Western Swing: December 2006 Archives

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Western Swing category from December 2006.

Western Swing: November 2006 is the previous archive.

Western Swing: January 2007 is the next archive.

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