Western Swing: November 2008 Archives

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Western Swing category from November 2008.

Western Swing: October 2008 is the previous archive.

Western Swing: December 2008 is the next archive.

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