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NIGHT LIFE / THE CLUB SCENE

Blast From Past Is Back : Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys gets its big break by meeting A Famous Rock Star and then opening for Morrissey.

April 22, 1993|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

How's this for a rock 'n' roll dream? You're in the bathroom returning some of that rental beer, and in walks A Famous Rock Star who says something like, "Where ya been, man, I've been waiting for your band to tour with me . . . "

Next thing you know, your band is opening for the reclusive Morrissey, the Archbishop of Angst, on a major arena tour.

Weird but true--it happened to Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys, an Orange County rockabilly outfit, who will be playing with J. D.'s Last Ride Friday night at the Bermuda Triangle in Ventura. Neither band knows any Morrissey songs.

"This all happened on Halloween last year," said Big Sandy (Robert Williams) himself during a recent phoner. "We had a regular gig at Toes Tavern in Pasadena, but we missed one night and when we came in the next night they told us Morrissey was looking for us.

"He came back the next night and actually walked up to me in the bathroom and asked me if we wanted to go on tour. We had to leave the very next day, so there was no time to prepare. The tour lasted about a month."

The next step, according to Big Sandy, was to send a copy of their album to a magazine in England call "Now Dig This," and dig it was exactly what they did.

"A promoter saw the review and brought us over to England. That was in May of 1991. This May, we'll be going on our fifth tour of Europe. Some places like Holland, Germany and Switzerland, the fans just go crazy, screaming and trying to grab you off the stage. They just dig that '50s look, I guess. The skinheads don't come to our type of show."

That's probably because people would laugh at their haircuts. Rockabilly fans look a lot different. They dress as though fashion began and ended with Gene Vincent, James Dean and Edd (Kookie) Byrnes.

And the music itself keeps coming back. When the rockabilly revival hit about 1980, the scene lasted longer than it did originally in the '50s. Now, it's back again.

"We started around the end of 1988, and we were all in other bands that weren't going anywhere," said Big Sandy. "At first, we played clubs in Hollywood, but we had to convince the club owners to hire us because the rockabilly scene had totally disappeared by the early '80s. We had to create our own scene.

"Now there's a really big scene in Orange County. We play this place called the Doll House in Anaheim on Monday nights and it's totally packed. We play up and down the coast three or four nights a week."

Big Sandy and the boys, much to the chagrin of representatives from our local visitors' bureaus, generally do what most commuters do--they drive right through the county, heading for Santa Barbara and points north. But this time, in addition to the gig with J. D.'s, the band will do a noon gig on Saturday at the California Beach Party.

"I met a couple of the guys from J. D.'s Last Ride at the Palomino," said the Big Guy. "Then we played with them at the Rockabilly Roundup in Santa Barbara recently. We've played at Toes in Santa Barbara quite a few times, but I think this will be our first time in Ventura."

Yet with a couple of albums, lots of fans in Europe, the band is still doing the barroom circuit. It's ironic, but most of the roots-rock bands are more popular in Europe than they are in their own country.

"I think rockabilly is getting bigger here, but the ultimate to me would be for us to have the kind of success that we have in Europe," the bandleader said. "I'd also like to get a better record deal."

Big Sandy got going in the usual way--his parents brainwashed him. So listen up, mom and pop, you better watch what sort of media input you're inflicting on junior there. If it's a steady diet of "Terminator" movies and "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," and a lot of death metal cranked up real loud, well, they are building more prisons.

"Rockabilly was the first music I really got into, like totally," said Big Sandy. "When I was growing up, my dad was a record collector who was really into Gene Vincent, Elvis and Johnny Burnette. My mom was into doo-wop. So when the rockabilly revival hit in the early '80s, I was already into it. After a while, I was thinking I wished I had a band. Then I got a guitar, and here we are.

"We know about 100 songs, but we just got a new guitar player about two months ago, so we're building our repertoire back up."

But how will we know which one is Big Sandy? Is he big?

"Yeah, you can tell which one I am."

He sings and plays rhythm guitar. Wally Hersom is the upright bass player. Bobby Trimble is the drummer. Ashley Kingman is the guitarist, and Lee Jeffriess is the steel guitar dude. Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys will have their records for sale at their gigs.

So the moral is: If Big Sandy can get a tour with Morrissey out of a bar in Pasadena, those on a musical mission shouldn't quit the band for a K mart career just yet.

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