Music: November 2005 Archives

Took a couple of hours off work today and went with my wife and five-year-old daughter to a special hour-long program at the Performing Arts Center about the life and music of Bob Wills, featuring John Wooley, a writer and music historian, and Ray Benson and Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel.

Wooley gave a brief historical sketch of Bob Wills' life and career and of the origins of Western Swing music. He gave his working definition of Western Swing, which he said he's still refining: Jazz improvisation, on top of a dance beat, done with instruments associated with cowboy or hillbilly music. I think that about captures it.

Then Ray Benson and Jason Roberts came up, acoustic guitar and fiddle in hand, respectively, and Benson talked about how the musical drama "A Ride with Bob" came to be, and recognized playwright Anne Rapp, who was in the audience. Benson asked rhetorically why the emphasis on Bob Wills -- there were a lot of great Western Swing bands and musicians back in the '30s and '40s. The answer is the spark, ambition, and charisma that Wills brought to the music, and "A Ride with Bob" attempts to give the audience a sense of the man as a performer. At one time, the Texas Playboys was the number one dance band in the country. Benson said that Grammy producer Pierre Cossette said that Wills had more charisma than anybody else he ever worked with.

In the play, Jason Roberts, who has been playing fiddle with Asleep at the Wheel for about 10 years, plays Bob Wills in his prime. Benson and Roberts talked about and played four songs: a fiddle breakdown, "Ida Red," "Faded Love," and "San Antonio Rose." We got to hear the close family resemblance between the old fiddle tune "Nellie Grey" and "Faded Love." You could hear folks in the audience softly singing along on "Faded Love."

They took questions at the end. I asked where we could hear live Western Swing music between visits from Asleep at the Wheel. Someone mentioned that Tommy Allsup and Leon Rausch would be performing in Muskogee on December 30. I'll have to miss it -- we expect to be performing "Bottle Baby Boogie" around our house about then -- but it should be great. Rausch sang with Wills and played bass fiddle in the latter part of Wills' career, and Allsup produced and played bass on the album "For the Last Time." Benson mentioned that there was a Western Swing newsletter -- he probably meant this one. (Afterwards I met a couple with the band Cow Jazz -- they're based and do their performing in the DFW area.) Wooley reminded us that he has a show every Saturday night at 7 p.m. on KWGS 89.5, called "Swing on This."

My daughter got to shake hands with Jason Roberts, who said he had a little girl about her age, and she got her picture taken with Jason and with Ray Benson. (UPDATE: I've added photos, after the jump.)

As we emerged from the PAC, schoolkids were beginning to line the street for the Veterans' Day parade. I wish a lot of them had been inside to hear the music and learn about part of Oklahoma's musical heritage, the music that helped their great-grandparents keep smiling through hard times.

Benson was on KFAQ with DelGiorno this morning, broadcasting over the "sacred frequency" that carried Bob and Johnnie Lee Wills for many years. They talked about the lack of a Western Swing Hall of Fame, something that belongs in Tulsa. (For reasons I don't understand, no Western Swing artist has ever been inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.) The presence of such a facility would be a draw for a niche tourist market -- attractive to a small but intense fan base. There would be good synergy between Western Swing tourism and Route 66 tourism -- transplanted Okies provided a fan base for the music in 1940s California. And a Western Swing museum would be a resource to get the music into the schools, where it could be introduced in the context of Oklahoma history and modern musical history.

I'm glad the PAC set the program up, but I wish more people had gotten the word. There was plenty of space for more, but because they mentioned limited seating and the need to call ahead to reserve a seat, I had the impression it was a much smaller room and would fill up quickly, an impression reinforced when I called Thursday to reserve seats and was told that there were only a few left. I would have spread the word if I'd known the room was so big.

It was a nice start to a day that ended with family, a cake, candles, ice cream, and two CDs: "For the Last Time" and "Tiffany Transcriptions No. 2."

From Rich Kienzle's liner notes to "Boot Heel Drag: The MGM Years" -- a great 2-disc collection:

Bob [Wills], hip enough to conceive an unconventional salute to the older set, asked Cindy Walker to write a song with this title. "I thought he meant one of those (sentimental) things like 'Darling, when your hair has turned to silver... don't be ashamed," Walker recalled. "So when I said, is this what you mean? Bob said, 'No I don't mean anything like that. I mean DON'T be ASHAMED of your AGE! I'm talkin' about people late in life that have done everything, so don't be ashamed -- you've had it all.' I thought about it a little and I finally got the idea." Wills's reaction to the finished tune was succinct. "Yeah," he replied, "that's exactly what I mean."

Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age

(By Bob Wills and Cindy Walker. Recorded 10/30/47. Features Tommy Duncan on vocals, Eldon Shamblin on rhythm guitar, Tiny Moore on mandolin, Joe Holley on fiddle.)

Don't be ashamed of your age.
Don't let the years get you down.
That old gang you knew
They still think of you
As a rounder1 in your old hometown.

Don't mind the grey in your hair.
Just think of all the fun2 you've had
Puttin' it there.
As for that old book of time
You've never skipped a page3
So don't be ashamed of your age, brother.
Don't be ashamed of your age.

Listen, Mr. Smith, Mr. Brown,
Don't let your age get you down.
Life ain't begun
Until you're 40, son.
That's when you really start to go to town.4

Don't wish that you were a lad.
Why, boy, you've lost more gals5
than they've ever had
And, listen, you've graduated
From that ol' sucker stage6,
So don't be ashamed of your age, brother.
Don't be ashamed of your age.


Notes:
1I used to be rounder than I am now, but otherwise, no.
2That was fun?
3I was prematurely responsible and went through my first mid-life crisis at age 29. Now I'm hoping for a headstart on my Second Childhood.
4Boy, I sure hope so.
5Only if you count the ones I never had in the first place. Only ever had the one, and I haven't lost her yet.
6Boy, I sure hope so.

Surely they wouldn't bring a stage show about Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys all the way from Texas to Tulsa and stop short of the Mother Church of Western Swing, would they?

Of course not. Here's today's e-mail from the fine folks at Cain's:

There will be an after party / show with the Red Dirt Rangers, members of the Stragglers and a few members of Asleep at the Wheel at the Home of Bob Wills, the Cain's Ballroom... For more information on this, please visit www.reddirtrangers.com or www.cainsballroom.com. Tickets will be available at the door that evening.

According to the Cain's Ballroom website, tickets will be $10 at the door, doors open at 7:00. Now, the performance at the PAC starts at 8, so I don't imagine the afterparty will start until... after that.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Music category from November 2005.

Music: October 2005 is the previous archive.

Music: December 2005 is the next archive.

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