Western Swing: January 2007 Archives


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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Western Swing category from January 2007.

Western Swing: December 2006 is the previous archive.

Western Swing: February 2007 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]