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Echoing the Past

From classic-rock roots, “Big Sandy” brings a new kind of rockabilly to town.


“That’s a big passion for me,” Williams says about his lifelong love for collectible records. “That’s where all my money goes. Everyone in the band loves music and is like that. If we’re on the road, we’ll pull over for thrift stores and fight each other for the records.”

Big Sandy’s big passion for tunes came naturally. He grew up in Orange County, Calif., immersed in his folks’ ’50s and ’60s music. He and his dad spent weekends combing shops looking for old records and, when other kids were out playing baseball, young Robert was in his room listening to classic rock ‘n’ roll. Williams says he only dreamed of playing music as a high school boy watching bands such as X and the Blasters rock Los Angeles in the early 1980s. He had a couple of guitar lessons under his belt and was “messing around with songs” of his own, but it was not until the summer of 1984 when his music took a new turn.

“I went to this party and this band called the Moondogs was playing,” he says. “They were passing around the guitar. I don’t remember singing but somebody said, ‘Hey, you should come to our practice.’ They were looking for a new singer.” Apparently, Williams fit the bill. Two months later, he was the band’s lead vocalist when it played the Anaheim teen-club circuit. Williams introduced the group to obscure songs from his collection and steered them away from the generic rockabilly-set list. A few lineup changes and a couple of years later, the group mutated into Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys.

Williams took the Big Sandy moniker from the embroidered name on a jacket his uncle gave him. A record company sought them out in 1989 and they were off to England and Europe. For a group that mainly worked the Los Angeles area, this was huge. “Before that, our big adventure was playing San Francisco,” Williams recalls with a laugh.

A little more than a decade later, the group has 10 recordings to its credit and it routinely crisscrosses the United States on tours such as the one that includes Poe’s Pub Sunday. The latest CD, “It’s Time,” captures the quintet’s raw, yet tight hillbilly rock with a friendly intensity. Williams’ smooth and gritty vocal style echoes the past, yet it forsakes a retro vibe and the acoustic-based, stand-up bass and pedal steel cut a familiar, yet original groove. Big Sandy makes a traditional American roots sound his own.

“It’s just all I’ve known,” Williams explains. “I was always moved by music from another time. It’s like it would transport me to another time.” In closing, he modestly reflects on the group’s popularity. “We were just having S

Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys play Poe’s Pub, Sunday, Aug. 24, at 8 p.m. Cover is $10. Call 648-2120 for information.

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