Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys: Fender Remembered
Written by Ed Conway on July 30, 2020
Although we haven’t seen a new release of original music from our west coast pals, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, it doesn’t mean they haven’t been busy. In a normal year, they spend a great deal of time on the road traversing the US, or heading to Europe on one of their several tours a year. Band leader and writer, Robert Williams also has been known to go out on tour with such notables as The Reverend Horton Heat. So it’s not surprising there is little time to hit the studio. One of his pet projects, however, was doing a couple of Freddy Fender covers during the last few years live on stage. This naturally led to an idea to do a cover record of some of his songs. The result is a double 45 vinyl release, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys Sing and Play “The Songs of Freddy Fender”, on Baldemar Records.
The quality of the sound is very good, which is expected from a crack backing band such as the Fly-Rite Boys, their skill and feel are second to none. Lead guitarist, Ashley Kingman has been with the band for about 30 years. Bassist Kevin Stewart, who has been a Fly-Rite for several years as well and blends smoothly with Kingman to form the classic sound that the band is known for. Drummer Kip Dabbs fills out the rest of the band. While this line-up can make anyone sound good fronting them, Big Sandy himself has such a smooth as glass soulful voice that I can’t think of anyone else who could do these songs any better, with maybe the exception of Fender himself. Of course there are the mega hits Fender is known for, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and “Wasted Days And Wasted Nights”, there are also two lesser known, but equally powerful tunes, “Holy One” (featuring Uncle Ernie Vargas, Alex Vargas and Li’l Ernie Vargas on doo-wop backing vocals) and “I Can’t Remember When I Didn’t Love You.”
While each song has the feeling and love for the original solidly, the highlight for me is the verse in “Wasted Days” that Williams sings in Spanish that brings the full emotion of the song to me, although I don’t necessarily understand the words. It’s impossible to not feel the love for the song, specifically, and the performer in general that Williams brings. Anyone who is familiar with the band, knows how Williams’ projects emotion into each of his tunes at live shows, but engineer, David Irish captures this quite nicely on the recordings.
I asked Williams a few questions regarding how he came to music in general and Freddy Fender specifically. He graciously sat down and responded while he had some time. Although he hasn’t been touring, he has been co-hosting some Live Streams, such as The West Coast Ramble where the hosts have interviewed many stalwarts in the Rockabilly, and Western Swing world. Unfortunately, these are currently on hiatus, but you can check out previous editions on their YouTube channel.
RRX: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
RW: I grew up in the 60s and 70s but mostly listened to the music of the 50s. Both of my parents had kept their teenage record collections and that’s what I spent my time listening to. Generally it was 50s rock & roll and a lot of doo-wop and rhythm & blues.
RRX: When did you know you wanted a career in music?
RW: As a kid I would always daydream about being a singer in a band but never really thought that I would ever be able to do it. Later as a teenager, I saw James Intveld play and was in awe of the reaction that he would get from the crowd. That’s what really drove me to pursue a career in music.
RRX: What was it about Freddie Fender’s music that made you decide to do a double 45?
RW: I’ve always been a fan of Freddy through his records and from the experiences I had as a youngster tagging along with my parents to see him perform. I’ve always had thoughts of covering a song or two of his but for some reason, I never did until I recorded a Spanish language 45 with Los Straitjackets – my first collaboration with them. The B-side of that record was a Freddy Fender song called “Que Mala”. This current release is sort of a long overdue follow-up to that.
RRX: I noticed you chose two of his most popular tunes, but what was it about the other two?
RW: Well, I always wanted a chance to record “Wasted Days…” and “Next Teardrop…” his two most well-known songs, so I thought that it’d be cool to do versions of a couple of his lesser known B-sides. “I Can’t Remember When I Didn’t Love You” was the flip side of his original non-hit version of “Wasted Days…” in 1959, and “Holy One” was another late 50s song of his that is in more of a Doo-Wop vein – a genre that was one of my first musical loves.
RRX: What’s next for Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Boys?
RW: I’m trying to figure out what’s next for me and the boys after we get past this unusual period of time. Gig and tour-wise, everything that was on the books for this year is being moved to 2021. Of course, it’s a situation that keeps changing day-to-day, so we’re keeping a close eye on that. During the lockdown I’ve been able to move quite a few copies of the Freddy release, and I’ll be investing the income from that into our next record, which we’ll probably be recording before we even get a chance to head back out on the road. In the meantime, I’ve been working on new material, but we might be doing a volume two of this release.
This double 45 release is available at BigSandy.net, but hurry, they already sold out their first batch and are working on their second. It is also available as an extended play CD.