Bob Wills is Still the King

Hot Club of Cowtown is coming to play in my town this fall.  Hot Club is a great “hot jazz” acoustic trio out of Austin that I played a bit on my volunteer radio DJ gig at KRFC-FM in Fort Collins.  I’ve had some folks on my playlists come visit nearby, but this is a first in walking distance.

I am thrilled!

Listening thru some of their tunes got me thinking about Bob Wills and this thing called Western Swing.  Wikipedia says:

Western swing is a style of popular music that evolved in the 1920s in the American Southwest among the region’s popular Western string bands. Fundamentally an outgrowth of jazz, much Western swing is dance music with an up-tempo beat consisting of an eclectic combination of rural, cowboy, polka, and folk music, New Orleans jazz, or Dixieland, and blues blended with a jazzy “swing” and played by a hot string band often augmented with drums, saxophones, pianos and, notably, the steel guitar. Later incarnations have also included overtones of bebop. The similarities between Western swing and Gypsy jazz are often noted.

Hot Club isn’t easy to classify—they are not fit for Country Radio by anyone’s standard, but they don’t fit so neatly into my standard library of Americana and artists even if they are charting on Americana Radio.  Maybe it’s the jazz influence, or my ignorance of the legacy of jazz.  One thing I do know:  Hot Club does fit in somewhere, right in that spot on my playlist reserved for the legacy of good old Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys

Wills, born in Texas in 1905, came to be known as the King of Western Swing.  Taking elements of traditional country music pioneered by the likes of Jimmie Rodgers, he cranked up the tempo with his string band for the hoot-hollerin’ dance halls of Texas and Oklahoma in the 1930s.  After World War II, the legendary fiddler conquered California, but eventually rock and roll won the war.  Wills died back in Texas in 1975.

Or did he?  The makers of the documentary video above believe Wills is very much alive, in spirit if not in person.  He can be heard in dance halls and fiddlers’ contests across America;  seen in the legacy of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and George Strait;  felt in the scruffy old boots of cowboys around the world.

No question about it, Waylon knew what he was talking about.  Wherever real live authentic roots music is played, Bob Wills is still the king.


On Bob WillsBob Wills & the Texas Playboys 

(h/t to CatMcC from KRFC for the video link.  Fiddle on.)


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1 Response to Bob Wills is Still the King

  1. John says:

    Washington City Paper has a Q&A with Ray Benson, from long-time western swing band Asleep at the Wheel.
    “RB: The mantle of Western Swing is an all-inclusive one. We can play blues, jazz…fiddle music, anything that we want to play. The definition of Western Swing is more focused on instrumentation and style. In other words, I can play a Count Basie song, I can play a Dylan song, a Willie Nelson song, and I can play a Ray Benson song. The common thread is that we use fiddles, steel guitar [not pedal], piano, bass, drums, and a horn or two and that’s the instrumentation that defines a Western Swing band. What we can play is wide and varied as long as it fits into that instrumentation.”

    Hat tip to The9513 blog

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