Western Swing Category

KVWO Welch benefit dance

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This Friday, August 25, 2017, there will be a western swing dance benefitting a small-town, non-profit radio station, KVWO 94.7, the Voice of Welch, Oklahoma.


KVWO's "Dance 'Til Your Stockings Are Hot and Unraveling" fundraiser will be held in the Welch Civic Auditorium, running from 7:30 pm to 10:30 pm. Dewayne Bowman & the Swingin' West Band and the A-Bar Bunkhouse Band will headline the event -- both bands are donating their performances for the cause. Advance online tickets are $10 for adults and teens, $7.50 for kids 12 and under; tickets at the door are $12 for adults and teens, $9 for kids 12 and under. Doors open at 7.


The goal is to raise $10,000 to build a transmitter tower for the station. Since going on the air last year, the station has shared a tower, using a digital wireless connection to send audio from the studios to the transmitter.

Our own tower means that we can maximize our licensed height and power allowances. Having our own tower should also allow us to become independednt of the internet to put our signal on the air. That means as little downtime as is possible, especially in times of severe weather.

Additionally, our own tower means we'll be able to triple our current power output. Combined with raising our antenna to the maximum allowed height, this power increase should help us penetrate as far as Vinita, Miami, and Chetopa, if not beyond. That means better over-the-air reception for more people who'll have local news and information, as well as severe weather coverage and emergency information and instructions, as close as their nearest radio and completely free of charge.

KVWO is the culmination of a long-time dream for Welch native Tyson Wynn, who wanted to provide a community-based media outlet for his hometown. Wynn got his broadcasting start as a high school student on Vinita station KITO, but these days that station is a repeater for a big-city station. In 2009, Wynn launched welchok.com as the local online newspaper. In 2014, he successfully applied for an FCC license to operate a low-power FM station, but it wasn't until early this year that he was able to get the station on the air.

One of his early welchok.com features was livestreaming audio on the website for Welch High School sporting events. Now those sporting events go out over the airwaves, reaching anyone in northern Craig County with an FM radio. (If you're outside the Welch metropolitan area, the station is streamed live on welchok.com.)

Off-air, Wynn also serves as the pastor of Living Hope Baptist Church in Welch. He also works with his wife, Jeane Wynn, through their firm Wynn-Wynn Media, providing publicity services for numerous well-known Christian authors and publishers. The couple co-hosts a daily talk show on the station.

In addition to local news, the station plays a blend of musical genres that Wynn calls "countrypolitan," saying of the local population, "We're country music, western swing, red dirt, classic rock, cowboy music, Americana, folk, rockabilly, standards-loving people." Back in March, I had the pleasure of being on the air with the Wynns to talk about the musical heritage of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

If you like western swing music, community-supported media, or both, make the 80-minute drive from Tulsa to Welch this Friday night. Welch is about 20 miles north of the Vinita exit on the Will Rogers Turnpike on US 59.

KVWO is owned by a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and if you can't be at the dance but would like to support the station, your contribution would be gratefully received and tax-deductible.

These seem to vanish as soon as they're posted, but here's a series of clips from a 1981 Austin City Limits episode featuring three virtuoso mandolinists, playing blues and swing:

The line up, from left to right, front to back:

Johnny Gimble - mandolin and fiddle
Tiny Moore - mandolin and fiddle
Jethro Burns - mandolin
Eldon Shamblin - guitar
Tom Prisk - drums
Rob Wasserman - bass

Track list:

Blues in G / Fat Boy Rag
How High the Moon
Tiny's Rag
Jethro's Tune
Fiddle medley:
Swing 39
Groovin' High

Thanks to YouTube channel "Rare Tracks" for posting these.

Note that Jethro has a traditional eight-string mandolin -- each string doubled -- while Johnny plays a four-string electric, and Tiny has his Bigsby five-string solid body mandolin, a.k.a. "the biggest little instrument in the world," which adds a low C to the range.

That link is to an essay by Deke Dickerson on Tiny Moore's career and his unique approach to the mandolin, and also features a photo of Eldon, Tiny, and Johnny with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, probably from 1949, 32 years before the above videos, in which they're still going strong.


Front row: Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, Johnny Gimble, Bob Wills, Alex Brashear, Herb Remington. Back row: Luther J. "Luke" Wills, Billy Jack Wills, Jack Loyd, Doc Lewis. This was the lineup for the Texas Playboys' second session for MGM, in May 1949, and their first session without Tommy Duncan.


A page and photos about Tiny Moore on eMando.com.

Here's some info from western swing historian Buddy McPeters about the earlier Gibson mandolins played by Moore and Gimble and how they were modified for amplification.

Tommy Allsup, RIP

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UPDATE: The funeral for Tommy Allsup will be held Wednesday, January 18, 2017, at 11 a.m., at First Baptist Church, Owasso. Flowers may be sent to Mowery Funeral Home 9110 N. Garnett Rd. Owasso, OK 74055.


Legendary guitarist Tommy Allsup died yesterday, January 11, 2017, at the age of 85.

Allsup was raised on a farm west of Owasso and graduated from Claremore High School in 1949. Allsup was a member of Johnnie Lee Wills' western swing band in 1952, had his own band in Lawton and Odessa, played guitar in recordings and on tour with Buddy Holly, became an A&R man and producer for Liberty Records in Los Angeles, and became one of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, working with Wills from 1959 until 1973's For the Last Time, which Allsup produced and on which he played bass.

Allsup is best known as Buddy Holly's lead guitarist for the fateful 1959 Winter Dance Party tour. He and bassist Waylon Jennings had been slated to fly with Holly from Clear Lake, Iowa, to the next stop on the tour, but Jennings gave up his seat to J. P. Richardson ("The Big Bopper"), who was ill, and Allsup lost a coin toss to Richie Valens for the last seat on the plane.

Allsup met Holly at the Norman Petty Studio in Clovis, New Mexico. That's Allsup's licks you hear on "Heartbeat" and "It's So Easy." Here's Allsup, in an interview with Darryl Hicks in 2008, explaining how he came to play for Holly in May of 1958, and how he wound up on the Winter Dance Party Tour:

During a lot of the Fifties I had a band named the Southernaires based out of Lawton, Oklahoma. We were working at a place called the Southern Club. We played there seven nights a week. It was there that I got a call from a friend of mine, a piano player, to come out to Clovis and record with a trio he was working with. I took off a couple of days from the club and went over to Clovis to help out. We recorded the trio one night. Norman Petty, the studio owner, had a bass player, a drummer and a background vocal group on staff there. He didn't have a guitar player right then, so he asked me if I wanted to stay around a few days and play on some more records. I said, "Sure." It was during that time that I first met Buddy Holly....

...Buddy came in from England. He and the Crickets already had a few hits by then. He asked me to play on some of his records. The first night we cut "It's So Easy (to Fall in Love)."...

The summer of `58 both Buddy and Jerry Allison got married. That fall they had a tour coming up called "The Show of Stars" out of New York. There were probably twenty acts on it. Buddy asked me to go on tour with them. That was also the time that he decided that he wanted to move to New York, but the Crickets didn't want to live there. He was also having some trouble with Norm Petty at the time, so in the end he went ahead and moved and the other guys all stayed in Clovis....

I went back to the band from Lawton, and we moved to Odessa. That area was starting
to boom with the oil business and all, so we went there to open up a new dance hall named the Silver Saddle. I played there with a guy named Moon Mullican (the hillbilly boogie piano picker out of Nashville who ended up being so influential over guys like Hank Williams, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Haley). We were there in Odessa on New Years' Eve. Buddy was in Lubbock for the holidays, and he drove down to see us play. He told me that about this tour called the Winter Dance Party Tour that was coming up, and that Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin weren't going to go. He asked me tour with him and mentioned that he was going to hire a West Texas kid named Waylon Jennings to play bass. He wanted me to find a drummer. I mentioned that there was a good drummer from that area named Charles Bunch. Charles, or Carl, as everyone calls him, was in that first trio I played in the session at Norman Petty's studio in Clovis.

You'll need to click that link to read Allsup's account of the fateful coin flip with Richie Valens and what happened to that coin.

Later that year, Allsup headed to Los Angeles. He became Liberty Records' A&R director for Country & Western music and a record producer and session musician for both country and pop artists. That's his guitar (and Leon Russell's keyboards) on Gary Lewis and the Playboys' hit "This Diamond Ring." Allsup produced all of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys' recordings on Liberty, including the 1960 and 1961 sessions that reunited Bob Wills and vocalist Tommy Duncan. Tex Williams was another artist whose work was produced by Allsup for Liberty.

Allsup built his own studio in Odessa in the mid-1960s, from which emerged one of the more unusual rock hits of the 1960s, "In the Year 2525," by Zager and Evans.

In 1968, Allsup went on to Nashville to work as a studio musician, backing many of the legends of country music, including George Jones, Marty Robbins, Reba McIntire, Ferlin Husky, Faron Young, Wanda Jackson, Lynn Anderson, Charlie Rich, and Kenny Rogers. (See Praguefrank's Country Discography for details.) In 1973, he produced and played bass on Bob Wills's final album, For the Last Time. After Wills's death, Allsup produced and sometimes performed with the Original Texas Playboys, led by Leon McAuliffe.

For the last 20 years or so, Allsup joined Leon Rausch to front Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, the band officially authorized by the Bob Wills estate to carry on his musical legacy. With the Playboys, Allsup made appearances at Cain's Ballroom every March for the annual Bob Wills Birthday Bash and every April at Bob Wills Day in Turkey, Texas, along with gigs from coast to coast. While the lineup of the Texas Playboys has varied depending on the sidemen available to travel to a gig, Allsup and Rausch have been constants, with Allsup on lead guitar and Rausch on lead vocals. At every performance I witnessed, Allsup would also sing on several Bob Wills tunes, Buddy Holly's "Raining in My Heart," and the blues tune "Big Boss Man."

Tommy Allsup and Leon Rausch, Cain's Ballroom, March 4, 2012

Allsup was one of the last surviving musicians to have toured and recorded with Bob Wills. Leon Rausch, Bobby Koefer, Herb Remington, Ramona Reed, and Jody Nix are among the few who are still with us. Tommy Allsup's absence will be keenly felt at this year's Bob Wills Birthday Bash.


In 2011, John Erling interviewed Tommy Allsup for his Voices of Oklahoma series.

Radio station WFMU's "Beware of the Blog" has the entirety of Twistin' the Country Classics (Liberty, 1963) available for your listening pleasure. Tommy Allsup headed a band of studio musicians called the Raiders.

Buddy Holly historian Randy Steele spoke to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal about Tommy Allsup's visit last fall.

"Tommy's body may have been 85, but his hands were as young as ever, and so was his mind," said Steele, adding he's a longtime friend of the Holly family and an avid fan and researcher of Holly and the Crickets. "He played unbelievable. It was almost effortless, or seamless."

NOTE: Photos are from the 2012 Bob Wills Birthday Bash at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa. Copyright 2012 by Michael D. Bates. All rights reserved.

The Time Jumpers at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013, with Dawn Sears and Vince Gill

Every year about this time, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco hosts a weekend of free performances from dozens of bands. It all started with bluegrass, but it expanded to include country, folk, Americana, zydeco, blues, western swing and who knows what all, and now it's known as Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

If you can't be in Golden Gate Park in person, you can watch the live stream from some of the stages. You'll find the 2016 schedule here; don't forget that it's two hours later in Tulsa. Saturday's lineup includes the Time Jumpers, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Earle & the Dukes, Kris Kristofferson, Chris Isaak, and Cyndi Lauper (Cyndi Lauper?), plus a bunch of acts that I'm insufficiently hip to have heard of.

You can also peruse the webcast archives from earlier years, going back to 2012. The 2015 HSB webcast included performances by Los Lobos, Punch Brothers, Time Jumpers, Asleep at the Wheel, Blind Boys of Alabama, and Doobie Decimal System. The 2014 HSB archive includes Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Bruce Cockburn, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Buckwheat Zydeco, and the Time Jumpers.

Ranger Doug sings with the Time Jumpers at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2013

The Time Jumpers began simply as a weekly gathering of Nashville session musicians who wanted an outlet to play their favorite kinds of music -- including western swing. Fiddler Kenny Sears and his vocalist wife Dawn Sears were among the founders. Ranger Doug Green from Riders in the Sky was an early member. Eventually country superstar Vince Gill joined in, but just as one more guy in the band. The informal gathering gelled into a band, and they began touring and recording together.

I had the happy providence of being in SF for the Time Jumpers 2013 performance -- so far the only time I've seen them perform. It turned out to be a special occasion: Dawn Sears had been diagnosed early in 2012 with late-stage lung cancer. She had been through treatment and was feeling well enough to join the band for this trip. In this performance, she sang "Someone Had to Teach You" (about 4 minutes in) and "So Far Apart" (starting about 35:30).

Here's the Time Jumpers' 2013 performance at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass:

Dawn passed away on December 11, 2014, age 53, and the Time Jumpers' new album, Kid Sister, is dedicated to her memory.

Here's the Time Jumpers' 2014 performance:

And here they are in 2015:


As a bonus, here's Asleep at the Wheel at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2015:

Legendary country singer and songwriter Merle Haggard died Wednesday on his 79th birthday.

It might be going too far to say he saved western swing from oblivion, but Merle Haggard's efforts to honor Bob Wills went a long way toward introducing a new generation to the sound.

In 1946 or 1947, when Merle Haggard was nine or 10, he would ride his bike down to Beardsley's Ballroom in Bakersfield and listen at an open window to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Western swing and Bob Wills were both in rough shape at the end of the 1960s. After two heart attacks, Wills gave up the stress of leading a band in 1964. Leon Rausch took over the Texas Playboys, while Bob played solo dates, sometimes traveling with a vocalist, backed by local bands, and continuing to record for Kapp Records with studio musicians. In 1969, Wills was honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame and by the Governor of Texas, but on May 31 he suffered a major stroke, followed by numerous complications and the paralysis of his right side. His bow hand was useless and his fiddling days were at an end.

Around the same time, Haggard took advantage of the creative freedom his early superstardom had earned him to record tribute albums to musicians who had influenced him. He began in 1969 with a tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, with a double-album called Same Train, A Different Time. Haggard brought the liner notes into the vinyl, interspersing Rodgers' blue yodels with short narrations about Rodgers and the life along the rails that inspired his songs.

a-tribute-to-the-best-damn-fiddle-player-in-the-world.jpgThe following year, Haggard taught himself fiddle in preparation for recording a tribute to Bob Wills. This time, instead of relying solely on his own band, The Strangers, he went to Wills and asked his advice on which of his sidemen he should bring gathered six veteran Bob Wills sidemen -- Johnnie Lee Wills on tenor banjo (the instrument he played with the Texas Playboys before launching his own band), Johnny Gimble and Joe Holley on fiddles, Tiny Moore on mandolin, Eldon Shamblin on guitar, and Alex Brashear on trumpet -- to join with his band at the Capitol studios in Hollywood in April 1970 to record A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World, or My Salute to Bob Wills. Except for Johnnie Lee Wills, the musicians to participate were part of the Texas Playboys band of Haggard would have heard growing up near Bakersfield in the late '40s. Except for Johnnie Lee Wills and Johnny Gimble (who joined the Texas Playboys in 1949), these were musicians who recorded the Tiffany Transcriptions, the recorded-for-radio discs that captured this versatile ensemble as they sounded on the bandstand night-after-night, unconstrained by the limits of 78 RPM discs.

By the fall of 1971, Wills's health had recovered sufficiently to allow him to travel, and Haggard arranged for a larger group of Texas Playboys -- Alex Brashear, trumpet; William E. "Smokey" Dacus, drums; Glynn Duncan, vocal; Johnny Gimble, fiddle; Joe Holley, fiddle; Leon McAuliffe, steel guitar; Tiny Moore, electric mandolin; Eldon Shamblin, electric guitar; Al Stricklin, piano; Johnnie Lee Wills, banjo; Luke Wills, bass -- to fly out to Bakersfield for his housewarming party on September 27, 1971. It was a reunion for Bob and several members of his 1930s Tulsa band (with Glynn Duncan subbing for his late brother Tommy). Their session was recorded for Capitol, but for some reason it was never released. The songs only became available as part of Bear Records' massive and comprehensive box set.

Although it didn't directly result in an album, the reunion in Bakersfield opened the door for an even bigger reunion in March 1972 in Fort Worth, and ultimately a recording session with a new label, United Artists. When the Bob Wills planned a session for December 1973, Merle Haggard was determined to be there and begged Wills for the chance to play with the band. After a gig in Chicago, Haggard's bus drove through the night to get him there for the second day of the session. In the meantime, Wills had been at the first day of recording, but that night Wills had had the stroke that would put him in a coma for the rest of his life. The Playboys carried on despite their sadness. Haggard sang three tunes as a Texas Playboy: "The Texas Playboy Theme," "Yearning," and "I Wonder If You Feel the Way I Do."

After Wills's death, Haggard continued to use his platform to bring old Texas Playboys together and to bring their music to a wider audience. Here's a segment of a nationally broadcast show, introduced by Dolly Parton, featuring Merle Haggard with Eldon Shamblin on electric guitar, Joe Holley on fiddle, Tiny Moore and Johnny Gimble on fiddle and mandolin, Skeeter Elkin on piano, Herb Remington on steel guitar, Alex Brashear on trumpet, Wayne Johnson on saxophone, playing the "Texas Playboys Theme," "Ida Red," an instrumental verse of "Faded Love," "Roly Poly," and "San Antonio Rose." (Not sure who the bass player and drummer are.)

Haggard invited two of the Texas Playboys, Tiny Moore and Eldon Shamblin, to join and tour with his band, which they did from 1973 to 1976, rejoining the band in 1981. They played with the Strangers throughout the period when they appeared in Reno and around Lake Tahoe, close to Moore's home base of Sacramento.

In 1977, Haggard was the guest of a very hirsute Ralph Emery on "Pop Goes the Country," and he played a medley of fiddle tunes with Tiny Moore, Johnny Gimble, and fiddle prodigy Tigar Bell.

From the same show, here's "Haggard with The Strangers, Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, and Johnny Gimble performing Cherokee Maiden," which reached number 1 in the country charts in November 1976.

In 1978, Haggard, Moore, Shamblin, and the Strangers performed Columbus Stockade Blues and a fiddle medley on TV (but, alas, those videos have been deleted).

Haggard continued to record and perform Bob Wills tune throughout his career. He graced Asleep at the Wheel's Bob Wills tribute albums, singing "I Wonder If You Feel the Way I Do" on A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (1993), "St. Louis Blues" on Ride with Bob (1999), and "Keeper of My Heart" on Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (2015).

SOURCES: San Antonio Rose, the Life and Music of Bob Wills by Charles Townsend and Tom Diamant's 1981 interview with Tiny and Dean Moore and Eldon Shamblin.


At The Federalist, Peter Johnson writes about Merle "Haggard's everyday man's brand of conservatism." He writes:

I credit classic country, and Haggard especially, for helping me to avoid the progressivism nonsense that permeates our culture nowadays. I'm a Jewish guy with an English degree from New York University who served in the Peace Corps, so it might seem natural to predict that I might have turned out a flaming progressive. I think my deep appreciation for classic country music is one of the reasons I never really bought into leftist ideologies.

In the April 10, 2016, edition of Panhandle Country on KPFA, Tom Diamant paid tribute to Merle Haggard; the main part of the tribute begins at 48:42. At 1:37:00, Diamant discusses Haggard's Bob Wills tribute. It will only be online until April 24, so listen while you can.

Bobby Ross Jr. writes at Get Religion about Merle Haggard's Christian faith. In the comments, he mentions that Haggard was a member of Gene Scott's church and a friend of the idiosyncratic preacher, linking to the LA Times obit of Gene Scott:

Country singer Merle Haggard, a church member and close friend, on Tuesday called Scott an exceptional scholar.

"He was the mind that all other brilliant minds looked to for guidance on problems that were insoluble," Haggard said.

Raisin' Cain recalls Haggard's live recreation of a Texas Playboys noon broadcast from Cain's Ballroom on KVOO in 1984.

The Bakersfield Californian reports on the roots of Merle Haggard's musical raising.

The Texas-born "King of Western Swing" began recording with his band in the mid-1930s. He found major success with hits such as "New San Antonio Rose" in 1940 and, following a short stint in the Army, relocated to the Los Angeles area in 1943 where he began reorganizing the Texas Playboys. Laborers from all over the country were migrating to industrial jobs on the West Coast during the war years, and many Southern and Southwestern transplants flocked to the dance halls to hear Wills and his band. They became at least as popular -- if not more so -- than big bands fronted by Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.

Wills and his band moved to Fresno in 1945, and toured relentlessly up and down the coast. For more than a year, they played a weekly gig at Bakersfield's Beardsley Ballroom. At least once per month the show was broadcast live on the radio. One of the most dedicated young listeners was Merle Haggard. "Bob Wills' band," Merle claimed in his second autobiography My House of Memories, "was the best in the history of live radio."

But it was more than the stellar musicianship that Merle came to appreciate. "Our people were often looked down on by the natives as being dumb and ignorant Okies," Haggard noted. "We needed a hero, and Bob was certainly that and more."

In 1968 Wills was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. A stroke the following year left him partially paralyzed. Reflecting on his hero's contributions to the music he loved, Haggard mastered the fiddle in a few short months and started work on recording the awkwardly titled "A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (Or, My Salute to Bob Wills)." Released in 1970, the songs were near note-perfect imitations of Wills' records. In addition to his regular band, the Strangers, Merle recruited several of Wills' Texas Playboys for the session, including Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, Johnny Gimble, Johnnie Lee Wills, Joe Holley, and Alex Brashear.

"You know what I learned from Bob Wills?" Haggard asked during a 2010 interview. "Everything!"

While Bob Wills taught Haggard about being an effective band leader, it was the Texas Playboys vocalist, Tommy Duncan, who was one of Merle's greatest influences as a frontman. "I think the first to impress me with his good singing voice was Tommy Duncan," Haggard revealed in his 1981 autobiography, "Sing Me Back Home."

Duncan and Wills began working together in 1932 after Tommy auditioned with dozens of other singers for a spot in Wills' Light Crust Doughboys. The pair formed the Texas Playboys the following year. Tommy sang lead on most of the Playboys' hits until his boss's drinking created tension between the bandleader and singer. Duncan was fired in 1948, though he and Wills would work together again in the future.

In his early days as a Bakersfield picker, Haggard was called to play guitar in a one-off band that was assembled to back Duncan at a show in Hanford. "There wasn't nobody in the band that I recognized and it was an awful band," Merle recalled in 2009. "Tommy got onstage and did 'Deep Water,' and when he got through with it he walked over to me. . . . He said, 'Would you mind helping me keep these songs going?' And I just turned red all over, you know. But it took him one song to identify that out of the thirteen people, there was one guy onstage that might be able to play. Boy, that was the thrill of my life to get to play with Tommy."

Haggard's childhood home in Oildale, converted from a boxcar by his father, has been moved to the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield.

On Friday, September 6, 1935, Al Stricklin arrived in Tulsa with his wife to take a job as piano player for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. After joining Bob and the band for the noon broadcast at the Barrel Food Palace and then rehearsing that afternoon at the home of Bob's parents, Al went along on his first dance gig at a little place called Glenoak, Oklahoma. This account of that dance is excerpted from Chapter 4 of Stricklin's memoir, My Years with Bob Wills, Austin: Eakin Press, 1980. It's a highly entertaining book, with lots of vivid detail. You really get a sense of the times, the people, and most of all, the larger-than-life, magnetic personality of Bob Wills.

Al_Stricklin-My_Years_with_Bob_Wills.jpgIt didn't take long for me to learn about the musical magic of Bob Wills. I learned that first night after that first rehearsal. It was at a place called Glen Oak, a frame building dance hall about fifteen miles east of Bartlesville, Oklahoma....

It was Bob Wills who was leading us in the bus that day as I made my first trip with the band to Glen Oak. It was the beginning of seven years of experiences that many men with money would have given a powerful part of their personal coffers to share....

The guys told me that the women in Oklahoma were wild over the band. So wild that they would gang up on you and take you out and attack you.

They weren't that bad. But I will say that there did seem to be plenty of them who were most agreeable to being most friendly if a man was interested.

"something else you have to watch for, Al. The men in these dance halls like the one we are going to do some powerful drinking. They get crazy drunk, and their eyes get red and watery like an old dog that's been chasing his tail in the sun all day long. And they get to wanting to beat up on us musicians because their women will smile at us and those crazy drunks don't take to that very nice at all," said one of the men.

"So what do I do?" I asked.

"Just keep yourself in the bus if you are afraid to fight. Just sit in here and listen to us," said one of them.

That brought another wild round of laughter.

Our old bus finally clanged into Glen Oak. When I said Glen Oak was out in the coutry, I mean it was out in the country. There were maybe two families living there. One of them owned the dance hall.

The sun was just dipping down into a hall of black when we arrived. There wasn't a car in sight. I thought: "How in the world is this guy Bob Wills going to pay guys like me $30 a week without any customers?"

Then I began worrying that maybe I wasn't going to get paid, just like it used to always happen. I remembered a time when a bunch of us in Waco rented a hall about ten miles out in the sticks. We paid $10 for it. We started playing about 9:00 p.m. There wasn't anybody there. By 10:00, still nobody had shown up. Then we saw the lights of a car turn in and the sax man said, "Let's hit 'Dinah,' men. A car just drove up."

That's how I was feeling. Until about 9:00 p.m. That's when they began coming to the dance at Glen Oak. Cars were pilling up outside. Some people were coming on foot. Some were riding horses. By 9:00, they were having to turn them away.

We started playing. Bob hadn't arrived yet. And nobody paid us much mind. About thirty minutes later, while we were playing, I heard the wildest racket I had ever heard. There was applause, yelling, and whistling. People were just going wild. Bob Wills had finally arrived.

He got up there wil us and drug his fiddle out of its case. The crowd had gotten as close as they could to the bandstand. They were packed like three dozen eggs put into a one-dozen egg container. When Bob started, the applause drowned out the music.

Bob was grinning and playing, and every so often he would point that fiddle bow of his at one of the boys and tell him to get with it. We would. And again would come that wave of applause. Maddening. Deafening. I had never heard or seen anything like it. It wasn't a dance. It was a show. A "happening."

The boys had impressed on me during the trip up there that one of the most important things was to watch Bob at all times. You never knew when he would call on you to take it. And if he called on you and you weren't looking at him, that was the unpardonable sin.

They had also told me to smile like crazy when Bob gave me the cue and then to smile again when I had finished my break. And there wasn't any taking a break. By that, I mean you didn't shut down the music any time. That began to hurt me. We had drunk a bunch of coffee right before the dance had started and about 11:00 p.m. I was crossing my legs so many times that if somebody out in the audience was watching me, the probably would have thought that I was doing the Charleston.

Finally, I leaned over to Sleepy and asked, "Sleepy, when are we going to have an intermission?"

"We don't take intermissions. If you've got to go to the bathroom, just forget it," he said.

He was right in a way. We didn't take intermissions. But, every once in awhile, one of us could get down and go back and get some relief. When that time finally came for me, I know I overstayed my allotted time in front of the trough. But man, it sure did feel good. As I was leaving, the first man in the long line behind stopped me and said, "Fellow, I want to shake your hand. You skin them keys on that piano like you were peeling a stalkful of bananas." He laughed and then added, "What I am trying to say is that you are a piano player. One of the best I've ever heard!"

I don't know how I got through that night. But I did. After it was all over, the people crowded around and kept yelling for more, and when they realized there wasn't going to be any more, they started asking for autographs. It was a long ways for a country boy from Grandview to come. I thought later as we were sopping up some chicken fried steak and cream gravy in a cafe before we headed back for Tulsa, "Man, I came awfully close to not coming up here. If every night is like this one, then I think I'll go kick myself for ever even thinking slightly that way."

I went to sleep happy that night. That old moon was outside our bedroom window, still pretty high in the sky considering how late it was. It looked like it was winking happiness at me.

Old county maps pinpoint Glenoak on US 60, just east of the Washington-Nowata County line, with a cluster of homes and a commercial building (probably the dance hall) on the southside of the road.

MORE: Jerry Stevens writes with a story of Glenoak, where his grandfather had been a bouncer for Bob Wills.

My Grandpa used to say that there would be model "T"'s parked all the way around the east curve along the highway. There was also chicken wire across the front of the stage to protect the band from thrown bottles. It was a wild place alright. My Grandma told of a time that she drove down to the dance (my dad and Uncle were with her) to pick up my Grandpa after the dance and when he came out the front 5 men jumped him and beat him up for kicking them out of the dance. They knocked him out and went over and were standing there talking in the parking lot. He woke up and went over to them and knocked out the one that hit him last and they beat him up again. Grand Dad had a permanent knot on his head from a whiskey bottle he was hit with in the fight. Dad said he (Grand Pa) later caught up with each one of them and paid them back. I guess a lot of people from all around used to go there.

The east curve is over two miles east of where Glenoak is marked on the map. Imagine having to walk for over half-an-hour to get to the dance and half-an-hour back to your car when it was all over.

boyd_jazz_southwest_western_swing.jpgI've been reading a very interesting book, The Jazz of the Southwest: An Oral History of Western Swing by Jean A. Boyd (1998, University of Texas Press). Boyd is professor of musicology at Baylor University. The book begins by tracing the overall history of the genre, as it began in Texas in the 1930s, the musical streams from which it drew, and the men who shaped the music in its infancy.

Each of the remaining chapters of the book is devoted to a particular instrument. Boyd provides a historical overview of the instrument's involvement in western swing and the early musicians who helped to define its role. She then tells the story of several players, drawn from her interviews with them. For example, the chapter on fiddlers spotlights Cliff Bruner, Carroll Hubbard, Buddy Ray, Jimmy Thomason, Johnny Gimble, Bobby Bruce, Curly Lewis, Clyde Brewer, and Bobby Boatright. While Bob Wills and his many Texas Playboys sidemen are prominently featured, Boyd's book has introduced me to bands and musicians that are new to me and whose music I hope to find at some point.

The Baylor University Institute for Oral History has made complete transcripts of many of the interviews available online. While there is a Western Swing collection, that tag doesn't include some interviews with western swing musicians, so the best way to find all of them is to search for interviews conducted by Boyd or by historian David Stricklin (son of original Texas Playboys pianist Al Stricklin).

Interviews by Jean Boyd
Interviews by David Stricklin

Here are direct links to a few among many interesting transcripts:

Betty Anderson Wills, wife of Bob Wills
Original Texas Playboys: Smoky Dacus, Al Stricklin, Eldon Shamblin, Joe Frank Ferguson, Leon McAuliffe (1985)
Eldon Shamblin, guitarist, arranger, band manager (1992)
Herb Remington, steel guitar
Curly Lewis, fiddler and vocalist
Cindy Walker, songwriter
Dean Moore, vocalist and widow of mandolinist Tiny Moore; Truitt Cunningham, vocalist; Burl Taylor

Some entries (e.g. Dean Moore, Curly Lewis) have the recordings available on the right sidebar for online streaming.

MORE: The Baylor University Institute for Oral History has helpful resources for anyone wanting to learn to conduct, transcribe, and preserve oral history interviews.

Jean Boyd has written two more books of western swing history: We're the Light Crust Doughboys from Burrus Mill, and Dance All Night: Those Other Southwestern Swing Bands, Past and Present.


Here is a link to a online real estate listing (no longer active) for a 640-acre spread between the Red River and Little Red River in Hall County, Texas:

640 Acres Bordering BOTH the Red River and Little Red River. This is the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River.

This is the original home place of Bob Wills. The old homestead is still there and would be inhabitable with a considerable amount of work. The home is being given no value. Electricity and County water available at home site.

This is an incredible hunting property, boasting numerous Large mule deer, white tail deer, turkeys, wild hogs, and dove as well. There is even some duck hunting when the Little red is holding water.

Also great for running cattle and growing crops in some areas.

If you're interested in raising deer or exotics, the neighboring tract is high fenced. This means about an entire 1/3 of this property is already high fenced!

Don't miss out on this pristine Panhandle Property!

The location is northeast of Turkey, Texas, which is home to the Bob Wills Museum and the annual Bob Wills Festival in April. It's not far from the Caprock Canyons -- pretty country where walls of red rock line the river valley.


Bob's family moved here in 1913, when he was about 8 years old. In a few years, he and his dad were playing house dances around the area. To finish this off, here's a song he might have played for one of those dances: Wednesday Night Waltz.

Soundies from 1946, featuring Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. This is the same lineup as the early Tiffany Transcriptions sessions: Tommy Duncan and the McKinney Sisters (Dean and Evelyn) on vocals, Bob Wills, Joe Holley, and Louis Tierney on fiddle, Noel Boggs on steel guitar, Millard Kelso on piano, Junior Barnard on guitar, Alex Brashear on trumpet, Johnny Cuviello on drums, Luke Wills on bass. The songs are "Texas Playboy Rag," "I Betcha My Heart I Love Ya," "San Antonio Rose," and "Goodbye Liza Jane."

That's quite a guitar solo on that last number. Here's a nice tribute to the man responsible, innovative guitarist Junior Barnard.

And here's a bonus, a collection of unreleased Bob Wills Big Band sides from 1941 -- "La Paloma," "The Girl I Left Behind Me," "Liebestraum," "When It's Honeysuckle Time in the Valley," and "Maiden's Prayer."

Okie Boogie remix

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A reader sends along this interesting remix of "Oakie Boogie" by a Bristol-based DJ called Howla. (That's Bristol, England -- another indication of the international audience for western swing and related genres of American music.)

The song "Oakie Boogie" (spelled "Okie Boogie" after the "a" was dropped from the toponym), written by western swing vocalist Johnny Tyler in 1947:

It was a #3 hit for Jack Guthrie the same year. Here he is singing "Oakie Boogie" in his only film appearance

Five years later Ella Mae Morse, accompanied by legendary steel guitarist and sometime Tulsan Speedy West, recorded a version, arranged by Nelson Riddle, that reached #23 on the charts, and that's the version sampled by Howla.

A word about the songwriter, Johnny Tyler: The same year he recorded "Oakie Boogie" with his own band, he did a couple of recording sessions with Luke Wills and His Rhythm Busters for RCA. Luke Wills, the third-eldest of the four Wills brothers, helped meet the demand for Bob Wills music with his own touring band covering California and the west. Many of the Texas Playboys performed and recorded with Luke's band, moving between the two bands as needed -- the Luke Wills discography includes Texas Playboys greats like guitarists Eldon Shamblin and Junior Barnard (sometimes together!), pianist Millard Kelso, fiddlers Joe Holley and Cotton Thompson, drummer Johnny Cuviello, and Tommy Duncan's little brother Glynn Duncan. When Bob Wills hired Herb Remington in 1946 to play steel guitar, he sent the incumbent steel player, Roy Honeycutt, to Luke's band.

When RCA signed Luke to a recording contract, they paired him with vocalist Tommy Doss for several sessions. While Doss later found fame as a cowboy balladeer, taking Bob Nolan's place when he retired from Sons of the Pioneers, his nasal, tremulous voice wasn't a good fit for western swing:

(This page claims that Bob Wills discovered Doss in 1948 and hired him to tour with the Texas Playboys to replace the recently fired Tommy Duncan. But Doss had recorded "At the End of the Lane" and "Moonlight on the Prairie" with the Texas Playboys on the May 30-31, 1947, Tiffany Transcriptions session in San Francisco, and he recorded with Luke Wills in July, October, and November 1947, so he would have already been well known to the extended Wills musical family.)

After the July 1947 session with Tommy Doss on vocals, Luke Wills moved Doss to guitar and Johnny Tyler from guitar to vocals for the October and November sessions. For a direct contrast, Here's Tommy Doss with Luke Wills and His Rhythm Busters on "High Voltage Gal," preceded by "Cain's Stomp" -- a new version of "Osage Stomp," the first song the Texas Playboys ever recorded.

Now here's the same song and same band, with Johnny Tyler on vocals. (Embedding is disabled so you'll have to go to the link.)


Legendary fiddler Johnny Gimble died today at the age of 88.

Gimble was hired by Bob Wills for the Texas Playboys in 1949. After a few years on the road, he retired to barbering and playing music on the weekends. But in 1968 he moved to Nashville and made his mark as a well-regarded session musician. Bob Wills recommended Gimble to Merle Haggard for Haggard's tribute album to Wills, and Gimble was on Wills' final album, For the Last Time in 1973. His frequent guest spots on A Prairie Home Companion brought Western Swing fiddle to the awareness of a broader audience. His brilliance at improvisation outshone his contemporaries and stayed bright for well over a half-century. He was also accomplished on mandolin, and he can be heard playing the instrument on many of the Texas Playboys' late '40s, early '50s sides for MGM.

The best tribute I can manage is for you to hear Johnny Gimble playing. Here he is from 1977, with Merle Haggard, Tiny Moore, and Eldon Shamblin:

From 1981, a music-heavy documentary called Gimble's Swing, featuring Eldon Shamblin. (I'm pretty sure there's a glimpse of Tulsa trumpeter Mike Bennett in this show.)

Here's Johnny Gimble fiddling around with Mark O'Connor:

Johnny Gimble plays Bob Wills' part (as he did in the Clint Eastwood movie Honkytonk Man) on San Antonio Rose, with Asleep at the Wheel, and Texas Playboys bandmate Herb Remington on steel guitar:

Here's a 40-minute profile featuring Johnny Gimble telling his own life story:

Can't embed this one, but here's Johnny Gimble playing "Take Me Back to Tulsa" with George Jones and his band.

And finally, from his Texas Fiddle Collection, "Goodnight Waltz":

(Sadly missing from the Internet: The 1981 Austin City Limits episode featuring Johnny Gimble, Jethro Burns, and Tiny Moore, playing swing mandolin, backed by Eldon Shamblin and David Grisman. KLRU sends a takedown notice every time it's posted online.)

Bob Wills' passing in 1975 happened just as the music he made famous was enjoying a resurgence of interest, a comeback that might be traceable to Merle Haggard's decision to share his superstar spotlight with the music that shaped him. In 1970, Haggard invited six members of the Texas Playboys -- Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, Johnnie Lee Wills, Alex Brashear, Joe Holley, and Johnny Gimble -- to record with his band on A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World: My Salute to Bob Wills. Haggard gathered Bob and even more Texas Playboys to record at his housewarming party in 1971. Although that album was never released (although it was included many years later in the Bear Family box set), it set the stage for For the Last Time, the final time the Texas Playboys would record with Bob Wills.

With audiences rediscovering the joy of the music of the Texas Playboys, and with the veteran musicians having rediscovered the joy of playing music together, it was natural for them to want to continue on, and, with the blessing of Bob's widow, Betty, they did, as the Original Texas Playboys, under the leadership of Leon McAuliffe. The band appeared on one of the first episodes of Austin City Limits, and they continued to perform together under the Original Texas Playboys name until piano-pounder Al Stricklin passed away in 1986.

They recorded a few albums, but none of them have been issued on CD. Someone has digitized the first two -- Bob Wills' Original Texas Playboys Today (1977) and Live and Kickin' (1978). Singer Leon Rausch's discography covers most of the post-Bob Wills recording of the Original Texas Playboys and other collections of Bob's sidemen.

Someone has also digitized another vinyl disc featuring a Texas Playboys legend: Eldon Shamblin: Guitar Genius (1982). Western Swing historian Buddy McPeters has called Eldon Shamblin the "greatest Texas Playboy" -- he was not only a guitarist, with a unique style, but an arranger who made the Texas Playboys swing. For many years he also served as the band's business manager. Eldon's playing is usually in the background; this album gives it the spotlight it deserves. The album begins with Eldon saying a few words about his career and the development of his style. Praguefrank's discography of Eldon Shamblin reports that he was joined on the album by John Cummins and Bob Kiser on bass, Jay Hearn on drums, and Gary Hutton and Curly Lewis on fiddle.

On May 23, 1978, Michael Mendelson interviewed Texas Playboys mandolinist Tiny Moore, who talked about his growing up, split between the farmland of central Texas and the oil refinery town of Port Arthur, early music efforts, his stint in the Army Air Corps, his impromptu audition for Bob Wills at a pig stand, marrying Dean McKinney and settling down in Sacramento, the Billy Jack Wills band, and his "civilian" life as a TV kiddie show host, music teacher, and music store owner. Mendelson boiled the interview down into this profile of Tiny Moore for Frets magazine. (Found via the texasplayboys.net discussion forum.) There's an intriguing teaser at the end of that article -- elsewhere in the issue, David Grisman takes an "in-depth look" at Tiny Moore's style of playing mandolin.

Jimmy Young, RIP

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Fiddler Jimmy Young, bassist Mac Macrae, fiddler Dale Morris, Jr., with the Texas Playboys at Bob Wills Birthday Bash, Cain's Ballroom, March 6, 2010. Photo by Joseph Bates

Western Swing Hall of Fame fiddler Jimmy Young passed away Friday, October 3, 2014, in Amarillo, Texas, at the age of 85. Young played in western swing bands all over Texas and Oklahoma, performing with Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell, and other western music legends.

Young was born in Dunbar, Oklahoma, grew up in Tuskahoma, and moved to Oklahoma City, where he began performing professionally with bands and on KBYE radio. Around 1950, after service in World War II, Young moved to Amarillo. In 1964, Bob Wills sold the Texas Playboys, shedding the responsibility of running a band, and he toured solo, performing with local musicians. When Wills came to Amarillo, Young would be in his band.

Beginning in 1993, Young performed regularly with Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, headed by Leon Rausch and Tommy Allsup, and for 30 years or so, he played with the Amarillo-based Sugartimers Classic Country Dance Band. In 2005, Young was inducted into the Western Swing Society of the Southwest Hall of Fame. In 2009, Young performed with the Texas Playboys at the Texas State Society's Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C.

It was a highlight of the annual Bob Wills Birthday celebration at Cain's Ballroom to see Jimmy do his Bob Wills impersonation when the band played "Faded Love" and "San Antonio Rose." Jimmy, very close in stature to Bob Wills, would stick a Roi-Tan cigar in his mouth (unlit) and mimic Bob, conducting with his bow, nodding his head in time to the music, doing a little jig-step, and making his characteristic commentary, for example: "Now, friends, here's the song that took us off hamburgers and put us on to steaks -- the San Antonio Rose!"

His grandson Dustin Young wrote a touching tribute to his granddad in the Amarillo Globe:

Growing up, I was always fascinated by the sound of his fiddle as he would warm up before a show.

With rosin dust hovering in the air, and the hum of his amplifier, he would go back and forth between playing and turning knobs in order to find his desired sound, by which he would enchant yet another audience. During every show I went to, the sense of pride that consumed me when he stepped on stage was both exhilarating and heartwarming. After every good lick he would always shoot me a wide grin as if to say, "Listen to this. I'm fixing to burn the hair off of this bow!" In my opinion I always had the best seat in the house at those shows.

Every musician I've met that knew my grandpa ends up telling me how much they enjoyed his playing and above all his demeanor among his fellow bandsmen. In a business where many can be very snobbish, Jimmy Young had always maintained a genuine sense of humility. Some folks can get a little bit arrogant once they have been inducted into the hall of fame more than a few times. Such accolades might boost one's ego and fill their heart with self-importance, but not in his case. He had always been the same man from my viewpoint. Never was he the fiddle-playing extraordinaire, or the Bob Wills impressionist, to me he was and always will be Opa.


Jimmy Young feature story on the Bob Wills Day website.
2005 story about Jimmy Young, Chet Calcote, and other Texas Panhandle musicians being inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame
Jimmy Young obituary in the Amarillo Globe

Jimmy Young playing Faded Love and San Antonio Rose as Bob Wills, October 4, 2008, in Odessa, Texas:

This coming weekend, September 6 and 7, 2014, is the opening weekend of the Helmerich Center for American Research, a unit of the City of Tulsa's Gilcrease Museum. The new facility is adjacent to the museum on Gilcrease Museum Road.

A weekend full of free events is planned, including Native American and Latin American dancers, the Cherokee National Youth Choir, red dirt/Americana band The 66. There will be lectures on art and history, art-making, kite-flying, and map-reading activities for children. Food trucks will be on hand and the museum restaurant will be open. It would be easy to spend the entire weekend out there.

