played music the second time around, the movement was very much a fashion statement.

Like the looks, the music was confined to a narrow definition that never applied back when rockabilly was a living, growing thing. Parallels could be drawn to the blues revival, in which countless acts are adept at hammering out the obvious gestures, while a very few can find something fresh and true in the form.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 30, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 13 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Guitar player--Steel guitar player Speedy West is retired and living in Oklahoma. A reference to him in a review of Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys in Monday's Calendar referred to him as deceased.

Williams and the Fly-Rite Boys go deeper than most of the second-generation rockabilly bands do, with a rare ear for the nuance and spirit of the music. They also go wider, drawing from a range of influences and styles.

The Anaheim-raised Williams' singing is strongly reminiscent of the early Elvis, not the grand glottal cliches but rather the sweetness and urgency of his nascent Sun sides.

Onstage, Williams clearly is a man possessed of his dream: He's a looming presence, but his large frame is so motivated by the music that he looks like the Pillsbury Dough Boy caught in the middle of a chicken fight.

Rather than bludgeon their rockabilly out like most revival outfits, Williams and his band members Friday poured their exuberance into stunning musicianship, influenced by Western Swing players and the L.A. country scene of the '50s. Quite apart from Nashville, Los Angeles in the '50s was a hotbed of distinctive, jazz-infused country picking.

Fly-Rite steel guitarist Lee Jeffriess particularly seemed to draw from that, reminding of the late great Speedy West with the wild chordal geysers he coaxed from his triple-neck Bigsby steel. The group's new guitarist Ashley Kingman played articulate, if not always incendiary, leads, while bassist Wally Hersom thumped like a deer heart and drummer Bobby Trimble drove the proceedings with explosive Krupa-esque fills.

The band has done a lot of woodshedding--including a continuing Monday night residency at Linda's Doll Hut in Anaheim--and it shows in their tight, fluid sound.

Instead of the patented rockabilly sneer, much of the music and delivery was lighthearted, recalling Louis Jordan's swinging Tympany Five on "Hi-Billy Music" and the ever good-natured Tennessee Ernie Ford on "Stick Around." "Jake's Barbershop," dedicated to a tonsorial parlor in Orange, was sparked by wild snare drum accents. "Baby You Done Gone" capped the set with a rollicking interplay of guitar and steel guitar lines.

With such music, and with Williams crooning and shouting lyrics like "Oochie Coochie" and "Dad gum it, you done it" over the warm tumult, it made a strong argument for the return of innocence and pleated pants.

Among the other acts, second-billed Medicine Rattle seemed to be all froth and no beer, with the quartet sounding as leaden as a fuzztone-less Big Brother and the Holding Company.

East L.A.'s Blazers, meanwhile, were their usual pleasurable selves. The band bears some comparison to the early rockin' days of Los Lobos (who are big boosters of the Blazers), with a strong feel for the roots rock and Latino tunes they embrace.

Singer/guitarists Manuel Gonzales and Ruben Guaderrama are both strong frontmen, though they could do a bit more in working out the interplay of their guitar lines.

It is easy to enjoy the group for its raw talent, but it still seems some distance from finding its own distinctive voice.

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