Western Swing: March 2010 Archives

(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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Western Swing category from March 2010.

Western Swing: February 2010 is the previous archive.

Western Swing: April 2010 is the next archive.

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