Legendary guitarist, singer, picker and grinner Roy Clark, fiddler Jana Jae, and the Tulsa Playboys will perform together on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on the main stage. The event is free and unticketed; seating is first come, first served.

The Red Dirt Rangers will close out the weekend Sunday evening at 4 p.m.

Because of limited parking at Gilcrease, visitors are encouraged to park in designated lots downtown and take a five-minute shuttle ride to the museum.

MORE: Here's an earlier -- much earlier -- performance of Orange Blossom Special with Roy Clark and Tulsa Playboys bandleader Shelby Eicher. Eicher shows up about 7:40 into the video.


Our family was among those huddled under a tent as the cold drizzle continued into mid-afternoon. We were delighted to listen to the Cherokee National Choir sing songs like "Take the Name of Jesus with You," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and "I'll Fly Away" in the language of Sequoyah. Around 2:05, a few minutes after the choir left the stage, the Tulsa Playboys began to set up. They were in place, but there was some inexplicable delay. A sound check began after the show was scheduled to start, and it was quickly apparent that the sound man had no earthly idea what he was doing.

As the rhythm section of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, rhythm guitarist Eldon Shamblin and drummer Smokey Dacus, along with Al Stricklin on piano, defined the beat that drove dancers across the southwestern U. S. in the 1930s from the band's home base at Tulsa's Cain's Ballroom. Dacus was on the Texas Playboys' first 1935 recording session and stayed with the band until World War II; Shamblin joined the band in 1937 and continued to work with Bob Wills off and on through the '40s and '50s. The two reunited with the rest of the early-day Playboys for a 1970 session at Merle Haggard's housewarming and Bob Wills's final recording session in December 1973, and then as the Original Texas Playboys until Stricklin's passing in 1986.

Here are Eldon and Smokey at Cain's Ballroom sometime in the early '90s, telling stories of those early days -- playing pranks, dealing with Bob Wills, Leon McAuliffe as a gawky teenager who could "fall over a broomstraw in a 60-acre field," the vast repertoire that they could play on demand as Bob read the mood of the crowd, the massive crowds they drew to Cain's (3,000 a night), playing the funerals of fans on Sunday, their only day off, and babies sleeping on the bandstand while their parents danced. Medicine Park, Crystal City, and Elwood Park (six miles south of Oklahoma City) get a mention.

Early in the conversation, Eldon said, "When you played here on Saturday night, for example, you'd look out in the crowd and there'd be people from Arkansas City, Oklahoma City... we never had a concentration of customers from Tulsa.... We always had full houses, but they weren't all from Tulsa. They were from surrounding territories."

bob_wills_family-bbb_ranch-fresno.jpgEarlier this year it was learned that a new subdivision threatened the site of Bob Wills's Triple BBB Ranch in Fresno. The famous western swing bandleader and his family lived on the 80-acre ranch in the mid-1940s.

Local preservationists were too late to get the ranch on the historic register before the developer had obtained a demolition permit. But they were able to work out an agreement with the developer, who offered the house for $1 to anyone willing to move it to another location.

Lance Tullis, president of the Central California Music Association, bought Bob Wills's Triple BBB Ranch house and is moving it. Later this month, he's holding a dance to raise funds for renovating the building into a museum. "Raise the Roof for the King of Western Swing" will be held on Saturday, October 26, 2013, from 6 to 10 pm at the Appellation California (ApCal) winery tasting room, 32749 Avenue 7 (@ SH 99), Madera, CA. Bob's daughter Carolyn Wills, who was born on the ranch and is president of the Bob Wills Heritage Foundation, will be at the event to talk about her memories of the place.

If you can't attend, you can donate through the Fresno Arts Council and designate your gift for the Bob Wills ranch house.

MORE: Western swing historian Buddy McPeters says Fresno needs to get the ball rolling to save the Big Fresno Barn, a popular dance hall where all the great Central Valley western swing and country performers played in the '40s, '50s, and '60s. An auction site has some pictures of the Big Fresno Barn and its contents, which were auctioned off in 2012.

On July 6, 2013, Tulsa violinist Joseph Bates won first place in the youth division of the Texas Cowboy Reunion Old Time Fiddlers' Contest. This was Bates's third time to compete at the Stamford, Texas, contest, winning third place in 2007 and second place in 2008. Bill Burns, who later won the senior division fiddle contest, is playing rhythm guitar. Candi Davidson, a student at Hardin-Simmons College and also a classical violinist, won the adult division and was overall grand champion. Because of the large number of contestants, the judges had them play two tunes each rather than the traditional three. Here's Bates's prize-winning performance of "Jesse Polka" and "Faded Love."

After the results, several of the fiddlers stuck around to jam. Here are Jerry Don Shane, Bill Burns, Candi Davidson, and Joseph Bates taking turns with the "Westphalia Waltz."

Bates studies classical violin at The bART Center (formerly known as the Barthelmes Conservatory). Here he is with Nicholas Bashforth, Anthony Conroy, and Quinn Maher, performing three movements of the Mozart String Quartet in G Major (K. 80/73f).

Championship fiddler Emma Jane Pendleton will hold a CD release party this Sunday, July 28, 2013, at 3 p.m., at Tulsa's Spotlight Theater (Riverside and Houston Ave.), featuring a performance followed by a reception. There's no cover charge, but RSVPs are requested to vmp@igeo.com, or you can text or call 918-261-6184.


Woody Paul of Riders in the Sky helpfully points out Emma Jane Pendleton at the 2012 National Fiddler Hall of Fame induction gala

Emma Jane has a long list of musical accomplishments to her name. She is currently a student at the University of Tulsa on a four-year scholarship, where she is studying mechanical engineering and violin performance. She has numerous state and national championships as a solo fiddler, for twin fiddles with her sister Marina, for string band with the Pendleton Family Fiddlers, and for yodeling.

Tulsa_Playboys-Cains_Ballroom-Logo.jpgThe Tulsa Playboys are back at Cain's Ballroom tonight, Thursday, July 25, 2013, from 7 pm to 10 pm. Guests on the bandstand include vocalists Janet Rutland, Devon Dawson, and Kristyn Harris, Evan Alexander on fiddle, and Isaac Eicher on electric mandolin.

The Tulsa Playboys are a very talented western swing band, and it's wonderful to have the music that Bob Wills made famous (and vice versa) back in the place where it became famous almost 80 years ago.

If you love big band music and swing dancing, you should come out to Cain's tonight for a great time. You'll recognize it as your kind of music, even if there are more fiddles than trumpets in the band.

If you're a western swing fan, this is a chance to hear the music you love played by musicians who know how to swing. It's also a chance to show your support for the music you love and give the musicians and venue owners a reason to hold these dances more often. In other parts of the country -- the Texas Hill Country and the San Francisco Bay Area, for example -- you can hear live western swing every weekend. Shouldn't the same be true of Tulsa?

Tickets are $10 at the door.

We've lost two more western swing greats in the last couple of weeks.

Tulsa fiddler and vocalist Julian "Curly" Lewis died Sunday at the age of 88. Lewis spent much of his career with Johnnie Lee Wills's band in the late '40s and '50s, but he also toured and performed with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Hank Thompson and His Brazos Valley Boys, and Leon McAuliffe's Cimarron Boys.

A memorial service for Curly Lewis will be held at Cain's Ballroom on Saturday, August 3, 2013.

(Read western swing historian John Wooley's July 2011 profile of Curly Lewis in Oklahoma Magazine.)

Lewis performed at the first gala of the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame in 2007 and was inducted as a member last year. In addition to his work as a fiddler, he had a fine singing voice and contributed lead vocals on many songs for Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys. Here's Curly Lewis singing one of my grandmother's favorite tunes, "Thingamajig":

Click through for a video of Curly Lewis performing the classic fiddle tune "Don't Let the Deal Go Down" at the 1998 Bob Wills Day celebrations in Turkey, Texas.

As far as I know, Maurice "Reece" Anderson was the only pedal steel guitar player that Bob Wills ever hired. (Leon McAuliffe, Herb Remington, et al. played lap or console steel with no pedals.) Anderson died on July 4.

In the early '60s, Bob Wills had two steel guitar players -- Gene Crownover on console steel, Reece Anderson on pedal steel. Both get a chorus on this version of Billy Jack Wills's "Rockabye Baby Blues":

And more recently, here's Reece Anderson playing the steel classic "Sleepwalk":

About four years ago, Lee Roy Chapman set out on a quest to find Bob Wills's 1948 Flxible Clipper tour bus. He found Bob's bus, and a companion -- the bus of Wills's good friend, western swing bandleader Hoyle Nix -- rusting in a field near Big Spring, Texas, Nix's home base. Chapman reached a deal with the owner to hold the option on the bus until he could raise the money to pay the asking price and bring the bus back to Tulsa. The hope was to exhibit it here, near Cain's Ballroom, the house that Bob built, and take it on tour as well.

It seemed like an impossible dream at the time.

On Tuesday, June 11, 2013, Bob's bus came home, thanks to the help of Loren Frederick. Here's a photo from his Facebook page of the bus entering Tulsa County at the Turner Turnpike terminus.


I hope to have more of the story soon, but in the meantime western swing fans can look forward to the day when we can once again "Ride with Bob."

MORE: Lee Roy Chapman also put forward the idea that the arts district north of the Frisco tracks in downtown Tulsa should be marketed as the Bob Wills District, rather than the Brady Arts District, named (indirectly, by way of Brady Street and the Brady Theater) for Tulsa founder, segregationist, Democratic National Committeeman, and Klansman (but I repeat myself) Tate Brady. Read his This Land Press investigative report on Tate Brady's role in vigilantism, the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, and its aftermath.

Swan LK 243

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A little break from politics:

Sunday after church, we had a special treat waiting in the Fellowship Hall. The Edison High School chamber orchestra, preparing to leave for a tour of England the next day, performed their program for us, as a final dress rehearsal on this side of the pond. The program included a mix of old and new songs, many adapted from British folk tunes. One number, featuring Vintage Wildflowers harpist Dana Maher, caught my attention. (Dana is also music director at Christ Presbyterian Church, and mom to one of the Edison musicians.)

It's called "Swan LK 243," and it's by Scottish harpist Catriona McKay. It was inspired by and named for a sailboat, but on Sunday afternoon it was the perfect soundtrack, warm and wistful, for looking out the window to the church's playground, as children chased and climbed and swung and as their parents chatted and smiled and enjoyed the sunshine and a respite from the threat of storms.

Here is "Swan LK 243," performed by Catriona McKay on harp, Aly Bain on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Donald Shaw on piano, and Russ Barenberg on guitar.

MORE: Here's the same fiddler, Aly Bain, and a couple more, doing an instrumental version of "Lily Dale," a song written by Billy Jack Wills, Bob's youngest brother.


ABOVE: Bob Wills and his wife Betty hang out the washing to dry at the Triple B Ranch in Fresno, California

The Triple B Ranch in Fresno, California, Bob Wills's home in the last half of the 1940s, is to be demolished and replaced with a housing subdivision, despite a unanimous vote by the city's Preservation Commission to place the home on the city's historic register:

Granville wants to raze the house and remove nearby olive trees as part of a proposed housing project in the area. Roberts told the city's Historic Preservation Commission on Monday that the house is falling apart. He said the place is full of bees, asbestos and lead paint. He said Granville would sell the house for $1 if the buyer moves it at no expense to the builder.

The commission voted 4-0 to place the house on the city's Register of Historic Resources. This almost certainly would have made it impossible for Granville to tear down the house.

(Aren't most houses over a certain age full of asbestos and lead paint? And doesn't demolition make them much more hazardous then leaving them intact?)

Because the register placement is not official until the city council votes, it appears that the developer was able to obtain a demolition permit without the extra process required for a designated historic resource.

There is a slim possibility for a reprieve, if someone is willing to raise the money to buy the lots on which the house stands or to move the house to another location within 30 days.

The view from the street (the side of the house) isn't that impressive, but the video below shows the front, with a broad, high porch spanning the east face of the home.

An April 27, 2013, article in the Fresno Bee explains the house's connection with Bob Wills:

Bob Wills bought the one-story wood-frame house at 6410 E. Clinton Ave. and the surrounding 80 acres near Armstrong Avenue in 1945. The name Triple B stands for Bob, his wife Betty and their son Little Bob, according to daughter Carolyn Wills of Texas.

In a June 1945 letter to an aunt, Betty Wills wrote, "We're living in Fresno now. It's almost the size of Tulsa. It's in the San Joaquin Valley. That's where they raise all California fruit and vegetables. ... I like it real well. A lot more than I ever did Los Angeles."

Carolyn Wills said she was "accidentally" born at the ranch house in 1946 because her parents couldn't get to a hospital in time.

Wills built barns and fences for the seven stallions and 40 brood mares he bought for the ranch, his daughter said. "My father was always the happiest he'd ever been" on the ranch, she said.

EXTRA: Here's Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys from 1963, performing "Ida Red." Joe Andrews on vocals, Gene Crownover on steel guitar, Gene Gasaway on fiddle, Benny Johnson on piano. Not sure about the second fiddler -- maybe George Clayborn. Note the sponsor: Mathis Brothers.

And thanks for making your home in Tulsa for nearly half that time.

If you only think of Roy Clark cracking jokes on Hee Haw, here's a bit of his guitar wizardry -- "Caravan" -- to broaden your perspective. I love how you can see his finger work on this -- brushing the strings to get that ringing tone.

Two years ago John Erling interviewed Roy Clark for Voices of Oklahoma. His agent, Jim Halsey, talked him into relocating from Maryland to the Midwest as a way of saving travel time and working more gigs into his schedule.

In 1979, Roy Clark teamed up with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown for an album called "Makin' Music," produced by Steve Ripley. For the album cover, they posed atop the marquee of the Will Rogers Theater at 11th Street and Toledo Ave on old US 66 (later demolished by the Sandusky Ave. Christian Church to create a surface parking lot).


Here's their version of "Take the 'A' Train" from that album:

Johnny_Gimble-Texas_Fiddle_Collection.jpgI thought I read some sad news about legendary western swing fiddler Johnny Gimble tonight, and I'm hoping I imagined seeing it. I'll hold off on publishing what I thought I read until I can confirm it, but in the meantime please remember Johnny and his family in your prayers, and please enjoy the following tribute to this great musician.

Johnny Gimble's big break came in 1949 when he was hired to play for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. After a few years playing professionally, he became a barber, playing as a sideline until 1968, when he moved to Nashville to become a studio musician. Gimble appeared on several of Bob Wills's recordings for Kapp Records. Some of the best cuts from that period were collected by MCA on The Best of Bob Wills, which includes a version of "Milk Cow Blues" with no vocal except Johnny Gimble scat-singing along with his fiddle solo.

Gimble was one of the six Texas Playboys who performed on Merle Haggard's tribute to Bob Wills, and Bob Wills picked Gimble and Keith Coleman to play fiddle on the 1973 album that would become known as "For the Last Time."

Even if you're not a western swing fan, you may have heard Johnny Gimble as a guest on "A Prairie Home Companion." Gimble is also a virtuoso on the mandolin, and there are some wonderful videos circulating of an "Austin City Limits" episode featuring Johnny Gimble, Tiny Moore, and Jethro Burns on mandolin, David Grisman on drums, and Eldon Shamblin on rhythm guitar.

Here is a biographical documentary from 1981, with a lot of great music, including several songs filmed at the Caravan Ballroom in Tulsa, where the house band included Eldon Shamblin, Billy Dozier, Glen "Blub" Rhees, and a trumpeter who looks like a very young Mike Bennett. (And I'm kicking my 17 year old self, wondering why I didn't make it down to the Caravan.) You'll also get to hear Johnny play mandolin and sing, backed by steel guitarist (and Texas Playboy) Maurice Anderson, and singing with Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel. The film includes some cuts that you'll find on his 1981 album, "The Texas Fiddle Collection," which every fan of fiddle music and western swing should own.


Johnny Gimble 2007 interview with British western swing aficionado Graham Lees

Johnny Gimble newspaper interview from 2010

Bob Wills Radio, an amazing collection of interviews with western swing musicians, has a two part interview of Johnny Gimble by Stacy Phillips. Here's a transcript of an excerpt and direct links to the audio:

Johnny Gimble on Bob Wills Radio, part 1
Johnny Gimble on Bob Wills Radio, part 2

Happy Pi Day! This evening at 6:28 Eastern time, applicants to MIT will learn whether or not they've been admitted. For those hopefuls and anyone else in need of worthwhiling away a little time, some links of interest:

Tyson Wynn, who runs local news site WelchOK.com, has been bombarded with complaints from Canadian animal rights activists and their allies about a nearby event that he knew nothing about and has nothing to do with. Among other things, these people have threatened never to vacation in Welch (pop. 619). Tyson offers some advice on how not to advocate for your cause.

Aerogramme Writers' Studio: Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling: From some of the most compelling storytellers of our time. Rule 9 begins, "When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next."

Somewhat related: Ace ponders the Mystification/Revelation Model of Teaching. First you puzzle and frustrate your student, then you relieve his frustration with a solution. You're going to be much more interested in information if it answers a question that's bothering or intriguing you. Ace sees this technique used in good movie storytelling. Seems to me that Jesus' parables fit the same pattern.

My Tulsa friend Erin Patrick gets a mention in a Wall Street Journal article about grown kids who stay on their parents' family plans for phone and digital entertainment. Erin's daughter is on the family phone plan; her 16-year-old son is paying for some of his own subscriptions out of the money he earns.

TiffanyTranscriptions.com: "Ole Buttermilk Sky": A song-by-song description of a British CD collection of mid-1940s recordings by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, mainly songs from the Tiffany Transcriptions that were not included in Kaleidoscope's LPs. The article by Tom Diamant includes some interesting info on the Crosley Transcriptions (aka Presto Transcriptions) and how to tell a sloppy re-issue from a careful dubbing.

Did you know that Southern Hills Country Club is in a low-income "food desert"? The U. S. Department of Agriculture has an interactive food desert map. That SHCC is in a low-income food desert is an example of the hazards of aggregation. I guess the number of households in the apartments on the east side of Lewis north of 71st outnumber the households in the massive homes backing up to the golf course, but they're all in the same census tract.

StateImpact has a Google Map of municipal water rates in Oklahoma. It's not close to complete, but interesting nevertheless.

Rex Brown says in-home filters may be the cause of your slow DSL internet and offers a solution -- an outdoor splitter where your phone service comes into the house.

Warren Buffett praises John Maynard Keynes, but his father Howard Buffett was a friend of libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, who sent a copy of his Panic of 1819 to Howard for Warren. Thinking that Warren must have lost that copy, economist Mark Thornton sent him another.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal documents the rising popularity of home-brewing among Christians. One of the churches mentioned appears to be part of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America (although they take pains to hide their affiliation on their website; I deduced it from where their pastoral staff went to college and seminary); there's an elder at our local PCA congregation who makes some very nice beers. (An unanswered question: Why do home brewers and craft brewers feel obligated to go overboard with hops?)

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.

Bob Wills, Tommy Duncan, and a horse read a newspaper

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":

The Round-Up Boys will be playing a western swing dance tonight at the Broken Arrow Senior Center, 1800 S. Main St. in Broken Arrow (just north of 91st St / New Orleans). Dinner catered by Knotty Pine Barbecue at 6:30 and dancing from 8:00-Midnight. Admission is only $15.00.

The Oklahoma Swing Syndicate will swing in the new year with a swing dance at Southminster Presbyterian Church's Activity Center, west of Peoria on 35th Place. There will be a live band, and the event is smoke-free, booze-free, family friendly, and only $5 per person. Beginner lesson at 8 pm, dance from 8:30 pm to 12:30 am. Bring a snack to share for a chance to win a door prize.

Welch, in northern Craig County, is having a town-wide New Year's Eve party from 9 pm to 12:30 am with a family-friendly night of fun, games, and dancing at the Welch Civic Center.

If you're way down Texas way, Billy Mata and the Texas Tradition are swinging in the new year at Anhalt Halle, north of San Antonio, halfway between New Braunfels and Boerne. Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys will be at their homebase, the Stampede in Big Spring. Alvin Crow will be playing the Broken Spoke in Austin. And way out west, the Lonestar Retrobates wlll be playing at the Presidio Yacht Club in Sausalito, California, and the Saddle Cats will be at the Speisekammer in Alameda. (See texasdancehall.org and hickswithsticks.com for listings of western swing dances in Texas and the San Francisco Bay Area respectively; both areas have a very active western swing scene.)

I'm really not trying to encroach on Tasha Does Tulsa's territory -- she has the definitive guide to Tulsa area pumpkin patches, by the way -- but there are so many interesting things to do in and around Tulsa this week that I decided to put a bunch of events into one big entry.

artur_davis_ocpa.jpgOn Wednesday, October 10, 2012, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs will hold its annual Liberty Gala at the Downtown Doubletree Hotel. Featured speakers are former Congressman Artur Davis and political analyst and author John Fund.

Also on Wednesday, from 6:15 to 8:00 pm at the Schusterman-Benson Library, 3333 E. 32nd Place, the League of Women Voters will conduct a Senate District 39 forum between the incumbent, Senator Brian Crain, and the challenger, neighborhood leader Julie Hall.

Also on Wednesday, and only on Wednesday, October 10, 2012, Cinemark Tulsa, 10802 E 71st St, will show Gone with the Wind, at 2 pm and 7 pm. It's part of a series of landmark films -- next Wednesday they'll show Mary Poppins.

Trinity Episcopal Church, 501 S. Cincinnati Ave. in downtown Tulsa, is hosting Gloriae Dei Cantores (Singers to the Glory of God). Tonight, Tuesday, October 9, 2012, they will present a workshop on Gregorian chant at 7:30 pm, followed by a sung service of Compline (prayers at the close of day) at 9:00 pm in Trinity's beautiful Gothic Revival sanctuary. Both events are free and open to the public.

Then on Thursday, October 11, 2012, at 7:30 pm at Trinity, the Gloriae Dei Cantores will present the annual Thomas Matthews Memorial Concert. Matthews was the long-time organist and choirmaster of Trinity and a renowned composer of choral anthems. The concert will be followed by a gala reception. The event is free and childcare will be available.

The Tulsa Hackathon begins Friday night, October 12, 2012, at 6 pm and runs all night long and all day Saturday until 9 pm, at the Tulsa Fab Lab, 710 S. Lewis Ave. App developers will gather for a 24-hour marathon design and coding session, fueled by pizza and beer, to develop new apps for Tulsa's benefit.

Thumbnail image for Johnnie-Lee-Wills-Rompin'-FrontUG.jpgSaturday night, October 13, 2012, 7 pm to 9 pm, music historian John Wooley will present his weekly western swing broadcast on Public Radio 89.5 KWGS, "Swing on This," live from Cain's Ballroom, with a dance in honor of bandleader Johnnie Lee Wills' 100th birthday. The Tulsa Playboys will be joined by Cowbop, a California western swing band. It's a benefit for KWGS, and reserved table seats are $40, available at Cain's box office, Ida Red, Reasor's, and Starship, or by calling 866-977-6849.

In the last year or two we've lost several Texas Playboys from the 1940s: guitarist Jimmy Wyble, singing sisters Dean McKinney Moore and Evelyn McKinney Wills, and now Johnny Cuviello.

Johnny Cuviello, drummer for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in 1946 and 1947 and one of the last surviving band members from that era, passed away last week at the age of 97.

Cuviello, a Fresno native and the son of Italian immigrants, connected with the band in 1946 when Billy Jack Wills, Bob's younger brother, asked his help in tuning his drums before a recording session at station KMJ. Cuviello sat in on drums that day while Billy Jack moved to bass fiddle (which he preferred to drums), and at the end of the day Bob offered Johnny a job. Cuviello was with the band only for about two years, but at a pivotal time -- he's on all but one of the Tiffany Transcriptions sessions and played on Bob Wills's final sessions with Columbia and first sessions for MGM.

Cuviello had been playing drums professionally since high school, and his career included a gig at a burlesque theater and in a band with Buck Owens at The Blackboard in Bakersfield.

In a profile published in 2008 in the Journal of Texas Music History, Cuviello told the story of how he came to be a Texas Playboy and the unceremonious way he was dropped from the band. It says something about the limits of Bob Wills's fame that, as well known as he was among the Texans and Oklahomans who had moved to California to farm in the Central Valley and work in the defense industry, the son of an earlier wave of California immigrants had never heard of him. And perhaps because he was one of the few band members without roots in Texas or Oklahoma, he never quite fit in. He was older than most of them, too -- 31 when he joined the band.

But Cuviello got along well with frequent road roommate Herb Remington (an Indiana native) and together they worked up a tune that Cuviello wrote into the song that Bob Wills would dub "Texas Drummer Boy." Although drums were always important to the Texas Playboys sound, "Texas Drummer Boy" was the only Texas Playboys song to feature prominent extended drum solos, alternating with Remington's steel guitar riffs and Tiny Moore's mandolin solo.

Here's the original version of "Texas Drummer Boy," recorded November 12, 1947.

Here's Johnny five years ago, at his 92nd birthday jam in 2007, performing "Texas Drummer Boy" once again with steel guitarist Herb Remington -- sixty years after it was first recorded:


From the Baylor Institute for Oral History, here's the transcript of western swing historian Jean Boyd's lengthy 1993 interview with Johnny Cuviello and Steve Hathaway. (Excerpts from the interview were included in the Journal of Texas Music History profile.)

Cuviello shows up in a few pictures in this article about the Bakersfield Sound.

Tom Diamant's excellent Tiffany Transcriptions website has a great picture of Johnny Cuviello with Junior Barnard, Herb Remington, Jimmy (Widener?), and Norm (?).

Tom points out that the Journal of Texas Music History story about Johnny Cuviello has "the best photo of the Zoom Radio Show" -- the weekly Texas Playboys show on radio station KGO, sponsored by Zoom breakfast cereal. And here's Johnny Cuviello with the Texas Playboys on a break during the September 7, 1947, Tiffany session.

The video page has a couple of "soundies" where Cuviello can be heard (and sometimes seen) in the background. He's most visible during Alex Brashear's trumpet solo on "Goodbye, Liza Jane."

AND STILL MORE: A couple of more great photos of Johnny Cuviello, including one with Buck Owens, in an article about the unique music scene of Bakersfield.

In honor of their first anniversary, the Tulsa Playboys are throwing a dance this Thursday, June 14, 2012, at the legendary Cain's Ballroom at 423 N. Main St. in Tulsa's Bob Wills District. They usually have one dance a month, but this month is special -- free admission! Legendary country music DJ and singer Billy Parker will be their special guest. Doors open at 6:15 pm.

As listed on their Facebook page, the Tulsa Playboys are:

Shelby Eicher - fiddle and electric mandolin, Rick Morton - fiddle, Steve Bagsby - steel guitar, Spencer Sutton - piano, Mike Bennett - trumpet, Steve Ham - trombone, Rodney Lay - bass, Ryan Shepard - drums and Danny McBride - standard guitar.

You are welcome to sit or stand and tap your feet to the music, but you are going to want to dance. Two-step is the usual type of dancing (and there will be lessons at 6:30 before the band takes the stage and again during intermission), but there are waltzes and polkas, too. If you're part of the swing dancing resurgence, you can use those steps on Cain's spring-loaded curly maple dance floor, too -- West Coast, East Coast, Lindy Hop, they'll all work with Western Swing.

Here are the Tulsa Playboys with Byron Berline performing "Right or Wrong":

No excuses -- the price is right, there's no school the next day, all ages are welcome, and it's a chance to enjoy Tulsa's music in Tulsa's historic dance hall.

Here's Merle Haggard, singing lead and doing his best imitation of Bob Wills' hollers, with three Texas Playboys: Johnny Gimble playing fiddle, Tiny Moore (next to Merle, holding a fiddle) and Eldon Shamblin (playing his Stratocaster) singing harmony.

Let's send this one out to Elizabeth "Fauxcahontas" Warren in Massachusetts.

Tiny Moore was best known as a virtuoso mandolin picker, but he was also a terrific vocalist. Tiny was only given the chance to sing lead on a few Texas Playboys recordings, but he shared lead vocal duties with Bob's youngest brother Billy Jack Wills in Billy Jack's Sacramento based western swing band (1952-1954). Eldon Shamblin, a brilliant and creative rhythm guitarist, also served as arranger and band manager for the Texas Playboys, and sang on trios and quartets from time to time. Tiny and Eldon, teamed up with steel guitarist Herb Remington on the triple guitar arrangements of big band tunes on the Tiffany Transcriptions recordings. Tiny, Eldon, and Johnny had all performed, along with Joe Holley, Alex Brashear, and Johnnie Lee Wills on Merle Haggard's 1970 album A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (Or, My Salute to Bob Wills), and Tiny and Eldon toured with Merle Haggard for a few years.

Many thanks to See-Dubya for the tip.

Nancy_C_Newman.jpgWilliam_Basil_Newman.jpgI am exactly as Cherokee as Ms. Warren: Family lore says that my great-great-grandmother Nancy Catherine Boyd was a half-blood Cherokee. (Note the high cheekbones.) She was born in Ohio, but the story is that there was a community of Cherokee in Ohio who had moved there to get out of the way of white expansion into Cherokee lands in the South; many then, it is said, moved to Indian Territory to rejoin their relocated people in their "permanent" home. Nancy married William Basil Newman, who refused to let Nancy enroll with the Dawes Commission, because he didn't want his wife owning land (an allotment) in her own name; and thus old Basil deprived all his descendants of the benefits of Cherokee citizenship, or so the story goes.

If you weren't at Cain's Ballroom on Saturday, April 14, 2012, you missed an evening of family-friendly fun and great music, starting with the induction of Woody Paul, Herman Johnson, Keith Coleman, and Kenny Baker (the latter two, posthumously) into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame, and ending with a performance by Riders in the Sky. Each inductee was introduced with a brief video; two are up on YouTube, and you'll find them on the jump page of this entry.

Woody Paul inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame, with NFHOF board member Bob Fjeldsted, MDB21765 by Michael Bates, on Flickr

Herman Johnson inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame, with NFHOF board member Bob Fjeldsted, MDB21758 by Michael Bates, on Flickr

Our whole family was there. Between the tickets and the money we spent at Too Slim's Mercantile, it was not a cheap evening, but we had a great time, and it was especially worth it to give our younger two the chance to see Riders in the Sky in person. They were as entertaining as ever. I could imagine Bob Wills was there in spirit, with a big grin and an approving holler for every swinging fiddle lick.

Riders in the Sky on the stage at Cain's Ballroom, MDB21776 by Michael Bates, on Flickr

The Riders played many great cowboy classics and their original tunes (now classics in their own right): "Texas Plains," "My Oklahoma," "Cool Water," "That's How the Yodel Was Born." Woody Paul played and sang one of his original compositions, a beautiful waltz called "The Arms of My Love."


Joey the Cowpolka King took the lead on "Drifting Texas Sand" and made the most of the echo part on "Cool Water."

Joey the Cowpolka King's big moment in Cool Water, MDB21787 by Michael Bates, on Flickr

Ramona Reed, a vocalist with the Texas Playboys in the '50s and '60s, came up on stage to add her famous yodel to the mix with "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart." Here she is with Ranger Doug:

Ramona Reed with Ranger Doug, singing I Want to Be a Cowboys Sweetheart, MDB21806 by Michael Bates, on Flickr

Sidekick and geezer Sidemeat came out to recite "Reincarnation" and sing "I've Cooked Everything" (a parody of "I've Been Everywhere").

Sidemeat, the old sidekick of Riders in the Sky, MDB21789 by Michael Bates, on Flickr

In response to an audience request they played "Take Me Back to Tulsa." "Ghost Riders in the Sky" included a shout-out (of sorts) to music historian Guy Logsdon, who was in the audience -- right after the line, "As the riders loped on by him, he heard one call his name...." We got to see the Pixar short "For the Birds" as the Riders played the soundtrack live.

Too Slim plays his face, MDB21779 by Michael Bates, on Flickr

I was blown away by an old tune that was new to me -- "Trail Dust." Recorded by Sons of the Pioneers in 1963, its lush minor-key harmonies brought to mind Tex Williams and His Western Caravan's "Artistry in Western Swing" (1948) and the exotica genre popular in the late '50s and early '60s.

An act devoted to the music of Hollywood's singing cowboys could easily stray into pure nostalgia, utter corn, or hip ironic detachment, but the Riders manage to poke fun at the conventions of the genre in a genuinely affectionate way, while demonstrating their respect for the tradition with their impeccable musicianship. In Woody Paul's Hall of Fame induction video, bassist and face-ist Too Slim mentioned the wit in Woody's playing, and you can hear it from all four Riders -- a constant flow of creativity whether taking the lead or backing their bandmates.

Riders in the Sky at Cain's Ballroom, MDB21816 by Michael Bates, on Flickr

Riders in the Sky are renowned for being fan-friendly, sticking around to shake hands, sign autographs, and take pictures. My six-year-old, who was bouncing off the walls at the thought of meeting them, was rather more shy when the moment came to shake hands, but he told Ranger Doug that he listened to their version of "Don't Fence Me In" every night, and the Idol of American Youth sang a few bars for him. When we posed for photos, Joey the Cow Polka King swapped his cowboy hat with my oldest son's fedora, and Too Slim set his hat on my daughter's head.

BatesLine family photo with Riders in the Sky, April 14, 2012, MDB21829 by Michael Bates, on Flickr

We first came across Riders in the Sky on their weekly radio show, Riders Radio Theater, more than twenty years ago and first heard them in person in '92 in Springfield and again in Ponca City, as part of the Cherokee Strip Land Run centennial, in 1993. When our oldest came along, we took him to see the Riders at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville.

Our younger two go to sleep each night to a CD of western lullabies, a mix of songs by the Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys, Sons of the Pioneers, and, of course, Riders in the Sky.

As far as I know, this was the first time Riders in the Sky have played Tulsa, although they've performed in many smaller cities and towns in the region. I hope it's not too long before they come back.

MORE: Listener-supported WMKV-FM in Cincinnati plays an episode of Riders Radio Theater each Tuesday at 11 a.m. Cincinnati time (10 a.m. Tulsa time), followed by an episode of the Jack Benny Show, on "Theater of the Mind," a daily hour of old time radio -- on other days you can hear The Life of Riley, The Great Gildersleeve, Burns and Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Basil Rathbone, and Bold Venture, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The station runs a 24/7 schedule, including Big Band music all night long. You can listen to WMKV-FM online (click the link on the home page); here's a direct link to the stream.

In case you missed it: In the coming weeks, Osage Casinos are bringing in three legendary singers for free, all-ages concerts.

OMDE-1351-April-Web-Updates_Free-Concert-Series_100x100_Ray-Price.jpgThis Friday, May 4, 2012, Ray Price will be performing at the Osage Casino west of Bartlesville. Ray Price was a pioneer of the honky-tonk sound in the 1950s; in the '70s he traded in his Nudie suit for a tuxedo, scoring big countrypolitan hits with "For the Good Times" and "Night Life." At 86, he's still going strong, as you can see from his April 2011 appearance on Huckabee, singing two of his big '50s hits "Heartaches by the Number" and "Crazy Arms."

OMDE-1351-April-Web-Updates_Free-Concert-Series_100x100_BJ-Thomas.jpgOn Saturday, May 12, 2012, B. J. Thomas will be performing at the Osage Casino in Pawhuska. B. J. Thomas had big pop hits in the '70s with the Oscar-winning "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," "Hooked on a Feeling" (with its distinctive sitar solo), and "Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song." In more recent years, Thomas's recordings have focused on country and gospel music.

Here he is on BBC's Top of the Pops from 1970:

OMDE-1351-April-Web-Updates_Free-Concert-Series_100x100_Ray-Stevens.jpgOn Saturday, May 19, 2012, Ray Stevens will be performing at the Osage Casino west of Sand Springs, north of U. S. 412 / U. S. 64 at the 129th West Ave. exit. Ray Stevens has had hits with a wide range of material over the years from message songs like "Everything Is Beautiful," "Mr. Businessman," and "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on His Television Show," to novelty tunes like "The Streak" and "Mississippi Squirrel Revival," to creative covers like his banjo-fired take on "Misty" and his doo-wop version of "Indian Love Call," and, lately, musical political commentary on everything from Obamacare to illegal immigration.

I think of "Everything Is Beautiful" as the theme song for the summer of '71. (I have a specific memory of hearing it over breakfast in a diner in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, on our way to visit my grandparents in Fairfield Bay, Arkansas. It was one of those diners with the neon-trimmed clock with flipping ad cards.)

Here's Stevens' satirical take on post-mortem voter fraud -- "Grandpa Voted Democrat":

MORE: Pop music historian Dawn Eden's tribute to Ray Stevens' 1968 album Even Stevens and The Night Ray Stevens Cleared the Dance Floor.

Let's call it Wills Park


Bob Wills with his brothers and father

The Wills boys, from left to right, youngest to oldest: Brothers Billy Jack Wills, Luther J. "Luke" Wills, Johnnie Lee Wills, and Bob Wills, and their father John Tompkins "Uncle John" Wills. From BobWills.com

The George Kaiser Family Foundation is looking for public input on the name of the park GKFF is building on Brady Street in downtown Tulsa:

As Downtown Tulsa continues to blossom into a center of creativity and an economic hub benefiting the greater community, it soon will be a destination for those wanting to spend time in an outdoor setting at the park located on Brady and Cincinnati.

We are looking for input regarding the name of this new park in the Brady District. The name should commemorate a person with Tulsa roots, who has an enduring legacy through their contributions to the community in the areas of arts, music, culture or education; or, in the alternative, should simply reflect Tulsa's history in these areas.

Learn more about the park in the Brady District on our website -- http://ow.ly/9wZbt and submit your ideas for names to inquiries@gkff.org.

My idea, which I've already passed along to the folks at GKFF, is to name the park in honor of Bob Wills and Johnnie Lee Wills, two brothers who together ruled the Tulsa music scene for a quarter-century and built a musical legacy that has spread their fame around the world. They amply fulfill GKFF's criteria.

Name it Wills Park, then name individual park features and facilities to honor Bob Wills, Johnnie Lee Wills, and key Wills sidemen like guitar pioneer and arranger Eldon Shamblin and steel guitar legend and Tulsa bandleader Leon McAuliffe. (Maybe we could even find a spot to acknowledge Junior Barnard, the proto-rock guitarist from Coweta who played for Johnnie Lee, Bob, and Luke Wills.)

Bob Wills brought together ragtime, blues, swing, and traditional frontier fiddle music and turned it into something new, something that would eventually be known as western swing. Bob Wills was also a pioneer with regard to amplified stringed instruments -- Leo Fender was a western swing fan -- and using them to carry the melody, in place of horns an important evolutionary step on the path to rock 'n' roll. It's why Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 as an Early Influencer.

Chased out of Texas by a vengeful ex-boss who pulled advertising from any radio station that dared to put him on the air, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys found a home at KVOO in Tulsa when station manager Bill Way refused to knuckle under to Pappy O'Daniel's threats. Wills settled in at Cain's Ballroom, home base for daily broadcasts and twice-weekly dances.

Tulsa became Bob Wills's hometown. He bought a ranch in Osage County north of town -- near the present-day Million Dollar Elm Casino on 36th Street North -- and brought his extended family from Texas to Tulsa to live there with him. He held fiddle contests and founded a rodeo. The band played dances six nights a week all over Oklahoma and surrounding states and often spent Sunday playing for the funeral of a Texas Playboys fan somewhere within driving distance of Tulsa.

GKFF has already honored Woody Guthrie by acquiring his library and establishing a center about his career. It would be even more fitting for GKFF to acknowledge these musicians with a much stronger and longer connection to Tulsa. While Guthrie was in New York singing and raising awareness of the common man's burden, Bob Wills was here in Tulsa playing music to lift the common man's burden for a little while each day.

Bob married a Tulsa girl -- well, a few Tulsa girls, but the last and longest marriage was to a Tulsa girl named Betty Anderson. Bob dreamed of making Tulsa his home for the rest of his life, surrounded by his family and his Texas Playboys, but World War II changed all that. California, then Texas, became home base for a while, but he came back to Tulsa often to see family and to perform at Cain's. He came back in the late '50s to reunite with brother Johnnie Lee in Tulsa for a few years. After his death, he was remembered in a service at Tulsa's Eastwood Baptist Church and laid to rest at Memorial Park Cemetery.

Johnnie Lee Wills, next oldest of "Uncle John" Wills's four sons, launched his own band to help cover the high demand for western swing music in the Tulsa area. When brother Bob left for a brief stint in the Army, Johnnie Lee Wills kept things going at Cain's and on KVOO. After his service ended, rather than take the spotlight back from his brother, Bob headed out to California. Johnnie Lee Wills and All His Boys continued the daily radio program, the weekly dances at Cain's, and the dance hall circuit through the end of the 1950s, rejoined by Bob for the last few years.

But Johnnie Lee did more than carry on. He was an innovator and a great bandleader in his own right, and he had hit songs of his own, two of which -- Milk Cow Blues (1941) and Rag Mop (1949) -- have been suggested as candidates for the first rock 'n' roll song.

Johnnie Lee Wills carried on with the annual rodeo -- the Johnnie Lee Wills Stampede -- and opened a western wear store on the south side of 21st Street just east of Memorial. Tulsa remained his home for the rest of his life.

The musicians who defined the "Tulsa Sound" in the '60s and '70s grew up listening to Bob and Johnnie Lee, and I know of at least one -- Rocky Frisco -- who actually performed a few times with Johnnie Lee at Cain's Ballroom.

(I don't want to leave the rest of the Wills boys unacknowledged. Luke Wills and Billy Jack Wills each had great bands based in California. Billy Jack returned to Oklahoma; he's buried beside Bob at Memorial Park. Luke settled in Las Vegas, but many of us remember him performing at Texas Playboys reunion concerts in the '80s and '90s. Their father, Uncle John Wills, played his fiddle at ranch dances all over Hall County, Texas, and had his own band for a time after the family moved to Tulsa.)

There is already an effort underway, spearheaded by artist Lee Roy Chapman, to rename the district north of the Frisco tracks as the Bob Wills District. Its current name, Brady Arts District, is taken (indirectly, via Brady Street) from Tulsa founder Tate Brady, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and a supporter of vigilante violence. Brady's history notwithstanding, it makes more sense to name an arts district to honor an internationally famous man whose music put Tulsa on the map.

Whether the name Bob Wills District ever catches on, there still ought to be some public space named in his and his brother Johnnie's honor. This new park, just a couple of blocks from Cain's Ballroom, would do nicely.

Western swing music has an international fan base, and every country in Europe seems to have a few western swing bands who play the music of Bob and Johnnie Lee Wills. (See previous entries in the western swing category for a few examples.) Tulsa should have a public place where visiting fans can connect with their musical legacy. To some extent Cain's Ballroom fulfills that role, but Cain's is a working music venue and can't be a full-time tourist attraction. Having a public, always-open space nearby to honor the Wills boys would complement Cain's irreplaceable spot in the heart of western swing fans from around the world. In that regard, it's crucial to have a name that will turn up in web searches.

Bob Wills Stage at Wills Park would be a great venue, along with Cain's, for the International Festival of Western Swing that Tulsa should have every year.

If you agree with me that Wills Park is the perfect name for the new park in downtown Tulsa's arts district (or even if you don't), sit right down and drop a line to the folks at GKFF -- inquiries@gkff.org -- and let them know what you think.

First Love, a local band featuring the singing and songwriting talents of Camille and Haley Harris, wrote a fight song for the Rick Santorum campaign. The song "Game On!" came together in the wee hours of this past Sunday night / Monday morning, after they heard Rick Santorum speak and met him at Grace Church in Broken Arrow on Sunday evening. It's a catchy song, and the girls have great pop voices with a bit of a folk edge.

The song has received some national attention, earning a thanks from Rick Santorum on his campaign blog:

What a great anthem for our campaign -- I haven't been able to get the song out of my head! I feel so blessed to have such ardent supporters of our vision for America's future, and am grateful to the entire Harris family for their continued faith in our campaign.

The song has been mentioned by bloggers for Time, The Hill, the Houston Chronicle, Buzzfeed.

