Western Swing: March 2011 Archives

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Western Swing category from March 2011.

Western Swing: February 2011 is the previous archive.

Western Swing: April 2011 is the next archive.

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