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SWING! Excerpt: Big Sandy

Back to SWING! The New Retro Renaissance

ROBERT WILLIAMS:: Now the dancing is filtering down to school kids. When we play all ages shows, 14-, 15-;, and 16-year-old kids are coming out, and they’ve got all the moves down and they’re dressed up. I think, “How did it reach to them?” Teenagers are trying to play this music and put on their own shows at pizza parlors or other places, because they can’t get into clubs.

People are dressing ’40s style and in other styles like rockabilly. One point I would like to make is: I think any cliquishness that divides the “swing” and “rockabilly” scenes is a shame, because personally, I like it all! I meet a lot of people on the road, and those who know the most about the music are generally “regular-looking,” while others who are “decked out” don’t know much.

A few people started out dressing in this older style to be different. But as more and more people do it, it becomes like the norm. So now, if you don’t go along with it, you’re kind of being a rebel against this trend. [laughs]

R/S: Everything goes through cycles—

RW:: And trying to be too “authentic” can make you stale. Musically, there was a period of time when I thought, “Man, I’m going to recreate this period of sound and get it down exactly — even down to the little mistakes they made — everything.” Then I started realizing, “This music I like — why do I like it? Because they were innovating at the time.” So why stop that process? I’m going to take what I can from that and try and come up with something new.

I’ve seen a melding of punk, ska and swing all into one thing, and I wonder what’s going to happen with that. There are bands that call what they play “ska music,” but it’s got a punk drive to it and they’re dressing ’40s.

R/S: I like the clothing in the ’40s—’50s Sears Roebuck catalogs—

RW:: Certain clothes you can find all the way through them: classic styles. The way I dress is my choice, and I’m not going to write somebody off because they’re not dressed that way.

There was a time when I was never gonna buy a CD player [laughs] and I finally had to give in. I still prefer the sound of vinyl, but I actually almost enjoy the convenience of CDs. I do allow myself some modern conveniences, but they are just that: conveniences. In any aspect of life where there’s a “new” innovation, I usually prefer what came before.

Getting back to fashion, I go to vintage shops and just can’t find XL or XXL sizes. I’m thankful there are repro companies making new clothes in old styles — now I can buy them off the rack. They’re making shirts that look like ’40s Hawaiian shirts — to me, at least — and they’re for sale at the mall. With some of the repros, the companies are even attempting to reach that earlier level of craftsmanship. You buy a new shirt and the buttons fall off practically the first time you wear it. Why do people put up with that? How did it get to this point? People just accept that if you buy something new, it’s going to fall apart within a couple of wearings. I think that’s crazy. It makes me mad!

R/S: Well, it makes them more money.

RW:: In Yosemite, I ran into an older acquaintance, and we started talking about the beginning of the whole vintage “thing.” In the ’60s, people bought clothes at thrift stores because that’s all they could afford. THen they started recognizing what was what, and began collecting this and that. Other people followed suit, not to save money but because they started trying to dress that way. So it began out of necessity and then became fashion.

R/S: In a way, I’d like the clothes corporations to start making more repro vintage clothes—

RW:: It’s bound to happen, but then that also kills it. And besides, you know the buttons are gonna fall off! [laughs]

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