I met the Harris girls and their parents Tuesday night at the Santorum watch party. They were being interviewed on an online radio talk show as I sat nearby uploading the latest results by congressional district to the Santorum national campaign team. I thought I remembered seeing another video by First Love, a western swing song.

Sure enough, Haley and Camille sang "Blue Bonnet Lane" (one of my favorite Bob Wills tunes) with the Tulsa Playboys back in January:


Tonight, March 3, 2012, Bob Wills' Texas Playboys will perform at Tulsa's historic Cain's Ballroom in celebration of the 107th anniversary of the birth of the band's founder. Tulsa's Round-Up Boys will lead off the celebration. Doors open at 6:30 and the show begins at 7. Tickets are available online or at the door.

Heading up the Texas Playboys are vocalist Leon Rausch and guitarist Tommy Allsup. Leon started performing with Bob Wills back in the late 1950s. Tommy Allsup played with Waylon Jennings in Buddy Holly's band, then went to California, and as an A&R man for Liberty Records he reunited Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan, the original Texas Playboys vocalist in the 1960s. I don't know the specific lineup for tonight, but past lineups have included trombonist Steve Ham and trumpeter Mike Bennett, steel guitarist Steve Bagsby, and Amarillo fiddler Jimmy Young, who does his Bob Wills impression when they perform Faded Love & San Antonio Rose. Many of these folks also play with the Tulsa Playboys, who play a dance once a month at Cain's. (UPDATE: Not sure why, but none of the Tulsa folks were on stage tonight.)

To my friends (and my son and his peers) who are swing dancing enthusiasts: This music is called Western Swing for a reason. It's meant for dancing, and there's no finer place for dancing than the curly maple floor of Cain's Ballroom. Maybe just for tonight, break away from the usual swing dancing venue, and bring your dancing shoes and your smooth swing moves on down to Cain's.

To give you a sense of what I'm talking about, here's a look at the Cain's dance floor last July when the Tulsa Playboys played "Miss Molly."

Grab your partner and truck on down.

MORE: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys appeared in several westerns with Russell Hayden and other stars in the 1940s. Finders Keepers Classics, on the web at otrdvd.com, is offering a four-DVD set of Russell Hayden movies, including several featuring the Texas Playboys, and a separate DVD with Saddles and Sagebrush, another movie that featured Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. On the homepage, click New Arrivals and scroll down.

riders_in_the_sky-2009.jpgThe world's premier cowboy band, Riders in the Sky, will perform at this year's National Fiddler Hall of Fame gala on April 14, 2012, at Tulsa's historic Cain's Ballroom. The Riders' fiddler, Woody Paul, the King of the Cowboy Fiddlers, is one of this year's inductees into the hall of fame, along with championship fiddler Herman Johnson, from Shawnee; the late Keith Coleman, who performed with Leon McAuliffe and His Cimarron Boys and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys; and the late Kenny Baker, of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys. Tickets for the gala are on sale.

Riders in the Sky is one of our family's favorite musical groups: Beautiful harmonies on authentic songs of the west, classics from western movies, and original songs in the same genre, seasoned with comedy. I wish their weekly show, Riders Radio Theater, with its weekly western serial, were still on the air here. Riders Go Commercial has been played often at our house lately. (The thought of attending geezer training school seems more and more appealing every day.)

Here's Riders in the Sky, with Woody Paul playing and singing his original tune, "The Arms of My Love" (not a great recording here, but a beautiful song):

Here's Keith Coleman with a smoking solo on "Leon's Boogie," from an Ozark Jubliee appearance with Leon McAuliffe:

Here's a YouTube audio and still photo mix of Herman Johnson playing "I Don't Love Nobody."

And here's Kenny Baker with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys from 1971:

MORE: The National Fiddler Hall of Fame offers a "Lick of the Week," a weekly video demonstration of a fiddle lick you can add to your bag of tricks. Elsewhere on the site, you can find sheet music and audio for a few dozen traditional tunes.

Number 3 in our review of international western swing bands, building an invite list for that dreamed-of Tulsa International Festival of Western Swing. From Malmö, Sweden, it's the Swinging Hayriders with the "Texas Playboy Rag":

From the "Band" page on their official website:

Swinging Hayriders is a band from Malmö in southern Sweden, specialized in Western Swing. They cherish the old records from the 30´s and 40´s of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Spade Cooley, Milton Brown, Tex Williams, Patsy Montana and others. The attentive listener may also hear influences like Benny Goodman, Django Reinhard, Nisse Lind and Bill Haley. This great music will never grow old!

Swinging Hayriders are ready to fullfill their sacred mission, to spread the blessings of Western Swing!


Here they are in a club setting, with vocalist Maria Stille this time, performing "You Can't Break My Heart":

You'll notice the crowd is mostly young people. They obviously love the music and are trying to dance to it, but they don't know how. I foresee a sacred mission to Sweden to spread the blessings of the Texas Two-Step.

The five-piece combo consists of steel guitar, standard guitar, piano (or accordion), bass, and drums.

You'll find several of their tunes, including "That's What I Like About the South" and "It's All Your Fault" on the Swinging Hayriders MySpace page. The most recent info about the band, and lots of photos (like the one above, from a recording session in Berlin) can be found at the Swinging Hayriders Facebook page.

MORE: Here's a scholarly article (PDF format) from the Journal of Texas Music History: "Texas Music In Europe" by Gary A. Hartman of Texas State University - San Marcos. The author visited France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Lithuania, talking to musicians who play western swing, bluegrass, honky tonk, zydeco, rockabilly, and other forms of American music found in Texas:

After discussing the mythology and folklore of Texas with the Bayer family, we all decided to attend a music festival in downtown Friedburg. Much to my surprise, there among the medieval walls of the "Altstadt," or "Old Town," we heard a local band of young Germans singing the Texas dance hall favorite, "Corrine, Corrina," in a strong Bavarian dialect. Although it is unclear exactly where this song originated, it was popularized among white country audiences by Bob Wills in the 1940s and now is a standard tune for western swing, country, and even many cajun bands throughout Texas. In any case, it was an extraordinary experience to witness how this song had found its way into the repertoire of a youthful folk-rock group singing in a Bavarian dialect that is rarely heard outside of southern Germany.

Second in our series documenting the international reach of western swing music and compiling an invite list for Tulsa's (purely hypothetical at this point) International Festival of Western Swing.

From the Bananapeel Jazzclub in Ruiselede, Belgium, here's Little Kim and the Alley Apple 3, performing the Johnnie Lee Wills song, "The Thingamajig," written by Cindy Walker. I enjoyed hearing her introduce the song in Flemish before singing it in unaccented English.

I don't believe her rig needs fixing at all.


From the band's website:

The story of "Little Kim & the Alley Apple 3" begins with an ad in the music section of "Den Artiest". By the end of 2005 Kimberly (vocals) was looking for a new musical project ... in the tradition of the great female performers of the hot jazz era, like: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Blossom Dearie, Kay Starr, The Boswell Sisters, Bessie Smith, Mildred Bailey, ...

By the time Tom (Guitar) answered her ad ... he had already gathered around two fine musicians: the boy wonder of the lap steel guitar Pat Cattoir & the man with a plan Slappin' Slim (Bull Fiddle). Their intention was to go on the road with self written material ... in a traditional honky tonk style ... the kind Hank Williams would have liked .

When Kimberly and the gang finally met on a cold and windy winter evening, you could tell ... there was an immediate spark of inspiration between the four ... a spark that hasn't dimmed since ...


Photo from the band's Facebook page: "CC Cité Culture Brussel (photo: Freddy/ Rootsville)"

From an interview at Rockabilly Online:

Starting out as a singer, I was heavily influenced by Patsy Cline, Wanda Jackson, Peggy Lee, and too many to mention ...

Although "the Alley Apple 3" had a kind of honky tonk style in mind ... for everyone, it was very clear from the start that we needed to go ahead in this western swing genre. Mainly because my voice fits swing more than it fits honky tonk....

Sometimes we show up at a venue and people start coming in, dressed in cowboy boots and Indian costumes. No kidding They must think we play some cowboy- shooting-Indian-kind-of-music. But of course that's not really us. We just like to mix different genres ... and in the end, that's how western swing got started anyway. Mixing all kinds of music: polka, swing, jazz, honky tonk, ... It keeps it interesting for us.

Their gear, according to the description of a video of the band performing "Whoa Babe" and an original tune, "Before the Storm":

Little Kim & the Alley Apple 3 use:

a 1949 Fender Custom Double 8 lapsteel guitar
a 1848 French Double Bass 'Charotte Millot-Mirrecourt'
a 1947 Gibson L7 archtop
2 Gibson BR 6 amps (both 1951)
a fifties Floating Dearmond Pickup (Mod 1000 Rhythm Chief)
a fifties Floating Dearmond Pickup (Mod FCH-C)
a vintage Ampeg Portaflex bass amp
a Gibson 1955 L49 archtop
a Fender silverface Vibrolux amp


Little Kim and the Alley Apple 3 on YouTube
Little Kim and the Alley Apple 3 on Facebook

Things are busy with a couple of projects, but I feel compelled to update this blog from time to time, so I thought I'd begin to document, one music video at a time, the international reach of western swing. Consider this series the beginnings of an invite list for Tulsa's International Festival of Western Swing.


Here's a trio from Prague, Czech Republic, called Jiří Králík & Rowdy Rascals. (Jiří is the Czech version of the name George.) Králík is an alumnus of Mark O'Connor's fiddle school in Nashville, and he's finishing his studies at a jazz conservatory in Prague. Here they are, performing "Roly Poly," at the 2008 Country Rendez-vous Festival in Craponne-sur-Arzon, France.

And here they are with a high-speed version of Ida Red, with guitarist Jiří Bok taking the lead vocals:

Turnabout is fair play. You've had a Czech band playing American songs, so here's an American band playing a Czech song: Cracker, performing "The Shiner Song."

Tulsa_Playboys-20120112.jpgLocal western swing band, the Tulsa Playboys, play their monthly dance tonight (Thursday, January 12, 2012) at Cain's Ballroom tonight at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12.50 and can be purchased at the door or by phone at (866) 977-6849. Student tickets ($5) are available only at the door.

According to Shelby Eicher, posting on the TexasPlayboys.net discussion board, they'll have triple fiddles tonight with Jake Duncan added to their usual lineup: Shelby Eicher and Rick Morton, fiddles; Steve Ham, trombone; Mike Bennett, trumpet; Steve Bagsby, steel; Spencer Sutton, piano; Rodney Lay, bass; Ryan Shephard, drummer and Danny McBride, guitar.

Distinctly Oklahoma magazine has a great story in their January 2012 issue about the Tulsa Playboys and the Tulsa western swing tradition they've inherited from Bob Wills and Cain's Ballroom.

The article is headed by a great quote from Bob Wills that gets to the heart of western swing: "I need no applause. The only clapping I want to hear comes from the sound of dancing feet...."

(No mention, though, of two former Texas Playboys who kept western swing going in Tulsa long after World War II, when Bob left for California: Johnnie Lee Wills, who carried on for another 14 years or so at Cain's and on KVOO, and Leon McAuliffe, whose Cimarron Boys played at the Playmor and Cimarron Ballrooms and on KRMG.)


DFW.com has a story this week about the western swing scene in Fort Worth and the rest of Texas, mentioning Hot Club of Cowtown, Asleep at the Wheel (both based in Austin), Shoot Low Sheriff (from Dallas), Great Recession Orchestra (from Fort Worth), the Quebe Sisters Band, and the long-running Light Crust Doughboys, founded by Bob Wills and Milton Brown in 1931 for a radio show advertising a flour mill, before they launched their own bands. That article has several embedded videos of the aforementioned bands.

The story also links to the website of Western Swing Monthly, which has a calendar of all the big western swing festivals around the country.

Tommy_Duncan-20120114.jpgComing up this Saturday, January 14, 2012, in Hillsboro, Texas, (where I-35 W meets I-35 E south of DFW) is the 2nd Annual Tommy Duncan Celebration, remembering the talented Texas Playboys vocalist on his 101st birthday. Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys will perform from 1:30 to 4:30, a catered dinner from 4:30 to 6:30, and then Billy Mata and the Texas Tradition performs from 7 to 10, with Floyd Domino and Dave Alexander. Billy's voice has an uncanny resemblance to Tommy's, and he is in the midst of issuing a trilogy of albums tracing Tommy Duncan's career. Call Pam Hulme-Townley in advance for tickets and guaranteed seating -- 817-456-4601. You'll find all the details about the Tommy Duncan Celebration at this link. The story in the Hillsboro Reporter notes that they're still working on a documentary about Duncan:

A documentary on Tommy Duncan, entitled "In The Shadow of the King," by director Curtis Callaway and his crew from Baylor University continues in its production. It will include interviews with many of the former Texas Playboys, other prominent members of the Western Swing community, plus the official Cowboy Poet of Texas, Red Stegall.

The documentary also will feature interviews with Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.
The documentary is in need of funding. For more information on sponsorship opportunities, visit www.tommyduncan.org.

The Reporter story also mentions that Scottish playwright Duncan MacLean will be at the Tommy Duncan Celebration. MacLean is also a guitarist in the Orkney Islands-based Lone Star Swing Band, and the band is in the US to perform MacLean's play Long Gone Lonesome about the life of Shetland Islands musician and fisherman Thomas Fraser.

When you consider the worldwide reach that western swing music has, with fans and bands from Tulsa to the Orkneys to Japan to Australia, don't you think there ought to be an international western swing festival to bring those bands and fans together, and don't you think it ought to be right here in Tulsa?


Here are the Tulsa Playboys with "Miss Molly," from last July:

Here are the Quebe Sisters, putting the swing in western swing playing triple fiddles on "Take the 'A' Train":

But you really have to hear them sing -- here they are on "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie," from their 2010 UK tour:

Here's my eldest son's performance from Saturday's Oklahoma State Fiddling Championship at the Tulsa State Fair. He finished fourth in the junior category (ages 13-16), performing "Liberty," "Ashokan Farewell," and "Faded Love."

He decided to enter about a week before the contest. He hadn't been sure whether he'd have to time to perfect fiddle tunes in the midst of regular schoolwork and the amount of time he spends practicing classical violin. (The generous prize money helped to persuade him -- he won $50, and every contestant in his category went away with at least $20.) I'm very proud of him. It's amazing to see how his showmanship and musicianship has grown since starting to learn violin over five years ago and entering his first fiddle contest four years ago.

The Oklahoma fiddling championship keeps growing and improving. This year, the contest was inside, on the lower level of the IPE Building (aka QuikTrip Center) on the Muscogee Creek stage (where in years past the Chinese acrobats used to perform).

MORE: Scott Pendleton, dad and rhythm guitarist for the Pendleton Family Fiddlers, has written a comprehensive cover story in the October 2011 issue of Tulsa People about Tulsa's fiddle scene, including local acts, venues, and jam sessions. That's Scott on the left in the video playing rhythm guitar, as he did throughout the contest.

I'm working on analyzing the C-1 forms submitted by candidates for Tulsa City Council. In the process of locating real residential addresses for donors who insist on listing their business addresses, I needed to look at Osage County land records, and while I was there, on a whim I searched for "WILLS JAMES" as in James Robert aka Jim Rob aka Bob Wills. Wills owned a ranch described as "north of Tulsa" where he and his extended family lived. I'd always wondered exactly where it was.


His dream was to retire there with his whole band, but World War II intervened, the band went their separate ways, and he went to California, returning to Tulsa for a few years in the late '50s before heading to Texas for the rest of his career. His final resting place is in Memorial Park Cemetery here in Tulsa.

Lo and behold, I found this: A journal entry dated 2010/08/17, the result of a quiet title lawsuit in Osage County, CV-2001-403. The Grantor list has 32 names and appears to include Bob Wills, his parents, all of his brothers and sisters, one of his ex-wives (the former Mary Lou Parker of Pawhuska), and a number of nieces and nephews.


Grantee is Presley Ford, Jr. An obituary reports that he died on January 15, 2002, at the age of 86.

On the court docket, the list of summonses appears to include all of Bob's living relatives as of 2001 and is followed by a long list of "entry of appearance and disclaimer of interest" notations in 2002. Then eight years intervene until the plaintiff moves to substitute the Osage Nation as plaintiff, and in two months, the title is quieted.

Here are the specifics from the county clerk record.

Legal description:

S15 T20N R12E NE NE
S14 T20N R12E NW NW L1
S14 T20N R12E SW NW L2
S14 T20N R12E NW SW L3 Partial
S15 T20N R12E SE Partial

Instrument number: I-2010-005504
Book 001428
Pages 0181 to 0187

Mapping the location seems simple, but it appears that the township/range/section system for Osage County is skewed with respect to the rest of the state. The property appears to be north of the Osage Million Dollar Elm Tulsa casino and northeast of the old Downtown Airpark, but you'd need to see the full legal description in the lawsuit and an official plat map to know for sure. I don't have time to translate legalese, but there may be some relationship to the casino parcel, which was finally taken into trust in July 2011. (It had been thought that any land within the former Osage Reservation could be used for a tribal casino, but federal courts ruled that it's not a federally recognized reservation, so the land would have to be placed into trust.)

There's more research to be done. I imagine that the parcel settled by the quiet title suit may have only been a portion of Bob Wills's ranch. I'm curious to know what legal mishap left title to the land in question. I may need to mosey up to Pawhuska some day soon.

Thumbnail image for Johnnie-Lee-Wills-Rompin'-FrontUG.jpgThe Tulsa Playboys western swing band will be back at Cain's Ballroom, Saturday night, September 10, 2011, for a special performance to kick off the centennial of Johnnie Lee Wills, with featured guests John T. Wills (Johnnie Lee's son), guitarist Roy Ferguson and vocalist Candy Noe, and Billy Parker, legendary KVOO DJ (and a country performer in his own right).

Details from the Cain's Ballroom website:

"Swing On This" Live Broadcast
Saturday September 10th

DETAILS :: Celebrating Johnnie Lee Wills 99th Birthday! Brought to you by KWGS at The University of Tulsa! There will be a reception for reserved ticket holders from 5pm - 6:15pm. The reserved seats will be 4 to a table. For more info email p-casey-morgan @ utulsa.edu - All Ages! By phone - 866.977.6849!

TICKETS :: Reserved :: $47 // GA :: $30

DOORS :: 6:30pm

SHOW :: 7:00pm

The performance will be broadcast live for John Wooley's weekly KWGS program "Swing on This," heard every Saturday night from 7 pm to 8 pm on 89.5 FM.

When Bob Wills left for California in the early '40s, his next younger brother Johnnie Lee took over the daily radio show on KVOO and the Thursday and Saturday dances at Cain's Ballroom, which continued until the late '50s. Later generations of Tulsans may remember the annual Johnnie Lee Wills Stampede at the Fairgrounds or his western wear store on Memorial east of 21st.

The Tulsa Playboys are a group of top local swing musicians who play a monthly dance at Cain's. Here's the lineup listed on the Tulsa Playboys Facebook page:

Shelby Eicher - fiddle and electric mandolin, Rick Morton - fiddle, Steve Bagsby - steel guitar, Spencer Sutton - piano, Mike Bennett - trumpet, Steve Ham - trombone, Rodney Lay - bass, Ryan Shepard - drums and Danny McBride - standard guitar.

Bagsby, Bennett, Ham, and Sutton all played with Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, led by Leon Rausch and Tommy Allsup, at this year's Bob Wills birthday celebration.

Here they are from their July dance, with guest fiddler Byron Berline, performing "Miss Molly":

I've marked my calendar and plan to be there; hope you can be there, too. It would be wonderful if western swing dancing once again became popular enough around Tulsa to support weekly dances at multiple venues, like they have down around San Antonio.


Read John T. Wills's tribute to Johnnie Lee Wills at the 1996 dedication of Johnnie Lee Wills Street, the main approach to the Pavilion from the west.

Johnnie Lee Wills entry from the Oklahoma Encyclopedia of History and Culture.

High Falutin' Newton of Western Swing on 78 has Johnnie Lee Wills radio transcriptions from 1950-1 available for download.

Johnnie-Lee-Wills-Rompin'-FrontUG.jpgThis Thursday night, July 21, 2011, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame will host a Tulsa western swing reunion to pay tribute to fiddler and vocalist Julian "Curly" Lewis, who performed for many years with Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys, Leon McAuliffe's Cimarron Boys, and Hank Thompson's Brazos Valley Boys. Up until recently, Lewis regularly played fiddle with the Texas Playboys for the annual Bob Wills Birthday bash at Cain's Ballroom.

(That's Curly on the right on the cover of Rompin' Stompin' Singin' Swingin', a Bear Family LP collecting Johnnie Lee Wills' 1952 and 1953 recordings for RCA.)

Western swing historian John Wooley interviewed Lewis recently for the July 2011 issue of Oklahoma Magazine about his long career, beginning with his victory in a Bob Wills fiddle contest at the Coliseum (which was on the east side of Elgin between 5th and 6th) in 1936, when Lewis was 11 years old.

Not only a fine fiddler, Lewis's smooth voice was featured on many of Johnnie Lee Wills' singles in the 1950s. Here's one of my favorites, the 1952 novelty tune "The Thingamajig."

And here's one more Curly Lewis vocal, Blackberry Boogie:

Tickets are $15, available online at okjazz.org.

MORE: The Schmitt Transcriptions were 15-minute radio programs recorded by Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys (including Curly Lewis) in 1950 and 1951. You can download many of the programs from the Western Swing on 78 blog:

Johnnie Lee Wills radio programs part 1
Johnnie Lee Wills radio programs part 2
Johnnie Lee Wills radio programs part 3
Johnnie Lee Wills radio programs part 4
Johnnie Lee Wills radio programs part 5

On March 10, 1981, Tom Diamant recorded an hour-long interview with three veteran members of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Eldon Shamblin (guitarist, arranger, and sometime band manager), Tiny Moore (mandolin, fiddle, and occasional vocals), and Tiny's wife Dean McKinney Moore, one half of the McKinney Sisters.

Diamant, whose Kaleidoscope Records brought the Texas Playboys' Tiffany Transcriptions recordings from 1946-1947 to the public in the 1980s, has posted the interview on his TiffanyTranscriptions.com website.

Eldon and Tiny were in Reno, Nevada, to perform with Merle Haggard and His Strangers. The two had toured as part of Haggard's band from 1973 to 1976 and rejoined in 1981.

For a western swing fan, it's a joy to listen to. There's a lot of good-natured ribbing and laughter. There's also a lot of detail on their careers and lives before and after their time with Bob Wills.

Some interview highlights:

  • The group enthuses over the brand new Sony Walkman.
  • Tiny Moore remembers his years with the Jubileers (aka Jimmy Hart and the Merrymakers) in Port Arthur, Texas, and with a Cajun band in Louisiana called Happy Fats and the Rainbow Ramblers, Leo Raley and "It Makes No Difference Now," the electric mandolin player who inspired Tiny to take up the instrument; and Houston-area western swing musicians like pioneering swing steel guitarist Bob Dunn.
  • Eldon recalls his early years: as an acoustic guitarist at a Tulsa CBS radio station "swinging the classics," getting hired by Bob Wills in November 1937, how he started playing electric guitar.
  • Eldon's influences: Didn't listen to country music, grew up listening to big band swing music; when he first heard Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian.
  • Eldon's time with the Alabama Boys in '35, '36, and the many other Texas Playboys who came from that band.
  • Commonwealth bands and when and why Bob Wills' band stopped being one.
  • The McKinney Sisters' start in amateur shows and how they were hired by Bob Wills
  • Tiny Moore's providential encounter with Bob Wills at a Beaumont pig stand in August 1946
  • Eldon's reunion with Bob in November '46 and his first job back with the band: A battle dance with Spade Cooley at Santa Monica Pier
  • Why Bob had them play the same song twice back-to-back at dances
  • What Bob told Eldon about why Bob hollered
  • Recording sessions from the late '40s, and the only time Tiny played a Stradivarius
  • Tiny Moore's vocals on "Ida Red Likes the Boogie" and "Jolie Blon' Likes the Boogie"
  • Tiny's Bigsby five-string mandolin
  • Tiny's years at Wills Point and with the Billy Jack Wills band
  • Bob Wills' movie career and why it didn't work out
  • Merle Haggard's Bob Wills tribute album
  • The McKinneys' music after Bob Wills
  • Tiny Moore's book of Texas fiddle tunes
  • Tiny Moore and Jethro Burns' 1978 "Back to Back" album with Eldon on rhythm guitar
  • Eldon Shambin Day in Oklahoma and his weekly gigs at the Caravan Ballroom
  • The enduring appreciation for Bob Wills' music
  • Remembering guitarist Junior Barnard
  • Why Eldon and Tiny keep playing
  • Tiny talks about his then-new album "Tiny Moore Music"

Great listening. Many thanks to Tom Diamant for posting it.

San Antonio Roses

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It was the song that took Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys "from hamburgers to steaks." In 1938, they took a fiddle tune called "Spanish Two Step" and ran the melody backwards; the result was a popular instrumental. ("Jazz violinist Joe Venuti, for example, told Wills and members of the band that he had many requests for it and and that Wills needed to do more with it." -- Charles Townsend, San Antonio Rose, p. 190.)

A year and a half later, Irving Berlin's publishing company expressed interest in the song, but wanted lyrics for the tune. The band quickly put together some lyrics and the resulting "New San Antonio Rose" was recorded in 1940, with the 18-piece Texas Playboys big band -- and not a single fiddle on the recording. The song was a gold record for Bob Wills. Bing Crosby's cover sold even more records.

Someone somewhere wrote that the enduring popularity of the song owes something to San Antonio's role in World War II. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of servicemen passed through the city for initial training before being shipped to the battlefields of Europe and the islands of the Pacific Theater. For many a soldier or airman, the song was no doubt a reminder of his own Rose of San Antone.

Shortly after World War II, the Texas Playboys recorded a special version of San Antonio Rose dedicated to Abner (of the hit radio show Lum & Abner). During the song intro, vocalist Tommy Duncan said that when they worked together on a special Armed Forces Radio program, "[Abner] told me that he wore out 21 records of 'San Antonio Rose'."

Paula Allen, local history columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, devoted a recent column to three World War II airplanes -- a P-51 Mustang and two B-17 Flying Fortresses -- named for the hit song:

Through at least the first half of 1941, Wills' original and Bing Crosby's version were almost inescapable. Fights broke out in honky-tonks between "Rose" lovers and others who couldn't stand to hear it one more time on the jukebox. A man in Big Spring who lived near a fire station called the police on the firefighters for playing the record over and over and over again.

The three aircraft had distinguished war records. For example:

The other "San Antonio Rose" Fortress was piloted by Capt. Larry L. Kerr of this city, and it served him well. Shortly after the bomber "dropped a cargo of high explosives over Nazi installations at Solingen (an industrial city in Germany), a burst of flak hit the plane's No. 2 engine and knocked it out," says the Express, Jan. 27, 1944. "The control mechanism was partially disabled (and the propeller) windmilled violently, causing a leak in the oxygen lines." Fighters escorted the Fortress, still under fire, as its crew jettisoned all loose equipment to maintain altitude. With Kerr at the controls, the plane made it back to home base in England, where more than 300 flak holes were discovered. The pilot, who had flown 25 bombing missions over Europe, received the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters.

A follow-up column by Allen turned up more San Antonio Roses, including a P-39N-5 Airacobra fighter, piloted by retired USAF Col. Charles W. Borders.

"It was found abandoned years later in a New Guinea jungle junkyard," he says, "and has been repainted and refurbished from pictures I sent in 1962 and now proudly adorns a pedestal at the front gate of the J.K. McCarthy Museum in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea."

Tulsa's Signature Symphony, led by conductor Barry Epperley, will perform a program of music by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys this coming Saturday night, April 2, 2011, at Cain's Ballroom. The event is a fundraiser for Signature Symphony and the orchestra's outreach to schools, and tickets are $45 for bleacher seats, and $75 for cocktail table seating and admission to a pre-event reception. (Will there be dancing? I hope so.)

The Signature Symphony will be joined by some exciting guest musicians: fiddler Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel, who bears a striking resemblance to Bob Wills as a young man and who played him in the biographical musical A Ride with Bob; vocalist Leon Rausch, who started with the Texas Playboys in the late '50s and leads the band today; pianist and cultural historian David Stricklin, son of Al Stricklin, who was one of the original Texas Playboys in their heyday at Cain's; and drummer Casey Dickens, who was a Texas Playboy in the early '60s.

I hope the event is a success, and that it helps to introduce orchestra fans to western swing and vice versa. Bob Wills, musical syncretizer that he was, would appreciate bringing the two together. (I don't know what's on the program, but it would be cool if the Signature Symphony played Franz Liszt's "Liebestraum" Texas Playboys style. The Texas Playboys recorded it in 1941.) It's also great that those accustomed to hearing the symphony at TCC's PACE at 81st and 169 will get to experience Cain's Ballroom and the Bob Wills District downtown.

I have to say, however, that some of the publicity surrounding the event puzzles me.

To commemorate the 100th birthday of the King of Western Swing, Bob Wills, The Signature Symphony at TCC is honored to present a very special Bob Wills Take Me Back to Tulsa concert Saturday, April 2, 2011 at the historic Cain's Ballroom....

We are excited to bring Bob Will's music back to the Cain's and to offer Tulsans a truly unique downtown entertainment experience in tribute of this Western Swing Icon.

Bob Wills' 100th birthday was six years ago. (This year is, however, the centenary of longtime Texas Playboys vocalist Tommy Duncan.) And Bob Wills' music comes back to the Cain's at least once a year at his birthday celebration the first weekend in March, which always features the Texas Playboys led by Leon Rausch and Tommy Allsup. Asleep at the Wheel has played Cain's numerous times, and Hot Club of Cowtown performed there several times in recent years. Tulsa's own Round-Up Boys are there several times a year, in addition to the regular dances they play around town. It's certainly a novel combination -- western swing played by "note-reading" symphony musicians -- but live Bob Wills music in Tulsa is not that rare a thing (although it is rarer here than in, say, the Texas Hill Country).

A little stream-of-consciousness before bedtime:

I always feel like I've won the rent-a-car lottery if the vehicle has Sirius/XM satellite radio. I love the "decade" stations ('40s on 4, '50s on 5, etc.), the Laugh channel (clean comedy), and the classic country on Willie's Place.

By the way, there's a real Willie's Place, a truck stop on I-35E in the municipality of Carl's Corner, Texas, just a bit north of Hillsboro. It's a truck stop, a cafe, a honky-tonk, and a studio for the XM station of the same name. I stopped there one night on one of my "commutes" to San Antonio. I had a great chicken fried steak. The waitress was exactly what you'd hope for in a truck stop waitress -- called me "hon" and kept the coffee cup filled (and sent me off with a big to-go cup). They've got free wifi, and the big booths on the wall have outlets conveniently located above the table. It was an unusually foggy night, and I appreciated being able to check the weather ahead, and send a few emails while I took a break from the road.

Back to Willie's Place the satellite radio station: I was listening to the Bill Mack show tonight, and he was interviewing Mel Tillis by phone with George Hamilton IV in studio. Mel announced that he's the new spokesman for Goo-Goo Clusters, the official candy of the Grand Ole Opry. (Note the initials.) Mel and George (no relation to the very tan actor) reminisced about old times in Nashville. George mentioned that shortly after he came to town, Webb Pierce called up to invite him and his wife to Woodmont Baptist Church, which they soon joined. Mel said he had been a member there, too. (George did a dead-on Webb Pierce imitation, too.) Funny to think that a member of a Baptist church had a hit song about compulsive drinking.

I remember when you could only get a Goo-Goo in and around Nashville. Remember when you could only get Krispy Kreme donuts in the South? I'd always make a point to pick some up when I was that part of the country, but now that they're everywhere it's not as special.

(I told you this was stream of consciousness.)

Back to Bill Mack: I like his show, but he really needs to stop playing songs that get me all weepy and sentimental. Back to back he played Tammy Wynette singing "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and Roger Miller, Ray Price, and Willie Nelson singing "Old Friends."

I don't think I'd ever heard "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" all the way through before. I only knew it through the K-TEL-type ads for a collection of country music hit singles -- you hear Tammy spell the word and see it on the list of songs crawling up the screen. It tells quite a story in just a few words. Here's bright, four-year-old J-O-E, just a bit younger than my youngest, blissfully unaware that his happy childhood is about to come crashing down:

Watch him smile, he thinks it Christmas
Or his 5th birthday
And he thinks C.U.S.T.O.D.Y spells fun or play
I spell out all the hurtin' words
And turn my head when I speak
'Cause I can't spell a way this hurt
That's drippin' down my cheek.

As a kid I mocked country music because of twangy voices like Tammy Wynette's, but the twang takes simple but powerful lyrics and gives them an extra emotional punch.

And then to follow that with "Old Friends" -- that was just too much, Bill:

Old friends, looking up to watch a bird Holding arms to climb a curb, old friends. Old friends. Lord, when all my work is done Bless my life and grant me one old friend At least one old friend.

As hard as it's been to spend so much time on the road, one of the blessings has been the opportunity to reconnect with old friends. A week ago I had lunch and spent a lovely afternoon with a fraternity brother and his family. I don't think I'd seen him since his wedding, 25 years ago. Last fall, I spent a terrific day seeing Austin with another fraternity classmate -- hadn't seen him and his crew since his youngest and my oldest were in diapers. On another short visit to Austin there I had lunch with my old Urban Tulsa colleague G. W. Schulz, now writing on homeland security for the Center for Investigative Reporting. I joined blogpal Anna Broadway and a group of folks from her church for lunch after worship -- hadn't seen her since the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York.

I was delighted to find out that an old, dear friend of mine from college days lives in the next town over from where I've been working in California. He and I were on a two-month long Campus Crusade summer project in Manila, way back in 1983. We'd met at the Atlanta Christmas Conference the previous winter, via a mutual friend from his college who had been with me on a summer project the previous summer in Ocean City, New Jersey.

We had very different personalities. He, much more outgoing and a class clown type, already had a nickname -- Beach, so he gave me one -- Fish, because my sense of humor and demeanor reminded him of Abe Vigoda's character on Barney Miller.

You really get to know someone through the stresses of navigating a new culture and experiencing so many memorable adventures side-by-side. We spent our days working with students at different campuses, then would often head to a nearby food stand at the corner, away from the crowded dorm room and a project staffer intense enough to be immortalized in cartoon form. We'd sit in front of the Burger Machine, drink Cokes and eat what he called "gray matter burgers" and hash over the day.

After that summer we wrote regularly for a while, kept in touch sporadically over the years, and we'd been able to meet up a few times when business brought me to his neck of the woods, but the last time was over a decade ago. On these recent trips, we've been able to get together a dozen times or more. It's been wonderful to have had the time to go beyond just catching up and remembering old times and to get back into the rhythm of a friendship -- joking around, hashing over the events of the week, talking through the challenges and decisions we face.

Praise God for the blessing of old friends.

Andrew Brown of Houston has a blog called Wired for Sound, devoted primarily to the music of the Texas Gulf Coast in the '30s and '40s and the musicians who made it -- some, like bandleader Moon Mullican, rhythm guitarist Cameron Hill, and pioneer steel guitar player Bob Dunn, barely remembered; most long ago forgotten. On many of the entries, the music from an old 78 is accompanied by the story of the song, the session, and the players, along with a photo of the band if one can be found.

One of his first entries is a compilation of two extended interviews with a saxophonist named George Ogg who began his musical career as a 16 year old in the late 1930s, continuing in the business until the '50s. He seems to have played with most everyone in the constantly circulating Houston music circuit.

Ogg's memories cover more than music. There's marijuana, murder, arson, and much more about the time when the hottest music around could be heard at a dance hall at a motel next to the Houston Ship Channel. It is fascinating reading.

It was touching, too, to see comments from relatives of some of the musicians mentioned by Ogg. The commenters had heard bits and pieces from relatives about their granddad or uncle's years as a musician; now they had some concrete information, some context for their family lore.

Here's a soundie from the 1940s with Count Basie and his orchestra playing "Air Mail Special." There's a subplot with the song: A dance contest with the trophy going to the couple that can stay on their feet through this fast-paced tune. Stick with it to the end for a chuckle.

(In the western swing world, "Air Mail Special" was covered by Billy Jack Wills and his band and later by mandolinist Tiny Moore on his solo album, Tiny Moore Music.)

This Friday, March 4, 2011, the Pendleton Family Fiddlers will celebrate the release of their new album on iTunes with a Branson-style revue at the historic Spotlight Theatre, 1381 Riverside Drive.

2011-03-04 Pendleton show-500.jpg

The show stars the Pendleton girls, Emma Jane and Marina, both champion fiddlers and yodelers, backed by mom Virginia on fiddle and mandolin and dad Scott on rhythm guitar, with guest musicians Jack Boydstun, Judge Porter, and Kenny Dunagan.

The program also features western musician "Cowboy Jim" Garling, "banjo-wielding singer-comedian" John Hansen, "Ragtime Bill" Rowland on the piano, comedian Travis Gregg, and saw player Jeff Stauffer.

The show begins at 7:30. Audience members will receive an autographed CD of the Pendletons' newly released song, "Wild Rivers Flow." Tickets are $15; for reservations call 918-587-5030.

It ought to be a fun night for the whole family. The Pendletons put on a great show of western swing and traditional cowboy tunes. Here they are with the "12th Street Rag":

UPDATE: Magician Roger Cornelison had been slated to appear but will be unable due to a family emergency.

My wish was granted, at least partly.

In 1976, the second-ever episode of Austin City Limits featured Asleep at the Wheel and Bob Wills' Original Texas Playboys. Here's the first 30 minutes of the Texas Playboys' hour-long segment. The video and audio are out of sync in places, but that may just be my browser

Personnel, in order of being hired by Bob Wills: Sleepy Johnson, fiddle ; Jesse Ashlock, fiddle; Smokey Dacus, drums; Leon McAuliffe, steel guitar; Al Stricklin, piano; Keith Coleman, fiddle; Leon Rausch, vocals; Tommy Allsup, guitar; Bob Kiser, guitar. (Kiser is the guitarist whom you might mistake for Eldon Shamblin.)

San Antonio Rose
Steel Guitar Rag
Stay All Night, Stay a Little Longer
Please Don't Leave Me (Jesse Ashlock vocals)
Milk Cow Blues
Fiddle breakdown: Durang's Hornpipe, Little Betty Brown, Liberty

There's one more episode, from season 3 in 1978, when the Texas Playboys share the stage with Ernest Tubb and His Texas Troubadours.

James Shamblin, nephew of legendary guitarist Eldon Shamblin, has digitized and uploaded the final concert of Bob Wills' Original Texas Playboys, November 16, 1986, at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas. I've organized all 13 parts into a YouTube playlist, so you can watch the entire 90 minute program straight through by clicking the video player above.

The Original Texas Playboys were organized after Bob Wills's death in 1975. The band was made up of a core of Texas Playboys from the glory days in Tulsa -- Leon McAuliffe, Smokey Dacus, Al Stricklin, Joe Frank Ferguson -- and included Playboys from later eras -- Keith Coleman, Leon Rausch, Johnny Gimble, Gene Gasaway. A few years later, Eldon Shamblin would rejoin the group. The agreement was that when one of the originals died, the band would fulfill their remaining engagements and then disband. Pianist Al Stricklin passed on in October 1986, leading to this final concert.

The lineup (in order of joining the Texas Playboys, links are to news stories with biographical info):

Smokey Dacus - drums
Leon McAuliffe - steel guitar
Joe Frank Ferguson - bass
Eldon Shamblin - standard guitar
Clarence Cagle - piano
Leon Rausch - vocals
Gene Gasaway - fiddle
Bob Boatright - fiddle

The performance is funny in places, touching in many others. Bob's last and longest wife, Betty Wills, makes a few remarks. Eldon steps up to the microphone to sing "There'll Be Some Changes Made." June Whalen, one of the original six Playboys in Waco (before Bob came to Oklahoma and added Texas to the name), came on stage to sing.

Here's the set list. Leon Rausch is the vocalist unless otherwise noted.

Texas Playboy Theme
Big Ball's in Cowtown
Boot Heel Drag (instrumental)
Dusty Skies
Marie (Joe Frank Ferguson vocal)
San Antonio Rose
Fiddle breakdown: Little Betty Brown / Liberty
Milk Cow Blues
There'll Be Some Changes Made (Eldon Shamblin vocal)
Take Me Back to Tulsa
Right or Wrong
Blues When It Rains (June Whalen vocal)
Ida Red (Leon McAuliffe vocal; check out Clarence Cagle's solo)
Faded Love
Steel Guitar Rag
Lily Dale
Bubbles in My Beer
Blue Prelude (Joe Frank Ferguson vocal)
Home in San Antone
Maiden's Prayer
Cherokee Maiden
Keepin' Bob Wills Music Alive (written by Bobby Lee)
Texas Playboy Theme - Closing

Many thanks to James Shamblin for making this available. (Next on my wish list -- the 1984 Tulsa reunion concert or their Austin City Limits.appearance.)

The Tiffany Transcriptions, discs recorded in 1946 and 1947 for radio use, contain some of the best material ever recorded by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Tom Diamant, whose Kaleidoscope Records made that material available to the general public on a series of LPs in the 1980s, has a website devoted to the Tiffany Transcriptions. The site has been recently reorganized, with improved navigation and new content, using WordPress blog software to provide the site's infrastructure.

The discography allows you to see the complete list of recordings or to browse pages for individual sessions, where you'll find the list of session personnel, the session's location, and related documents like the musician's union contract and the studio contract. A new page tells the story of the never-released Tiffany Transcriptions Vol. 10 and a planned CD of Bob Wills fiddle tunes from the transcriptions.

Another interesting new feature: scans of the 52 labels for the discs issued to radio stations. The labels provide the name, time, licensing organization (ASCAP or BMI), and vocalist (or main instrumentalist) for each song.

Just skimming the labels and the discography, I see a bunch of songs I'd love to hear that aren't yet available to the public -- Tiffany versions of "Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age," "Goodnight Little Sweetheart," "No Disappointment in Heaven," "Wang Wang Blues," and "Yearning," several waltzes, pop tunes like "Love Letters in the Sand" and "Don't Fence Me In."

Now that it's possible to release music without the expense of producing physical media, I wonder what hoops one would have to jump through to release, through, say, Amazon or iTunes, a series of albums with the Tiffany material that didn't make it into one of the Kaleidoscope releases. As a start, I imagine you'd need to obtain the masters or the best available copies of the songs and get the appropriate licenses to use the recordings and the compositions. I'd love to know more about the process; maybe even try to make it happen myself.

MORE: Johnny Cuviello, who provided the beat for most of the Tiffany Transcriptions sessions, is the subject of a 2008 article in the Journal of Texas Music History. The article explains how this Fresno-born son of Italian immigrants became known as the Texas Drummer Boy.

On pages 7 and 8 of the story, there's a photo of the Texas Playboys doing their Tuesday night KGO radio show from the stage of the Oakland Auditorium Theater. The band is uplit, a very neat effect. On stage: Tommy Duncan and the McKinney Sisters, Johnny Cuviello on drums flanked by Billy Jack Wills and Luke Wills, both playing bass fiddles, Louis Tierney, Bob Wills, and Joe Holley on fiddle, Alex Brashear with his muted trumpet, MC Cactus Jack (Cliff Johnson), Millard Kelso at the piano, and Junior Barnard on standard guitar next to his monogrammed amplifier. (Announcer Jack Webb is not on stage.)

I was able to arrange my travel schedule to spend an hour or so in Whitney, Texas, for the 100th birthday celebration of native son Tommy Duncan, who won fame as the vocalist for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

The plan was to have a parade just before noon, followed by a classic car show in the afternoon, and a gala banquet and dance featuring Billy Mata and the Texas Tradition. But weather more appropriate to Wales than Whitney -- a cold, steady drizzle -- put a damper on the parade. Instead, the crowd gathered in Texas Mint and Mercantile, the headquarters of the celebration and home to the nascent Tommy Duncan Museum. There I had the opportunity to meet and visit with Tommy's brother Glynn Duncan, Glynn's wife Hazel, and several other members of the Duncan family; Pam Townley, who organized the event, the museum, and the fan club; Nashville musician Carolyn Martin, actor Guich Koock (who bought and restored Luckenbach, Texas, with Hondo Crouch in 1970); Billy Mata and Texas Tradition drummer Rocco Fortunato.


