If a Los Straitjackets show wasn't already a guaranteed throwdown, complete with signature wrestling masks and insanely fast Spanglish intros to insanely fast instrumentals, the addition of hillbilly swing and rockabilly singer Big Sandy (not to mention guitar slinger Deke Dickerson, who will also be sitting in) just raised the Bacchanalian Bash Alert (tonight at Beale on Broadway) to critical. Big Sandy (a.k.a. Robert Williams) is a big part of the success of Rock En Español, Vol. 1, perhaps Los Straitjackets' most consistently entertaining record to date. Here's a bonus B-Side interview with the big tenor himself.
I just recently learned that you'd worked with Los Straitjackets before -- ten years ago in fact. We recorded a single, and have done a few things over the years. I have a couple tracks on Sing Along With Los Straitjackets. But this is the first time we've attacked it more seriously. It feels like a real project. And hitting the road pretty heavily.
How did you first meet the band? I've been friends with the guitar player, Eddie Angel, for a long time. At the time, his band the Planet Rockers were touring Europe the same time I was with the Fly Rite Boys. That was in 1991, something like that. We crossed paths, had some mutual friends. We talked about recording together for a while.
I take it they don't wear the masks in the studio. They have. Danny Amis wears his a lot. Even doing radio interviews.
So there was no attempt to get you to wear one? I haven't earned mine yet.
The Mexican rock sources for the album, that's some pretty obscure stuff. Are any of those bands still around? There are some that are still working. Danny has kept in touch with them, tracked them down in Mexico City. Some of the bands in LA are still around, oldies acts, without original members. But some of the ones in Mexico still have all the original members from the '60s, except for the drummers. I don't know what to make of that.
Did you do the translation for "Dame Una Seña" (originally "Gimme Little Sign" by Brenton Wood)? A friend of ours, Luis Arriaga, who is in a band called Little Luis y Los Wild Teens, did the translation. We later found out there was a Spanish version, but I think ours is better. It's got a better groove to it.
Have you thought about doing a Big Sandy, Rockabilly En Español, album? Not really, but I definitely want to add that to the mix. Other people have suggested it. Somebody has to tie me down and rope me into a situation where it happens. I have plenty of ideas, but I have a hard time getting them off the ground myself.
Or they could just throw a bunch of money and tequila at you. There you go.
Had you ever worked with Cesar Rosas (of Los Lobos and producer of Rock En Español) before? No, this was the first time. I've known him, just from being from the same town. It was very cool. I always looked up to him and Los Lobos; they are really heroes in LA. He's great, pretty easy going, but has definite ideas. He wasn't afraid to make changes. If he didn't like a certain rhythm pattern, he would say something. But he had a way of doing that that made you feel all right about it. He's a very mellow guy. The studio was at his house, which made him comfortable and us comfortable.
Obviously, Los Straitjackets don't do what you usually do. They have a totally different swing. Who had to adjust more? You or them? I don't know. If there was any adjusting going on, it was subconscious or came naturally. I've noticed more in the live shows than recording. The way things are sounding now, after we've played them out for a while, getting a feel for how audiences respond, it's taken on a more soulful feel. It's like a soul review at times. I don't know what accounts for that.
Do you ever feel the novelty element overwhelms the music? I sometimes get that feeling before the show, when people see the band walk on with masks. But when we get into the groove, all that disappears. I hope that's the case. If anyone is put off by the shtick, they're in the minority.
As a performer, do you feel like you also have a different identity? What do you mean?
Do you feel like there's a difference between Robert Williams and Big Sandy? When I perform with my own guys, you want it to be honest, truthful. But it is a different personality. In general, I'm a little quiet, on the shy side, at least before I hit the tequila. On stage, I get to be that other person I always wished I was, you know when I was a kid. I do feel like Robert Williams is hiding behind whatever Big Sandy has become. Maybe it's that way for every performer.
For an interview with Los Straitjackets, go here. Otherwise, the show is tonight at Beale On Broadway, 701 South Broadway. Tickets are $12; call 314-621-7880 for more information.
-- Roy Kasten