“Twenty-five years, hundreds of thousands of miles, and over 3,000 live performances; what a dream it’s been!” said Robert “Big Sandy” Williams. “When I first got together for a garage rehearsal with a group of musician friends in the spring of 1988 in Anaheim, California, I never imagined that I would someday be celebrating the silver anniversary of the rocking little band that formed that afternoon.
Indeed, Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys are beloved by many, with fourteen albums of undiluted joyful music pulled from rockabilly, rock & roll, honky-tonk, rhythm & blues, soul and doo-wop. What A Dream It’s Been, out August 27 on Cow Island Music, is a collection of the band’s favorite original numbers - all acoustic, reinterpreted with fresh new arrangements, rhythms, and instrumentation.
“Here I am, looking back at a wild ride that has taken us around the world countless times and put us in front of national television and radio audiences,” said Big Sandy. He and the band have made three appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, featured on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as All Things Considered with Melissa Block. “Putting together this new record has brought back a flood of memories. It is our way of looking back at everything that has led us to where we are now. I feel like we’re sounding better than ever and experimenting musically. While it’s a reflection of our past, this album is really a hint of things to come.”
All of the albums are represented here, and the new arrangements happened organically. “Often during sound checks and rehearsals, we’ll get to messing around with songs,” Big Sandy explained. "'I Know I’ve Loved You Before'" was originally recorded as a slow, jazzy number. But one night at band practice after a few drinks, I started strumming the song with ska upstrokes and tried singing it in a more soulful, rocksteady style. The rest of the band fell in together and it started to sound like something that (Jamaican legend) Ken Boothe might have done. We all knew in that instant that we had to record the song that way as soon as possible.”
The last song on the album and title track, “What A Dream It’s Been,” (a duet with acclaimed voice actress/Grammy Award winning vocalist Grey DeLisle) is a love song, but not in the conventional sense. As Big Sandy explained, "I wrote and recorded this song in 1998 after a couple of the Fly-Rite Boys told me they had to move on. Unsure if I would be able to continue on without them, this song sums up and pays tribute to the wonderful times that we had together.”
Despite Big Sandy's uncertainty about the band's future at that time, a new generation of Fly-Rite Boys emerged. Performing on these recordings are Jeff West on bass and harmony vocals, Joe Perez on drums and backup vocals, and Ashley Kingman, a 20-year Fly-Rite veteran, on guitar and mandolin.