I also spoke with filmmaker and Baylor professor Curtis Callaway, who is working on a documentary on the life of Tommy Duncan. Curtis and some of his Baylor students were there snapping photos and taking video for the documentary, which is about a year from completion. Here's the trailer:

"In the Shadow of a King - The Tommy Duncan Story" from Curtis Callaway on Vimeo.

Glynn Duncan is a western swing artist in his own right, a bassist with Luke Wills and His Rhythm Busters and brother Tommy's Western All-Stars, and a vocalist for Bob Wills. Glynn supplied the vocals for the unreleased 1971 Texas Playboys reunion session at Merle Haggard's house. Here's a photo of the Western All-Stars from 1949, the band Tommy formed after Bob Wills fired him in 1948. The group featured the heart of the mid-1940s Texas Playboys -- Noel Boggs on steel, Jimmy Wyble and Cameron Hill on guitar, Joe Holley and Ocie Stockard on fiddle, Millard Kelso on piano, plus Dave Coleman on drums and Glynn Duncan on bass.


I had a few minutes to browse through scrapbooks that Glynn and Hazel Duncan had provided to the museum. There were a couple of photos from Tommy's childhood, the 1930s and 1940s with the Texas Playboys, publicity photos from the '50s and '60s. The photos and other materials are being digitally archived at Baylor University. I snapped a few rather grainy pictures of the pictures.

This is an interesting artifact: A poster for a 1964 performance featuring Tommy Duncan with the Texas Playboys with Leon Rausch; Bob Wills had sold the Playboys earlier in the year, continuing to perform and record thereafter as a solo artist.


Here's Bob Wills, Tommy Duncan, and horses, probably from the early '40s:


I wasn't able to stick around until that evening's dance, but I'm glad I had the chance to be part of the celebration.


A few more photos of the Tommy Duncan 100 celebration on Flickr.

1993 interview with Casey Dickens and Glynn Duncan.

Mandy and Erica's Western Swing Journey: A blog by a couple of the Baylor students working on the documentary

Rich Kienzle's Southwest Shuffle has a chapter devoted to Tommy Duncan.

Tommy Duncan Fan Club on Facebook

Whitney, Texas, has its own indie coffee house, just down the block from the Tommy Duncan Museum -- Neutral Grounds.


Here's Tommy Duncan's discography, post 1948. (It's got one mistake -- Tommy wasn't involved in Bob Wills's May 1963 Liberty session.)

Whitney's local paper, the Lakelander covered the Tommy Duncan 100 event in its news pages and has posted a bunch of photos of the Tommy Duncan 100 celebration. I wish I could have stayed around to hear Glynn sing.

MORE PHOTOS (update 2013/08/08):

This Picasa album, belonging to Nancy Carroll, contains scans of photos collected by Tommy Duncan's niece Jerri Duncan, including publicity photos going back to 1933 in Waco, pictures of Tommy's ranch in the late '60s, and a 20-page "song and picture folio" from 1952.

Another Nancy Carroll album features present-day photos of Tommy Duncan's Singing D ranch near Mariposa, California, now known as Butterfly Creek Winery.

Born 100 years ago in Whitney, Texas, on January 11, 1911, Tommy Duncan was the voice of the Texas Playboys from 1934 to 1949, reuniting with Bob Wills for three albums in the early '60s, and in between times heading up his own Western All-Stars, which featured several Texas Playboys alums from the '40s.

In honor of his centenary, here are links to a couple of previous BatesLine entries and other web articles, followed by some videos featuring Tommy Duncan:

1960 radio interview with Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan

Tommy Duncan's 100th birthday gala, January 15, 2011, Whitney, Texas

Tommy's song "Relax and Take It Easy" featured on atomicplatters.com

Biography of Tommy Duncan in the Handbook of Texas

"Home in San Antone," from Lawless Empire

San Antonio Rose, with Bob Wills in 1944:

Here's a clip from his post-Playboy career, "Saturday Night in San Antone," with brother Glynn Duncan on bass, Joe Holley on fiddle, Noel Boggs on steel guitar, and Jimmy Wyble on standard guitar, from the Durango Kid movie, South of Death Valley. That's sidekick extraordinaire Smiley Burnette swinging the rope.

From 1959, Tommy Duncan sings "Hello, Mr Worry."

UPDATE: More info on the Tommy Duncan gala and the special guests on Billy Mata's schedule page -- scroll down to January 15 for all the details.

The life and music of legendary western swing vocalist Tommy Duncan will be celebrated in his hometown of Whitney, Texas, with an all-day festival on the centennial of his birth this coming January 15. Whitney is southwest of Fort Worth, about 10 miles west of the southern junction of I-35 W and I-35 E at Hillsboro. It's a bit over 300 miles from Tulsa.

Events will begin with a parade at 11:30 a.m. in downtown Whitney, to be followed by a classic car show.

At 4:30 p.m., the doors will open for the Cowboy Formal Dinner-Dance at The Forum, where Tommy Duncan used to play. The dance will feature Billy Mata and the Texas Tradition with "very special guests," according to the flyer.

There will be a raffle for a custom pair of commemorative boots, and you can "visit the Texas Mint to see the future location of the Tommy Duncan and Western Swing Museum, Tommy Duncan Mural, and Tribute Walk." You can also sponsor a brick in the Tribute Walk.

Seating at The Forum is limited. Some overnight accommodation is available.

For tickets, more information, or to sponsor the event, contact:

Pam Townley, Project Director
254-694-0888 or 817-456-4601

I spoke to Billy Mata during a break in the Texas Tradition's performance at the newly restored Sisterdale Dance Hall. He had sung "Misery" in the previous set; I was struck by how much he sounded like Tommy Duncan on that tune and told him so. (In particular, his smooth baritone reminds me of Duncan's voice at its mellow peak in the late '40s.)

Mata told me about his efforts to give Tommy Duncan his due; people know Bob Wills's music, but often they don't know anything about the man singing the song. Duncan was with Wills from their days together as Light Crust Doughboys in the early '30s until they parted ways in the late '40s, and neither Wills nor Duncan did as well without the other. Although they reunited in 1959, it was too late -- rock-and-roll was ascendant and western swing was in decline. Duncan died in 1967, too young and too soon to enjoy the western swing resurgence of the 1970s, led by the Original Texas Playboys and Asleep at the Wheel.

I mentioned that I'm from Tulsa; Billy and his band have played Cain's Ballroom as part of the annual Bob Wills Birthday celebration. I told him that was the second dance hall I'd visited during my sojourn in San Antonio (I'd heard Jody Nix at Anhalt Halle a few weeks earlier) and had found out about this dance from a Texas dance hall calendar on the web. There are an impressive number of dance halls, particularly in the Hill Country, that hold at least monthly events, and a large number of bands that travel the circuit, but I'm not aware of anything like that in Oklahoma.

Mata said there's a strong dance hall preservation movement in Texas. Texas takes a lot of pride in its history and traditions, and he mentioned San Antonio's successful preservation of historic buildings as an example. He'd like to see the dance hall movement spread north into Oklahoma. Those country dance halls used to exist in Oklahoma -- my grandpa danced to the Texas Playboys at Glenoak, Oklahoma, back in the 1930s -- but I don't know how many are still up and running or even standing.

At the dance, I picked up the first disc in a planned three-volume tribute by Billy Mata and the Texas Tradition: This is Tommy Duncan: Volume 1, covering his early years with Bob Wills. It's a great album, and, in addition to Billy singing 16 Tommy Duncan tunes, the album features playing and reminiscences from Tommy's former bandmates Johnny Gimble and Herb Remington. When Herb joined the Texas Playboys in 1946, he was assigned to room with Tommy on the road, and he has some funny stories to tell.

Here's Tommy Duncan singing "Home in San Antone," from the western film Lawless Empire.

MORE about Sisterdale Dance Hall, recently restored and reopened to the public by attorney Wayne Wright and his family:

Boerne Star, March 3, 2010:

"All of us owe a commitment to future generations to preserve our Texas culture and heritage. Our historical buildings are an integral part of that culture and heritage," he said. "Our family feels fortunate that we can play our small part in this instance to further the Texas Dance Hall Preservation movement. Our family are only caretakers for the Sisterdale Dance Hall. The real owners are the future generations who live the Sisterdale area."

The dance hall was built by the German settlers of Sisterdale in the late 1880s as an Opry House and Dance Hall. Vereins of that period were often used for community meeting places, post offices and places for socializing and most certainly music and dance. The Wrights want to revive that tradition for future generations.

Also, on the property is a stone, fort-like structure with gun ports thought to have been used to protect its occupants from Comanche Indian attacks. The original ranch house and some of its furnishing are in very good condition and had been in use by the previous owner. There are several other buildings on the site that will be researched and considered for use.

Houston Chronicle, May 8, 2010

"If we lose our dance halls, we've lost a major treasure -- like losing our missions," Wright said...

His commitment to preservation goes back to his upbringing on a North Dakota farm. Sisterdale's beauty also has taken a hold on Wright since he's purchased ranches in the area over the years.

"I think it's the prettiest part of the Hill Country," Wright said. "The trees are a little greener. The water is a little fresher. There's nothing like it."

His interest in the state's dance hall preservation movement has intensified his determination to make an impact.

"We'll set up a preservation trust to maintain it in perpetuity. That's the goal," Wright said. "Maybe we can establish a precedent with this."

He believes the Sisterdale Dancehall was constructed between 1884 and 1890 and may have been used as an opera house by German intellectuals who immigrated to the Hill Country several decades earlier.

During a recent business trip to San Antonio I had to stay over the weekend. Making the best of it, I looked around for some good live music. Texas, particularly the part settled by central European immigrants (Germans, Czechs, Poles, Alsatians, etc.), has an impressive number of dance halls, some in town and some in the middle of nowhere. You may have heard of Austin's Broken Spoke or the dance hall at Luckenbach, but there are dozens more that hold dances every month or so.

I found out that Jody Nix and His Texas Cowboys would be performing at Anhalt Hall, north of San Antonio and in between Boerne and New Braunfels. The dance hall at Anhalt has been around over 100 years, and it belongs to what may be the oldest farmers' co-op in Texas, the Germania Farmer Verein.

Jody Nix is a singer and a southpaw fiddler. He sang several numbers and played drums on Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys: For the Last Time, the Playboys' final 1973 recording session under Bob Wills's leadership. (Jody's dad, bandleader Hoyle Nix, played fiddle and was substitute hollerer on that session.) Over the four-hour dance, Jody took a lot of requests, and it seemed that every second or third song was a Bob Wills tune, ranging from traditional fiddle tunes like "Ida Red" to New Orleans jazz tunes like "Four or Five Times."

Next to the big dance floor there were long picnic tables where the regulars set up camp, bringing in snacks and hard liquor (the bar had beer and setups). Smoking was restricted to outside. Another concession stand offered sausage wraps (smoked sausage in a tortilla), chips, candy bars, and soft drinks. Signs warned "POSITIVELY NO DRINKING IN HALL" and "NOTICE: INDECENT-UNCOMMONLY DANCING IN THIS HALL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED -- THE VEREIN." Another sign banned blue jeans, which nearly everyone was wearing.

It was a fun evening. The only downside: I didn't dance. I seemed to be the only person there on my own. That meant I had no dance partner, and I thought it'd be rude to try to horn in on a group or a family. In hindsight, I might have mentioned to the ticket taker or the bartender that I was from out of town, and that might have gotten me introduced around to some folks.

If you're way down Texas way on a Saturday night, find yourself a dance hall and treat yourself to some traditional country, western swing, rockabilly, tejano, red dirt, polka music or some combination of the aforementioned. Here are some helpful Texas dance hall websites:

Texas Dance Hall Preservation, Inc.: Includes a calendar of upcoming dances with links to dance hall and performer websites.

A long list of dance halls with photos and historical information at honkytonktx.com

An article about dance halls on the Texas Hill Country Trail website, featuring dance halls at Anhalt, Kendalia, Gruene, and Luckenbach.

And here's the song by Asleep at the Wheel that inspired this entry's title:

Here's a 10-minute profile of legendary Texas Playboys steel guitarist Herb Remington, who tells about his audition for Bob Wills, his opening night flub at the Santa Monica Pier, Bob Wills's generosity, life on the road, how he covered his mistake on a record, and his big hit, "Boot Heel Drag."

And here's Herb talking about the Tiffany Transcriptions and demonstrating the components of Boot Heel Drag before playing it straight through.

Les plays, Mary sings Alabamy Bound (via Ace of Spades HQ):

Here's a version of the same song from another legendary steel guitarist (mentioned by Remington in his Santa Monica story), Noel Boggs:

In case you missed it, there's a new documentary out about the musical legacy of western swing legend Bob Wills. The film, Bob Wills Ain't Dead was featured in a story by Joshua Blevins Peck in the September 22, 2010, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. Filmmaker Drew Wilson went around the country talking to musicians who worked with Wills and musicians who were influenced by him.

That kind of loose-limbed, off-the-cuff, made-by-one-guy aesthetic runs throughout Bob Wills Ain't Dead. It's a collection of performances of Wills' music and conversations with youngsters, oldsters, regular people, unknown and famous musicians such as Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, Ray Benson and various Texas Playboys. There's flashier and more produced material on Wills but Wilson's sincere love for his subject is evident throughout the documentary.

Just what made Wills the legendary figure he's become? Known as the "King of Western Swing," Wills was the originator of what would evolve into western swing. Wills' western swing was a new musical innovation, a mash-up of styles such as country, swing and blues while giving it a good beat to make it "swing."

"Nobody put all that music together before Bob did. He was like a musical Da Vinci," Wilson said. "Merle Haggard says in the documentary that he didn't know what celebrity was as he was growing up -- there was Joe Louis, Franklin Roosevelt and Bob Wills."

Here's the trailer for the film. Tulsans (particularly those in the fiddling community) will see a lot of familiar faces: Bob Fjeldsted, Larry Schaefer, Rick Morton, Shelby Eicher, Roy Clark, Jana Jae, Regina Scott, to name a few.

The UTW story mentions that Bob left Tulsa for California in the 1940s. Although Tulsa was where he first made it big, he spent most of his career elsewhere -- California in the '40s and into the '50s, Texas and Las Vegas in the late '50s and '60s. But there was a return, around 1957, when, for a couple of years, Bob Wills reunited the Texas Playboys with brother Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys. Johnnie Lee had taken over the daily KVOO radio show and the weekly dances at Cain's after Bob's departure for the west.

According to this story, the Bob Wills family lived in Johansen Acres -- between Sheridan and Memorial south of 21st St, and during that time his daughter Carolyn graduated from Nathan Hale High School.

Carolyn Wills visited Tulsa recently to explore the idea of a swing school and museum here honoring her father. The concept behind the swing school is intriguing:

The swing school is not a fiddle camp; it's a music camp where young students learn Western swing music and the technique of playing in a band, with improvisation, she said.

Members of the Texas Playboys always told her of her father: "You just better be ready to play when he pointed that bow at you."

Carolyn Wills wrote a tribute to her dad in the July 2010 issue of Cowboys & Indians magazine, and it includes some insight into the band's costume evolution from preppy sweaters to business suits to Western wear.

....From 1934 through 1938, Bob Wills appeared in a tailored double-breasted suit and polished custom-made boots, and the Texas Playboys dressed in business suits, white shirts, and neckties. They were on their way to becoming the largest and most famous Western band in the history of America, and their increasingly familiar image announced the dawning of "Western chic."

In 1939, my father and Mr. O.W. Mayo started the annual Bob Wills Stampede (Rodeo) in Tulsa and it was then that the Texas Playboys began to dress Western: cowboy dress shirts and Western pants, bolo or standard ties or Western scarves, vests or Western-cut sports coats, and cowboy boots with pants tucked in or out. Nowhere were there sequins, appliqués, floppy lapels, or loud colors. As the bandleader, Bob Wills became known for his trademark cowboy hat, boots, and Roi-Tan cigar. He usually wore a light-colored Stetson with a medium crease and slightly folded edges. A hat pushed too far back or pulled down to hide a man's eyes was not acceptable....

For the magazine's online presence, Carolyn put together a playlist of her father's favorite songs and her own.

MORE: Drew Wilson spoke about his documentary on the September 23, 2010, edition of KWGS Studio Tulsa.

On October 17, 1952, Hank Williams performed -- sort of -- at Cain's Ballroom. Former Cain's owner Larry Schaeffer tells the story in a 1999 article by Dave Hoekstra:

HankWilliams-Cains-1952.GIFShaeffer's office is a cornucopia of country music lore, ranging from original Ernest Tubb movie posters to love letters from Bob Wills' female fans he found stuck in a wall during a remodeling project. But a stunning highlight is a red vinyl couch - emblazoned with the Cain's logo - that Hank Williams slept on in October 1952 when he was too drunk to play his second show.

"He got someone to run beer to him all day," says Shaeffer, who was handed down the story from Mayo. "So he's toasted. Both shows were sold out. He got through the first show, although it took two people to hold him up. Hank laid down on the couch between shows, and they couldn't wake him up. He was mixing morphine (for a bad back) with liquor. This was 10 weeks before he died."

Mayo, who died in 1994 at age 93, told Shaeffer he didn't know what to do. He finally came clean and told the audience that Hank was too drunk to perform and that his backing band, the Drifting Cowboys, would play without him. Money would be refunded as fans left Cain's.

"Well, someone opened the door to the office and a line formed," Shaeffer says. "People filed past (a blank Hank) like a funeral viewing. The band played on, and not one person asked for their money back."

Mayo, by the way, is O. W. Mayo, the first band manager for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, and the owner of Cain's from the '30s to the early '70s.

HankerinForHank-Cains.jpgHank Williams is returning to Cain's Ballroom -- after a fashion -- on October 17, 2010. Muskogee musician Jim Paul Blair performs as Hank Williams in a tribute band called Hankerin' for Hank. It's a DVD/CD release party, and it also features Jim Paul's mother, Ramona Reed, who sang with the Texas Playboys in the 1950s. Admission is $10 -- or free if you buy a $20 DVD. The party starts at 6 p.m.

The band seeks to recreate the look and sound of Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys from 1951, down to the wardrobe by Manuel Cuevas, who worked on Hank's original Nudie suits.

Here's the real deal -- Hank Williams singing "Hey, Good Lookin'":

MORE: In 1950, Hank Williams recorded, as "Luke the Drifter," a political song by Fred Rose criticizing Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, titled "No, No, Joe."

'Cause the Kaiser tried it and Hitler tried it Mussolini tried it, too Now they're all sittin' around a fire and did you know something? They're saving a place for you

Now Joe you ought to get it clear
You can't push folks around with fear
'Cause we don't scare easy over here
No, no Joe

A little Friday evening entertainment: It's Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, featuring singing sisters Dean and Evelyn McKinney. On the bandstand: Noel Boggs on steel guitar, Louis Tierney, Bob Wills, and Joe Holley on fiddle, Alex Brashear on trumpet, Junior Barnard on standard guitar, Millard Kelso on piano. I can't tell from this video who is on drums and bass, although from another clip from the same film, I think it may be Johnny Cuviello on drums. Tommy Duncan doesn't sing on this one, but he's sitting down in the background.

This is probably from 1946; it's the same lineup as the early sessions of the Tiffany Transcriptions, probably from 1946. There's another video that has been circulating on the web for quite a while, with the same lineup and in the same surroundings performing "Goodbye, Liza Jane." YouTube user radiobob805 has posted a better version of that clip:

Speaking of the surroundings, notice the round up-lit ceiling and the round stone planters. There's a sort of Googie / California Coffeehouse / early Mid-Century Modern thing going on here.

This sing-along short of "San Antonio Rose" seems to come from the same session:

Here's a blog that aims to provide complete discographies for hundreds of western swing, country, and rockabilly musicians. Each entry has three sections: recording sessions (when, where, session musicians, and tracks recorded), albums, and singles. Each album listing includes the titles of each track, although it doesn't link back to the specific recording session.

Here are a few of the western swing discographies on the site:

The Billy Jack Wills and Leon McAuliffe discographies are in the process of being updated.

Although the Bob Wills discography does not include the Tiffany Transcriptions sessions, it does include albums of airshots, live concerts, and radio transcriptions. Beyond the two massive Bear Family box sets of the Texas Playboys' commercial recordings, there's plenty of other material, including songs that were never recorded for release.

MORE: This Facebook page devoted to a famous Nashville recording studio has all the sessions Bob Wills recorded at 804 16th Ave. S. One unreleased track that isn't listed in the other discographies: Webb Pierce singing "What's the Matter with the Mill" with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, November 13, 1956.

There are some exciting events in Tulsa over the next few days, but because of a heavy and strange work schedule I won't be able to make any of them. But that doesn't mean you have to miss them:

Friday, April 23, 2010: National Fiddler Hall of Fame Gala, Tulsa PAC, 7 pm. Two of my favorite bands are performing, both with Tulsa ties. The main act is Hot Club of Cowtown: Brady Heights resident Whit Smith on guitar, Elana James on fiddle, and Jake Erwin on bass, a trio that brings together western swing and gypsy jazz, Bob Wills and Django Reinhardt. (Not that they were far apart: Curly Lewis, fiddler for Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys, said at the first NFHOF gala that all the western swing fiddlers wanted to play like Hot Club de France jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.) The opening act is Rockin' Acoustic Circus, a group of talented young musicians that brings together bluegrass, jazz, blues, swing, classical, and rock-n-roll and which features (I say without fear of contradiction) the prettiest bluegrass cellist on the planet.

Saturday, April 24, 2010: QuikTrip Air and Rocket Racing Show: Fly-bys of military and civilian aircraft, including a B-2 Stealth Bomber! Rocket races! Aerobatics! Wing walking! Channel 2 Weather Show! World War II warbirds!

Already sold out, but worth a mention for future events:

Thursday, April 22, 2010: Blogger meetup at Siegi's Sausage Factory: Wish I could be there because the food's on my diet and the speaker is my good friend Erin Conrad. Watch TashaDoesTulsa.com to learn about future blogger meetups.

Friday, April 23, 2010, Saturday, April 24, 2010, Sunday, April 25, 2010: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at Augustine Christian Academy, 30th Street west of Sheridan. This little classical Christian school does a big musical every spring. Performances sold out, but they have a waiting list for tickets. Call 832-4600 to put your name on the list. (My wife and oldest son will be playing fiddle music at a pre-show buffet Saturday. )

The four-year-old:

Volunteered to help me clean the Little Tikes playhouse in the backyard. He wanted to play in it, but it was looking pretty grody, He did a good job and stayed working alongside me until the job was done.

Played catch with me and then hit the ball off a tee. He's got a good throw.

Stayed in the tree that big brother put him in, even though it was a little scary.

Counted the Zip Fizz tubes in the package (20), and pointed to the one he liked the best. They were all the same, he said, but that one was number 1.

Gave a play-by-play from the kitchen bathroom at his successful number two effort.

While big sister got ready for bed, played Mastermind with me. I gave him a few simplified puzzles with only two colors, and he solved them in two or three guesses.

The nine-year-old:

Came home from shopping wearing a sharp new fedora.

Played a couple of beautiful pieces on the piano, including Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty Waltz, and then played a pretty little improvisation of her own.

Asked to play Mastermind with me. She played the full six-color game and was able to solve the puzzle in five tries.

The 13-year-old:

Regaled me with tales of his excellent week of learning about state government at TeenPact. Best speaker of the week: Randy Brogdon, who spoke about his Obamacare Opt-Out bill. Worst speaker: Jari Askins, because she underestimated the interest and intelligence of these kids and dumbed down her talk. (First question from the kids to Askins: What do you think about the Obamacare Opt-Out bill?)

Climbed to the top of a hackberry tree and helped little brother get into one of the lower branches.

Played a double-stop arrangement of San Antonio Rose that he's been learning. It sounds just like Johnny Gimble and Keith Coleman's twin fiddles at the beginning of the version on For the Last Time. (He and his mom went to a western swing fiddle workshop at Tulsa Strings last weekend, led by Shelby Eicher and Rick Morton.)

(Originally published 2010/02/26, bumped to the top for the benefit of my fellow guitar students.)

In the fall of 1989, shortly after we were married, my wife, who had been playing violin since elementary school, decided she'd like to learn some fiddle techniques. She found a teacher in Inola named Darrel Magee. (As it happens, I'm taking a beginning guitar course from Darrel this semester.)

Darrel was also the head of the country music program at Rogers State College in Claremore. RSC also had (still has) its own UHF station and a degree program in broadcasting. The two threads came together in a weekly program called Oklahoma Swingin' Country, with students running the cameras and in the control room.

Darrel invited my wife to participate in one of the broadcasts, and she spent many hours learning arrangements for familiar tunes like "Silver Bells," "Time Changes Everything," and "Steel Guitar Rag," and songs that were new to us then: "Big Beaver," "My Window Faces the South," "Milk Cow Blues."

The show was taped in Claremore on a Friday evening for later broadcast. I sat and watched from behind the cameras. Because of various camera and control room errors -- this was student practice, after all -- it took six hours to put together a 30-minute show. The awkwardness in some of the between-songs talk is partly because you're seeing the third or fourth take of what was originally a spontaneous intro. For example, "I'm going to sing first because I sure don't want to have to follow these other great singers," turned into, "I'm going to sing first because I don't want these other singers singing before me," on the take when the camera was in the right place.

For a small college TV show there was a lot of musical talent packed in the room, starting with singer Debbie Campbell and legendary guitarist Eldon Shamblin. I knew back then that Eldon was a Texas Playboy, but I didn't realize (as I do now) what a big deal he was, and Eldon was not the sort to make a big deal about himself. The video has some nice closeups of his solos and backup work on that old Stratocaster. Debbie, Tulsa's favorite female vocalist for many years, displayed her range on "Crazy" and "Me and Bobby McGee." (I'm still waiting for someone to post video of her Tulsa Tribune jingle.)

The rest of the lineup: Darrel Magee, piano; J. D. Walters, steel guitar; Suzanne Wooley, Mikki Bates, Rod Smith, fiddles; Jeannie Cahill, rhythm guitar; Ernie McCoy, drums; Jim Bates, bass. (Jim's no relation, as far as I know.) J. D. and Ernie have both played with the Texas Playboys at the annual Bob Wills Birthday bash at Cain's. Jeannie, Darrel, and Eldon joined Leon McAuliffe on his 1985 gospel album. And I'm pretty sure that was the same Rod Smith I saw performing last week in a classic country music revue in San Antonio.

OklahomaSwinginCountry-1989 from Michael Bates on Vimeo.

The Rogers State TV guys sent us a copy of the tape after it aired, and I got it converted to DVD not long ago.

Unfortunately, my wife's work schedule at American Airlines (Sabre) changed, and she wasn't able to continue with fiddle lessons. Two decades later, as our oldest son took up fiddle, she did too, and the two of them have gone to Jana Jae's annual fiddle camp and played with the local fiddle circle.

It's March 6, 2010, Bob Wills's 105th birthday, and there's a celebration tonight at Cain's Ballroom, the legendary dance hall that was home to his daily radio show and twice-weekly dances. Headlining tonight's event are Bob's own Texas Playboys, led by Leon Rausch and Tommy Allsup, both of whom have been associated with the band for over 50 years. Tulsa's Round-Up Boys and Oklahoma Stomp, a group of talented young western swing musicians, are the opening acts. Doors open at 6:30, the show starts at 7:00 and tickets are $16 + fees.

This is always a great show. Any country band could play a Bob Wills tune, but it's another thing altogether to swing the music the way he did. In extending the tradition of the Texas Playboys into the 21st century, Leon Rausch brings together the best western swing musicians around, sidemen who can take a chorus and turn it into a showstopping improvisation. As I wrote in a salute from a few years ago:

Rausch says that "these boys are the very best western swing musicians in the business," and I'll vouch for that. You can tell the difference between competent players who reproduce great improvisations from the past, and those who really are creating in the moment. Their playing at last year's celebration was inspired, drawing energy from the music, from the audience, and from each other.

Because this is a long entry, you'll need to click the "Continue reading" link to see the whole thing. Clicking any of the photos will take you to a bigger version and my full set of San Antonio streetscape photos. If you're interested in hotels, restaurants, historic preservation, and entertainment in San Antonio, read on....

Aztec Theater, San Antonio, MDB10710

Once again last week, business took me to San Antonio. It was a productive trip. We worked second shift instead of third, which was much more pleasant. I was awake enough during the day to get out and enjoy the sunny 60-degree weather.

One of the things I love about San Antonio is the strong commitment to historic preservation, a commitment that dates back almost 90 years. The San Antonio Conservation Society was founded in 1924 "to preserve the 'antiquated foreignness' embodied in San Antonio's charm and character," and it has been successful in that regard, but as a happy side effect, the society's efforts have also succeeded in preserving the early 20th century commercial buildings that were brand new or not even built when the society was founded. The result is a bustling urban downtown as an attraction for tourists and conventioneers.

The story of the San Antonio Conservation Society is worth reading. Like a similar organization in Savannah, it was founded by prominent and wealthy women who were outraged at the threatened destruction of a historic market. And as in Savannah, San Antonio's preservationists lost their first battle but went on to create a culture where history is cherished.

The ladies of the Conservation Society came up with creative ways to make the case for preservation:

In September 1924, after sketching the Commissioners at their weekly meetings, the ladies presented a play called, "The Goose with the Golden Eggs." They performed their play after the commissioners' regular meeting with puppets crafted to look like the men themselves. The commissioners of the play were called upon to arbitrate an argument between Mr. and Mrs. San Antonio over whether San Antonio's character and charms should be killed to achieve prosperity more quickly. Of course, the Conservation Society members in the audience responded, "NO," and many cheered. Preservation of the city's character and charms would reap greater long-term benefits, including civic pride, than the mere accumulation of money.

Their response to the notion of filling in the Great Bend, which had been a recommendation in an engineering report, was to take the City Commissioners on a canoe ride on the bend just to show the men how beautiful it was. Many of them had never seen the river from that perspective before and were greeted along the way by children waving and pitching flowers to them from the bridges.

A surprising find in a surprising place on the web. The find is an interview with Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan around the time of their 1960 reunion. (Wills had fired Duncan in 1949.) The place is on the website of psychotherapist Alyce Faye Eichelberger Cleese. (As you may have guessed, she was married, from 1996 to 2008, to John Cleese. She is a native of Frederick, Okla., and a graduate of OSU.) Her webmaster, Bob Richards, is a record producer who met Alyce Faye when he wound up producing her interview show on Santa Barbara radio station KZSB.

Bob Richards has had a fascinating life and career, which he recounts on his bio page. As a 12 year old in 1947 (the Tiffany Transcription era), he met Bob Wills at a dance in San Jose. In 1960, working as a for a Long Beach country music radio show, he produced a show with host Texas Tiny interviewing Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan in between songs dating back to the earliest days of the Texas Playboys (and before -- the two songs Bob recorded with Milton Brown during their days as Light Crust Doughboys). Bob and Tommy tell a fascinating story of how they wrote and recorded "I Wonder If You Feel the Way I Do" and shipped it air express to the plant in New Jersey all in the wee hours of one morning. Here's what Bob Richards writes about how Bob and Tommy got back together:

My next venture into radio was 1959. There was a local DJ named Texas Tiny (400 lbs at least) who worked on KFOX in Long Beach. Joe Allison, who wrote "He'll Have To Go," the Jim Reeves hit, also worked there as a DJ. Joe later became an A&R man at Liberty Records and reunited Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan in 1960 by signing them to separate contracts and putting both names on the albums.

You can find that 1960 Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan interview linked from Richards' bio page. On the same page, you'll find a brief 1978 interview with Texas Playboys fiddler Joe Holley.

Richards also has a YouTube channel with a bunch of Bob Wills film clips.


A demo Bob Wills radio show for B. F. Goodrich dealers with music, between-song patter, and a pitch by Cactus Jack that Bob Wills music will move merchandise. Other rarities on the same site include a recording of a Bob Wills performance for Boeing Aircraft Company in Wichita in 1958, with a radio interview, in which Bob explains that Western Swing owes its start to the advent of the amplifier.

Slightly RELATED:

In an interview in The Times, John Cleese offers a sort of reason for the failure of his third marriage:

"It's very important for me that my friends have a sense of humour. To me it's the kind of touchstone of communication. Alyce Faye's sense of humour was not very European, because she was from Oklahoma and I used to joke that the Oklahoma Sense of Irony is one of the world's short books." How did he cope? "Well I just didn't make certain kinds of jokes around her."

From 1978, Merle Haggard and the Strangers perform "Columbus Stockade Blues." You'll hear Eldon Shamblin's distinctive style of rhythm guitar throughout (and you can see him to the left of the trumpeter at about a minute in). At 1:30, Tiny Moore takes a short solo on his Bigsby 5-string electric mandolin -- the proverbial "biggest little instrument in the world."

From the same show, Tiny Moore and Gordon Terry join Merle Haggard on some old breakdowns, finishing up with the fiddle standard, "Liberty":

(I'd love to find a copy of the Tiny Moore Mandolin Method, a long out-of-print instructional book, to buy or to borrow. If you know where I might find a copy, e-mail me at blog at batesline dot com.)

I received an e-mail today with a question about Billy Jack Wills, youngest brother of Bob Wills and a great western swing band leader in his own right. A search for the answer turned up the sad news that Billy Jack's sister-in-law, Dean McKinney Moore, had passed away on November 9, 2009, age 87.

Dean McKinney and her sister Evelyn sang with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in the late '40s. Their duets were featured on the Tiffany Transcriptions and a number of the band's commercial releases on Columbia and MGM. A special Tiffany Transcriptions CD (intended to be the first in a "For Collectors Only" series) includes 22 cuts with Evelyn and Dean in duet or singing in trios and quartets with Joe Holley, Tiny Moore, and Eldon Shamblin.

While with the Playboys, Dean met and married mandolinist Tiny Moore. Wills Point dance hall in Sacramento became Bob Wills's home base in the late '40s. When Bob decided to take the band back on the road in about 1952, Billy Jack set up his own band to hold down the fort at Wills Point. Tiny and Dean decided to stay in Sacramento with Billy Jack, and the city was home for the rest of their lives. After leaving the band in 1954, Tiny hosted a local children's TV show, opened a music store, gave music lessons, and performed from time to time. In 1970, he joined five other former Texas Playboys (Johnnie Lee Wills, Alex Brashear, Eldon Shamblin, Joe Holley, and Johnny Gimble) on Merle Haggard's Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World, and went on to join Haggard on tour. Tiny died in 1987.

The family obituary provides some personal glimpses:

Dean and Tiny were among the founding members of the First Baptist Church of Carmichael. Dean and Evelyn frequently ministered to the congregation with songs of praise. Two LP's of sacred music were produced: "Softly and Tenderly" and "Heaven's Harmony." Dean was an unwavering presence in her children's lives and was active in the PTA throughout their early school years. She enthusiastically supported every activity that interested her children. She and Tiny entertained often with lavish dinners for friends and family. They performed as a duo joined with their daughter Kimberly and appeared at concerts and private gatherings. After Tiny's death in 1987 Dean became active in the Sacramento Western Swing Society, serving as their President for many years. Dean traveled extensively and continued to sing with Evelyn at musical festivals across the United States.

Oh, the musical question: "Will There Be Any Yodeling in Heaven?"

Will there be any yodeling in heaven?
That is what I'd like to know.
There can't be any wrong
In just singing a song
With a yo-delady-oh-mylady-dee.

In the heaven above
Will they sing the songs I love
With a yo-delady-oh-mylady-dee?

As I climb the golden stairway up yonder
And life's journey on this earth is o'er
As I cross the great divide
Will they welcome me inside
With a yo-delady-oh-mylady-dee?

My personal favorite McKinney Sisters' song is "Feudin' and Fightin'."

Finally, here are Dean and Evelyn joining in on the chorus of "Goodbye Liza Jane."

RELATED: Tiny Moore played a five-string electric mandolin (as opposed to the traditional acoustic mandolin with four pairs of strings). This article on building a five-string electric mandolin explains the advantages of the "biggest little instrument in the world":

The mandolin offers a wider interval of notes within one hand position compared to a guitar, and this can be incorporated into a playing style. (There are stories of electric guitarists frustrated in trying to learn Gimble or Moore solos.)

MORE: Dean Moore reminisces in a September 26, 1991, story in the Sacramento Bee:

The telegram from Fresno arrived in Feb ruary 1946. Come at once, it said. Am sure salary and job will make you both happy.

Little did the singing McKinney Sisters know when they left Alabama to tour with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys that they would forever have a foothold in the rich history of Western swing.

I just wish I had kept a journal, Dean McKinney Moore says now. So many things you forget as years pass.

Bob Wills, an ace fiddler, had come to California to find a new base for the music he helped to popularize in Texas. He and his band, including Dean and Evelyn McKinney, made their way to Sacramento in 1947.

He bought the old Aragon Ballroom out on Auburn Boulevard and called it Wills Point (it burned in 1956). Wills Plunge was the swimming pool, filled with ice-cold well water. Band members lived in small apartments under the dance floor. The ballroom itself held 4,000 people, and the Playboys came close to filling it. They also did a live broadcast every day on KFBK radio.

Soon, Wills got itchy to get back on the road, so he left California and went home to Texas. But he left behind a legacy of Western swing that is still thriving in Sacramento. ...

Dean McKinney Moore didn't hear Western swing back home in Birmingham. She and her sister sang on a local radio station that broadcast as far away as Dallas and Fort Worth, from the time they were 14 and 12 years old, respectively. They also traveled with an evangelist. They sang on Ted Weems' show.

Then one day, Bob Wills came through town, and somebody at the radio station asked him to listen to Dean and Evelyn.

We didn't expect to hear from him, Moore says while having soup at a Sacramento coffee shop. We came to California, and that was the beginning of a whole new life. It was our first experience with Western swing. Where we came from, if you carried a guitar, you were just a hillbilly.

THE SWEET-VOICED McKinney Sisters traveled allover the country with Bob Wills. One night they played a gig in Port Arthur, Texas. Moore remembers that Wills and Tommy Duncan, the Playboys' vocalist, were riding in a car, and she and her sister were on the band bus.

There was no drinking on the bus, unless Bob got on the toot. (Wills' drinking was legendary.) And if he did, it was open for everybody, says Moore. When he was not drinking, he was such a great guy. He insisted that the guys not tell off-color stories around us.

Wills and Duncan stopped for a bite at a Pig Stand, an early Texas fast-food joint. Tiny Moore who was not tiny at all, but a stout 6-foot-3 and a musician friend were there, with their loaded-up car, headed to Oklahoma to find work.

Tiny asked Bob for a job, says Moore. Bob asked him what he played, and when Tiny said "mandolin,' Bob must have cringed. Mandolin is like Bill Monroe music. But he sent Tiny to the car to get it, and Tiny came back and set up on the counter. He got a job.

She and Tiny, whom she called brother for the first few months they knew each other, married in 1948. Evelyn, who still lives in Sacramento and is caring for her ill husband, had married Billy Jack Wills the year before.

Dean Moore continued to travel with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys until late '49, when Wills hired her and Tiny to run the ballroom in his absence. The first of the Moores' three children was born in 1950.

She continued to sing with her husband as their children grew. Tiny died four years ago while performing in Jackpot, Nev., and Dean Moore says she's only now beginning to live again. She sings occasionally and expects to perform at the Western Swing Society's hall of fame event.

I think singing is what Tiny would want me to do, she says, her blue eyes seemingly fixed on some distant memory. The hardest thing I ever did was to walk back on a stage without my husband.

As with Tulsa's struggle over applying new fire codes to older buildings, Dallas is experiencing a battle between historic preservation and downtown revitalization on the one hand and strict enforcement of building codes on the other.

The building in question is at 508 Park Avenue, a three-story Art Deco building from the late 1920s. Originally the Warner Brothers Film Exchange, in the 1930s it was used by Brunswick Records for storage and as a recording studio. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys recorded there, as did many other country, folk, and western swing acts of the day. Legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson made his last recording there in 1937.

The longtime owners filed a demolition permit back in January, a permit that has so far been denied by the city's Landmarks Commission. (Dallas, like Oklahoma City, but unlike Tulsa, has historic preservation ordinances with teeth.) The owners might have been content to continue their half-century ownership of the building, but city inspectors began fining them for code violations, part of an effort to clean up neglected buildings downtown. As Observer writer Robert Wilonsky put it, "So, as far as Glazer's Distributors is concerned, after 50 years of ownership better a parking lot near City Hall than a code-violations fine machine."

As of August, the owners had spent $50,000 to bring the building up to code and were being fined $1,000 per day per violation.

Preservation Dallas responded with a plea to spare the 508 Park Ave. building, not only for its own historic significance, but for the blight created by multiplying vacant lots where buildings once stood. Some choice quotes from their press release:

A demolition permit for 508 Park was sought following a recent code violation sweep in downtown in which 36 vacant and/or underutilized historic and non- historic properties were targeted for code citations and threatened with litigation. Despite the City's good intentions of furthering revitalizing efforts in downtown, the code violation sweep will likely lead to these ham-fisted remedies. We recognize that while some properties owners are at fault for letting their facilities fall into a state of disrepair, other owners are seeking to either sell their properties or are working diligently on a plan to rehabilitate them. But in these difficult economic times, the City's actions may force many property owners to consider demolition. Preservation Dallas contends this code violation campaign will result in the loss of many significant Dallas historic buildings.

Misguided property assessments can have the same effect, as we have already seen here in Tulsa. The Preservation Dallas statement pointed to another part of downtown, cleared many years earlier, of the urban connectivity problems created by demolition:

"The City seems to believe that vacant lots, particularly in central Dallas, would be an improvement over these existing and often historic buildings. Although they are treating this as a code enforcement issue, vacant lots aren't a quick fix," said Seale. One has only to look at the 'dead zone' at the west end of downtown between the Earle Cabell Federal Building and the County Courthouse complex for evidence. This area, the result of demolitions dating from the 1960s, is a major impediment to the Convention Center connecting to the core of downtown Dallas, and it isolates the County buildings. Those historic buildings that are no longer there would have been good candidates for redevelopment; they would have offered opportunities for residential and commercial uses in the western portion of downtown- a stated goal of the City's. As it turns out, the walkability of this sector of downtown Dallas is dismal at best, and not something the City should encourage or pursue in the rest of downtown....

Vacant lots are an impediment to further redevelopment efforts in downtown. Vacant lots do not make downtown more livable. Nor do vacant lots provide a context for downtown. They are eyesores. A building, however, has potential for re-development.

Apropos to my previous entry on downtown housing -- if we really want to repopulate downtown Tulsa and the inner neighborhoods, we need to reduce obstacles to renovating historic buildings, rather than focusing on new development projects out of the price range of most Tulsans.

Where do Dallas' downtown residents live? 5,000 people live in downtown Dallas and almost all of them live in historic buildings rehabilitated for residential use. In most cases these now successful buildings were in worse shape than the buildings now targeted by the city.

On that page, you can see before-and-after photos proving their point.

Finally, Preservation Dallas points out that an overlooked section of the city's landmark ordinance already provides a resolution of the tension between code enforcement and historic preservation:

To address the city's concern regarding neglectful property owners, the City should strengthen and proactively pursue the Demolition by Neglect section of the enabling Dallas Historic Landmark ordinance. Destroying historic buildings due to the City's code violation drive does damage to the original intent of the initiative as well as lasting damage to Downtown Dallas.

Today, the owners are asking the City Plan Commission to approve their demolition permit, despite the denial by the Landmarks Commission and despite the fact that the building is not an imminent danger to life or property.

MORE: A 2002 story in the Dallas Morning Newson the history of 508 Park.

UPDATE 2009/11/23: On November 19, the Dallas city plan commission denied the demolition permit for 508 Park on the grounds that the building did not pose an imminent danger to health and safety. There is still a possibility that the commission would grant a demolition permit on economic viability grounds.

July 25, 2009: Hustontown, Pa.

