Long-term nostalgia for a time one has never actually seen is a remarkable phenomenon. It’s one thing to be temporarily taken with something both new and old, but dedicating your entire image or career to rekindling a lost aesthetic requires a strong sense of devotion.
Big Sandy (aka Robert Williams, pictured) knows all about this. Since 1988, he and His Fly-Rite Boys have practiced old-school American music that would have been out of vogue around the time that Williams was born, if not earlier. The Anaheim, Calif.-based group revisits 1950s and ’60s Rockabilly and Honky Tonk Country, ’20s Western Swing, ’50s R&B and Cajun music associated with the ’40s. Williams and friends do justice to these forms by not taking things over the top. Take note of the frontman’s sharp croon, which cruises along with the restrained cool of Elvis and other Sun Records voices.
Sonics alone can’t satisfy his obsession with bygone eras. “Chalk It Up to the Blues” from 2003's It's Time incorporates period-appropriate lingo into its heartbroken package: “I know the show must go on even though my baby left today,” sings the guitarist. “She cut out with some other cat/And I just got the news/So if I don’t rock it, chalk it up to the blues.”
The band also scavenges thrift stores for vintage outfits and instruments, and even their tour vehicles have been purposely ancient. Williams has particularly relished retelling one story about the band stopping at a thrift shop in its ’50s school bus.
“There was a kid out in front and he was just like in awe when we pulled up,” Big Sandy recalls. “He looked a little bit confused and then we come walking up and he wasn’t sure if he should approach us or not. Then he asked us, ‘Are you guys from the past?’ as if we were traveling in a time machine or something.”
Can you blame the guy for asking?
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