Your weekend in holiday fun: Winter Island
Today marks the opening of the Winter Island tent at the corner of Webster Street and Pacific Avenue, and the start of a series of fortunate events to follow (click here for a full schedule). Over the next two weeks, the tent will host movies, kid events, a wine tasting and shows, including a performance by roots rockers Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys.
Soft-spoken and gracious, Sandy – aka Robert Williams – sat down with The Island this week to talk about his band and their upcoming show. Admission to the show, which is at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, December 19, is $10, or $5 with a purchase from an Island store or restaurant Sunday (receipt required).
STYLE: American roots music.
INFLUENCES: “A lot of country” – George Jones, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams and others – and “people who made one record in some small town in Tennessee that nobody would ever have heard of.”
ORIGINS: Williams started listening to old doo-wop and R&B music as a kid growing up in East L.A. “Older music was in the air, sort of, just woven into the culture,” Williams says. He says his parents had a lot of old records – mom had Don Julian and the Meadowlarks and The Medallions while dad had Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. “While the other kids were out playing, I would be in my room listening to old 45s,” he says.
HOW HE GOT THE NAME ‘BIG SANDY’: “I used to wear a mechanics jacket with a patch that said ‘Big Sandy.’ And people started calling me that,” Williams says. The jacket belonged to his Uncle Santiago. “When I was younger, I was getting into older styles of music, and he gave me some vintage clothes,” he says.
DO PEOPLE TELL YOU THAT YOU SOUND LIKE ELVIS?: “I think I used to get it more,” Williams says. “But once people get to know our music, they hear something else in it.”
A HIGHLIGHT: The band has played on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” three times. “We’ve been lucky to have him as a supporter. He’s really into older styles of music,” Williams says of O’Brien.
WILLIAMS’ ALAMEDA CONNECTION: “I have quite a few friends that live there,” Williams says of the Island. He says that when the band is in the Bay Area they come over for breakfast at Ole’s Waffle House, and that they’ve also stopped by to shop or drive around Alameda to check out all the old houses.
HOW THE BAND HAS SURVIVED FOR 22 YEARS: “It’s just fun for us. That’s what keeps me going, what holds all of us together,” Williams says. “For me, when I’m onstage playing, getting the feedback from the audience, seeing people dancing – that’s the payoff.”