Our arrival was timed so that we could attend the monthly get-together at the Hustontown Volunteer Fire Department, an open stage night where locals gather to play music, to listen to music, and to visit with one another. Refreshments (including homemade pies) are sold to raise money for the fire department.


The house band is led by a longtime volunteer firefighter, and the group accompanies most of the other performers. Our two oldest kids each signed up to play (fiddle and piano, respectively).

I didn't know what kind of music to expect from amateur night in the middle of rural Pennsylvania. I would never have expected it to be the same sort of music you'd hear at such an amateur night in Kentucky or Arkansas or Oklahoma.

Earlier that day, as we drove through southwestern Pennsylvania, my wife and I were struck by the number of Ulster place names we saw. Two vacations (B.C. -- before children) took us to Counties Antrim and Tyrone and Donegal and the cities of Belfast and Derry, partly in search of traces of my Scotch-Irish ancestors. I knew from some of my genealogical reading that many Ulster Scots who came to America in the 1700s entered at Philadelphia and settled inland; first in Lancaster County, then further west into the Alleghenies, and then south into the Shenandoah Valley, the Cumberland Gap, the Holston Valley, and then, in the 1800s and 1900s, westward to places like Texas, Oklahoma, and California's Central Valley. It was easy to see how Scotch-Irish settlers from the glens of Antrim or the Blue Stack Mountains of Donegal would have felt right at home in western and central Pennsylvania.

A couple of weeks ago, Philadelphia-based blogger Skye made this observation on Twitter, as she drove west to Pittsburgh for the Right Online conference:

So, this is alabama in between

I'm not sure what she saw to lead her to that conclusion, but it makes sense. (I was surprised at the number of Confederate battle flags I saw flying around Fulton County. Not a huge number, but more than the number I expected -- zero.)

The culture of northern Alabama and the culture of south central Pennsylvania are bound together by this Ulster Scots heritage, a heritage that is so ubiquitous in America that it is as invisible as the air that we breathe.

I mentioned the music at the open stage night: There was western swing, there was classic country (e.g. Hank Williams), and there was traditional gospel (e.g., "I've Got a Mansion Just over the Hilltop"). The latter style had many in the crowd singing along. The house band included fiddles, a banjo, an accordion, a pedal steel guitar, and a bunch of electric basses and electric and acoustic guitars.


What clinched the connection for me was the opening tune: A couple of choruses of Bennie Moten's "South", recorded in 1928. Moten was a Kansas City native, and his band included the Kid from Red Bank (as Johnny Martin called him) -- Count Basie. The song entered the western swing repertoire via Bob Wills, who used it each night to lead off his dances. Is it just a coincidence that the Hustontown Fire Department house band opened with the same tune over 70 years later?

Here's my oldest son performing a traditional Irish tune called "Tam Lin" and the classic western swing number, "Faded Love." I love the way the band comes in behind him on Tam Lin. There was a bit of a hiccup on a key change in Faded Love, but everyone got on the same page eventually. I'm proud of him being willing to go up in front of a hundred or so strangers and play with a dozen musicians he'd never played with before.

I was proud of my little girl, too. She played her two recital pieces from Barthelmes -- "Snake" and "Relay Race" -- and remembered to take a bow at the end:

The three-year-old was wiped out from the long drive. Here's one of his few moments of alertness and a more typical moment a short while later:


But he was awake for ice cream. After the show, we headed to a local favorite spot -- the Twist and Shake -- which specializes in unusual flavors of soft serve ice cream. That night the special flavors were chocolate marshmallow and peanut butter. Another night they had grape nuts ice cream and teaberry ice cream. (Teaberry tastes just like Pepto-Bismol.)


Back at the house, we caught fireflies for a while before turning in for the next day's big adventure: A ride on a real steam train.

bobwills.com, the official Bob Wills website, has launched a podcast called Bob Wills Radio, hosted by Jim Goff. Each episode features music and excerpts from interviews with members of the Texas Playboys. New episodes will go up each Monday at noon.

The inaugural edition features a 1983 interview with steel guitar legend Leon McAuliffe. Leon talks about how he came to play steel guitar, how he became a part of the Texas Playboys back in 1935, his friendship with Tex Beneke, and the beginnings of his band in Tulsa after World War II. His first band was a horn-dominated swing band, designed to set him apart from the western swing bands around. After touring the local dance circuit, Leon found that the audiences expected him to play western swing, so he canned the horns, hired some fiddle players, and switched back to western swing. (Harlequin Records has a disc of the big band version of Leon McAuliffe's band, from 1946-8.)

Toward the end of the podcast, there's a version of "T-U-L-S-A Straight Ahead," sung by Leon and backed by the Original Texas Playboys, the band made up of Bob Wills sidemen that performed from the mid-70s to the mid-80s. (For some reason, recordings of the Original Texas Playboys are really hard to find.)

Also on the bobwills.com website, you can purchase for download a 36-minute interview with Bob Wills recorded in 1949. Before you buy, you can hear a three-minute excerpt in which Bob Wills talks about their first dances at Cain's Ballroom, what kind of music you'd hear at Cain's before the Texas Playboys took up residence, and why they had to buy Cain's from Mr. & Mrs. Cain. (They started out at the Playmor, NW corner of 2nd and Madison, a second-floor dance hall -- retail below -- about half the size of Cain's.)

Just saw a promo on OETA: Documentary-maker Ken Burns is planning a series on the Dust Bowl, in the same vein as his works on the Civil War, jazz, and baseball, and he's looking for help from Oklahomans:


I'm asking Oklahomans to help me with a new public television series I'm now working on: The Dust Bowl.

Like our earlier films on World War II, Jazz, Baseball, and The Civil War, we think the Dust Bowl is an important event in all of American history.

We're in the early stages of our research, but we know that Oklahoma will be a major part of the Dust Bowl story we want to tell.

We're looking for first-person stories of Oklahomans who lived through those hard, hard times, especially out in the Panhandle, where the Dust Bowl was the worst.

We hope to find people who can share their experiences with us - or their photographs, diaries, or home movies from the 1930s, to help us tell this important story.

If you or someone you know can help in this research project, please contact OETA at 1-800-846-7665

Or Send a Note to:

OETA Dustbowl Stories
P.O. Box 14190
Oklahoma City, OK 73113

All we need at this stage is a short, written note explaining how you could serve as a resource. Or, please call OETA with a brief description of your Dust Bowl experience. We'll take it from there.

Thank you for helping in this important project.

Ken Burns
Florentine Films

I don' t have any Dust Bowl stories in my family, but I have a couple of suggestions:

Run ads in California's Central Valley, places like Bakersfield and Fresno, where many Okies wound up and where their descendants still live.

Include western swing and its precursors (old-time fiddle music, Texas blues) in the soundtrack. Woody Guthrie may have been writing folk songs to tell the story of the masses, but the masses were at the neighbor's house, rolling up the rug, pushing back the chairs and tables, and dancing to the kind of music that Bob Wills, Milton Brown, Hank Penny, and Spade Cooley would forge into western swing.

In particular, Cindy Walker wrote a song called "Dusty Skies," which the Texas Playboys recorded in 1941. I don't remember where I read this, but it's said that Tommy Duncan choked up the first time he sang it, recalling the dust storms that devastated his family's farm in Texas. In his Guardian obituary of Cindy Walker, Tony Russell wrote of "Dusty Skies":

As delivered by Wills' vocalist Tommy Duncan, it is among the most affecting of country epitaphs, as true a memorial of its time and place as the Dust Bowl Ballads of Woody Guthrie.

(A side note: If you want to find good biographical sketches of western swing musicians, check the archives of British newspapers like the Independent, the Telegraph, and the Guardian.)

Here are the lyrics:

Dusty skies
I can't see nothing in sight
Good old Dan you'll have to guide me right
If we lose our way the cattle will stray
And we'll lose them all tonight
Cause all of the grass and water's gone
We'll have to keep movin' on

Sand blowin' I just can't breathe in this air
Thought it would soon be clear and fair
But dust storms played hell
With land and folks as well
Got to be moving somewhere

Hate to leave the old ranch so bare
But I've got to be moving somewhere

So get along dogies
We're moving off of this range
Never thought as how I'd make a change
But the blue skies have failed
So we're on our last trail
Underneath these dusty skies
This ain't tears in my eyes
Just sand from these dusty skies

After the jump, a video of the song. (The video is a bit odd, but it's Tommy Duncan's 1941 version on the audio.)

Red dirt, rockabilly, and western swing with Oklahoma ties are on tap this summer at Cain's Ballroom:

Wanda Jackson at Cain's BallroomWanda Jackson, the Queen of Rockabilly, from Maud, Oklahoma, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in April. After playing dates in London, Glasgow, and Interlaken, Switzerland, the rest of this month, she'll be at Cain's on July 7 with Nancy Apple and Ronnie Elliott, presented by the Woody Guthrie Coalition. Tickets are $24 for general admission, $39 for Gold Circle (tables down front).

(Wanda will play a Summer Breeze concert in Norman on July 12, and the Poncan Theater in Ponca City on September 19.)

HotClubOfCowtown-WishfulThinking.jpgHot Club of Cowtown -- Elana James on fiddle, Jake Erwin on bass, and Tulsa resident Whit Smith on guitar -- bring their blend of Bob Wills and Django Reinhart to Cain's second stage on August 19. Tickets are $12. Hot Club's new album, Wishful Thinking, is due out this summer. The album will include the song, "Hey, Beautiful," whose lyrics are taken from a letter by Staff Sgt. Juan Campos, in Iraq, to his wife Jamie, back home in McAllen, Tex. Campos died in the line of duty in May 2007:

Campos' words were among those published in a New York Times article on March 25, 2008, under the headline "Six of the Fallen, in Words They Sent Home." One of the readers was Elana James, singer and violinist in the Austin band Hot Club of Cowtown; she was immediately struck by Campos' message.

"Here are people (who) have very modern ways of communicating, and yet they're so far away," James says. "I didn't think it was poetic, but I was bowled over by the writing and especially the one Campos letter. It was so beautiful; he said everything in that one brief letter. Also, none of it was about him -- it was about his caring for other people."

Stirred by the sentiments, James started thinking there was a song there. She worked out a melody, composed an arrangement, then recorded it with the band. It's a departure from Hot Club's usual Western swing and vintage jazz; James' voice floats breezily above a country-folkish melodic line, her violin underpinning it all. The tempo starts slowly, picks up in the middle, then winds down near the end. The song's mood exists in a zone between whimsical and mournful, ending up at matter-of-fact. It stays with you.

Hot Club is offering "Hey, Beautiful" as a free download on its Web site; James plans to include it on the band's upcoming album, to be released early in 2009, and is working out details for any royalties the song might generate to be given to Campos' family (she's been in touch with them via e-mail).

You can listen to "Hey, Beautiful" and clips from previous albums on the Hot Club of Cowtown website.

On August 28, the Red Dirt Rangers will celebrate their 20th anniversary with a free show at Cain's. Donations will be accepted with all proceeds going to charity. The band was recently the subject of an Urban Tulsa Weekly cover story by Mike Easterling.

All three shows begin at 8 pm; doors open at 7. All three shows are open to all ages.

TiffanyTranscriptionsVol5.jpgjackwebb-patnovak.jpgJack Webb, of "Dragnet" fame, was the announcer for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys? Yes, indeed! For a few months, at any rate.

Back in 1946, Bob Wills had a weekly half-hour radio show on San Francisco's KGO, broadcast live from the Oakland Auditorium Theatre. TiffanyTranscriptions.com, a website devoted to the mid-'40s for-radio-only recordings that captured the Texas Playboys at their swinging best, has a section on the KGO Bob Wills broadcasts, with a couple of sound snippets of Jack Webb and the Playboys and a script for a Hollywood broadcast for which Webb served as both announcer and MC.

In 1946, Webb starred in two radio series for KGO: The Jack Webb Show, a comedy show, and Pat Novak for Hire, a detective series.

The sponsor of the broadcast was Fisher Mills, maker of Zoom instant hot cereal. One of the jingles (you can hear it on this page, which also has a KGO Bob Wills show script) went like this:

For a breakfast that's delicious
That will banish morning gloom
Joe and Jane and Aloysius
All eat instant cooking Zoom.

The jingle concludes with a trademark Junior Barnard guitar lick. I'd like to shake the hand of the songwriter who rhymed "delicious" and "Aloysius" -- brilliant! The singers are probably Evelyn McKinney, Dean McKinney, Eldon Shamblin, and Tiny Moore -- the four sing together on "It's a Good Day" (which you can find on the Tiffany Transcriptions: McKinney Sisters disc) and the sound is very similar.


Excerpt from Dirty Linen magazine interview with Tom Diamant on how he and Jeff Alexson, his partner at Kaleidoscope Records, brought the Tiffany Transcriptions back to life in the 1980s. (I've got a copy of the issue on order.)

Panhandle Country, Tom Diamant's weekly show on KPFA.

Diamant recommends the Collectors Choice reissue of the Tiffany Transcriptions but notes some history missing from the set:

I have two complaints which I have expressed to Collectors Choice. The Tiffany Transcriptions were rescued from a basement in Oakland California by Kaleidoscope Records owners the late Jeff Alexson and me, Tom Diamant. We dubbed them, chose the songs for those first 9 albums plus the McKinney sisters one, sequenced them, arranged for the notes by the original musicians, supervised the whole thing, and originally released them on Kaleidoscope Records yet we are not credited by name on the Collectors Choice issue, except for doing a couple of interviews. Also, the marvelous art work that appears on the original albums and the covers of the Collectors Choice CDs was done by Elizabeth Weil, who is also not credited. We receive no royalties for these later reissues, but it would have been nice to have a line of type acknowledging our efforts.

On Eric Banister's Tiffany Transcriptions box set review, Diamant explains what's not in the box set:

There were over 460 recorded items, by Bob Wills for the Tiffany Transcriptions including false starts, incomplete takes, intros and outros, mic checks, a Zoom Cereal jingle, etc.

There were over 360 or so complete takes recorded. Many are not so good but are interesting just the same. A chronologicaly ordered, complete box set would not be easy listening and for fanatics only. Those first 9 CDs were the cream of the crop (there is a volume 10, but it was never issued and that's another story. The McKinney Sisters was part of a different series and not considered Volume 10. Although everyone seems to call it that.)

Ted Gioia's Jazz.com on Bob Wills and the Tiffany Transcriptions

A.V. Club review of the Tiffany Transcriptions box set

The Wall Street Journal review of the Tiffany Transcriptions box set features steel guitarist Herb Remington on his guitar trios with Tiny Moore and Eldon Shamblin:

The new center of action, however, is an unprecedented three-part-harmony string section made up of Eldon Shamblin on electric guitar, Tiny Moore on electric mandolin, and Mr. Remington on steel. To Wills's country-breakdown dance numbers, such as "Stay a Little Longer," and the blues and pop tunes like "What Is This Thing Called Love?" that the band always had played, this lineup adds string-dominated turns on songs of Duke Ellington ("Take the 'A' Train"), Benny Goodman ("Mission to Moscow") and other leading lights of Swing.

"That wasn't an accident," Mr. Remington recalls. "We were all trying to do session work, and these tunes were in our minds and bodies from listening to the Big Bands. We had DC power and an amplifier in a little room in the back of Bob's new bus -- and the three of us would work out things like 'At the Woodchoppers' Ball,' but with strings only. By the time we got to the job we could play it, but then Bob might get drunk or something and never call the tune." Some of those "never called live" bus-born arrangements would become Tiffany session tracks -- and without the time limitations of recordings of 78 rpm singles, there's time for the solos as well as those instrumental harmonies.

Blurt Online review of the Tiffany Transcriptions box set: A few missed facts (the box set has the same tracks as the Kaleidoscope releases, and Oklahoma Hills is Jack Guthrie's song, not his cousin Woody's), but some good insights.

From Bob, what might have seemed corny, contrived and phony from someone else was, well, corny, sometimes contrived but hardly false. Bob Wills had loads of charm and a love of music making that transmitted easily to live audiences and are just as much in evidence on record, especially in this almost dauntingly comprehensive collection.

...There were better fiddle players and singers, more prolific songwriters and certainly there were more graceful dancers but somehow Bob Wills caught lightning in a bottle. He was that rarest of musical people; a great bandleader. They are generally good to great musicians but more than that they are strategists, spokesmen, focal points and sometimes even jesters and clowns.

Time's March 15, 1954, cover story on Jack Webb covers his KGO years

More about Pat Novak for Hire, Jack Webb's first crime series

Pat Novak for Hire -- 23 episodes at the Internet Archive. With Raymond Burr as the obnoxious cop!

Loads of great noir narration from Pat Novak for Hire:

"He was a tough, hard cop, with a heart big enough to hide behind a piece of birdseed."

"The street was deserted except for a couple of winos, near the corner, trying to buy back 1926 at a dollar a jug."

"So far it was working out like a crossword cut in half."

"She had nice hair, and the dress helped too. It was dark blue and had a V-neck, but the designer believed in big letters."

This coming Friday evening, May 8, 2009, the Pendleton Family Fiddlers are throwing a release party and show for their first CD album. It'll be held at the Spotlight Theatre, the art deco landmark located at Riverside Drive at Houston Ave. Tickets are $10 and CDs are $10.

Fronting the group are a couple of multi-talented sisters, Emma Jane (15) and Marina (14), state and national champion fiddlers and yodelers. (They sing and play mandolin and guitar, too.) They're backed by their dad Scott on rhythm guitar, their mom Virginia on fiddle and mandolin, and their uncle David McNamee on bass.

We've had the privilege of knowing the Pendletons for a few years now and continue to be impressed not only by their talent but by their generosity in encouraging other musicians and performers. That's exemplified by the way they're handling their CD release. Not only will the Pendletons perform, but so will eight other acts, according to the flier:

Victoria Hannath, actress-singer • Regina Scott, fiddle phenom
Natasha Irons, soaring vocals • Jasmine Love, smooth stylist
Travis Gregg, good humor • Ragtime Bill Rowland
John Hansen, banjo non grata • Larry Stockard, folk music relapse

The Pendletons have been regular performers at the Spotlight Theatre, part of the weekly "Olio" of acts that accompany the long running melodrama "The Drunkard" every Saturday night. The Spotlight's history as a launching pad for young performers was the reason the Pendletons chose the venue and included their fellow Spotlighters on the program.

It should be a fun and affordable evening of family entertainment, and if you love great fiddle music, you'll want to be there.

I recently came across a funny little novelty song recorded by Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys called "The Thingamajig." It seemed just the song for a rainy day of fix-it projects. It's much in the spirit of "Rag Mop," an novelty number from 1949 that was a hit for Wills and, later, for the Ames Brothers.

Follow this link to hear "The Thingamajig" and "She Took" at a delightful blog called I'm Learning to Share.

"The Thingamajig" was written by prolific songwriter Cindy Walker. ("You Don't Know Me" and "Dream Baby" are perhaps her two best known songs.) It was recorded on Feb. 3, 1952, at the KVOO studios, for RCA. (Was KVOO still in the Philtower in '52?) Lead vocals by Julian "Curley" Lewis. Johnnie Lee Wills is asking the questions and singing on the trio part. Don Tolle on electric guitar, Tommy Elliott on steel guitar, Clarence Cagle on piano, Chuck Adams on bass, Waid Peeler on drums, Curley Lewis, Henry Boatman and James Guy "Cotton" Thompson on fiddle. Don Harlan played clarinet on this session, but I don't hear it on this song. He might be singing with the trio, along with Johnnie Lee Wills and Leon Huff, the band's usual vocalist.

Here, for the record, are the lyrics. (I'm not entirely sure about "bucket big" in the first verse, and "spring" in the chorus could be "sprig." UPDATE 2009/05/17 -- changed "bucket big" to "bug is big" on the advice of a commenter.)

What did I do with that thingamajig?

I gotta to find that thingamajig.
I gotta to have it to fix my rig
Tain't no bigger than a bug is big.
What did I do with that thingamajig?

Is it square?
No, it isn't square.
Does it flare?
No, it doesn't flare.
It ain't square, it don't flare,
It ain't shaped like a pear.
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

Is it round?
No, it isn't round.
Is it brown?
No, it isn't brown.
It ain't round, it ain't brown
It don't make any sound
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

It's just a doodad
With a thingamabob,
A doomaflitchet
That you twist like a knob,
A whatchamacallit
Fastened down with a spring.
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

Is it flat?
No, it isn't flat.
Like a mat?
No, not like no mat.
It ain't flat like a mat;
It's no bigger than that.
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

I gotta to find that thingamajig.
I gotta to have it to fix my rig.
Tain't no bigger than a bug is big.
What did I do with that thingamajig?

Is it brass?
No, it isn't brass.
Is it glass
No, it isn't glass.
It ain't brass, it ain't glass,
But alack and alas,
I've got to find that thingamajig.

Is it stone?
No, it isn't stone.
Like a hone?
No, not like no hone.
It ain't stone like a hone.
It ain't button or bone.
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

It's just a doodad
With a thingamabob,
A doomaflitchet
That you twist like a knob,
A whatchamacallit
Fastened down with a spring.
It's just a little ol' thingamajig.

Is it tin?
No, it isn't tin.
Do it spin?
No, it doesn't spin.
It ain't tin, it don't spin,
But if you are my friend,
Please help me find that thingamajig!

UPDATE 2009/05/18: Dad says he remembers the song from back then, and that Grandma (his mom) loved it.

UPDATE 2012/01/12: Uncle Allen says this was his dad's (my Grandpa Bates's) favorite. It makes sense, since he dealt with many thingamajigs, doomaflitchets, whatchamacallits, and doodads in his line of work (electronics repair and sales -- Johnny's Electronics in Nowata).

MORE: A commenter suggests that the lyric is "Tain't no bigger than a bug is big," which makes far more sense than "bucket big."

The National Fiddler Hall of Fame, based here in Tulsa, will hold its third annual gala and induction tomorrow night, Wednesday, April 29, 2009, at the Tulsa Community College PACE, 81st & US 169. (Gala tickets range from $30 to $100.)

The featured fiddler is Mark O'Connor, who will perform at the gala, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and will also hold a workshop on Thursday at 5:30 Gilcrease Museum. The workshop cost is $25, $15 for students.

Johnnie Lee Wills (1912-1984), who presided over a daily radio show on KVOO and Thursday and Saturday night dances at Cain's Ballroom for many years, will be one of the four inductees. Here's a bio of Johnnie Lee Wills by Guy Logsdon.

Western Swing on 78 has posted MP3s from some Johnnie Lee Wills transcription discs from 1950-1951. These are complete radio programs with between-songs banter along with the music.

Johnnie Lee Wills, Schmitt Transcriptions Part 1
Johnnie Lee Wills, Schmitt Transcriptions Part 2
Johnnie Lee Wills, Schmitt Transcriptions Part 3
Johnnie Lee Wills, Schmitt Transcriptions Part 4
Johnnie Lee Wills, Schmitt Transcriptions Part 5

How do you do, friends?
We're here to play for you
And sing the songs you want to hear
Before we are through.

It's Johnnie Lee and all the boys
Sending thanks to you
For your support and loyalty
And your friendship true.

I learned today that later this month Bear Family Records is about to issue a new CD compilation of music by Leon McAuliffe and His Cimarron Boys, titled Tulsa, Straight Ahead. McAuliffe was the first steel guitarist for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys; after a stint as a flight instructor during WW II, he returned to Tulsa and formed his own band

Bear is a German reissue label beloved by "completists." They've put all of Bob Wills' commercial recordings, plus studio outtakes and alternate takes, in two massive $300+ box sets. Two years ago, Bear released McAuliffe's work in four sessions for Dot in 1956-1958 (26 tracks) on Take Off & More.

Tulsa, Straight Ahead: Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight contains 31 tracks recorded for Columbia between 1949 and 1955. That link has the full track listing. You can pre-order the disc on Amazon for about $24.

Bear Family has here collected the cream of McAuliffe's six year tenure with Columbia, including a never-issued alternate take of 'Panhandle Rag', and several other unissued tracks. Highlights include the unissued first -- and considerably hotter -- version of the hard-swinging blues 'Hard-Hearted Girl'. There are steel guitar classics like 'Mr. Steel Guitar' and 'Cimarron Rag'. A fantastic take on the early rock 'n' roll classic 'Sh-Boom', as well as what was arguably the best among the twenty-odd versions of the 1950 smash 'Rag Mop'.

Some of these tracks are on a Jasmine Records compilation, Take It Away, the Leon Way, but Bear is bound to improve on the sound quality and to provide a well-documented sessionography in the liner notes.

One song that wasn't on that Jasmine release but will be on Tulsa, Straight Ahead is "The Three Bears," written by Bobby Troup. It'll be nice to hear a cleaned-up version -- the YouTube clip below is the only way I've heard the song.

(According to YouTube commenters, that's Keith Coleman as Papa Bear, and Chet Calcote as Mama Bear. Calcote still plays bass in and around Amarillo, in a western swing band called the Magic City Cowboys and in a jazz combo called Pizzazz.)

Tonight at 8 p.m. (Friday, March 27, 2009) the Rockin' Acoustic Circus will perform at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in the old Tulsa Union Depot at 1st and Boston. The six-member band performs bluegrass, western swing, and modern country. They put on a great show.

Here's a sample: "Bethany" from the Fiddlefest in Guthrie earlier this year, which shows what you get when you cross bluegrass with Django Reinhart. Listen for the cello solo:

(More videos here.)

Ticket prices are family-friendly, according to the okjazz.org website, "General admission is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, college students and Jazz Hall members and $5 for students over 12 years of age. You may also reserve a seat for $20 per person at one of the front tables." For tickets and more info, call the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame at (918) 281-8600.

Wanda Jackson, a native of Maud, Okla., and a resident of the Oklahoma City area, will be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland next month, but tonight she's playing Cain's Ballroom here in Tulsa. Deeply rooted in the western swing music of Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, and Tex Williams, she started out as a country singer, working with Hank Thompson and the Brazos Valley Boys. In 1955 and 1956 she toured with Elvis Presley and made the transition to rockabilly.

The show starts at 8 p.m. If you love old-time rock 'n' roll, you'll want to hear one of the originals.

Charles G. Hill nominated Wanda's "Funnel of Love" for our state rock 'n' roll song for its multiple ties to Oklahoma:

1. Wanda's from Maud, and today lives in Moore.
2. The tasty guitar licks are provided by latter-day Tulsan Roy Clark.
3. What could be more Oklahoman than Tornado as Metaphor? I mean, really.

More clips after the jump -- "Hard Headed Woman," and two excerpts from a 2008 Smithsonian Channel documentary about Wanda.

UPDATE: It was a great show with an appreciative audience of all ages. Wanda sounds as great as ever, backed by a terrific rockabilly band, Bill Holden and the Nighthawks. When she introduced "Funnel of Love," she mentioned that it was largely overlooked when it was first issued, because it was the B side of her hit, "Right or Wrong." Young rockabilly aficionados rediscovered and embraced the song a few years ago, and she had to go back and re-learn it. It was great to hear it live. She introduced a set of Elvis songs (including "Heartbreak Hotel") with reminiscences of her years touring with him, and how he introduced her to rockabilly.


Shortly before the end of her set, Wanda took a moment to tell us about her coming to faith in Jesus, "the Savior of my soul and the Lord of my life," in 1971, and she followed her words with a rousing rendition of the gospel classic, "I Saw the Light."

Wanda also thanked Jennifer Chancellor, Barrelhouse Beat music columnist for the Tulsa World; there's a huge archive of stories, audio clips, and links to YouTube videos featuring Wanda Jackson here on tulsaworld.com.

At the end of the show, Cain's owners Jim and Alice Rodgers presented Wanda with a huge bouquet of roses and read a proclamation from Mayor Kathy Taylor declaring today as Wanda Jackson Day in Tulsa.

Now back to the clips....

Still the king

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Happy 104th birthday to the King of Western Swing! Ah, gather 'round friends! Why hurry? Let's all stay a little longer:

That's from the movie Blazing the Western Trail, with Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid, with the Texas Playboys' 1945 lineup: Tommy Duncan on vocals, Bob Wills and Joe Holley on fiddle, Jimmy Wyble on lead guitar, Cameron Hill on rhythm guitar, Noel Boggs on steel guitar (very cool double-necked lap steel there), Alex Brashear on trumpet, Monte Mountjoy on drums, Teddy Adams on bass, and Millard Kelso, usually the piano player, is on the squeezebox in this clip.

More clips from the same movie:

Ida Red
Goodbye Liza Jane
Time Changes Everything

That last clip has some nice twin guitar work by Jimmy Wyble and Cameron Hill, and that's Wyble playing the solo on "Stay a Little Longer."

Jimmy Wyble is still around at age 86, teaching contrapuntal jazz guitar on Thursdays this month at Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. According to this, he plays at the Chado Tea Room in Pasadena on Tuesdays and in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo on Sundays. This interview covers the breadth and length of his career, which also included a stint with Benny Goodman. (Here's video of him talking guitar and playing at Chado in 2007.)

(Via Tyson Wynn, who also has George Jones singing "Take Me Back to Tulsa" on his Bob Wills tribute album from the '60s, and the Rolling Stones paying tribute during their Austin, Texas, performance.)

DON'T FORGET: The Texas Playboys, with Leon Rausch, Tommy Allsup, and Bobby Koefer, perform at Bob Wills' Birthday Party at Cain's Ballroom tomorrow night, Saturday, March 7. Doors open at 6:30. Opening acts are the Round-Up Boys and Oklahoma Stomp.

... and the world is silhouetted 'gainst the sky....

Bet you can't listen to that without harmonizing.

("Blue Shadows on the Trail," by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.)

little_cowboy_lullaby-bob_wills-sheet_music.jpgMy kids listen to CDs at night, usually one CD on infinite repeat, and over and over again for several weeks. Over the Christmas holidays they listened to piano instrumental versions of carols. I introduced them to the soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. We tried Mark Knopfler's soundtrack for Local Hero, but there were a couple of loud songs that interrupted the flow of quieter pieces.

The three-year-old really wanted to listen to a Bob Wills CD, but it was too bouncy in places and tended to make it hard for the kids to get to sleep and stay asleep. So I put together a mix CD of slow, restful western tunes:

  1. Goodnight, Little Sweetheart, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
  2. Little Cowboy Lullaby, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
  3. Texas Sandman, Johnnie Lee Wills & His Boys
  4. Just Friends, Hot Club of Cowtown
  5. Dedicated to You, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
  6. Medley: La Golondrina, Lady of Spain, Cielito Lindo, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
  7. No Wonder, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
  8. Along the Navajo Trail, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
  9. Prairie Lullaby, Sons of the Pioneers
  10. Wagon Wheels, Sons of the Pioneers
  11. Lonely Yukon Stars, Riders in the Sky
  12. My Oklahoma, Riders in the Sky
  13. Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Riders in the Sky
  14. Don't Fence Me In, Riders in the Sky
  15. Streets of Laredo, Riders in the Sky
  16. Red River Valley, Riders in the Sky
  17. Sleepwalk, Santo and Johnny
  18. Moonlight Serenade, Santo and Johnny
  19. Song of the Islands, Santo and Johnny
  20. Tear Drop, Santo and Johnny
  21. Harbor Lights, Santo and Johnny
  22. Tenderly, Santo and Johnny
  23. Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma, Sons of the Pioneers
  24. Goin' Home, Leon McAuliffe and His Cimarron Boys (adapted from the Largo movement of Antonin Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, "From the New World")

I notice that of the Texas Playboys tunes, I tended to choose the sentimental numbers that Bob Wills sang himself. The opening number of the disc is the number that was (and still is) used to close Texas Playboys dances. It opens with some sultry chords by Leon McAuliffe. I made my little girl chuckle last night: After I kissed her goodnight, I said, "Take it away, Leon," then hit the play button.

Two of the songs are songs my mother sang to me at bedtime: "Don't Fence Me In," and "Cielito Lindo" -- we knew it as the Ay-ay-ay-ay song.

One song I didn't have, but wished I did, was "Blue Shadows on the Trail" by Sons of the Pioneers. It's on a Disney Lullabyes videotape, from the movie Pecos Bill. Others I might have included but didn't: "Yearning (Just for You)," "Happy Trails," "In the Arms of My Love."

To explain the inclusion of a couple of New York musicians in a western collection, I'll repeat an anecdote from an earlier entry:

This little detail from the Wikipedia bio of the Farina brothers, Santo and Johnny, made me smile:
When they were very young, their dad was drafted into the Army and stationed in Oklahoma. There (on the radio) he heard this beautiful music. It was the sound of the steel guitar and he wrote home to his wife and said "I'd like the boys to learn to play this instrument."

I like to think Mr. Farina was listening to this guy over KVOO -- from "Steel Guitar Rag" to "Sleepwalk" in one generation.

Specifically, I like to think that Mr. Farina heard Leon McAuliffe playing those opening chords on "Goodnight, Little Sweetheart."

UPDATE 2013/05/24: Added the above graphic, the cover of the sheet music for "Little Cowboy Lullaby" by Bob Wills and Cindy Walker, from the lyrics and sheet music page at BobWills.com. Thanks to the kindness of retired blogpal See-Dubya, I was able to add "Blue Shadows" to a second edition of the CD, to which I added Tommy Duncan's "High Country."

Vinyl appeal

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This is a "bleg" -- begging on a blog. I need some advice and assistance.

I recently came across and purchased a copy of the Johnnie Lee Wills "Reunion" LP, recorded on April 3rd and 4th, 1978 at Tulsa Studios, released on the Flying Fish label, and featuring an amazing lineup of western swing all-stars: Johnny Gimble, Joe Holley, and Curly Lewis on fiddle, Eldon Shamblin, Don Tolle, and Roy Ferguson on guitar, Alex Brashear on trumpet, Gene Crownover on steel, Wayne Johnson on sax and clarinet, Clarence Cagle on piano, Glenn "Blub" Rhees on sax, Ted Adams on bass, Claude Clemmons and Tom Montgomery on drums, John Thomas Wills (Johnnie Lee's son), and a cameo by O. W. Mayo, Johnnie Lee's manager and announcer and long-time owner of Cain's Ballroom. Steve Ripley produced the album, Jim Halsey was executive producer, and Bob Burwell was creative director.

The track list:

Side One: Silver Bells; Rag Mop; Memories of You, Dear; I Wish That Your Picture Was You; Four or Five Times; La Golondrina; Rosetta.

Side Two: South; If I Had Another Chance; In a Spanish Mission; Talkin' 'bout You; Whose Heart Are You breaking Now?; Milk Cow Blues; Goodnight Little Sweetheart.

(This album is part of my long-term aim to own every recording on which Eldon Shamblin performed. I would love to hear the albums made by the reunited Original Texas Playboys in the late '70s and early '80s.)

I haven't listened to the album yet. While I have a couple of turntables, one is older than this album and the other is nearly as old, and I haven't used either in over a decade -- probably closer to two. I have no idea if the belts or needles are any good, or where I'd get replacements if I needed them. I don't want to use this album as a guinea pig.

I remember that in college I had a Discwasher kit, which I used religiously before putting an album on the turntable. I have no idea if that product is still around or if it's even recommended anymore.

While I appreciate the special qualities of vinyl recordings, I'd really like to get this album into a digital format, so I can enjoy it on my MP3 player and in the car. My wife and I have other recordings that we'd like to hear again as well. Some of them, recordings of school orchestras and church choirs, are never going to be available from another source.

So I'd welcome advice, particularly from those of you in Tulsa, about sources for testing and reconditioning turntables, needles, cleaning methods and supplies, and digitizing vinyl records.

Please note that while I am a music lover, I am not an audiophile, so I don't demand an acoustically perfect experience. I have a high tolerance for scratches, warbles, and other artifacts of age and wear. I just want to hear the music.


Some time not too long ago, I watched The Blues Brothers. The movie is remarkable for bringing together great musicians from a wide variety of genres with some connection to the blues, including R&B, Soul, Big Band.

There's the scene early in the movie where the band plays the first gig after their reunion at Bob's Country Bunker, where they have both kinds of music -- country and western. The band soothes the savage country music fans in the bar by playing "Rawhide" and "Stand By Your Man."

During my recent viewing, it hit me what a wasted opportunity this was. Instead of introducing the Good Ol' Boys and adding them to the list of people who wanted Jake and Elwood dead, the scene might have highlighted the western side of the blues by bringing the Blues Brothers together with the Original Texas Playboys for a down-and-dirty rendition of "Blackout Blues," "Trouble in Mind," "Sittin' on Top of the World," or "Milk Cow Blues."

The Original Texas Playboys were actively touring and recording in the late '70s and early '80s, including several albums on Capitol. The Blues Brothers was released in 1980, so it could have happened, but for a lack of awareness of the blues roots of Western Swing.

But as an intriguing western swing what-if, it pales in comparison to "Can't Buy Me Faded Love."

UPDATE: Thanks to all who commented and e-mailed with helpful advice. Several of you pointed me to the many USB-capable turntables on the market. And then David Sims mentioned this CNET guide to turning vinyl LPs into CDs.

Bob Wills on NPR

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This first ran in 2003, but it's still worth a listen. NPR's Morning Edition ran an 11-part series called "Honky Tonks, Hymns and the Blues." A couple of years later, it was turned into a two-hour radio documentary.

Part 10 is all about Bob Wills and western swing. The eight-minute report includes segments from a 1949 interview with Wills, in which he talks about how he became a fiddler and the importance of amplifiers. Music historians Jean Boyd and Douglas Green (you may know him as Ranger Doug) chime in about the musical influences in Texas in the early 20th century. There's a nice juxtaposition of Louis Armstrong and then Bob Wills singing "Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas."

The web page for this episode include a bibliography and supplemental audio clips of interviews with Merle Haggard and Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson, plus more from that 1949 interview with Bob Wills discussing how the western swing sound evolved from what it took to keep people dancing.

MORE: This coming January 27, 2009, Collectors' Choice Music will reissue a remastered Kaleidoscope's (later Rhino's) 10-disc "Tiffany Transcriptions" series. (Read all about the Tiffany Transcriptions here.) From Rich Kienzle's liner notes:

For all the great records Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys made in 1946-47 for Columbia and MGM -- and there were plenty -- the Tiffany sessions captured something deeper, intangible and vibrant, music that even the occasional miscue or missed note can't diminish. It represents the very soul, spirit and musical passion of Bob and the band as they really were on those Western and Southwestern bandstands. Sixty years later, it still sounds like yesterday.

Unfortunately, these aren't the complete Tiffany Transcriptions, which would fill about twice as many CDs and which would include ads and song introductions. Maybe someday....

That stutterin' boy

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Last Saturday night, my sister and I took our dad to hear country music legend Mel Tillis at the Robson Performing Arts Center in Claremore.

Tillis puts on a great show. I'd never seen him perform before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. He was backed by his eight-man band, the Statesiders -- two fiddles, two keyboards, bass, guitar, drums, and pedal steel. Most of his sidemen have been with him for at least half of his half-century career. He gave them plenty of opportunities to shine, with instrumental numbers sprinkled throughout the 90 minute performance, along with most of his hits. Mel had some funny (and very slightly blue) jokes to tell, too.

Tillis said that his band is one of the last of its kind, following in the tradition of Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, and Hank Thompson. You could hear the western swing influences throughout the show, but especially in the hot fiddling of Wade Landry and Ernie Reed, who were a pleasure to listen to and were clearly having a great time with the music.

Tillis and Wills were both signed with Kapp Records in the late '60s, and Tillis is the vocalist on a couple of Bob Wills 45s recorded in March 1967 -- "Faded Love" b/w "Memphis" (the Chuck Berry hit), and "I Wish I Felt This Way at Home" b/w "Looking over My Shoulder." (A fifth Tillis vocal from that session, "Sugarfoot Rag," was released only on LP.)

The Robson PAC is an attractive venue inside and out. It's clearly modern, but the brick and vertical lines of the facade lend it some classic dignity. The main hall seats 1,024, and it looked to be nearly sold out, at $45 each for orchestra seats.

Mel Tillis will be back on the road between Thanksgiving and New Years' performing in 11 states -- from Florida to North Dakota to Arizona -- and Saskatchewan. If you're a fan of classic country, you'll enjoy the show.

Along US 60, halfway between Bartlesville and Nowata, there are a pair of curves that shifts the road south by a mile as you go east. On the northside* of the road, near the western curve, there was a gas station and a few houses.

Once upon a time, way back in the 1930s, there was a dance hall there. I received an e-mail today from Nowata resident Rick Holland:

While searching the web recently, I came across a teaser on a Google about Bob Wills playing in Glenoak, Okla. that led me to your blog, but I could never find any mention of Glenoak. I grew up listening to Bob Wills music in the 50's and 60's and still do. There is a Bob CD in player at all times and have even got my 18 yr. old daughter hooked on it. Repetitive brain washing I guess.

Back when Bob played in the Tulsa area, he used to play at Glenoak between Bartlesville and Nowata. My Dad used to bounce at all of the dances in this area and he became friends with Bob and Tommy. Bob also used to buy cattle at the Faulkner Farms just north of Delaware where I was raised. One night after several hours of dickering over cattle price and a few drinks Tommy sat down in the kitchen of the Faulkner's home over coffee and wrote a song. Grandma Faulkner told me the name of the song but I have forgot it over the years.

Enough rambling, I am looking for any information on the dances that used to be held at Glenoak. If my father were alive he would be 93 yrs.old and most of his age group has passed. I have been able to find exactly where it was located and have been out there several times. I've even remember seeing old flyers that were passed around for the dances they held, but that has been years ago. I guess my obsession with Bob Wills is because when you listen to Bob it takes you back in time when life was not as fast paced and the little things in life didn't bother you. Any information you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

My grandfather, Johnny Bates, who lived in Nowata for nearly all his adult life (from his 18th birthday in 1935 until his death in 1999), told us about going to hear Bob Wills at Glenoak. He told me he once went up to sit on the stage to stay out of the way of a fight on the dance floor. His two years as a single adult -- 1935 to 1937 -- were spent in the Nowata branch of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and they coincided with the years Bob Wills was based in Tulsa -- 1934 to 1943. During that era, the Texas Playboys had a daily noon broadcast on KVOO 1170 (now KFAQ) from Cain's Ballroom, and every night (except Thursdays and Saturdays when they played the Cain's) they drove to play a dance hall somewhere in the KVOO listening area.

Anyone else out there remember Glenoak or remember hearing about it from older relatives?

RELATED: Can anyone tell me if Johnnie Lee Wills' "Reunion" album, recorded in the late '70s on the Flying Fish label, has been issued on CD?

UPDATE 2016/03/11: An excerpt from Al Stricklin's memoir about the very first dance he played as a member of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, at Glenoak on September 6, 1935. At that same link, a story from a bouncer at that dance hall back in the day.

*NOTE: One of my correspondents mentions believes that the dance hall was on the south side of the road. County maps from the period (here is the Oklahoma State Highway Department's 1936 map of Nowata County) locate Glenoak on US 60 just east of the Nowata-Washington County line, and they show homes and a commercial building on the south side of the road at that point. The 1936 WPA map of ownership and assessed valuation in T26N R14E shows that most of Section 22 was owned by Harry Benear, but there were a couple of smaller parcels at the northwest corner of the section where the highway map indicates a commercial establishment was located.

The 1950 Nowata County highway map shows the commercial building still there, but by the 1962 Nowata County map, homes are shown in its place. (This map was current as to highways in 1968, but the cultural features -- homes, businesses, schools -- had not been updated since 1962.) Off-topic but interesting: The schoolhouse shown two miles east and two miles north of Glenoak in 1936 is shown as "not in use" in 1950 and has vanished by 1962. Another interesting thing about the 1962 map: It shows the relocation of Alluwe to make way for Oologah Reservoir, but the reservoir isn't there yet.

One more mostly unrelated observation from these maps: As early as 1936 US 169 crossed the Missouri Pacific tracks south of Nowata and skirted the east side of the city. The 1950 map shows the creation of a business loop through downtown on Maple Street and Choctaw Ave. The 1968 map shows the intention of rerouting US 60 north of the city (see the dirt section line road labeled "F. A. P." -- Federal Aid Primary -- and the proposed road that links it to US 60 east of town).

