Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Ed Conway
On a summer-like night in Troy, the Ale House was rocked for more than two and a half hours by the Californian rockabilly, surf, blues and western swing of Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys – some patrons even dancing on the sidewalk.
For 25 years, roots music fans have known just how dynamic this band from San Diego is. Though the line-up has changed occasionally over the years, the band has toured consistently and recorded more than 10 albums. Aside from leading his own group, vocalist Big Sandy is also known for his guest work with Los Straitjackets, as many who attended a legendary Alive at Five event a few years ago will recall. He is one of the most versatile singers and cordial entertainers on the scene today.
With the crowd seated all the way up to the stage, the quartet knew it was go-time, opening with uptempo favorite “Heaven Is the Other Way” and the jump blues call to tear it up, even on a Tuesday night, “It’s Time.” Big Sandy sang like a lost sun of Memphis and played his acoustic guitar with fervor; Kevin Stewart had sweat pouring down the fretboard of his upright bass; Chris Sprague hit the drums with brushes and an ever-present grin; and the remarkable Ashley Kingman earned his pints of ale, ripping out solos from a 1957 custom Magnatone guitar. “Tequila Callin’,” by request, earned the crowd the second of many toasts from Big Sandy, who could not resist getting the drinkers in the crowd to sing along on the chorus.
If George Harrison were alive, there is no doubt he would have loved walking in from River Street to hear the Beatlesque “You Love That Man” – Kingman put on a clinic of good taste and verve in every solo, and played rhythmic fills that brought out the best in his vocalist. The late George Jones, who recorded some fine rockabilly cuts in the 1950s before becoming a country legend, got a shout-out with a stunning cover of “How Come It.”
The second set went up another notch in intensity, inspiring dancing in the limited floor space and prompting some to move outdoors and cut a rug on the sidewalk. “Catalina” conjured up a sonic vision of Dick Dale jamming with Carl Perkins at Sun Studios. Big Sandy sang “Somebody Told Me” with a wry smirk that matched the story’s take on matrimony and having to pay for one’s loss of freedom. Three-part harmonies (sans Kingman) gave a beach music feel to “Baby, Baby Me.” Kingman sent out a pair of rocking instrumentals from his recent 45 (“Cannonball Rag”/ “Hybrid Corn”) to local guitar ace Graham Tichy. Called back for an encore, the band obliged with “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, showing off the influence of Clyde McPhatter in Big Sandy’s tone, and a wild “That Don’t Get It”, a juggernaut of rockabilly.
Look for an acoustic album from Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys on Tuesday, July 9, titled What a Dream It’s Been, and hopefully a return trip to the Northeast this autumn.
BIG SANDY & HIS FLY-RITE BOYS SET LIST
Heaven Is the Other Way
Hip Shakin’ Mama
The Ones You Say You Love
Yamma Yamma Pretty Mama
Six Foot Down
You Love that Man
How Come It (George Jones)
My Eyes are Open
Chalk It up to the Blues
That’s All Right with Me
Somebody Told Me
Baby, Baby Me
Rip It Up (Little Richard)
How Did You Love Someone Like Me?
Wishing Him Away
Little Cabin on the Hill (Bill Monroe)
Don’t Let Me Know
Feelin’ Kinda Lucky
Don’t Go Too Far with the Girl in the Bar (Conway Twitty)
Waltz of the Winds
Jumpin’ from 6 to 6
The Greatest Story Ever Told
That Don’t Get It, That Don’t Move Me