Bob Wills 108th Birthday Bash: Cain's Ballroom, March 2, 2013
Tomorrow (Saturday) night, March 2, 2013, the historic Cain's Ballroom at 423 N. Main St. in downtown Tulsa's Bob Wills District will ring with the music that made it famous. Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, led by vocalist Leon Rausch and guitarist Tommy Allsup, will headline the annual Bob Wills Birthday Celebration. The Tulsa-based western swing band the Round-Up Boys will open the dance. It's an all-ages, family-friendly event. Doors open at 6, show starts at 6:30.
Rausch and Allsup have over a century between them as western swing musicians. Both were with Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys in the 1950s. Rausch joined the Texas Playboys in 1957 and took over as band leader when Bob retired in 1964. Allsup produced the Liberty Records albums that brought Bob Wills and vocalist Tommy Duncan back together after a decade apart, produced the final album (For the Last Time) and played guitar and bass with the band. Allsup was also a sideman for Buddy Holly, backing Holly on hits like "Heartbeat" and "It's So Easy" (that's Allsup with the famous guitar lick) and touring with him through the January 1959 Winter Dance Party tour. (Allsup lost a coin toss with Richie Valens for a seat on the plane.)
The resurgence and on-going popularity of western swing owes much to the advocacy of Merle Haggard. In the first flush of mega-stardom, Haggard took the opportunity to promote the music and musicians that had shaped his music. Haggard produced albums of Jimmie Rodgers (Same Train, Different Time), gospel music (Land of Many Churches), and, in 1970, he gathered six Texas Playboys (Johnnie Lee Wills, Eldon Shamblin, Johnny Gimble, Tiny Moore, Alex Brashear, and Joe Holley) to join his band for A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or My Salute to Bob Wills). That led to a reunion and recording for Capitol (unreleased) at Haggard's Bakersfield home in 1971, this time with Bob himself on hand and many of his sidemen from Tulsa in the 1930s and 1940s. That in turn led to the final 1973 album for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, which included Haggard as vocalist on several tunes, putting the music back in record bins and on the radio.
Shamblin and Moore joined Haggard's band, playing with the band off and on through the '70s and '80s. Here they are, along with Johnny Gimble, on Pop Goes the Country with a strikingly hirsute Ralph Emery, singing "Cherokee Maiden":
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