That 1936 map also shows the route of the Union Traction (U.T.) interurban line, also known as the Union Electric Railway, which started in downtown Nowata and paralleled US 169 north to Coffeyville.

The National Preservation Conference, which comes to Tulsa next week, is making tickets for several Saturday, October 25, field sessions available to the public. There is a cost for each event, but you can sign up for these events without having to pay the conference registration fee. There are five field sessions available, all starting at 1:30 p.m. For Tulsans, this is a great way to learn about your hometown history.

Tulsa Overview (ticket price $35) 1:30 - 5:00 p.m. From being the end point of the notorious Trail of Tears, to railroad and market town serving surrounding cattle ranches, to thriving oilboom city -- Tulsa has a diverse and vibrant history. See how all these influences still resonate in modern-day Tulsa. Featured sites include Gilcrease Museum, Roosevelt School, Tulsa's oldest house, Cain's Ballroom, Tulsa Union Depot, Williams Technology Center (HOK), and the Tulsa Municipal Building (Old City Hall).

Downtown Tulsa Safari (ticket price $20)
1:30 - 5:00 p.m.
Lions and tigers and... dolphins? Pigs and turkeys and buffalo, too? In downtown Tulsa? Absolutely! There's an urban jungle in the heart of the city if you know where to look. Go on an offbeat architectural safari to spot the whimsical terra cotta wildlife on Tulsa's buildings.

Going Green, Tulsa Style (ticket price $35)
1:30 - 5:00 p.m.
It's great to be green in Tulsa. See some recent renovations of older buildings that have made concern for the environment a priority: Dennis R. Neil Equality Center, the SemGroup Building, the Fire Alarm Building, and East Village.

Tulsa's Historic Gardens (ticket price $35)
1:30 - 5:00 p.m.
Philbrook Gardens, Tulsa Rose Garden, Woodward Park, and Swan Lake are just some of the special spots to be visited or viewed. Find out how Tulsa's most renowned horticultural attractions were developed from pastures, farmland, and a Creek Indian allotment.

Mid-Century Tulsa: Back to the Future! (ticket price $35)
1:30 - 5:00 p.m.
Celebrate Tulsa's mid-century homes of the Future. Featuring mid-century neighborhoods such as Lortondale and Ranch Acres, see how residents have worked diligently to restore the architecture of their homes and their communities. Creative marketing, community education and sheer determination have created a mid-century feeding frenzy with homes being snatched up by design savvy and preservation-minded buyers.

The public may also buy tickets ($75 each) for the closing party at Cain's Ballroom, featuring western swing legends Asleep at the Wheel.

All of the above tickets will be for sale during normal business hours at the National Preservation Conference registration desk in the Tulsa Convention Center.

After meeting a friend for a chat and a beer at Lola's after work today, I decided to take advantage of the clear, warm (but not hot) evening and went for a walk through the Brady District.

Heading up Main Street I passed The Marquee (located between the Tulsa Violin Shop and the White Rabbit Deli, in the former location of Mooch and Burn) and the House that Bob Built, the legendary Cain's Ballroom. Reading the posters, I noticed that two wonderfully fun and talented musical acts, both with unique sounds, will be in town over the next week.

Friday night at 9, The Marquee will host Brave Combo, the New Wave polka band from Denton, Texas. Here's how they describe themselves:

Succeeding in its first mission, Brave Combo is America's premier contemporary polka band, and a Grammy winning one at that. In the same breath, to name some but hardly all of the colors found on Brave Combo's musical palette, one can describe them as a groundbreaking world music act, a hot jazz quintet, a rollicking rock'n'roll bar band, a Tex-Mex conjunto, a sizzling blues band, a saucy cocktail combo, a deadly serious novelty act, a Latin orchestra, and one of America's dance bands par excellence. It's all in a night's music for Brave Combo, often in a synergistic fashion that includes everything from klezmer surf rock to rocking cha cha to what The Washington Post calls "mosh pit polka," as well as to the hokey pokey and the chicken dance. And zyedeco, acid rock, Muzak, bubblegum, cumbia, classical, and the twist, to still not exhaust the list. This plethoric multitude of musical styles and flavors is frequently mixed, matched, and melded, into delicious, new concoctions by an imaginative team of musical gourmet master chefs.

Doors open at 8, all ages are welcome, admission is $10.

Now the show I'm really, really excited about: Hot Club of Cowtown will play Cain's second stage next Thursday night at 8.

Hot Club of Cowtown is Whit Smith on guitar, Elana James on fiddle, and Jake Erwin on bass. This trio brings together the sound of Django Reinhardt's Quintette du Hot Club de France and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys at their swingingest -- as they sounded on the mid -40s Tiffany Transcriptions.

(Of course, you don't have to cover too much distance to bring those two sounds together. Curly Lewis, fiddler for the Johnnie Lee Wills band, has said that all the western swing fiddlers tried to sound like Stephane Grappelli, Hot Club de France's legendary jazz violinist.)

Hot Club of Cowtown is just brilliant. Here they are, from just a couple of weeks ago, performing "Chinatown":

Tickets are $14 in advance (Starship, Reasors, and, of course, Ida Red), $16 at the door. All ages admitted. Doors open at 7. Cain's is a (hooray!) smoke-free venue.

MORE: Here's a Brave Combo video -- a polka version of The Doors' "People Are Strange":

Elvis Polo has an entertaining and enlightening talk show every Saturday night from 6 to 9, but as an extra special treat, he's invited my son Joe to bring his fiddle to the studio and play the bumpers into and out of the commercial breaks during the first hour, from 6 to 7. Tune in to 1170 to listen live, or check the weekend shows podcast page later to listen on demand.

Here's Joe's performance at last month's Skiatook Bluegrass Festival. (He did even better at the Texas Cowboy Reunion, but I haven't got that uploaded yet.)

Backing Joe up is Eldon Combs, from Lowell, Ark., on upright bass, and Scott Pendleton on rhythm guitar.

MORE: Here's the podcast from Saturday night.

Drummer Johnny Cuviello and steel guitarist Herb Remington wrote and recorded this song as part of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys way back in 1947 -- with Johnny's drum solos alternating with a catchy steel melody. Sixty years later, last October, on Johnny's 92nd birthday, they played it again at Patsy's Cowgirl Cafe in Austin, Texas. Go, Johnny, go!

MORE: Here's a number from a 1964 Texas Playboys TV appearance in Dallas -- Joe Andrews sings "You Can't Break a Heart," a release on the Longhorn label:

Earlier I posted two other videos from this same TV appearance: Billy Jack Wills singing "Rockabye Baby Blues" and Luke Wills singing "Take Me Back to Tulsa."

Back in May, I wrote about a store soon to open on Brookside called Ida Red:

Just across from the Coffee House pushcart, Jim and Alice Rodgers of Cain's Ballroom had a booth to promote their new Brookside venture, Ida Red, named in honor of the famous Bob Wills tune (which in turn inspired the Chuck Berry hit "Maybelline").

Ida Red, at 3346 S. Peoria, will be an outlet for Cain's concert tickets and merchandise, gifts, and CDs by local musicians. At the booth they had on display some of the 28 flavors (at least) of premium brands of soda pop they plan to offer at Ida Red, along with cupcakes and free wi-fi. (Hooray for free wi-fi!)

The Rodgers family has already achieved great things with the House that Bob Built on N. Main St. Cain's Ballroom has been beautifully restored, with its facilities modernized in a way that respects its rich history. It consistently ranks in the top 50 in ticket sales for club-sized venues worldwide.

Ida Red has its grand opening celebration tonight and tomorrow night with live "red" music both nights at 8 p.m. Tonight it's Red Alert. Saturday night it's the Red Dirt Rangers. Kids are welcome. As the song says,

Hurry up boys and don't fool around.
Grab your partner and truck on down.

For something to do after the party, get on your bike and ride to Circle Cinema. The midnight movie this week is Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, a classic 1985 cult comedy directed by Tim Burton.

MORE: Local artist Amby has custom totes and artwork for sale at Ida Red.

I can't let this entry go by without a performance of the song "Ida Red." Here's Elana James and the Continental Two -- that's Tulsa's own Whit Smith on guitar and Jake Erwin on upright bass.

Belated congratulations to Tulsa's Emma Jane Pendleton, 14, who took first place in the Patsy Montana National Yodeling Championship, and to her younger sister Marina, 13, who took second. The two sisters are also top fiddlers; Emma Jane is the reigning Oklahoma Junior Fiddle Champion and won the junior championship at the Grand Lake National Fiddle Fest.

Here's a Tulsa World slideshow featuring Emma Jane Pendleton singing Patsy Montana's million-selling hit "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart."

We saw the Pendleton family a couple of weeks ago at the Skiatook Bluegrass Festival, where the two girls both won prizes in the Youth Fiddle competition. Emma Jane won first and Marina won second in the 11-15 and took first and third in the open category (if I recall correctly). Their dad, Scott Pendleton, played rhythm guitar for all the contestants. My oldest son was in the competition as well. The Tulsa World posted a slideshow of photos from the contest, which includes interviews with the Pendleton sisters, my son, and Claremore fiddler Jordan Flippo.

The Pendletons' next performance is Tuesday, July 15, at 7:30, in downtown Sand Springs at the Triangle Park. You'll enjoy hearing this multi-talented musical family perform.

(Corrected, July 18, results of the Skiatook context.)

I am very proud to announce that my son finished second Saturday in the 18-and-under division at the Old Timers Fiddle Contest at the 2008 Texas Cowboy Reunion in Stamford, Texas. His prize was a $50 bill, presented to him by the event's MC, former Congressman Charlie Stenholm. He performed Cotton-Eyed Joe, Tennessee Waltz, and Faded Love. I heard a number of people in the audience humming along on that last number. He has only been playing violin for two years, and he's made great strides since last year's contest, when he placed third.

As I told him before his performance, however the contest turned out, we already know he's a much better fiddler than he was a year ago. I hope to post video later in the week. (Internet connectivity here is rather limited.) One of the senior contestants, Bonnie Workman, complimented him afterwards and encouraged him to keep going, even though he didn't win. She told him it takes heart to be a fiddler, and she could hear it in his music.

He had the novel experience of being recognized today. He was wearing a distinctive hat, which made a difference, but a couple of people stopped him when we went back for the cowboy poetry performance that afternoon -- a young man told him he was in awe of his fiddling ability. He was recognized again at a dance at Old Glory that evening. We just happened upon the event - a Czech polka band playing under an open-air pavilion to a crowd of about 50.

Abilene TV station KRBC was covering the fiddle contest and interviewed my son. Click that link to see the video.

There may not be a better place to experience old time Texas than Stamford, Texas, at the annual Texas Cowboy Reunion.

You may have noticed an addition to the header. There's a subtitle -- "Tulsa straight ahead" -- and next to it, on the home page, is a little button. Press the button, and you'll hear Leon McAuliffe and His Cimarron Boys perform a tune of that title, written by one of McAuliffe's fiddlers, Jimmy Hall, on the band bus coming back from Wichita. (That's Hall on the vocal, too.)

Here are the lyrics:

There's a detour sign
o'er a road that winds
out on the broad highway.
But the place for me
is the sign I see:
T-U-L-S-A, straight ahead!

There's a railroad crossin'
and the bus a-rockin',
just takin me away.
Well, I'll pass the time
'till I see that sign,
T-U-L-S-A, straight ahead!

Gonna settle down
when I reach that city fair.
I'm homeward bound,
and I know I'll soon be there.

Where the tall corn grows
and the black oil flows
in old O-K-L-A
In the middle of it all,
I hear that call,
T-U-L-S-A, straight ahead!

Gonna settle down
when I reach that city fair.
I'm homeward bound,
and I know I'll soon be there.

Now there's no use talkin'
'cause I'll get there walkin'
if there's just no other way.
'Cause I read that sign
on the old state line,
T-U-L-S-A, straight ahead!

I've decided to adopt the song as BatesLine's theme song and the title as the site's motto. (I even asked to use the phrase as the name of my weekly column in Urban Tulsa Weekly, but they prefer the more generic "Opinion/Editorial.")

The phrase can have dual but complementary meanings. By itself it suggests our city progressing in the right direction. It can also refer (as it does in the song's lyrics) to Tulsa as a desirable destination, "that city fair," a great place to live.

While many people seem to think I'm all about opposing progress, my aim has always been to encourage genuine progress that improves our quality of life and helps us reclaim the title of America's most beautiful city. In that pursuit, I won't hesitate to oppose the detours, diversions, and dead ends that are often touted as the only way to move forward. It's my hope that this site and my writings elsewhere will help move Tulsa straight ahead.


Some swing for your weekend: Bruce Springsteen in concert in Milan, Italy, May 12, 2006, performing a boogie-woogie, Western swing version of "Open All Night":

(Hat tip to Richard Hedgecock.)

I was really excited to find this recent upload to YouTube. It's Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys from about 1960 on WFAA-TV in Dallas, and it features Bob's baby brother Billy Jack Wills singing his signature tune, "Rockabye Baby Blues." Billy Jack had his own band in Sacramento from 1952-1954, holding down the fort at the Wills Point ballroom with mandolinist Tiny Moore, while Bob took the Playboys around the country. (This All Music Guide bio tells the story.) This was his theme song:

That's Gene Crownover on console (non-pedal) steel guitar, and Maurice Anderson on what appears to be a pedal steel guitar. I'm not sure who the fiddler is on the wagon with Bob. Luke Wills is one of the bassists.

Billy Jack Wills' Western Swing Band was heard on KFBK, and Joaquin Records has issued two albums of the band's radio transcriptions. Billy Jack, 20 years younger than big brother Bob, took western swing in a direction influenced by jump blues and bebop. The band's recordings are a real pleasure to listen to, not only because of the tight arrangements featuring trumpet, electric mandolin, and steel guitar, but because of the vocals -- sometimes Billy Jack himself, but more often Tiny Moore, whose smooth stylings didn't get enough exposure with the Texas Playboys.

(Here's another great find! The Internet Archive has a complete Billy Jack Wills KFBK program, including ads for Standard Furniture Warehouse at 2018 I St., in Sacramento. Tiny Moore is the announcer. Toward the end you'll hear steel guitarist Vance Terry on "Panhandle Rag." )

Billy Jack penned one other baby-inspired tune (and a favorite of our family's) called "Bottle Baby Boogie." He also wrote and sang "Cadillacin' Model-A," a rockabilly-tinged song about a young farm boy off to "pick up his sweet-sweet-sweet and go honky-tonkin' at the county seat," promenading through town Cadillac-style in his old four-banger jalopy. He first recorded it with the Texas Playboys:

but here he is singing it with his own band:

But Billy Jack Wills's biggest songwriting success was writing the lyrics for an old fiddle tune called "Faded Love," which became one of brother Bob's most enduring hits and Oklahoma's official State Country and Western Song.

Here's one more song from that same TV appearance. This time it's brother Luke, Luther J. Wills, singing "Take Me Back to Tulsa":

ONE MORE: From one of Bob's westerns, Saddles and Sagebrush, here's Leon McAuliffe singing "Hubbin' It," with a nice little guitar solo by Junior Barnard. (Bob sings a little, too, as does one other Playboy whose voice I don't recognize.)

AND FINALLY: Since I mentioned him, here's a link to some of Tiny Moore's early work with the Port Arthur Jubileers on the Western Swing on 78 blog.

Mosey on over to On the Other Foot to see a grand old Hollywood western: Tex Ritter with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in Take Me Back to Oklahoma (1940). You've probably seen clips from the movie of Tex and Bob riding a stagecoach and singing "Good Old Oklahoma" or Bob and the Playboys performing the Lone Star Rag. Joel has the whole movie and a great lead-in description to boot.

Don't forget: Bob Wills Birthday celebration is next Friday and Saturday night at Cain's Ballroom, with the Texas Playboys, led by Leon Rausch and Tommy Allsup, performing on Saturday night only. No better place to hear Bob Wills's music than the Mother Church of Western Swing, and no better band to play it than the boys who played with Bob back when.


There are far more important things to write about, but this news is too, too exciting.

The Tiffany Transcriptions feature some of the most exciting, liveliest Texas Playboys music on record. These selections were recorded in San Francisco in the mid '40s for use by radio stations. Those who were around then have said that the Tiffanies come closest to capturing the band's live sound. Songs that were left off Bob Wills's commercial recordings -- such as covers of popular big band tunes like "Take the A Train" -- found a place here, featuring Eldon Shamblin's tight arrangements for steel, mandolin, and guitar. Even standard western swing tunes got special treatment, with longer and more spontaneous improvisations, like Junior Barnard's proto-rock-n-roll guitar solos.

Nine of the 10 discs were first issued by Kaleidoscope as LPs, then reissued by Rhino as CDs. A 10th disc, featuring the vocals of the McKinney Sisters, was only issued on CD. Over the last three or four years, Rhino has dropped one disc at a time from their catalog, leaving only Vols. 1, 2, and 5 in print last I checked. Out-of-print volumes have been fetching $60 to $100 on Amazon.com.

But very recently, Warner Music Group began selling DRM-free MP3s via Amazon, and that includes the Rhino catalog. All 10 volumes are available for download at the low, low price of $9.99 each. (Vol. 10, which has twice as many songs as the other volumes, is $10.99.) You can buy individual songs for 99 cents each.

I bought a couple of later Bob Wills albums via Amazon MP3 for my dad's birthday (Together Again and Mr. Words and Mr. Music, both from the early '60s when Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan reunited for a time), and I was pleased with the quality (256 kbps) and the ease of downloading. Because the files are DRM-free, there are no obstacles to playing them on any digital media player.

Volume 5, linked on the image above, is my favorite so far, but I haven't heard them all yet.


A little break from politics:

Our littlest one turned two years old on Friday. His use of words has exploded in the last few months, although he mostly says the beginning sound of each word, which is adorable, of course. (That's him in the photo, during a visit to Pops on Route 66 back in November, smiling after a sip of Boylan Natural Cane Cola.)

Fire truck becomes fie kuh, for example. Train is "tshoo tshoo wai." Initial S isn't there yet -- snake, snowman, and snowflake become nay, no-mah, and no-feh, respectively. Sock is chah, where that first ch is a voiceless velar fricative pronounced in the back of the throat like a Hebrew "ch." So before he can "go ou-chai" (go outside) he "nee chah an tsioo" (needs socks and shoes).

Some of his most endearing words are starting to evolve. "Da-da" is becoming "da-dee." "Ja-ja" has become "gwahmah" and will be "grandma" before too long.

For months, he would hear and understand the word "car" but he would always pronounce it by making a car sound -- vocalizing on a high and rising pitch and vibrating his lips together. "Do you see the big car?" "Beeg blblblblblblbl!" But about a week ago he stopped, started saying "cah" consistently, and even substituted a less impressive "vroom" for his standard car noise. I managed to cajole the old sound out of him last night, but he did it almost sheepishly.

As we would look at books and pictures, every man with a long white beard he would call "Bah" -- my dad, his grandpa. Pictures of Santa Claus were "Bah", too, which is easy to understand. Now, after Christmas, he makes the distinction between his grandpa and "Sah Caw."

Still, every man with a hat in a black and white picture is "Dah Whee." We were looking at old family photos on the wall, and I was showing him pictures of me and my wife when we were small. He would say the names as he looked at the photos. There's a black and white one of me next to my grandparents' house in Nowata, probably about three years old, wearing a little hat and suit. So he called the boy in the picture "Dah Whee."

"Dah Whee" is Bob Wills, whose music is often heard in our house. Our two-year-old recognizes the cover of Wills's For the Last Time album, which shows a 68-year-old Wills in a cowboy hat, but he also recognizes as Bob Wills the smiling man in the big cowboy hat, as depicted on the cover of Charles Townsend's biography of Wills, San Antonio Rose. The boy will sometimes request "Dah Whee" music when he's eating in his high chair or when it's naptime. (Leon McAuliffe and Johnnie Lee Wills are acceptable substitutes.) Sometimes he will ask to sit in my lap when I'm at the computer and ask to watch a Bob Wills video (like this one from 1951 of the "Jo-Bob Rag" and "Liberty"). (But his favorite website is the one with the funny kitty pictures.)

Last night, my wife was putting him to bed. He wanted to hear the "Blue's Clues" CD, but his older brother, sleeping in the same room, protested, and Mom was worried that it wasn't conducive to sleep. When she asked, "How about something else?" the toddler said "Dah Whee," which was just fine with our eleven-year-old fiddler. She started the CD and walked out of the room to the opening notes of the Texas Playboy Theme. As she passed the crib, she heard a little voice saying "Ahhhh-haaaa!"

John Wooley writes to be sure we know about a special event tonight (Friday night) at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, in the old Tulsa Union Depot, downtown at 1st & Boston.

John Wooley & Chuck Cissel will bring you an evening of big band and western swing. The Round Up Boys and the TU Big Jazz Band One will perform this Friday, December 7 starting at 7:30pm at the Jazz Depot in Downtown Tulsa. For information please call 596.1001

Admission is a mere $10.

Other upcoming concerts at the Jazz Hall of Fame: Sunday night, December 9, Pam Van Dyke Crosby sings the music of Patti Page, Kay Starr, and other Oklahoma jazz vocalists; December 16, SCORE featuring Ms. Sandy Gardner, presenting Broadway show tunes (including our own state song); December 23, Holiday Gospel and Jazz Celebration.

And of course you can hear John Wooley's "Swing on This," presenting an assortment of great western swing music each Saturday night at 7 on KWGS 89.5.

Honky-tonk great Hank Thompson passed away Tuesday night at the age of 82 from aggressive lung cancer. Here he is singing, "Whoa, Sailor," his first big hit, a tune about a sailor trying to chat up a girl in a bar, with a funny twist at the end:

Although he was born in Texas and finished his days there, he felt an attachment to Oklahoma, too. He lived in the Tulsa area for a time, and lent his name to Rogers State College's Hank Thompson School of Country Music.

There will be no funeral for Mr. Thompson, according to his wishes. Instead, he will be cremated; some of his ashes will be spread in Texas and Oklahoma, and the remainder will be buried in Waco next to his parents. He's survived by Ann. A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Billy Bob's Texas, 2520 Rodeo Plaza in Fort Worth.

One of the greatest singing cowboys of all time is just six weeks older than the great State of Oklahoma, and this weekend the town named for him is hosting a big celebration in his honor, the Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum Film and Music Festival.

Gene Autry (the town) is a little ways north of Ardmore in south-central Oklahoma, about seven miles east of I-35 on OK-53.

The big party, featuring screenings of Autry's films and performances by cowboy singers and poets, began on Wednesday and winds up on Sunday.

The high point of the celebration is today, the actual centennial of Autry's birth on September 29, 1907. Riders in the Sky, who have been upholding the tradition of cowboy music for over a quarter of a century, will give two performances, at 3:10 and 8:30. They'll be preceded on stage by Steve Mitchell, the Les Gilliam Trio, and Johnny Western. Riders in the Sky put on a great show for the whole family -- a mix of comedy and beautiful western harmonies.

Tickets are $20 each for the matinee show and the other events, except for the evening stage show, for which tickets are $35 for reserved seats, $25 for general admission. Check the festival page for all the details and contact information.

Tulsans will be able to catch Riders in the Sky a little closer to home on Sunday -- they'll perform at the Bartlesville Community Center at 2 pm on September 30. There are still a fair number of tickets available, ranging from $15 to $43 for adults, $5 to $20 for students.

(I've seen the Riders perform at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, at the Poncan Theatre in Ponca City, at the fair in Springfield, Missouri, and at the Walton Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. As far as I know, they have never performed in Tulsa, even though their radio show used to air on KWGS and KVOO.)

Eldon Shamblin sings

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Via Tyson Wynn, a wonderful clip of legendary western swing guitarist Eldon Shamblin playing and singing "Changes Made," following a bit of banter with steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe. This appears to be from a performance by The Original Texas Playboys (the drumset you'll see in the background is on display at Cain's Ballroom). According to YouTube user jsham66 (a relative of Eldon's?), the clip is circa 1986.

And, posted by the same user, here's the tribute video from Eldon Shamblin's 2006 induction into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame:

If you don't know much about him (or even if you do), you should read this tribute to "The Greatest Texas Playboy: Eldon Shamblin," by Buddy McPeters.

There's a complete 11 minute Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys transcribed broadcast from c. 1945-1946 available for your listening pleasure as part of a World War II audio web exhibit from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The show includes the opening and closing theme and vocals by Tommy Duncan and the McKinney Sisters. The McKinneys sing a funny novelty number called "Feudin' and Fightin'." There are two slots for ads which are filled on the transcription disk with a message to radio stations explaining how successful these Bob Wills programs have been at pushing B. F. Goodrich merchandise.

Despite the text that accompanies the recording, I don't think this is a Tiffany Transcription, but rather predates that series. The page includes a number of other songs and audio clips from the World War II era.

Yes, I know it's Dfest weekend, with bands playing on 13 stages in the Blue Dome District until 2 a.m., but if your tastes run more retro than metro, you won't be left out.

Saturday morning from 8 to 10 on KXBL 99.5, legendary country DJ Billy Parker will be playing two hours of western swing and truly classic country.

Then Saturday evening from 7 to 8 on KWGS 89.5, you can hear music historian John Wooley spin his favorite western swing discs on "Swing on This." John's show is followed at 8 p.m. by two hours of "Big Band Saturday Night."

But if you want to hear live western swing the way it should be swung, you need to head down Route 66 to Bristow. Bob Wills' Texas Playboys will be performing at 8 p.m. at the National Day of the American Cowboy in Bristow's City Park, joined by Billy Mata and Richard Helsley of the western swing band The Texas Tradition (Here are directions to the park.) The Playboys' performance caps a day of events in Bristow, starting with a 10 a.m. parade, a chuck wagon lunch at 1, and a concert beginning at 7 with David Ingles and His Cowboy Band.

Here's a minute-long clip from a performance earlier this month: Bob Wills' Texas Playboys performing "A Big Ball in Cowtown," featuring a steel guitar solo by Bobby Koefer.

The news is depressing, so let's turn to music for some relief.

Ever wondered how virtuosi like Herb Remington, Leon McAuliffe, Santo and Johnny, Noel Boggs, and Bobby Koefer tease those sweet sounds out of their steel guitars?

Steel guitarist Rick Alexander has posted a series of song and technique videos on YouTube demonstrating the non-pedal steel guitar -- sometimes called lap steel or console steel. Instead of having a series of pedals to alter the pitch of the strings, non-pedal steel guitar usually has multiple necks -- sets of six or eight strings, tuned differently -- enabling the player to switch between keys without retuning the instrument.

All the videos are shot from above, so you get a good view of what he's doing with his picks and steel bar, and in the instructional videos he carefully explains every move he makes.

Here's the eight-minute course intro -- Steel Basics 101:

And here's Rick playing a Hawaiian number, "Song of the Islands":

Rick Alexander has teamed up with Texas Playboy Herb Remington to produce "Tuff Fun Tab," a book of 12 songs hand-annotated with Herb's chords and tablature and accompanied by a CD with two versions of each song -- one with Herb on steel, and one with backup only by Rick's band. It includes "Steel Guitar Rag," "Maiden's Prayer," "Love Me Tender," and "Song of the Islands."

This little detail from the Wikipedia bio of the Farina brothers, Santo and Johnny, made me smile:

When they were very young, their dad was drafted into the Army and stationed in Oklahoma. There (on the radio) he heard this beautiful music. It was the sound of the steel guitar and he wrote home to his wife and said "I’d like the boys to learn to play this instrument."

I like to think Mr. Farina was listening to this guy over KVOO -- from "Steel Guitar Rag" to "Sleepwalk" in one generation.

Man of steel

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Specifically, it's Noel Boggs, who played with Hank Penny, Bob Wills, and Spade Cooley, and fronted his own band, the Daysleepers. He's on a Fender Quad Stringmaster, playing "Alabamy Bound", from the 1954 short "Jimmy Wakeley's Jamboree":

A guest appearance by Bob Wills and his fiddle on the country & western showcase "Star Route." Glen Campbell handles the vocals and plays the banjo on the song "Take Me Back to Tulsa."

Listen closely during the first chorus, and you'll hear Bob call, "Circle eight, spread out wide, grab your partner, go hog wild! Sooey!"

The date on the YouTube summary says 1956, but something tells me this is closer to '64 or '65.

This one's even better: Glen and Bob on "San Antonio Rose." There's an extended closeup of Bob playing fiddle. The director doesn't seem quite sure what to do with Bob's hollers. Most of them occur off camera, but he gets one in while they're still in a two-shot and is rearing back for another when the director cuts back to Glen. There's a hilarious look on Bob's face when they catch him hollering on camera, a sort of "maybe I hadn't of oughta done that" expression. And on the next verse, Glen goes up on the lyrics.

The intro says that "San Antonio Rose" "comes as close as any to being the theme song of history's greatest war" and says that over 14 million copies had been sold.

These videos illustrate the shift in focus from the band to the singer. In the Big Band era the singer was a part of the band. (Sinatra started to change that equation.) By the time this TV show was taped, the band was mere backup, and there's certainly no place on screen for a band leader who might distract from the singer with the pretty teeth and hair.

Here's a video I've posted before which highlights the band members as well as the singer: It's Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys from 1946 performing "Goodbye Liza Jane," with Tommy Duncan and the McKinney Sisters singing, and solos by Joe Holley and Louis Tierney on fiddle, Millard Kelso on piano, and the great Junior Barnard on guitar.

UPDATE 2010/03/06: In the comments, some information from an Australian reader regarding this episode of "Star Route":

The clips are from the 1964 Star Route episode "A Salute To Bob Wills" .. the guitarist is Bobby Durham from the Gene Davis Band, who were the Hollywood house band. I say Hollywood as the series was partially filmed in Toronto with a Canadian band.

The regulars, no matter which city it was filmed, were bandleader Gene Davis, featured regulars, Glen Campbell, the Collins Kids, and host Rod Cameron. It was either the Jack Halloran Singers or the Star Route Singers who sang backgrounds on various episodes.

Alas, the videos I posted have been pulled down from YouTube by the user. (Hate it when that happens.)

UPDATE 2013/08/12: The San Antonio Rose video has been reposted! (Still looking for Glen and Bob on "Take Me Back to Tulsa.")

I'm not sure what to think of this review of Legends of Country Music: Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. I think the reviewer likes the music, but I'm not sure:

Of all the subgenres of country music, perhaps none has dated as poorly as Western swing, the New Deal amalgam of jazz and the string band.

Does he mean that the music has aged well? That it doesn't seem out-of-date? That it has a certain timelessness? Or does he mean that it has nothing to offer modern listeners?

Then there's this line. See what sense you can extract from it:

It's saddening to the extent that Wills' bucolic big banditry sounds positively atavistic in the countrypolitan-on-steroids present, even to a listener who loathes latter-day Billy Sherrilloid abominations like Garth Brooks and Shania Twain.

And this parenthetical comment, about Wills's use of horns and drums

(Such orchestral eclecticism might otherwise position Western swing as the country subgenre most likely to interest country haters, but for the fact that such haters hilariously seem to regard the Stratocaster as the sonic alpha and omega of Western Civilization.)

might make sense, except that Wills's guitarist and arranger Eldon Shamblin played a Stratocaster, one that was given to him by Leo Fender himself, who was a fan of western swing.

I think the reviewer, Mr. Hollerbach, managed to violate every rule in Strunk and White, and he seems more interested in impressing us with his vocabulary and his ability to string words together than communicating any actual information.

A few links, recently discovered, that illustrate the diversity of western swing and its influences:

First is an Amazon "Listmania" list by Tony Thomas, one of Amazon's top 500 reviewers. The list is entitled "Western Swing: what it is and what it ain't" and includes Thomas's recommendations and comments on 22 CDs and box sets and 3 books. His introduction:

Too many people think of Western Swing as a varient of "Country" music. In fact, the classic Western Swing of the 1930s and 1940s was closer to Jazz and Blues music and was a completely different animal than country music of its time. Indeed, the one time Bob Wills, the greatest Western Swing star, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, he was almost physically removed for using a full drum kit and smoking a cigar on stage. Go to the net page for each item to read my online reviews that go deeper into the history of Western swing. Besides all this, every one of these recordings is a load of fun to listen to.

Thomas covers albums from different eras of Bob Wills's career (the prewar recordings on OKeh and Brunswick), the Tiffany Transcriptions of the '40s, the MGM recordings from the late '40s and early '50s, For the Last Time from 1973), includes several other key western swing band leaders (Billy Jack Wills, Milton Brown, Spade Cooley, Tex Williams, Leon McAuliffe, Adolph Hofner, Moon Mullican), the western swing revival (Asleep at the Wheel, Merle Haggard, Hot Club of Cowtown), and early influences on western swing (Mississippi Sheiks, Emmett Miller).

This article by Norman Weinstein, called Secret Jazz: The Swinging Side of Western Swing, explains how the sound of a famed jazz trombonist influenced the emerging sound of the steel guitar and how elements of the Delta blues, New Orleans jazz, big band swing, bebop, and progressive jazz found their way into the western swing repertoire. He opens the piece with this: "Western Swing is a musical genre wonderfully described by its leading historian Cary Ginell as 'a bastard child that neither country nor jazz is willing to accept into their own house.'" And here's how Weinstein tries to define western swing: "The simplest way to define the genre is to identify it as a style evolving from a hybridization of black and white Southwestern string band styles encompassing a broad variety of jazz, blues, and country music characteristics."

It should be pointed out that western swing isn't by any means disconnected from country music, but it may be more accurate to call it an influence on country rather than a branch of country music. Country stars from Oklahoma, Texas, and the Central Valley of California grew up listening to western swing and it shaped their sound -- older generation artists like Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Merle Haggard, and Buck Owens (who in turn influenced Dwight Yoakum), and more recent stars like Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, and George Strait. And while Hank Williams isn't considered western swing, you can hear the genre's influence in his band's use of steel guitar and rhythm guitar.

If you listen to Hank Williams, it was at the peak of Bob Wills' influence, and a lot of Hank's stuff has got Western swing kind of stuff in it, especially the guitar playing, which for me was the whole thing. Like the Texas Troubadours; [Ernest Tubb] is a direct outgrowth of Bob Wills, but it was real country. That's where we came from. On a break, the Texas Troubadours would play hot jazz Western swing, and then Ernest Tubb would come up and go, "I'm walking ..." boom-chucka, boom-chucka. Which is where Junior Brown gets his sound.

That was from Ray Benson, whose band Asleep at the Wheel has led the western swing revival. Plenty of country artists are fans of western swing, and Benson had no problem recruiting country stars to perform on his two albums of Bob Wills music. Here's an Austin Chronicle interview with Benson on the 1999 launch of the second tribute album, Ride with Bob:

Six years ago, in 1993, the Wheel put out an album that was considered a landmark in the band's already storied history: Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills. It was a star-studded collection that not only won the band a Grammy, it also brought together the old masters -- former Texas Playboys like Eldon Shamblin, Leon Rausch, and Johnny Gimble -- with modern-day Nashville staples like Garth Brooks and Suzy Bogguss, and even an oddball or two, such as Benson's old pal Huey Lewis. And they made it sound great; even the bland, middle-of-the-road types who get blamed for country's current sad state came off sounding like diamonds, and the Wheel reached new audiences that had likely never heard of either them or Wills....

Later, Benson explains how his own eclectic musical tastes led him to western swing in the early '70s:

But as a kid, that was my first group there -- see those four kids? [Points at a black-and-white photo on the wall.] That's me at the top in 1960, and we sang folk music, 'cause folk music was big: Kingston Trio, Woody Guthrie, the Carter Family, the Lamplighters. All these musical influences were kind of going around, and then in 1969, we decided to form a band and get back to the land, which is where all the hippies were going anyway; get out and play country music, half because of Bob Dylan and half because of Hank Williams. But I had all these other musical influences. And I loved the blues. I knew everything. I didn't realize that there was compartments to music, 'cause we listened to all this music and we played it all.

So when we got to do this country band, we said we've gotta narrow our focus down. So we just played hillbilly music. And we said, "Wow! We really want to play roots music." That was our rallying cry: "We're going to play roots music!" I hate Led Zeppelin. Really. I hate white guys sounding like wimpy blues singers. But we loved blues. I love Jimi Hendrix. So we formed the band. We started doing this thing, and then the creative urge to play, to jam, to improvise especially, was there, and I couldn't do it in country music. You did a turnaround or half a chord, you know what I'm saying?

All of the sudden, Western swing entered, and I went, "Wow, I can sing hard songs with country themes and play fiddle breakdowns like I've always played in square dance bands. I mean, you could do it all. I could play swing music, improvise jazz however complex you want within the structure they give you, and wear a cowboy hat. That was the deal. That's how it all happened.

Finally, here's an article from the March 13, 1950, issue of Time magazine (bless you, Time, for putting your complete archives online) about the origin of the song "Rag Mop," a top pop hit for Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys. It all started when steel guitarist Deacon Anderson was in the Army:

"Deacon" Anderson, 26, had worked out a kind of K.P. chantey as he swung his mop. As he explains now: "It's hard to think up words with any sense when you're tired, and I got to spelling out r-a-g m-o-p."

To Anderson, who now plays in a Western band in Beaumont, Texas, the result added up to a song; he gave it a hillbilly beat and tried it on his steel guitar. After the war, he tried to sell the song, but everyone around Beaumont thought the whole idea was just plain silly. Last year he made a recording—he didn't know how to write the notes down—and sent it to a friend with the Johnnie Lee Wills band. Says Tulsa's Johnnie Lee, the idol of the Southwest's square-toe boot and blue-jean set: "At first I thought it was crazy. Then it kinda irritated me." He rearranged it, added some notes and a little pep & polish.

At least some folks think that "little pep and polish" turned "Rag Mop" into one of the first rock and roll records.

Sometime ago, I got an e-mail from someone who stumbled across the long list of things I've written here about western swing music. The e-mail came from John England, who fronts a Nashville-based band called the Western Swingers. John asked me if I'd like a free CD, and I said, "Of course!"

John sent me a copy of Swinging Broadway, released in 2003. The whole family has been enjoying it for a couple of weeks now, and by whole family I mean everyone from the 16 month old toddler to Mom and Dad. The CD passes a couple of key quality tests:

(1) The baby bounce test: If the music makes the baby bounce up and down in his high chair, it's good stuff. In particular, "Your Turn to Cry," "Stumbling," and "Little Red Wagon" got the little one grinning and bobbing.

(Not just any music will make our kids bounce. When the oldest one was about eight months old, we went to a barbecue place we'd never tried before. The food was good, but it happened to be karaoke night. The baby bounced to the radio music that was being played before karaoke began, but he stopped when the first amateur balladeer started singing.)

(2) The humming/whistling/singing test: I've caught Mom and the two big kids humming or singing "Won't you ride in my little red wagon?"

My favorite cut on the disc is the instrumental "Stumbling," with its tight guitar ensemble work and rare bass and drum solos. For just six guys, they make a big, full sound.

The Western Swingers play most of their dates in and around Nashville, including a weekly gig at Robert's Western World on Broadway. The next time they'll be anywhere near Tulsa will be June 14 at the Legends of Western Swing Festival in Wichita Falls, Texas. (It's only 240 miles away!)

You can hear a few of their songs and find a list of upcoming dates on their MySpace profile. If you love western swing, you'll love the Western Swingers.

Last Friday night, I had the privilege of being at Cain's Ballroom for the inaugural gala of the National Fiddler Hall of Fame with my wife and son, both of whom play violin/fiddle. We got to meet Bob Wills's daughter Rosetta, who was there to accept the induction of her dad as the first member of the Hall, show fiddler Jana Jae, and guitarist Mark Bruner. It was nice to see two city councilors there -- Rick Westcott with his fiancee and Maria Barnes with her husband.

Music historian John Wooley did an excellent job as MC, introducing this new organization and putting the various genres of fiddle music in historical perspective. We had fun chatting with him before the program began. (He told a very funny story on himself, involving an outburst of literary criticism at a high school football game.)

The food was prepared by a competition barbecue team (made up of doctors, I think I heard) who served smoked salmon and beef tenderloin, with baked beans that included lima beans in the mix. It was all delicious.

The musical program was led off by Oklahoma Stomp, the NFHOF-sponsored western swing band of 12 to 15 year old boys. They performed Fat Boy Rag, Faded Love, Heart to Heart Talk, Roly Poly and San Antonio Rose. My son's friend from Barthelmes Conservatory plays bass in the band, and he took my boy backstage afterwards, where he got to sign the wall. My son was so inspired by the whole evening that he got out his violin as soon as he got home and started practicing Faded Love.

Eight different genres of fiddle music were demonstrated. Here's who played and what they played, backed by a house band made up of Shelby Eicher on mandolin and fiddle, Mark Bruner on guitar, J. D. Walters on steel guitar, Spencer Sutton on piano, and Dave Breshears on drums.

Bluegrass fiddling: Byron Berline with Eric Dysart; Gold Rush, Turkey in the Straw.

Country fiddling: Rick Morton with Jake Duncan; Don't You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me, Lonesome Fiddle Blues.

Irish fiddling: Eric Ryan-Johnson with his son Seamus and with Steve Mayfield on bouzouki; Father Kelley's #1, Rocky Yard, Butterfly, Rocking Polkas.

Show fiddling: Jana Jae with Emma Jane and Marina Pendleton; Black Mountain Rag, Jesse Polka. (Jana Jae performed the first number on a specially tuned blue fiddle: A C# E A.)

Blues fiddling: James Tarver with Mark Bruner and Merrit Armitage; Sittin on Top of the World, Milk Cow Blues. (It was a treat to hear these old blues tunes, which Bob Wills had adapted to Western Swing, performed as blues.)

Contest fiddling: Monte Gaylord, Dave Gaylord, Bubba Hopkins, Douglas Thompson, and Michael Thompson; Sally Goodin, Miss Molly.

Jazz fiddling: Shelby Eicher with Jake Simpson; Walking My Baby Back Home, Summertime. (The latter was performed in the style of Stephane Grappelli, the jazz violinist for the Hot Club of France. I heard second-hand that Curly Lewis said that he was a fan of Grappelli, and that all the Western swing fiddlers wanted to sound like Grappelli.)

Western Swing fiddling: Curly Lewis, Chase Foster; Blues for Dixie, Take Me Back to Tulsa. (In introducing Lewis, John Wooley said that at age 11 he won a fiddle contest sponsored by Bob Wills.)

The grand finale featured all the performers playing the old fiddle standard "Liberty." The music continued as the house band played for anyone who wanted to dance. (At one point, the band played "Maiden's Prayer," but they didn't have anyone singing. I was awfully tempted to run up there and pitch in, but I held back.)

Many thanks to the board members of the Hall of Fame, and particularly to Jim and Alice Rodgers of Cain's Ballroom, for a wonderful, unforgettable evening.

My Urban Tulsa Weekly column this week is on two very different events: last Saturday's Oklahoma Republican State Convention and last Friday's inaugural gala for the National Fiddler Hall of Fame. The convention story covers the race for state party chairman and a brief description of what delegates were saying about next year's presidential race. (More about the NFHOF gala in a separate entry.)

From 1946 (the Tiffany Transcriptions era), Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys perform "Goodbye, Liza Jane":

That's Bob Wills introducing and playing fiddle. Tommy Duncan sings, backed by Dean and Evelyn, the McKinney Sisters. The other right-handed fiddler (who plays behind Tommy on the last verse) is Louis Tierney. The left-handed fiddler is Joe Holley. Millard Kelso, "the little man with the moustache," plunks the piano. And the highlight of this video is an all-too-brief solo by ahead-of-his-time guitarist Junior Barnard, who had a fuzz tone and knew how to use it. (Here are a few more clips of Junior's choruses.)

(Via Tyson Wynn, who has several more Bob Wills videos he found on YouTube, including three of the Snader Transcriptions from 1951 -- "Blue Prelude," "Sittin' on Top of the World," and "Three Miles South of Cash" -- and the Cindy Walker song "Election Day" from one of Bob Wills's movies, sung by Leon McAuliffe.)

Belfast hosted a songwriters' festival recently, which featured musicians from Belfast's American sister city, Nashville.

(That's an apt pairing. Belfast is the buckle of the Bible Belt of Europe, the most religious region in the UK. Nashville is HQ for the Southern Baptist Convention. And Tennessee was settled by Ulster Scots, sometimes known as Scots-Irish, who are ethnically connected to the Presbyterians of Northern Ireland.)

FAMEmagazine's Billy McCoy reviewed one of the festival's concerts:

Lee Roy Parnell and Paul Overstreet were brilliant, not only for their singing, but for their repartee, they worked well together, were very friendly and appreciative of their reception. Lee Roy was particularly good at the Bob Wills number 'Moo Cow Blues' and it was even more pleasing to hear it without the interventions which, in my opinion, takes away from the original. This feature, in my opinion, spoils most of Bob Wills, otherwise good music.

First of all, Billy, it's "Milk Cow Blues," by Kokomo Arnold, and it's one of many old-time blues numbers that Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys performed. And Bob's brother Johnnie Lee Wills and His Boys had a hit with it, too.

As for those "interventions," Art Satherley, the Englishman and traditional folk music enthusiast who was Bob Wills's producer from 1935 to 1947, didn't like them either, at first, complaining at the Texas Playboys' first recording session that Bob's hollering was covering up the musicians. He also complained about the band's use of horns and drums, unheard of in hillbilly music. Bob's response was to threaten to pack up and walk out. You hire Bob Wills, you get Bob Wills, playing his music his way.

I can't provide a direct quote, but musicians who played for Bob Wills have said that when he called out the name of one of his sidemen it was like he turned the spotlight on him. It gave the musician a boost and inspired him to play his best. Musicians and audience members alike would tell you that you could tell the difference in quality and intensity of the music when Bob was on the bandstand and when he wasn't. Such was his presence, and his hollering and smart-aleck remarks were a big part of his presence.

On recordings, Bob's hollers meant that the listener knew who was responsible for that hot solo he was about to enjoy. (And 30 to 70 years later, we know it too.) It wasn't an anonymous studio musician, it was Eldon (Shamblin) or Leon (McAuliffe), Herbie (Remington) or Noel (Boggs), Junior Barnard (aka Fat Boy, aka Boogerman, aka the Floor Show) or Jimmy Wyble, Jody (Joe Holley) or Jesse (Ashlock), or Tiny Moore on the "biggest little instrument in the world." And even when Bob recorded with Nashville studio musicians, in his '60s sessions with Kapp Records, he gave them the same courtesy, for instance calling out "Brother Pig!" when Hargus "Pig" Robbins took a chorus on the piano and "Ah, Tay!" for a Gene "Tagg" Lambert guitar solo.

The audience responded, too, to Bob's hollers. They were an essential part of the Texas Playboys dance experience, so much so that Cindy Walker wrote a song to answer the musical question "What Makes Bob Holler?"

Well, when a little sweetie-pie
In a mini-skirt twirls by
And rolls those big blue eyes
Ahhh! I holler!
And when some pretty chick
Says she likes my fiddle lick,
Well, that can do the trick.
Ahhh! I holler!

To say that Bob Wills's music would have been better without the hollers is to miss the point. Bob's hollers were as much a part of his music as his fiddle, so essential that when Bob suffered a stroke after the first day of recording for For the Last Time and was unable to return, his old friend Hoyle Nix filled in with his best impression.

The songs are certainly strong enough to stand on their own, and plenty of other bands have recorded great versions of his music, but a Bob Wills song is missing something without a Bob Wills holler.

MORE: A couple of Bob Wills links of interest which I don't think I've posted yet:

Last September 18, jazz and pop music writer Will Friedwald wrote a very insightful review in the New York Sun of the Legends of Country Music box set. He starts with the first track, "Sunbonnet Sue," recorded in 1932 when Bob Wills and Milton Brown were with the Light Crust Doughboys, and explains how the structure is closer to popular music of the day rather than traditional folk music:

Yet the moral of "Sunbonnet Sue"is that even by 1932, there was no longer such a thing as pure roots music. The phonograph had already entertained several generations, and particularly after about 1920 — when commercial broadcasting began and when jazz, blues, and country began to be heard regularly on record — everyone in every part of the nation began listening to everybody else....

At the time, the mainstream music press labeled all sounds produced by black people as "race music" and all music produced by white people anyplace other than the two coasts or the Great Lakes as Hillbilly. Wills hated this term, much the same way New Orleans jazzmen hated being called "Dixieland." He brought both new energy and sophistication to records by importing ideas wholesale from the swing bands that were starting to dominate the music business in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Friedwald goes on to cite examples of the variety of music the Texas Playboys performed over the years, as sampled in the box set.

Next, here's the entry on Bob Wills from the MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music. It includes a number of details that you won't find in other biographies on the web, and includes parenthetical mini-bios of Leon McAuliffe, Tommy Duncan, and other Wills sidemen.

Also on the MusicWeb site is an e-book, The Rise and Fall of Popular Music. Chapter 7, The Jazz Age, the Great Depression and New Markets: Race and Hillbilly Music includes a section on the Texas Playboys, putting them in the context of other popular musicians of the era, like Paul Whiteman, Bennie Moten, the Blue Devils (from Oklahoma City), Bing Crosby, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, and Bessie Smith. (Did you know that Jimmie Rodgers recorded with Louis Armstrong? And with a Hawaiian band? Me, neither.) You'll learn something about the origins of the steel guitar and the dobro and about the importance of flour to popular music of the period.

Here's a nice short bio of guitarist Tommy Allsup, who played lead guitar with Buddy Holly, was an A&R man and producer for Liberty Records, and produced Bob Wills's final album. Allsup, recently inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, is carrying on the western swing tradition with Bob Wills' Texas Playboys.

Tommy's going to be touring Greece and the UK this June with Kevin Montgomery. You can find his MySpace page here.

Friday morning, Oklahoma Stomp, a new western swing band made up of nine boys, aged 12 to 16 years, played a few songs on KVOO 98.5. If you missed the live broadcast and didn't get out to Cain's Ballroom to hear them tonight, you can still listen to the KVOO podcast. Here are direct links to the songs:

San Antonio Rose"
Fat Boy Rag (the version released on Columbia, not the wild Tiffany Transcriptions version)
Roly Poly
Faded Love

These kids are good.

My wife and I had a great time tonight at the Bob Wills Birthday Celebration. We got out on the dance floor a few times. We successfully navigated the hills and valleys of Cain's curly maple floor, and we did OK with the two-step, but it took me halfway into "Goodnight, Little Sweetheart" to remember how to waltz.

The Round-Up Boys and Eddie McAlvain and the Mavericks each played a 45 minute set, then the Texas Playboys played from 9 to 11 with a 20 minute break. They said they'd be playing a longer set at the Saturday night performance.

Oklahoma Stomp, the new western swing band made up of 12 to 16 year olds, will debut at Saturday's performance. And Bob Fjeldsted, leader of the Round-Up Boys, mentioned that Bob Wills's daughter Rosetta would be there as well.

The Texas Playboys are led by vocalist Leon Rausch and guitarist Tommy Allsup (who also took vocals on several songs). Tonight's lineup: Bobby Koefer on steel guitar, Curly Hollingsworth on piano, Curly Lewis, Jimmy Young, and Bob Boatright on fiddle, Ronnie Ellis on bass, Tony Ramsey on drums, Steve "Hambone" Ham on trombone, and Mike Bennett on trumpet. Allsup, Lewis, Ham, and Bennett are all from the Tulsa area.

For the record, here is the Texas Playboys' set list from tonight:

Opening Theme
Corrine, Corrina
Lily Dale
In the Mood
Milkcow Blues
Tater Pie
Tuxedo Junction
Keeper of My Heart
Panhandle Rag
Blues for Dixie
Westphalia Waltz
Trouble in Mind
Take Me Back to Tulsa
Raining in My Heart

Faded Love
Hawaiian War Chant
I Don't Know Why I Love You Like I Do
Right or Wrong
Big Beaver
Goodnight, Little Sweetheart
Closing Theme

I didn't catch the title for one song, but it was a very lush, very pretty number featuring Bobby Koefer on steel guitar.

All the good things I had to say about last year's birthday celebration and performance at the Osage casino were just as true tonight. In addition to all that, I especially enjoyed hearing trombonist Steve Ham do the vocals on "Rosetta" and Curly Hollingsworth's piano choruses. Everyone on the bandstand turned in several swinging solos and wonderful ensemble work. Love those triple fiddles.

One big improvement over last year: No smoking in the building!

Most of the heads there were as gray as mine, or grayer, but there were a few younger folks there, too. One couple brought their daughter along -- she looked to be about six. A couple of thirty-something women volunteered to be Bobby Koefer's hula partners for "Hawaiian War Chant."

One young woman -- in her twenties, I'd guess -- spent most of the last set standing up at the edge of the stage, swiveling her hips to the music and taking pictures of the band with her cameraphone. With her Louise Brooks haircut, she bore an uncanny resemblance (as of a couple of hairstyles ago) to a certain rock historian turned chastity advocate, but instead of being dressed in mod-'60s clothes, her outfit was from a decade or so earlier, down to her bobby socks and saddle oxfords. A male companion was taking pictures of her from several feet away. After the last song, her boyfriend boosted her up on stage, and she went around talking to several of the musicians. (The uncanny resemblance extended to certain mannerisms. To my knowledge, however, she did not compliment the drummer on how cool it was that he held his drumsticks just like Smokey Dacus.) The couple were obviously avid fans, and I would have loved to ask how they had been introduced to the music of Bob Wills.

The dance floor stayed pretty full most of the night, particularly on the big band numbers. Just about everyone came out to dance on "Faded Love."

I hope there's an even bigger turnout tomorrow night. As I said in my column this week, if you've never experienced western swing music, you owe it to yourself to come out to Cain's this weekend. There is no better introduction than to hear it played by the best musicians in the business and to hear it in the historic dance hall where the music first took root.

In my column about Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, I mentioned that Bobby Koefer will be playing steel guitar for the Texas Playboys at the Bob Wills Birthday Celebration tonight and tomorrow night at Cain's Ballroom. I wrote that Koefer "is a joy to watch, with his boundless energy and enthusiasm and one-of-a-kind style."

Well, here's a sample of that energy, enthusiasm, and style, a video of Koefer performing the novelty song Hawaiian War Chant with Truitt Cunningham's San Antonio Rose band.

And if you'll click this link, you'll see Bobby take a chorus 56 years ago with Bob Wills, on "Sittin' on Top of the World."


This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is a salute to the late great western swing band leader Bob Wills. This weekend is the annual Bob Wills birthday celebration at Cain's Ballroom, so it seemed like an opportune time to explain, to Tulsans unfamiliar with his legacy, his importance to American music and Tulsa history, what make western swing music so much fun, and why everyone needs to get out to Cain's Friday and Saturday night to listen and dance to Bob Wills's Texas Playboys, led by vocalist Leon Rausch and Tommy Allsup, both veterans of the Texas Playboys in the '50s and '60s.

The line-up this weekend includes many veterans of the Texas Playboys and Johnnie Lee Wills's band: steel guitarist Bobby Koefer, who blew us all away last year at the Playboys' performance at the Osage Casino, fiddlers Curly Lewis and Jimmy Young, and Curly Hollingsworth on piano -- not to slight the other great musicians who'll be on stage, including fiddler Bob Boatright, trumpeter Mike Bennett, and trombonist Steve Ham.

Something I didn't mention in the article: A new western swing band will be playing Saturday night's performance: Oklahoma Stomp, a collection of 12 to 16-year-old musicians organized by Tulsa fiddler Shelby Eicher, in connection with the National Fiddler Hall of Fame.


If you'd like to read something a bit more in-depth, but not book length, here's a good article about Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys from the Journal of Texas Music History.

Here's a BlogCritics review of the Legends of Country Music box set issued by Sony.

Here's a page about Leon Rausch with some of his solo recordings and recordings with Tommy Allsup and Bob Wills's Texas Playboys. And here's a page with the Texas Playboys upcoming tour dates. They're playing Lincoln Center in New York in June, part of the "Midsummer Night Swing" series of outdoor concerts and dances.

You'll find more links and some videos in BatesLine's Western Swing category.

Because I'm tired and burned out on serious stuff (the Republican County Convention was today), here's a bebop version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Bobby Troup, performed by legendary steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe (singing, not steeling, in this one) and his band. Take it away, Leon....

The baby bear's part cracks me up.

said the little wee bear,
"there's the chick that busted my chair!"

Bob Wills Grammy tribute

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In case you missed it, here is Carrie Underwood performing "San Antonio Rose" with Johnny Gimble, Ray Benson, Dick Gimble, introduced by Reba McEntire.

One of the YouTube commenters wrote, "If country music was regularly performed this well, I would listen to country music. That was awesome."

I've been reading San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills, Charles R. Townsend's definitive biography. At the back of the book is what looks to be a comprehensive discography -- every studio recording Bob Wills ever made, including a couple he cut in 1929 with Herman Arnspiger on guitar (the duo billed as the Wills Fiddle Band), a couple more in 1932 with the Light Crust Doughboys, and his post-Texas Playboys work in the late '60s on Kapp Records.

The final entry is, of course, For the Last Time, the double reunion album recorded in Dallas in December 1973. But right before that was a tantalizing entry about a September 1971 recording session for Capitol Records at Merle Haggard's home in Bakersfield, Calif. Twenty tracks were recorded, but never issued. It was an all-star lineup: Eldon Shamblin, Tiny Moore, Leon McAuliffe, Joe Holley, Johnnie Lee Wills, Luke Wills, Al Stricklin, Johnny Gimble, Alex Brashear, Smokey Dacus, and Glynn Duncan, there in place of his late brother Tommy Duncan. Merle Haggard played fiddle, and he sang "Misery." Bob Wills couldn't play the fiddle -- a stroke had left his bow hand paralyzed -- but he could still lead the band.

So where is this missing album?

It finally has been released, but it's not an easy thing to come by. It's only available as Disc 13 of Faded Love, Bear Family Records' massive 13 CD + 1 DVD box set, a comprehensive collection of Bob Wills recordings from 1947 to 1973. The price of the set is a mere $360. (1932-1947 are covered by San Antonio Rose, an 11 disc + 1 DVD box set that sells for $316.49 on Amazon.)

It would be exciting to hear more tracks from this great ensemble captured with modern recording techniques.

I learned about this on the website of an Australian record store. The same page quotes Bob Pinson, the definitive discographer of Bob Wills, as saying that Bear Family was likely to issue a box set of all the Tiffany Transcriptions, not just the 10 albums' worth of material that were released by Kaleidoscope on LP and by Rhino on CD. (And several of the CDs are now out of production.)

The Tiffany material isn't included in either of the two Bear Family box sets that have been released, as it was recorded for distribution to radio stations, not for commercial sale. I can't get enough of the Tiffany sound -- the freer feel to the music, the unique take on pop standards, Junior Barnard's amazing guitar solos, and the jazzy trios of Tiny Moore on mandolin, Eldon Shamblin on standard guitar, and Herb Remington on steel guitar. I'd love to hear even more. One estimate says the complete Tiffany Transcriptions, including tracks that were never released to radio stations, would fill 18-20 CDs.

(This review of Merle Haggard's A Tribute To The Best Damn Fiddle Player In The World mentions the 1971 Bakersfield session in passing.)

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned listening to a Johnnie Lee Wills transcription and hearing the announcer call out "Coyote Blues," by Lewis Meyer, best known to Tulsans for his bookstore and weekly book review show on TV.

Tomorrow night (Saturday), John Wooley will be playing two versions of "Coyote Blues" on Swing on This, his weekly hour of western swing, at 7 p.m. on KWGS 89.5 (and streaming on kwgs.com), and he's been kind enough to dedicate them to me and to Mike Ransom, webmaster of Tulsa TV Memories. Here's John's planned playlist, from his website:

1. “Texas Drummer Boy,” Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys
2. “Coyote Blues,” Dave Stuckey and the Rhythm Gang
3. “Coyote Blues,” Johnnie Lee Wills and All the Boys
4. “Land of Dreams,” Herb Remington
5. “Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age,” Johnny Gimble and the Texas Swing Pioneers
6. “Maiden’s Prayer,” Asleep at the Wheel w/Squirrel Nut Zippers
7. “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None O’ This Jelly Roll,” Cliff Bruner’s Texas Wanderers
8. “In the Jailhouse Now,” Hank Thompson
9. “Let’s Ride with Bob,” Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys
10. “Am I Blue,” Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies
11. “Back Home Again in Indiana,” Nashville Swing Band
12. “My Window Faces the South,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen
13. “Sweet Georgia Brown,” Billy Jack Wills and His Western Swing Band
14. “Mean Woman with Green Eyes,” Tom Morrell and His Time-Warp Tophands
15. “I Had Someone Else Before I Had You,” “Easy” Adams and His Texas Top Hands
16. “Oklahoma Hills,” Jack Guthrie

Should be a great


This is not quite 1957, but it is certainly from the same era, and it will give you a sense of the kind of entertainment that was available in downtown Tulsa back in the day.

In June 1961, Patsy Cline was a passenger in a head-on collision and was thrown through the windshield. Just six weeks later, on July 29, still scarred and hobbled by her injuries, she performed her first concert since the wreck.

The venue was the Cimarron Ballroom at 4th and Denver in downtown Tulsa, in what was once the Akdar Shrine Mosque. (It was demolished in the '70s for parking, and the site is now home to the Tulsa Transit station.) This was the home of Leon McAuliffe and his western swing band, the Cimarron Boys. McAuliffe was steel guitar player for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys during their formative years in Tulsa, but he started his own band in Tulsa after serving in World War II. McAuliffe and his band served as Patsy's band that night.

And that night in July 1961, the sound man decided to roll tape. Thirty-some years later, the reel-to-reel tape resurfaced, and in 1997 it was issued on CD: Patsy Cline: Live at the Cimarron Ballroom.

The Tulsa City-County Library has several copies of the CD circulating. I just checked it out today and listened to it for the first time.

The recording is not an audiophile's dream -- there are a few dropouts, there was feedback on a couple of songs -- but it's still a live performance by one of the most amazing vocalists of the 20th century, backed by a great western swing band. The CD includes the between-songs banter between Patsy and the band and the audience. And we get to hear Patsy Cline without the heavy production of her Nashville sessions. The liner notes include photos of Patsy at the Cimarron, a transcript of the spoken parts of the recording, and, on the back, a facsimile of a poster advertising the event.

For those used to strict segregation between musical genres, the set list will be a surprise. It includes some of her hits ("I Fall to Pieces," "Walking after Midnight," "Poor Man's Roses"), and covers of classic Dixieland ("Bill Bailey"), western swing ("San Antonio Rose"), and Hank Williams ("Lovesick Blues") songs, plus two rock-n-roll tunes: "Stupid Cupid" and "Shake, Rattle, and Roll."

Here are several articles that tell the story of this performance and how it came to be issued on CD, plus a couple of reviews of the CD.

From Guy Cesario's PatsyClineTribute.com
From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
A short review by Robert Christgau
Providence Phoenix review (via Google cache)

This coming March 15, three legendary country & western performers -- Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Ray Price -- will perform at the Mabee Center in Tulsa, backed by the western swing band Asleep at the Wheel. The concert is part of a month-long, coast-to-coast "Last of the Breed" tour. (Sorry, See Dubya, Vegas is as close as they'll come to your neck of the woods.)

In the midst of the tour a CD called Last of the Breed will be released:

Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Ray Price will release a double-disc album together on March 20 on Lost Highway Records. Titled Last of the Breed, the 22-song set was produced by Fred Foster. The recording sessions included contributions from the Jordanaires, steel guitarist Buddy Emmons and fiddler Johnny Gimble. Haggard, Nelson and Price have also scheduled tour dates, backed by Asleep at the Wheel, in New York, Nashville, Las Vegas, Detroit and Colorado Springs in March. The album includes two new songs and newly recorded versions of songs made famous by the three artists, including Price's 1959 hit, "Heartaches by the Number" (with Vince Gill on backing vocals). Kris Kristofferson provides backing vocals on "Why Me."

People my age will probably best remember Ray Price for his mellow 1970 crossover hit "For the Good Times," written by Kris Kristofferson. But he made his name with honky tonk hits in the '50s and '60s, and his band, the Cherokee Cowboys, launched the careers of Willie Nelson and Roger Miller, among others.

Here are a couple of YouTube videos from back in the day. First, his 1950s hit, "Crazy Arms,"

And here's a great uptempo western swing instrumental, "Silver Lake Blues." Dig those cowboy outfits and synchronized moves.

Recognize these words, western swing fans?

The light is in the parlor,
A fire is in the grate;
The clock upon the mantle
Ticks out --"it's getting late" --
The curtains at the windows
Are made of snowy white,
The parlor is a pleasant place
To sit on Sunday night,
To sit on Sunday, Sunday night.

Those are from an 1878 courting song called "Sunday Night," by Frederick Woodman Root. Here's verse 2.

Fine books are on the table,
And pictures on the wall;
And there's a cushioned sofa,
But then that is not all;
If I am not mistaken,
(I'm sure I must be right)
Some people now are sitting there
This pleasant Sunday night,
This pleasant Sunday, Sunday night.

And the last verse:

The lamp is burning dimly,
The fire is getting low,
Somebody says to some one
"It's time for me to go."
We hear a little whisper,
So gentle and so light,
"O don't forget to come again
Another Sunday night,
Another Sunday, Sunday night."

You might know it better if the verses were shortened up a bit and followed by this chorus:

Ida Red, Ida Red, I'm plumb fool about Ida Red.

The Bluegrass Messengers has an attempt at tracing the origins and evolution of the music and lyrics that became "Ida Red", but they have a different date and writer for the song that provided the verse lyrics.

Ida Red didn't stop changing when Bob Wills recorded it in 1938. In 1950, he borrowed the name, but not much else, for "Ida Red Likes the Boogie," which became a top ten hit for the Texas Playboys, with Tiny Moore's vocal backed by Skeeter Elkin's boogie-woogie piano.

A few years later in East St. Louis, Chuck Berry was finding new words for the old fiddle tune:

The St Louis club-goers cared little for the provenance of the cowboy numbers they heard. That allowed Berry to improvise around the melodies and concoct his own stories. Gradually, 'Ida Red' became a Berry composition, 'Ida May', a teen tale of a two-timing girl and a chase between a Cadillac and a V8 Ford. In 1955, on a recommendation from Muddy Waters, Berry signed with Chicago's premier R&B label, Chess. He thought it would leap on his blues material, but, to his surprise, it was 'Ida May' that had the proprietor, Leonard Chess, reaching for a blank contract. The label was looking to cross over to the white market, and Berry was the artist to do it.

With the blues legend Willie Dixon on upright bass and the pianist Johnnie Johnson, Berry and his guitar set off to record 'Ida May'. There was just one problem: it was still too close to 'Ida Red'. 'I changed the music and rearranged it,' Johnson says. 'Chuck rewrote the words.' The hillbilly two-step was converted into bristling, early rock'n'roll. The title, with a little adjustment to the spelling, was settled when, according to Johnson, someone noticed the cosmetic Maybelline in the room.

I don't have a better finish for this than Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, from 1951, performing Ida Red, with Joe Andrews on vocals, and solos by Skeeter Elkin on piano, Cotton Whittington on guitar, Bobby Koefer on steel guitar, and Joe Holley on fiddle, with Bob Wills himself starting and finishing the song.

Crossposted from Tulsa TV Memories, with some further elaboration:

I was listening to some old Johnnie Lee Wills transcriptions from 1950, and I heard the announcer (Frank Sims) say to Johnnie Lee, "Our first tune was written by a good friend of mine and a good friend of yours. What do you say we get under way with the Coyote Blues, written by Lewis Meyer."

I knew bespectacled Brookside bookseller and biographer was a multitalented man, but I never suspected he was a western swing songwriter.

Here's a link with the lyrics of "Coyote Blues", which contains these immortal words:

I can't sit down, I'm black and blue
My gal kicked me on the kickaroo
I got the old coyote blues

And these:

She took me when I was helpless
She tried to build me up
But when she got me housebroke
She got another pup

TTM webmaster Mike Ransom notes that the song is on the Johnnie Lee Wills CD Band's A-Rockin'.

A friend who has heard about western swing, but hasn't actually heard much of it, has asked me to put together a sampler as an introduction to the genre. To keep from overwhelming her, I decided to limit it to what would fit on a single audio CD -- 74 minutes. Here's my working list thus far -- title, band, album:

Opening Theme Featuring Tommy Duncan, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Radio Days
Narration(Ross Franklin), Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Radio Days
Lone Star Rag, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Radio Days
New San Antonio Rose, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, The Essential Bob Wills (1935-1947)
A Maiden's Prayer, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, The Essential Bob Wills (1935-1947)
Miss Molly, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, The Essential Bob Wills (1935-1947)
Texas Playboy Rag, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
Take Me Back To Tulsa, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Tiffany Transcriptions Volume 2
Roly Poly, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Tiffany Transcriptions Volume 2
Ida Red, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Tiffany Transcriptions Volume 2
Fat Boy Rag, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Tiffany Transcriptions Volume 5
Trouble In Mind, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Tiffany Transcriptions Volume 8
Blackout Blues, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Tiffany Transcriptions Volume 1
Three Guitar Special, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Tiffany Transcriptions Volume 5
What Is This Thing Called Love?, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Tiffany Transcriptions Volume 9
Stay A Little Longer, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, The Essential Bob Wills (1935-1947)
Sweet Georgia Brown, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Tiffany Transcriptions Volume 5
I'm A Ding-Dong Daddy, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Take Me Back To Tulsa - Disc 4
I Laugh When I Think How I Cried Over You, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Take Me Back To Tulsa - Disc 4
Faded Love, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Boot Heel Drag: The MGM Years
Rag Mop, Johnnie Lee Wills, Band's a Rockin'
Cadillac in Model 'A', Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Boot Heel Drag: The MGM Years
Lonesome Hearted Blues, Billy Jack Wills And His Western Swing Band, Billy Jack Wills And His Western Swing Band
Dipsy Doodle, Billy Jack Wills And His Western Swing Band, Billy Jack Wills And His Western Swing Band
Blue Guitar Stomp, Leon McAuliffe
Tulsa Straight Ahead, Asleep at the Wheel, 10
Way Down Texas Way, Asleep At The Wheel, 10
I Had Someone Else, Hot Club of Cowtown, Swingin' Stampede
Playboy Theme, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, For The Last Time

It begins with the opening of a 1945 Texas Playboys radio broadcast (on the 2005 release Radio Days). There's a section intended to highlight the Texas Playboy's offshoots and the style's evolution in the '50s, followed by a few cuts representing the modern revival. My intention is to represent the breadth of styles encompassed by western swing and that demonstrate the connection to the genres that influenced it. And of course I included some of the biggest hits and my personal favorites.

Anything you would have included that I missed? I realize that there have been plenty of western swing bands besides those of Bob Wills and his brothers, but my collection isn't that diversified yet.

Wayne Hancock narrates an 18-minute documentary about the career of western swing bandleader Adolph Hofner, whose career spanned six decades blending the sounds of Texas with the sounds of old Bohemia. You'll learn a little something about German and Czech influences on rural Texas, and Texas dance hall culture. Mom and Dad would bring the children along to the dance, and they'd dance the night away while the kids slept on pallets under the benches.

Adolph's Beautiful America from Geoff G on Vimeo.

UPDATE: Commenter D. J. Hellwege notes that Czech Hall near Yukon, Oklahoma, still holds dances every Saturday night.

UPDATE(2): Wayne "The Train" Hancock, narrator of this documentary, is playing Tulsa's Mercury Lounge, 18th & Boston, this Saturday night, December 30. It's a release party for his new album, Tulsa.

UPDATE 2013/02/16: Google Video's gone; replaced with the video on Vimeo.

And Wikipedia has an answer to something I've been wondering about for some time: What is that snippet of Czech conversation at the end of "Shiner Song" ("Farewell to Prague")?

In order to accommodate their sponsor, Pearl Beer, the Hofners recorded the original version of "Farewell to Prague", which had been known in the old country, instead of the more recent Czech-American "Shiner Beer Polka," the same song with the word Prague (Prahu) changed to Shiner. This avoided the implied reference to the rival Spoetzl brewery in Shiner, Spoetzl's being closely identified with the "Shiner Beer Polka." The brothers could not however resist inserting a joke in Czech at the end of the recording, when one of the Hofners asks the other to "give me a dark beer" ("Daj mne cervene pivo"), Spoetzl's Shiner Bock being the most well-known dark beer in Texas at that time, as it remains today. The other brother firmly replies, "No!" ("Ne!").

Found while browsing

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About the only brick-and-mortar shopping I do any more is around gift-giving season. I found several books that got me to stop and thumb through them for a few minutes:

Tulsa architect and author John Brooks Walton, who has published a series of books on Tulsa's Historic Homes, has several new books out. One is called The Artwork of Tulsa, photos and articles about pieces of public art (pieces that aren't in museums) around town, everything from that weird hunk of metal on City Hall Plaza ("Amity"), to the terra cotta designs on the exterior of the Tulsa Fairgrounds Pavilion, to the Ten Commandments on the exterior of Temple Israel, to "Appeal to the Great Spirit" on the grounds of Woodward Park.

Walton also has a book on historic homes in Ponca City and a new book on the work of architect John Dilbeck, who designed homes in Dallas and Tulsa, as well as several notable commercial buildings. You know that pretty cottage at 19th and Peoria, the one that looks like it was transplanted from Elizabethan England? That's a Dilbeck.

(Steve's Sundries at 26th & Harvard is a great place to browse and buy books by and about Tulsans.)

The Oklahoma Centennial Committee commissioned music columnist John Wooley to write a book on the history of Oklahoma's distinctive music. It's called From the Blue Devils to Red Dirt: The Colors of Oklahoma Music. In addition to the two bookends in the title, the book has chapters on Bob Wills and western swing, Woody Guthrie, Tulsa-based impresario Jim Halsey. A chapter traces the development of the "Tulsa Sound" that flourished in the '70s -- it all started with a band that took over for Johnnie Lee Wills at Cain's Ballroom in 1959. (Some kid named Johnny Cale played with them.) The bits I read were quite interesting. The back of the book has a listing of the membership of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. The chapter on western swing is excellent, and not only tells the story of Bob Wills and his brothers and their years in Tulsa, but of the many other acts that emerged in their wake.

The Stratocaster Chronicles
tells the story of Leo Fender's solid-body guitar, which debuted in 1954, the technical advances that made it different, and the musicians who made the instrument famous. There's a great full-page photo of Eldon Shamblin posing in front of Cain's Ballroom with the demonstrator model that Fender gave him. The caption spells out how Shamblin modified it to make it his own.

The new Bob Wills 4-CD box set is (will be?) given a rave review by Bill Friskics-Warren in tomorrow's Washington Post:

As the four-CD set "Legends of Country Music" attests, these Western swingers could do it all, and with as much imagination and verve as anybody. And they weren't just magpies fluent in every strain of the American musical vernacular. To paraphrase the immortal "Time Changes Everything," they could "change the name of an old song, rearrange it and make it swing." And how....

Wills and company didn't reserve their inventiveness only for recordings they covered. If their leader's "Big Beaver" proves that his Playboys could achieve Ellingtonian grandeur, then "Twin Guitar Special," an instrumental written by steel player Leon McAuliffe and electric guitarist Eldon Shamblin, beats it eight to the bar like Basie, and with a pair of guitars making like an entire horn section. "Roly Poly," meanwhile, is prototypical rock-and-roll, and so is "Ida Red Likes to Boogie." The latter anticipates the backbeat of Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" (by way of the jump blues of Louis Jordan) by nearly a decade.

He goes on to call it "easily the best-sounding collection of Wills material yet."

I had actually considered passing on this set, because of the significant overlap with the Proper Box 4-disc set (especially on the early years), but this review is making me reconsider.

Not one, not two, but three -- count them! -- three mandolins (amplified, of course), played by (from the audience's left) Johnny Gimble, Tiny Moore, and Jethro Burns, with Eldon Shamblin backing the trio on rhythm guitar (and Eldon probably wrote the arrangement).

Yeah, I'll get back to local politics at some point. I have an early deadline for UTW this week, because of Christmas, so substantive blogging will have to wait.

Found via swingfiddler's MySpace page -- he has a bunch of videos of swingin' strings, including some rare footage of Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France.

UPDATE: Someone took down the video, doggone it. If someone finds it on the web, please let me know -- email blog at batesline dot com.

Found in an online bio of Johnnie Lee Wills, the Tulsa-based Western Swing bandleader:

In 1950, recording on Bullet, he achieved Top 10 US country and pop chart success with "Rag Mop" (a number he co-wrote with Deacon Anderson that was also a pop hit for the Ames Brothers) and a country number 7 with "Peter Cottontail". He also made further recordings for Decca, MGM and RCA-Victor, as well as over 200 15-minute transcription discs for use on KVOO Tulsa and other stations.

So the question is: Who has those 200 transcription discs, and how do we get that music back into circulation?

A few years ago, someone posted a couple dozen transcriptions of Johnnie Lee Wills on a Usenet news group in MP3 format. According to the file names, these came from 1950-1951. Each file is about 12 minutes long -- with local commercials, it would fill a 15-minute time slot.

Here (in MP3 format, about 1 MB) is a set of promos for use by radio stations prior to the premiere of the broadcast. If there's interest, I'll see if I can find a way to post these somewhere.

I've added a new category, Western Swing, so now you can find everything I've posted on the subject in one convenient place.

Tyson Wynn linked to this video of Asleep at the Wheel performing Cindy Walker's "Cherokee Maiden" from the "Ride with Bob" album. The video has glimpses of each of the guest artists who perform other songs on the album. (I didn't spot Don Walser -- the Pavarotti of the Plains -- but he must have been in there.)

Tyson pointed out that the drummer (Dave Sanger) is wearing a KVOO Radio Ranch t-shirt, KVOO ("The Voice of Oklahoma") being the radio station that was the first home base for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. (KVOO is still around as an FM station at 98.5, but the old frequency of 1170 kc belongs to KFAQ, just across the hallway, whose airwaves I modulate every Tuesday morning at 6 a.m.)

A review of Radio Days

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I just received a CD called Radio Days by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. The CD was issued in 2005 by Tomato Records. I was excited when I first spotted this online because this appeared to be a radio broadcast of the Texas Playboys, complete with the opening and closing themes. While the CD is not exactly what I expected, it's still well worth having for any fan of the Texas Playboys. Here's the review I just posted to amazon.com:

Like the Tiffany Transcriptions series, these tracks, recorded for or from radio, capture Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys at their loosest and swingingest, the way you might have heard them at a dance hall.

While this disc is set up to flow as if it were a single broadcast, in fact it's a combination of a transcription done around 1945 (tracks 1-15, 28-29) and a broadcast from 1953 (tracks 16-27). It's almost seamless, but Wills scholars will notice differences in the names that Bob calls out for solos.

The 1945 section features Tommy Duncan on vocals, Bob Wills, Louis Tierney, and Joe Holley on fiddle, Alex Brashear on trumpet, Millard Kelso on piano, and Junior Barnard on standard guitar, with announcer Ross Franklin. You'll get to hear Tommy Duncan sing the opening Playboys theme, as well as "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "Empty Chair at the Table," "Take Me Back to Tulsa," and a duet with Bob on the blues call-and-response "I'm Talkin' about You." Les Anderson provides vocals on "Stardust." Nearly everyone takes a solo on instrumentals "Lone Star Rag" and "Liberty," including a couple of Junior Barnard's proto-rock'n'roll guitar solos. Junior is also featured on "I'm Talkin' about You" and "Take Me Back to Tulsa."

The 1953 tracks seem to have the same tracklist as an LP called "Rare 1953 California Radio Broadcasts Volume 2." Jack Lloyd and Bill Choate take the vocal duties, and you'll hear Skeeter Elkin on piano, Keith Coleman on fiddle, Billy Bowman on steel guitar, and Eldon Shamblin on standard guitar, with announcer Lou Stevens. There's mention between songs of the band playing dances at Harmony Park Ballroom in Anaheim and Bob doing a transcription for Armed Forces Radio with Carolina Cotton. "Tuxedo Junction" features some fine solos from Skeeter Elkin and Billy Bowman. Louise Rowe and Keith Coleman sing a duet on "Got You on My Mind."

Beyond the great music, the between-songs banter makes this a disc worth having just to get the sense of what it was like to tune in to the daily broadcasts.

It's that banter that sets this recording apart from the Tiffany Transcriptions. (Presumably, the original Tiffany Transcription discs included introductions and banter, but that hasn't been included on the compilations that Rhino issued.)

I still dream of hearing a radio broadcast from the band's heyday at KVOO in Tulsa, but I suspect those shows are only extant in the Celestial Archive.

If Mick says so...

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Previously mentioned, but here's some shaky video of Mick Jagger, last month in Austin, singing "Bob Wills Is Still the King" by Waylon Jennings.

That's the Rolling Stones' Ron Wood on pedal steel guitar.

West Texas soundtrack

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I used iTunes to mix a CD for our recent trip to west Texas. It's a combination of songs about Texas, songs about cotton farming, favorite Western Swing instrumentals (including arguably the first rock'n'roll song ever recorded -- Junior Barnard's Fat Boy Rag, recorded in 1946), and a few other songs that I just plain love. Of course, I had to start it with "The Texas Playboys are on the air!"

Here it is -- all tunes by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys unless otherwise noted.

  1. Playboy Theme
  2. Three Guitar Special (Tiffany Transcriptions Vol. 5)
  3. Big Ball's In Cowtown, Asleep At The Wheel (George Strait vocal)
  4. Dipsy Doodle, Billy Jack Wills And His Western Swing Band
  5. Miles and Miles of Texas, Asleep at the Wheel
  6. Panhandle Rag, Leon McAuliffe
  7. You're From Texas, Asleep At The Wheel, Ride With Bob
  8. Caravan, Billy Jack Wills And His Western Swing Band
  9. Way Down Texas Way, Asleep At The Wheel
  10. Playboy Chimes
  11. Yearning (Just For You), Asleep At The Wheel (Vince Gill vocal)
  12. Texas Blues
  13. Fat Boy Rag (Tiffany Transcriptions Vol. 5)
  14. Bottle Baby Boogie (my daughter's favorite -- she loves the way Billy Bowman makes the steel guitar say "Mama")
  15. Roly Poly
  16. Little Cowboy Lament, (sometimes called Little Cowboy Lullaby)
  17. Cadillac in Model 'A' (Billy Jack Wills sings about a small-town Saturday night)
  18. Texas Drummer Boy (featuring a Johnny Cuviello drum solo and a very catchy steel guitar melody by Herb Remington)
  19. Boot Heel Drag
  20. 'Tater Pie
  21. Mr. Cotton Picker, Billy Jack Wills And His Western Swing Band
  22. Texas Plains (Patsy Montana vocal)
  23. Cotton Patch Blues
  24. Smoke On The Water
  25. Hubbin' It
  26. Tulsa Straight Ahead, Asleep at the Wheel

My wife's dad's folks are all cotton farmers from west Texas, specifically the area around Stamford, which is just a bit north of Abilene. We drove down and spent fall break there. What follows are some disjointed notes from the trip down and back:

We stopped at the Rock Cafe in Stroud on the way down. It was supposed to be for breakfast, as an incentive for the kids to get up and around early. But then a stray dog, a beautiful and friendly young chocolate labrador, strolled up while I was packing the car. We spent the next couple of hours trying to see if he belonged to anyone in the neighborhood, and called the Humane Society and area vets trying to figure out the best way to get him back to his owner. We finally took him to the animal shelter, figuring the owner would be most likely to look there first. The dog had no collar, no tag, no ID chip. He was not neutered. He was healthy, and although he was thirsty he wasn't hungry, so we figure he can't have come far. We posted a few signs around the neighborhood, and I posted to a couple of Internet pet lost-and-found sites.

But back to the Rock Cafe: We had lunch there. We sat at the counter, and Dawn, the owner, and the inspiration for Sally in the movie Cars, told the kids about the real-life incidents involving the cafe that inspired some of the scenes in the movie. (The DVD is out November 6, by the way!) Everyone enjoyed their lunch. I had the prettiest patty melt I've ever seen -- on marble rye -- with a side of tabouli. Delicious!

Further down the road, we stopped at a Dairy Queen south of Wichita Falls, Texas. You know you're in a small west Texas town when there's a sign on the Dairy Queen that says they'll be open late after home games. Or when the Dairy Queen has the only banquet/meeting room in town.

I liked the way this DQ does kids' meals. They're served in a sack with a coupon for a free DQ treat (Dilly Bar, ice cream sandwich, or ice cream cone). When the kids are done with their real food, they can go back to the counter to pick out their dessert. It's an incentive to finish supper, there's no cheap little toy to deal with, and dessert doesn't melt while they're eating their meal.

Also, the chicken fingers come with cream gravy for dipping.

I had a pepper-pepper burger: It had jalapeno bacon, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle sauce on it. The menu said it was a local favorite.

Favorite high school mascot name spotted on this trip: The Munday Moguls. (Will Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, etc., sue the school to change the nickname to something less derogatory?)

Normally when I travel I have no worries about finding a high-speed Internet connection. If the hotel doesn't have it, there'll be a Panera or a local coffeehouse with a free wi-fi connection, or at least a McDonald's (AT&T DSL subscribers can have unlimited use of Wayport hotspots for a tiny monthly fee). I was working on a project and was going to need to upload some large files while we were in Texas, but none of the usual alternatives were available, and we were staying with family who didn't have a computer, much less broadband. My best option looked like driving an hour each way to Abilene. As we were passing through some small towns on our way south, I noticed several motels advertising free high-speed Internet. I made some phone calls and sure enough, the two motels in Stamford both had free wi-fi for guests, although it wasn't advertised on their signboards. Problem solved. $40 (the price of a room with tax at the Deluxe Inn) is a bit steep for a day of wi-fi but it was the cheapest alternative.

I heard several mentions of wind farms in the works for the area, which sits about 1500' above sea level. Folks I talked to didn't think wind turbines in a river valley at 600' elevation was likely to work very well.

You think water is expensive? One relative, who gets city water out in the country, told us they pay $50 a month for the first thousand gallons of water. In Tulsa, that pays for 5,000 gallons, plus sewer, plus trash pickup, plus stormwater fees. Another relative has installed rainwater tanks with a 20,000 gallon capacity, and they collect "gray water" (drainage from sinks and showers) for use in the yard.

US 277 was once paralleled by the Texas Central Railroad, but sometime during the mid '90s the rails were pulled up and the viaducts demolished. You can still see the track bed, usually elevated several feet above the surrounding terrain, and the supports for bridges. Occasionally you'll see piles of railroad ties or lonely old telephone poles (the kind that look like Orthodox crosses). The old track bed and right of way is being reused to turn 277 into a four lane divided highway, and most of the towns between Wichita Falls and Abilene are to be bypassed.

Oddly, US 277 used to bypass Wichita Falls, but now it runs along the western edge of downtown and then west along Kell Boulevard. In the downtown section, they've cantilevered new expressway lanes above existing streets, minimizing the amount of demolition they had to do. The new lanes aren't open yet, and I would still expect to see a certain amount of decay from being in the shadow of the freeway, but I give them credit for trying to provide the highway without dividing their downtown from the surrounding neighborhoods.

My wife's relatives remember going to a hangar dance at the local airport back in the '40s, featuring Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. More often, though, they'd have house dances -- they'd move the furniture to the walls and roll up the linoleum. A couple of folks would sit in the corner and play fiddle and guitar, and people would dance as best they could in the limited space available. Or they'd go to all-night parties at the Sons of Hermann Lodge in Old Glory -- play games, eat, dance until the wee hours, then roll out their bedrolls and sleep in the hall. (My wife's aunt and uncle preferred to sleep in the camper on their pickup, so the pranksters at these events couldn't get to them.)

Speaking of the Old Glory lodge, next Saturday is the big event of the season -- a sausage supper and dance. Wish we could have been around for that.

Old Glory was originally called Brandenburg, but they changed the name during World War I.

It wasn't until 1961 that my wife's relatives went to mechanized cotton harvesting. Until then, working cotton meant going out and picking it by hand.

Most family get-togethers feature cards or dominoes. Saturday night we played a game of Chicken Foot, a domino game that moves pretty quickly, as about half of your moves are tightly constrained. Each hand begins with a double (in sequence starting with double-nines) and the first eight plays must be off of that initial double, creating eight radial lines from the middle. Subsequent doubles are laid perpendicular to the line of play, and the next three plays have to be off of that double. Double blank counts 50 points if you still have it at the end of the hand.

On the way home, we stopped for lunch at a Texas Roadhouse in Wichita Falls. (I would have stopped at a truly local place, but I hadn't done any research ahead of time.) I gave the baby little bites of my sweet potato. He loved the taste, but with every bite he made the funniest face because of the difference in texture from the usual pureed stuff.

We made our usual stop at Elmer Thomas Park in Lawton, home to a huge prairie dog colony. We watched them pop out of their holes. A lady walking her baby in a stroller gave us some crackers to toss at them, and then a couple who brought some old bread out for the prairie dogs shared some with the kids. The couple told us about seeing all the pups in the park back in June. You can get to the park by heading west from I-44 on old US 62, then south on 6th Street.

I also drove us through Medicine Park, an old resort town, founded about 100 years ago, just east of the Wichita Mountains wildlife refuge. It's distinguished by buildings made of cobblestone, which sit along Medicine Creek. My last visit was four or five years ago, and since that time several more businesses have opened and old buildings are being renovated. Improvements have been made to trails and bridges along the creek. We noticed signs of renovation in the Old Plantation Restaurant (once the Outside Inn, then the Grand Hotel). A number of homes advertised bed and breakfast or cabins for rent. On the north edge of town, we noticed some big and expensive looking new "cabins" up in the hills with a commanding view of the Wichita Mountains. The town still might qualify as undiscovered, but just barely, and not for long.

Grab your partner and truck on down


I've seen a clip of this on the web, but here's the whole thing. A Snader Transcription of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys from 1951, performing "Ida Red": Joe Andrews on vocals, Joe Frank Ferguson on bass, Cotton Whittington on standard guitar (a lefty), Joe Holley on fiddle (another lefty!), Skeeter Elkin on piano, Bobby Koefer on steel guitar, Ocie Stockard on banjo, and Bob Wills opening and ending the song on fiddle.

(Via Squeezytunes.)

Here's another one, from the 1940 movie, "Take Me Back to Oklahoma." That's Tex Ritter driving the stagecoach, Bob Wills to his right. Behind Tex is Eldon Shamblin on guitar, and behind Bob is steel guitar star Leon McAuliffe, who sings lead on the verse.

OK, one more -- from the same movie, "Lone Star Rag." Leon plays his lap steel guitar on this one:

You can download the whole movie -- it's in the public domain -- at the Internet Archive.

Texclectic taste in music


Found this item, in praise of Bend Studio, "Dallas' gem of a listening venue", via Technorati:

[J. Paul] Slavens own comedy troupe, the Texclectic Unsemble, won The Dallas Observer Best of Award for best comedy troupe 1999. More recently, Mr Slavens has garnered a loyal follwing for his radio program 90.1 @ Night on KERA-FM 90.1 in Dallas, one of the top five Public Radio stations in the US. Heard Sunday nights from 7 to 10 pm, Slavens plays an eclectic mix to say the least, a typical night will find Bob Wills next to Devo next to Nina Simone and on and on.

Bob Wills next to Devo? Sounds like my kind of show!

The current schedule has "90.1 at Night with Paul Slavens" from 8 to 10 on Sunday evenings. There's no podcast for the show, but you can listen live to KERA over the web.

From hamburger to steak

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A new entry on YouTube -- the Texas Playboys performing "New San Antonio Rose" on Austin City Limits in 1976. The ensemble included Leon McAuliffe on steel guitar, Leon Rausch singing, Eldon Shamblin on standard guitar (you can see him off to the left in the wide shots). The poster thinks that the fiddle player, who is doing his best impression of Bob Wills' stage mannerisms, is Keith Coleman. (The audio's a bit warbly.)

Another recent YouTube addition: A 1951 Snader Transcription -- music video -- of Carolina Cotton singing "Three Miles South of Cash in Arkansas" with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. That's Joe Holley playing fiddle left-handed and a headless Bobby Koefer on steel guitar. (Here's a website devoted to the late Carolina Cotton's life and career.)

Meanwhile, from a perusal of the message board at texasplayboys.net, I learn:

Herb Remington, a legendary steel guitar player who was with the Playboys from 1946 to 1950 (you'll hear him on a lot of the Tiffany Transcriptions and some of the early material recorded for MGM), is still performing in the Houston area. He's with the River Road Boys, who have a couple of gigs scheduled each month through the end of the year. And he plays 2nd Sunday of each month with the Swing Kings at Cosmo's Cafe (that's a Cosmo's in Houston, NOT the one in Tulsa). And Herb has a company, Remington Steel Guitars, that custom-builds non-pedal steel guitars. That website has some of his CDs on sale, too.

There's a Live365 radio station that plays a lot of Western Swing. It's called Ralphie's Radio: "We're playing all your Western Swing favorites by Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Hank Penny & His Radio Cowboys, Tex Williams & His Western Caravan, Spade Cooley, Hi-Flyers, Sons of the Pioneers and many, many others. CAUTION: This stuff 'gets your heart to jumpin' and it gets so hot it burns a hole in your undershirt!'" Right now, I'm listening to "Hometown Stomp," a 1947 instrumental that spotlights Herb Remington.

Leon Rausch and Tommy Allsup lead the current incarnation of the Texas Playboys, and they brought in some big country names -- e.g., George Jones, Porter Waggoner, Tanya Tucker, Charlie Daniels -- to sing and play on a Bob Wills 100th birthday tribute album. Rausch, Allsup, and the Playboys played New York City at the end of June -- I would love to hear from someone who was there.

This month's "Swingin' West" Internet radio show is a tribute to songwriter Cindy Walker, who passed away earlier this year.

There are two new Bob Wills CD releases on their way from Collectables Records. One is a double album due out in August -- Wills' last album with Liberty and, for the first time on CD, Capitol's "In Concert" LP. There are some tracks here that haven't been available on CD other than the ultra-comprehensive and expensive Bear Family compilations. Just out last week, but less exciting, is San Antonio Rose, a collection of ten of his most popular songs. No indication which era or eras the songs were taken from.

On Amazon, I note a planned September release for In Hollywood 1943-44.

Early this year, a 1930s radio broadcast of the Texas Playboys was released on CD. This one is on my acquisition list.

Father's Day notes

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This draft was started a couple of days after Father's Day, but I never got around to finishing it. In lieu of something more substantive tonight, here it is:

We celebrated Father's Day by taking my dad and mom to lunch at Mexicali Border Café at Main and Brady downtown. It's one of our favorite Mexican places; Mom and Dad had never been there. Great salsa (sort of halfway in texture and heat between Chimi's salsa fresca and salsa picante) and some delicious non-traditional Mexican dishes.

My wife and I had the Stuffed Carne Asada. At $13.95, it's one of the most expensive things on the menu, and we always consider getting something else (the Shrimp Acapulco is very tasty too), but we can't stand not to have this: "Fajita Steak stuffed with Melted Jack Cheese, Mushrooms, and Onions. Topped with Sautéed Pico de Gallo, Bacon and Mushrooms. Served with Rice, Borracho Beans and Saut�ed Vegetables." It's big enough and rich enough we always have enough to bring home for another meal. The sautéed vegetables (carrots, yellow squash, and zucchini) were nicely spicy and just crisp enough.

The waitress, Heather, deserves special praise. She managed to be both attentive and inobtrusive. Instead of interrupting conversation every five minutes to ask, "Everything OK?" she passed by regularly, noticed if anything needed refilling, and just took care of it. When she noticed one of us dabbing at a bit of salsa that had landed on a shirt, she brought out some club soda and some extra napkins.

I gave my dad a new sports shirt and a Johnny Cash CD. My Mother's Hymnbook is a collection of traditional hymns and gospel songs, sung with only a guitar for accompaniment. Cash recorded it in the few months between his wife's death and his own. I had come across it in the CD return shelf in the library, checked it out, and loved it. These are songs that we sang in the little Southern Baptist church I grew up in, but don't hear much in our PCA congregation: I'm Bound For The Promised Land, Softly and Tenderly, Just As I Am, When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder.

(I've found all sorts of gems on the library's CD return shelf, things I probably wouldn't have sought out on purpose: Spike Jones' Greatest Hits; Sam Cooke: The Man Who Invented Soul, a four-disc set; a two-disc set of everything Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters recorded together.)

The kids gave me a Louis Armstrong CD, a Patsy Cline CD, and the original version of Asleep at the Wheel's first Bob Wills tribute CD, along with a new clock radio that synchronizes itself to the atomic clock via shortwave.

I already had a version of this disc -- the "dance remix", which has a black cover. I bought it as motivation/reward when I refinished the kids' wood floors last summer, and I liked it, but some of the tracks (five of them, to be precise) seemed unnecessarily tarted up -- as if some producer didn't think classic Western Swing was good enough to get people out on the dance floor. On "Big Ball's in Cowtown," the dance version is almost double the length of the original, padded out with backup singers singing "Cowtown, Cowtown, we're all goin' to Cowtown" over and over and over again. Then there's the bizarre addition of the same two measures of "Yearning," digitally transposed into three different keys for the intro to the song -- somehow that made it a dance version. Similar weirdness is inflicted upon "Hubbin' It," "Corrine, Corrina," and "Old Fashioned Love." At least they left 13 of the songs alone.

I had heard the unadulterated versions of a couple of the tracks from the white-covered original edition, and put it on my wish list, a wish my wife and kids were kind enough to fulfill.

The album features famous modern country artists (e.g., George Strait, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks -- Huey Lewis, too) singing or playing Bob Wills tunes alongside Asleep at the Wheel and some of the original Texas Playboys -- Eldon Shamblin, Johnny Gimble, and Herb Remington.

"Yearning," sung on this album by Vince Gill, has become a favorite of mine. It was a Tin Pan Alley tune, published in 1925 by Benny Davis and Joe Burke. (Davis and Burke also wrote "Carolina Moon." Burke also wrote "Tiptoe through the Tulips" and "Rambling Rose." Davis also wrote "Baby Face.") Somehow this sweet little tune found its way into both the standards and Western Swing repertoires -- Nat King Cole, Tommy Dorsey, and Frank Sinatra, Spade Cooley and Bob Wills all recorded it. Merle Haggard sang it on the final album with Bob Wills (For the Last Time), but I like Gill's version a little better, if only because it includes both verses.

The songbird yearns to sing a love song.
The roses yearn just for the dew.
The whole world's yearning for the sunshine.
I have a yearning too.

Yearning just for you,
That's all I do, my dear.
Learning why I'm blue,
I wish that you were here.
Smiles have turned to tears,
Days have turned to years.
Yearning just for you,
I hope that you yearn, too.

When shadows fall and stars are beaming,
'Tis then I miss you most of all.
I fall asleep and start a-dreaming.
It seems I hear you call:

Yearning just for you,
That's all I do, my dear.
Learning why I'm blue,
I wish that you were here.
Smiles have turned to tears,
Days have turned to years.
Yearning just for you,
I hope that you yearn, too.

I've enjoyed the gifts from my children, but the greatest Father's Day gifts of all are the children themselves.

I am definitely not talking about Tulsa's sales tax vote.

This Tuesday, Merle Haggard's 1971 album, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (Or, My Salute to Bob Wills), is being re-released on CD, in tandem with his 1976 release It's All in the Movies.

Haggard's tribute to Wills is credited with a revival of interest in Western Swing music, and it marked the first reunion of Wills sidemen from the '30s, '40s, and '50s, a chance to hear these virtuosi on modern recording equipment. This album includes Johnnie Lee Wills on banjo, Eldon Shamblin on electric guitar, Johnny Gimble and Joe Holley on fiddle, Alex Brashear on trumpet, and Tiny Moore on the "biggest little instrument in the world" (mandolin -- amplified, of course). The success of this album paved the way for the recording of the legendary For the Last Time album two years later.

Last week, I checked out the library's copy of the earlier CD release, and if you'd been in our house late Friday night, you would have heard me singing along (a bit too loudly), as I worked on finishing the transfer of BatesLine to a new server.

One thing sadly missing from the library's copy were the liner notes by country music historian Rich Kienzle. Kienzle's notes are always interesting reading -- another good reason to pick up a copy of the upcoming re-release.

I don't often do these, but I found this on the Happy Homemaker's blog and thought it would be fun to try.

Answer the following questions using only the song titles from a chosen musician/band.

Band I chose: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Are you male or female? I'm a Ding-Dong Daddy from Dumas. (You oughta see me do my stuff!)

Describe yourself. I'm Human, Same As You

How do some people feel about you? Nothing But Trouble

How do you feel about yourself? Too Busy

Describe your ex: Roly Poly; Thorn in My Heart; I Laugh When I Think How I Cried over You

Describe your current significant other: I Married the Rose of San Antone

Describe where you want to be: Across the Alley from the Alamo

Describe how you live: Hubbin' It

Describe how you love: All Night Long

What would you ask for if you had just one wish? Tater Pie

Share a few words of wisdom: Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age

Now say goodbye: When You Leave Amarillo, Turn Out the Lights

Here's my contribution to the meme: Ask and answer your own question with song titles.

Q: Will There Be Any Yodeling in Heaven?

A: There'll Be No Disappointment in Heaven.

I'm not tagging anyone as such, but it would be fun to see what someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music could do with this.

UPDATE: Ol' Blue Eyes answers the questions for Mr. Hill.

It's been a busy but fun couple of days.

Friday was "Oklahoma Day" for my son's grade -- they spent the day at a little farm in the south part of town, reliving the days of early Oklahoma Territory. There was a re-enactment of the 1889 Land Run, complete with covered wagons.

When my 3rd grade class had a land run (34 years ago, on the football field at Holland Hall's 26th and Birmingham "Eight Acres" campus), it was every man for himself. Chip McElroy had a motorized covered wagon, which he built with his dad. I think I pulled my little red wagon.

My son's school was much better organized. They put the students together in "families" of three or four. My son's "family" staked one of the nicer claims in the territory, a shady spot for the picnic. The girl in the "family" was supposed to be his pretend wife, but she opted to be his pretend daughter instead, which was fine with him. (The opposite sex is still cootie-infested at that age.) The girl had an era-appropriate explanation for the lack of a mother in the family: "She died in childbirth."

After a dinner out with my in-laws, in honor of my wife's recent birthday, the in-laws headed back out of town, and our family headed up to the Osage Casino north of Sand Springs to hear Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, one of a series of free Friday night concerts. Even though kids aren't allowed in the casino, they were allowed at the concert, and I was happy that my kids got to see these legendary performers in person.

It was mainly the same line-up that played the Bob Wills' Birthday Bash at Cain's Ballroom back in March, headed up by vocalist Leon Rausch and guitarist Tommy Allsup. (Here's Leon Rausch's tour schedule for the rest of the year.)

The steel guitarist this time was Bobby Koefer, who played with Bob Wills in the '50s. (If you've seen some of Wills' musical short subjects from 1951, that's Koefer on steel. I googled and found this comment on Koefer's style: "The amazing Bobby Koefer plays bare fingered, with an odd shaped bar.")

It was a thrill to get to see and hear Koefer play. Because I was holding a baby, we were allowed to sit right on the front row. My wife was concerned about the speaker volume at that distance so before long she and the baby sat in back while the big kids and I sat up front. It was fun to watch my kids' smiles as they recognized the intros to familiar tunes (familiar in our house, anyway) like "Cherokee Maiden" and "San Antonio Rose".

As old as some of these fellows are, they still have a lot of energy to put into their music. It was a wonderful performance. It was a hoot to hear Bobby Koefer sing "Hawaiian War Chant" -- he really threw himself into it.

This morning I fulfilled my duties as one of about 400 members of the State Committee of the Oklahoma Republican Party, as we elected a new State Chairman to replace Gary Jones. Former State Auditor Tom Daxon won out over State Reps. Doug Miller and Forrest Claunch. The consensus seemed to be that there were no bad choices in the bunch.

The State Committee is made up of the chairman and vice chairman of each county party, plus a state committeeman and committeewoman from each county, and every elected Republican who serves at the State or Federal Capitol. Miller seemed to have the support of many legislators, but Daxon evidently had the support of the grassroots party officers.

Over the course of the meeting, we heard speeches from Sen. Jim Inhofe, the many candidates for the 5th Congressional District, and several candidates for the legislature. There was a gubernatorial debate at lunch between U. S. Rep. Ernest Istook, State Sen. Jim Williamson, and Tulsa businessman Bob Sullivan -- more about that tomorrow.

One of the pleasures of the meeting was getting to reconnect with fellow activists, including several folks I got to know through the 2004 Republican National Convention. (Today I wore my official 2004 delegation blazer -- navy blue with the Oklahoma Osage peace shield on the breast pocket.)

After the meeting I reconnected with Charles G. Hill of Dustbury fame, and we had a pleasant and wide-ranging conversation, as you would expect if you're a regular reader of his blog. (If you're not a regular reader of Dustbury, you're missing a treat.) Our chat made this week's Saturday Spottings, his regular roundup of observations around Oklahoma City.

Cindy Walker on film

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Well, I'm not going to get time tonight to complete my blog tribute to recently departed songwriting great Cindy Walker, and I may do a series of posts rather than one long one, but for now, here's a great find on (of course) YouTube.

Although Walker made songwriting the focus of her life, all the way to the end, she was also a heckuva singer and could dance a bit, too. Here are three musical shorts featuring Cindy Walker. (If you can't see the video image below, click here to go to video on the YouTube site.) The first one is rather topical:

  • Election Day, with Red River Dave
  • Bearcat Mountain Gal
  • Ti-Yi-Yippee-Ay, with the Red River Boys and Girls

Election Day used to be a lot more exciting.

UPDATE: These little films are called Soundies, which were made in the early '40s. They were short 16mm films projected in a jukebox-like device called a Panoram.

The unlikeliest people come together and amazing things happen, as you'll see in this article on music history:

Bob Wills recounted that first meeting with the twenty-one year old Lennon in a 1972 interview with Life magazine. "He was the scrawniest thing I ever saw. Looked like he hadn't eaten in a week. He'd been following us from town to town, hanging out at the shows with his guitar, always sitting right at the edge of the dance floor. Staring like he was studying up on us or something. The only reason I noticed him was that long hair of his. That was before it caught on, of course. He was crazy as a loon for going around wearing long hair and a leather jacket in the type of bars we was playing. But he didn't know no better....

Capital Records Press Release, September 29, 1962

Straight from the Heart of Texas comes the debut LP from The Quarrymen, the hopping new band led by Western Swing legend Bob Wills. Building on the success of their hit single, "Love Me Do," the Meet The Quarrymen LP features the future chart topper, "Please Please Me," and a revitalized take on Bob's country classic, "Faded Love."

The definitive book on the Quarrymen, we are told, is titled, Can't Buy Me Faded Love.

I think I want to live in that alternate universe.

(Truth is, though, as a guitarist, Lennon couldn't hold a candle to Eldon Shamblin or Junior Barnard. And the idea isn't that far-fetched -- Wills and Lennon were both synthesizers and syncretizers, drawing from a variety of musical genres to create a new sound. What country fiddle, cotton-patch blues and dixieland jazz were to Wills, British music hall tunes, Motown, and rockabilly were to the Beatles.)

And so are Leon Rausch and J. D. Walters and Mike Bennett and Curly Lewis and the rest of the Playboys that performed last night at Cain's Ballroom for the Bob Wills birthday bash.

I was there with my wife, our first night out since the baby. The Round-Up Boys, a good fiddle band, led off. Eddie McAlvain and the Mavericks were up next, adding some real swing to the western -- some great saxophone and fiddle solos. The Round-Up Boys and the Mavericks each played Corinne, Corinna, and the tune showcased the difference in their styles. Along with Bob Wills tunes, the Mavericks mixed in Spade Cooley's big hit, Shame on You, Wasted Days and Wasted Nights (a wasted choice of song, in my book), and Please Release Me.

District 2 Republican candidate Rick Westcott was in attendance tonight, too. Tulsa ought to have at least one city councilor with a genuine love for Western Swing music, don't you think?

Unfortunately, my wife wasn't up to making it through the whole show, -- the smoke and the volume were getting to her, I think -- so I drove her home and came back for Allsup and Rausch and the Playboys.

Tommy Allsup played some brilliant guitar solos tonight. He played lead guitar for Buddy Holly back in 1958-59 (until that night he lost the coin toss with Ritchie Valens). Tonight he played and sang Raining in My Heart.

This ensemble reminded me of Bob Wills' Playboys at their jazziest and most untamed -- the quality you hear on the Tiffany Transcriptions. If you wondered how it is that Bob is in both the Country Music and Rock'n'Roll Halls of Fame, tonight would have explained it all.

You can tell the difference between competent players who reproduce great improvisations from the past, and those who really are creating in the moment. Their playing tonight was inspired, drawing energy from the music, from the audience, and from each other. Every member of the band took some terrific solos, but Mike Bennett's trumpet work was particularly fantastic.

The other thing that made this band stand out was the fiddle section -- not just a lone fiddle, but a trio. You should've heard them on In the Mood and Maiden's Prayer.

Leon Rausch was in fine voice -- that smoky barroom voice of his.

I enjoyed hearing some favorite lesser-known tunes like Trouble in Mind and Tater Pie.

It was a thrill to get to hear the Playboys. If you ever have the chance to hear Tommy and Leon and the boys, walk, don't run.

Smoke on the Water

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You'll find a lot of patriotic and conservative sentiments expressed in country and western music. As a rebuttal to a metroconservative who bemoans conservative celebration of the culture of the common man (think NASCAR, Wal-Mart, and Blue Collar Comedy), Clinton W. Taylor presents, on the American Spectator's website, a selection of 15 "great country songs with great conservative ideas."

As his number one selection, Taylor, once a DJ at KMAD, the "Greatest Little Station in the Chickasaw Nation," picks the song Smoke on the Water. This isn't the Deep Purple song of the same name. This one was recorded in 1945 by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, and a year before that it was a hit for Red Foley. It was written by Zeke Clements and Earl Nunn.

Of this politically incorrect song, with its references to "heathen gods," Taylor writes:

If you ever set out to find out just what it would take to get yourself excommunicated from the Unitarians, I bet playing this song while you did it would help.

Here's a link to the original lyrics for Smoke on the Water, including the fierce second verse that Taylor mentions was dropped from the Bob Wills version.

(If you come back here in a day or two, you may be able to hear a bit of the song. UPDATE: As promised, for a limited time, a very low-quality 350 KB MP3.)

(If this is correct, the twin lead guitarists on that song are Jimmy Wyble and Cameron Hill.)

Country and Western is music for grownups. It's about the only current genre where you'll find songs about responsibility, fidelity, love of country, parenthood, old age, and the consequences of folly.

Taylor's description of his number 15 song reminded me of another song that deals with fidelity. A little over a year ago I first heard a Randy Travis song called On the Other Hand. The song's point of view is that of a married man who is very tempted to stray, but he musters the strength to stop and leave before he goes too far. Here's the chorus:

On the other hand, There's a golden band
To remind me of someone who would not understand
On the one hand I could stay and be your loving man
But the reason I must go is on the other hand

When I first heard that song, I was struck by the contrast with a pop song that dealt with a similar temptation -- the Beatles' Chains, by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. In Chains, the singer's love for his girlfriend binds him from going after the desirable girl to whom the song is addressed.

But in On the Other Hand, there's no hint of chains of love binding the singer to his wife -- he sings of passion that has died. Instead of being bound by emotion, he's bound by the objective fact of his vows before God and man, symbolized by that golden band on the other hand. Instead of passion being trumped by stronger passion, as in the Beatles' song, here you have passion being subjected to duty by an act of the will. And that is very much a conservative idea.

Bottle Baby Boogie


The baby has been very busy. He/she must know that the big day is close at hand. A comment from my wife: "Imagine what feels like to have your belly button scraped... and stretched... from the inside." Your prayers for a safe delivery -- and for some good sleep before then -- would be appreciated.

I will announce the winners of the baby naming contest sometime by the end of the week. In the meantime, I will leave you with my favorite Western Swing song about babies -- from 1953, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys performing Bottle Baby Boogie. (1 MB low quality audio, soon to be removed)


(Bottle baby boogie)
I'm walkin' the floor.
(Bottle baby boogie)
Ain't gonna do it no more.
I told my wife, and I don't mean maybe,
This ain't gonna be no bottle baby.

Well, rock-a-bye baby, I'm still a-singin'.
When the baby starts cryin' my ears start ringin'.
My wife told me today,
"I got news for ya, honey, there's another on the way."

I fixed his bottles and I warmed his milk.
Things went along just as smooth as silk.
There'll be some changes made and not on the baby,
'Cause this 'un is yours and I don't mean maybe.

My fingers are sore from using safety pins,
While my wife just sits, looks, and grins.
And I'll hear those words 'til my dyin' day:
"I got news for ya, honey, there's another on the way."

That's Bob's baby brother Billy Jack Wills on the vocals, and on the solos you'll hear Billy Bowman and Vance Terry on steel guitar, Skeeter Elkin on piano, Eldon Shamblin on electric guitar, Jesse Ashlock on fiddle, and Jack Greenbach on drums. Billy Jack had his own successful western swing band based out of Sacramento in the early '50s -- even though this is Bob's band, this song gives you a good sense of Billy Jack's band's sound. (I just bought this album of songs from radio transcriptions -- his sound is a lot closer to rockabilly than the delta blues and Texas fiddle sound of his big brother. You can hear one song from the album, Caravan -- which isn't really very rockabilly -- played as bumper music for WFMU DJ Moshik Temkin. It's about 2 hours, 16 minutes into this archived broadcast.)

One last thing: There's potential for a parody of this song, if you substitute "Ezzo" for "Bottle" -- "told my wife, and I don't mean maybe, this ain't gonna be no Ezzo baby." Maybe Discoshaman and TulipGirl and the folks at ezzo.info can work up the rest of the lyrics.

I've added a couple of photos to the entry about Friday's lecture on the life and music of Bob Wills: my five-year-old, in her western skirt and boots, with Ray Benson and Jason Roberts of Asleep at the Wheel. She enjoyed the lecture, and that evening when we listened to my new Bob Wills CDs, she recognized the songs she had heard Ray and Jason play that morning.

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.

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.

Greetings from Oklahoma

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I first became aware of Bear Family Records a year or so ago, as I looked at the list of Texas Playboys albums for sale on Amazon. At the top of the list in terms of price and quantity was a box set called "San Antonio Rose" featuring 11 CDs, one DVD, and a hardbound book, retailing for about $300, and containing just about everything Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys recorded from the beginning until 1947, when the band left Columbia Records. Browsing the catalog at Barnes and Noble, I noticed that earlier this year Bear Family issued a second box set, "Faded Love," covering the rest of 1947 through Bob Wills' last recording in 1973 -- 13 CDs and one DVD. It also runs about $300 retail.

Bear Family has a reputation for scouring the archives for hidden treasures, including alternate takes and unreleased music, to produce the most comprehensive collections imaginable. Their latest releases include a 7-CD set of the Everly Brothers from 1960-1965, a collection of 200 versions of the German song Lili Marleen, and the latest in a series of DVDs from the 1950s Los Angeles-based country music TV show, "Town Hall Party."

Another new release from this fall is "Greetings from Oklahoma," one in a series of discs of songs that mention the state or places in the state in the title. So far they've also covered Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Hawaii, and Alabama. A writer for Bear Family Records (based in Germany) explains the rationale behind the series:

States have separate identities that help Americans distinguish themselves from one another. When 'Tonight Show' host Jay Leno happens to mention the name of a state during his nightly monologue, it's usually followed by scattered but wild cheering from the audience. Everyone understands. That noisy response is telling millions of people, "I'm from there! I'm so proud of being from Tennessee or Alabama or Virginia that I'm sitting here shouting and applauding like a fool." Being proud of where you come from is a passionate business and sometimes that pride just can't be contained by national borders. This series is all about regional pride ("I'm an American, hell yes! But I'm also a Texan!").

(In light of that, I'm amazed that "You're from Texas" didn't make it into the Texas collection.)

The Oklahoma disc includes well-known songs like Bob Wills' "Take Me Back to Tulsa," Hank Thompson's "Oklahoma Hills," and Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee." There's "The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma," one of my favorite Sons of the Pioneers songs -- I think I first heard it on a late '70s Oklahoma tourism commercial. (The tourism department also used an instrumental version of "Everyone's Gone to the Moon" around the same time -- a pretty tune, but you don't want potential visitors to think of lunar landscapes when they think of your state.) And the collection includes Leon McAuliffe's version of "Tulsa Straight Ahead." Tulsa has those two songs on the album, but Oklahoma City only gets one mention, tied with Muskogee, Henryetta, and Moffet. The collection has both kinds of music -- country AND western -- no Gene Pitney, Eric Clapton, or Rodgers & Hammerstein.

There at the last


Today I came across this heartwarming, bittersweet account by western swing fiddler and vocalist Jody Nix of the 1973 recording of the album "Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys: For the Last Time," an album that Joel of On the Other Foot has rightly judged "duff-free."

Musical puns

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A groanworthy music theory joke, which starts like this:

A 'C,' an E-flat, and a 'G' go into a bar. The bartender says: "Sorry,but we don't serve minors." So the E-flat leaves, and the C and the G have an open fifth between them....

It gets worse, thankfully.

How I found the above joke: I noticed I had a couple of visits from a Technorati search for "Bob Wills", so I went to see who else was blogging about the Man from Turkey, Texas, and found this entry, which includes this bit of wisdom:

Anyone who doesn't want to dance (however badly) while listening to western swing has a heart made of stone.


The blogger responsible for that sententia sapiens is a clarinet teacher from Fort Worth who reads Latin for fun, has a crush on George Will, loves puns, chicken fried steak, modern art, chips and salsa, grand opera, Dr. Pepper, and Whittaker Chambers' Witness, which book is the topic of her most recent entry. Only in the blogosphere....

Dang it, Bobby! I've got some serious political blogging to do and you go and distract me.

Bobby at Tulsa Topics took advantage of a sleepless night to go searching through Google Print -- Google's attempt at making dead-tree knowledge searchable.

He finds this: San Antonio Rose, a biography of Bob Wills by Charles Townsend.

I searched the text for KVOO* and found an interesting story about the sponsorship of the Texas Playboys' daily half-hour broadcast in 1935. Wills bought the time from the station ($12,000 for the year), then worked out a deal with a flour company:

Wills did not actually sell the show to the Red Star Milling Company. He wanted them to develop a new flour, to be labelled, appropriately, Play Boy flour, and advertise it only on his radio program. With such a procedure, they could determine just what results the show got. The company was to pay Wills a royalty for each barrel of flour sold. The contract was signed, and Play Boy flour was marketed for the first time in November 1935. In twenty-four months, Play Boy flour was selling as well as brands that had been on the market for forty years.

That's just a taste -- there was Play Boy Bread, performances at grocery store openings and bakers' conventions, and, in sacks of Play Boy flour, a picture of one of the Playboys and his favorite recipe. And there's even a song written by a fan in tribute to Play Boy flour.

(*That KVOO, 1170 on your AM dial, changed call letters and formats three years ago, and is now KFAQ, on which you can hear me Monday mornings at 6:10. One of KFAQ's FM sister stations kept the KVOO call letters. I wish the AM blowtorch had kept KVOO, too. Given what the letters stand for, KVOO seems appropriate for a news/talk station.)

MORE on Google Print: Eldon Shamblin remembers his early days with Bob Wills in The Jazz of the Southwest: An Oral History. And there was a sort of Texas Playboys farm system, which you'll read about in Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing, and Country Jazz.

Tulsa roundup

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Roemerman on Record will be quiet for a while, as Steve Roemerman is off to Gretna, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi from New Orleans, with a group from his church to help Convoy of Hope. We'll keep Steve in our prayers and look forward to his report when he returns.

Our Tulsa World has added more video clips from Mayor Bill LaFortune's September 6 third-penny meeting at the Zarrow Library. This is a great service that Mr. Schuttler is doing by filming, converting, and posting these video clips. Too often the claims and promises made in this sort of meeting are lost to history. His summary of the meeting puts the clips in context. In another entry he has the response from Mayor LaFortune and Fire Chief Allen LaCroix to the question, "Are we prepared if Keystone Dam breaks?"

MeeCiteeWurkor has a special comments thread just for registering your opinion of the Tulsa Whirled. He's asking for submissions in a contest -- things you can do with a Tulsa Whirled. And he's about to add a new contributor to the blog.

City Councilor Chris Medlock has a recent entry on his proposal regarding the sales tax money currently going to Tulsa County for "4 to Fix the County." He says that the county is fixed now, and between the Vision 2025 sales tax and rising property taxes, the county is well fixed for funds. By denying a renewal of the 2/12ths cent "4 to Fix" sales tax, City of Tulsa voters could opt to pass the same size sales tax at the city level and earmark it for public safety.

Another noteworthy item on MedBlogged cites two Tulsa Whirled City Hall stories, one from 2002, one from last week. The March 2002 story has Mayor-elect Bill LaFortune saying he plans to have a direct, face-to-face relationship with the City Council, which lines up with my recollection of my first meeting with LaFortune as he started his run for office. The September 2005 story has councilors, including recently-elected Bill Martinson, complaining that LaFortune won't deal directly with the Council on issues like the new third-penny proposal.

Tulsa Downtown reports that new clubs are opening in the Blue Dome district.

Tulsa newcomer Joe Kelley has been trying the immersion approach to understanding his new hometown, and he's posted a list of some of the people he's met with so far, and would like suggestions for others he ought to talk to. About a week and a half ago, I introduced him to the tawook at La Roma Pizza (a Lebanese restaurant disguised as a pizzeria), and we had a very enjoyable conversation. He seems to be a very astute observer and a quick study.

Tulsa Topics has an audio tribute to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, including their radio theme song, "Okie Boogie," "Cadillac in my Model A," and tributes by The Tractors and Asleep at the Wheel. One thing I love about Bob Wills songs -- you don't need liner notes, because Bob tells you who's playing as the song proceeds.

As always, you'll find the latest and greatest entries from blogs about Tulsa news on the Tulsa Bloggers aggregation page.

Some Bob Wills links

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It's fun sometimes to try out the searches that lead people here and see where else they lead. A search for "Bob Wills music clips" led me to a Google directory page for the King of Western Swing, and that led me to:

You'll find more Bob Wills links in this entry from the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Goin' away party


I asked for, but didn't receive, any Western Swing music on CD for Father's Day -- it's hard to find in the stores -- so when I was in Best Buy in Little Rock last week, I looked to see if they had anything interesting. The choice was between "Bob Wills: For the Last Time" and Asleep at the Wheel's "Ride with Bob". Hmm. The former seemed a little too sad to bear thinking about -- it was recorded in December 1973 just before (the very day) Bob Wills suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma, in which he lingered until his death in 1975. The latter -- well, the playlist includes some of the great Texas Playboys hits, and I love Asleep at the Wheel, but the use of big-name country stars (and some crossovers from other genres, like the Squirrel Nut Zippers -- which name makes me wince) seemed too gimmicky.

Nevertheless, I picked "Ride with Bob". A full review will have to wait, but I'm glad I did. It brightened the long drive home, and it's getting a lot of play since I got back. (My son has been thoroughly amused at dad wearing headphones and singing along to "Cherokee Maiden", which features some clever lyrics and catchy drumwork.) Most of the selections struck the right balance between faithfulness to the spirit of the original recordings and bringing something fresh to the music. It reflects the tremendous respect that the guest artists have for Bob Wills.

The surprise of the album was the final selection: Willie Nelson, backed by the Manhattan Transfer, singing "Goin' Away Party." The song was written by Cindy Walker, whose 70-year-and-counting songwriting career includes the aforementioned "Cherokee Maiden," "Dream Baby," and that classic of unconfessed, unrequited love, "You Don't Know Me." The song was written for the aforementioned "For the Last Time" album.

(Here's a touching account of a 2004 tribute to Cindy Walker -- at age 85, she sang and danced, too. Here are some photos of the event.)

The song opens with a bit of lush Santo-and-Johnny-esque guitar, a pair of melancholy fiddles, and then the ooohs of the Manhattan Transfer bring in Willie's lead vocal.

I don't always enjoy Willie Nelson as a vocalist, but it was his hit with Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" and his "Stardust" album that introduced me to the Great American Songbook, and he brings the same sensibility to this piece. The cracks and trembles in his voice fit the heartbreaking lyrics:

I'm throwin'
A goin' away party,
A party for a dream of mine.
So put me somewhere off in a corner
With a glass and bottle of your party wine.

Don't worry --
It won't be a loud party
I feel too low to get too high.
It's just a sad goin' away party
For a dream that I'm tellin' goodbye.

I'm throwin'
A goin' away party,
A party for a dream of mine.
Nobody's comin' but a heartache
And some tears will drop in now most any time.

Don't worry --
It won't be a loud party.
Dreams don't make noise when they die.
It's just a sad goin' away party
For a dream that I'm tellin' goodbye.

Goodness! You can almost feel yourself choking back the sobs -- "Dreams don't make noise when they die." Which is true.

My kids are too blessedly, blissedly young to understand what this song is about. I wish I still were. The other day they saw a "Feats of Strength" demonstration at the library -- a secularized, motivational version of "The Power Team". The speaker bent an inch-thick bar of steel in his teeth, broke through some bricks with his fist, among other feats designed to illustrate concepts like perseverance and resisting peer pressure.

My son told me about one feat involving a tug-of-war: The point was to hold on to your dreams as other people try to snatch them away from you. I was afraid for a moment that my son might ask me what my dreams are, and I didn't want to have to tell him that I don't have any anymore. I have high hopes for him and his sister, of course, but I am at the point in my life where my course is pretty well locked in from here on out. Life at 41 is about fulfilling responsibilities, not dreaming of possibilities, and the few flights of fancy I've allowed myself have crashed and burned. It's safer not to dream, and eventually, mercifully, you forget how. A song like "Goin' Away Party" makes the disillusionment a little easier to take, knowing you're not the only one who's said farewell to your dreams.

A lyric from Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys that cheered me more than once back in college....

I laugh when I think how I cried over you,
Cried over dreams that weren't meant to come true.
I smile 'cause I know that it's better this way,
And I've found someone else to love,
So go on your lonely way.

The only price I had to pay
Was the few tears that I shed,
And I found out that I need you
Like I need a hole in my head.

When I found out you lied,
Something real inside me died,
And I laugh when I think how I cried over you.

Bob Wills clips

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Here is a minute-long clip of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys playing "Ida Red." (That's Bob playing fiddle -- anyone know who the guitarist and vocalist were?)

You can watch the trailer of the documentary film "Faded Love". The clip includes reminiscences by fans who saw him play and remember it as if it were yesterday and by musicians who worked with him.

UPDATE (4/29/2006): That "Ida Red" clip is one of a series that were filmed in 1951 for television filler. Some were issued as "Snader Transcriptions." There's a bunch of these shorts included with the 100th Birthday Special Edition of "Still Swingin'", a DVD documentary about Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. The band was Joe Holley on fiddle (left-handed!), Cotton Whittington on standard guitar (another lefty!), Bobby Koefer on steel guitar (he still plays the same way 55 years later!), Joe Frank Ferguson on bass, Skeeter Elkin on piano, Paul McGhee on drums, and Joe Andrews doing the vocal. On a couple of the shorts, yodeler Carolina Cotton sings with Bob, and on one (Blue Prelude) Joe Ferguson sings and Joe Andrews plays bass.

Bob Wills blogging

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From the Sundries Shack:

Everyone here who has heard of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys raise your hands.


Now the rest of you go out and find one of Wills� CDs, listen to it, then come back here and tell the class just how cool Western Swing really is and how it�s physically impossible to feel bad when you�re listening to it.

From SFist, in response to Charles Barkley's complaint about country music in the NBA All-Star Game half-time program:

Now, we at SFist have always liked the Round Mound of Rebound, even when he balled all over the Warriors in the 1994 playoffs, but we were a little bummed out by his larger point: most popular country music sucks. It sucks because it's homogeneous. It's produced for an audience with geographic, racial and economic boundaries, and it (i.e. the music, but now that you mention it much of the audience, too) has little to no regard for what else goes on in music, culture, or really anything. And don't get us started on alt.country, which seems to abide by the following imperative more than anything else: As soon as you're famous or important, stop making records that are fun, or sound like they were fun to make.

If you agree with Sir Charles, too, if you long for boundary-crossing or brio or fun in country-western music, if you are as annoyed by the whole thing as SFist (we annoy pretty easily, so we're skeptical of that last), git along to San Francisco State University the next three Tuesdays (March first, eighth and fifteenth) to celebrate Bob Wills at 100. The inventor of "Western Swing," Bob Wills combined country music with Nawlins jazz, blues, ragtime and traditional Mexican music. He and his Texas Playboys came up with a style that swung just as hard playing "Basin Street Blues" and "Take the 'A' Train" as it did playing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Hey, Good Lookin'." They came out of the small-groups jazz tradition that gave us Louis Armstrong's greatest work, with the Hot Fives and Sevens, and their bandstand improvisation foreshadowed groups like the JBs and the Meters.

Here's a link to that San Francisco State program on Bob Wills. Anything like that happening here in Tulsa?

The Hypothetical Wren wonders about the lyrics of "Roly Poly":

I was listening to this song on the iPod while I was walking home this morning, and thought, how many songs these days would include the phrase "Daddy's little fatty" in them? As a compliment? Of course, this kid was obviously walking and doing strenuous yard work, so the "bread and jelly 20 times a day" were probably a good idea: the kid was tired. He needed bread, not to mention "corn and taters."

And finally, here's a little something I wrote last November, which includes a little reminiscence from my grandfather. (Grandpa told me once that he didn't dance much at those performances -- he preferred cuddling in a dark corner.)

Happy 100th, Bob


We miss you, Bob, more and more every day.

Faded Love: The DVD


Was looking at Asleep at the Wheel's tour schedule and found a link to the official Bob Wills website, bobwills.com. The site sells a documentary about the King of Western Swing, entitled "Faded Love," available in DVD or VHS formats, and you can watch a lengthy trailer for the DVD here. The trailer includes, toward the end, the theme song from the Texas Playboys radio show. There are some funny and touching comments from folks who remember seeing him and his Texas Playboys perform back in the day.

My grandfather told a story about seeing the Texas Playboys at a dance half way between Bartlesville and Nowata. This would have been back in the late '30s. A fight broke out on the dance floor, and Grandpa found a place to sit on the stage, where he figured he'd be clear of the brawl.

Nowadays there aren't too many folks left who performed with Bob his own self, although there are plenty of musicians who played with musicians who played with Bob.

I am within three degrees of Bob Wills. I've sung in public with my wife. My wife played fiddle on TV with guitarist Eldon Shamblin. Eldon not only played guitar with Bob, he served Bob as manager of the Texas Playboys.

(That TV appearance was in September 1989, on "Oklahoma's Swinging Country," a weekly half-hour show on the Rogers State College TV station. That half-hour show took six hours to get on tape. Debbie Campbell sang on the show, J. D. Walters played steel guitar, and Darrell Magee played piano and served as host.)

NOTE: Started this last week. Wanted to add photos, but it was not to be -- haven't had time to edit them down to a reasonable size.

Thursday afternoon (June 17) I took off work and we drove up old 66 to Miami to see Light Opera Oklahoma's road performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore". Yes, we could have seen it in Tulsa, but I have always wanted a look inside Miami's Coleman Theatre Beautiful and thought it would be wonderful to see a performance there.

First stop was the Blue Whale in Catoosa. I remember a field trip to Hugh Davis's ARK (Animal Reptile Kingdom) as a second grader at Catoosa Elementary School, and after the whale was built and opened to the public, I remember our family going to swim there. You can't swim there any more, but the Davis family has opened the whale and the grounds to the public for looking around and picnicking. Joe and I climbed up the ladder into the top of the whale to look out the portholes. The souvenir stand was closed when we visited -- they sell blue whale souvenirs and sets of old postcards from the roadside attraction's heyday in the '60s. I was pleased to see how well-kept the place is.

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