was born on this date in 1905.
You can see the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee,
It’s the home of country music, on that we all agree.
But when you cross that ole Red River, hoss,
that just don’t mean a thing,
‘Cause once you’re down in Texas,
Bob Wills is still the King.
(‘Bob Wills Is Still The King’ by Waylon Jennings)
Bob Wills was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1968 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. The following is from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Detail:
Bob Wills was the driving force behind Western Swing, a form of country & western that was broader in scope than the parent genre. A master at synthesizing styles, Wills brought jazz, hillbilly, boogie, blues, big-band swing, rhumba, mariachi, jitterbug music and more under his ecumenical umbrella. He has been called “the King of Western Swing” and “the first great amalgamator of American music.”
Wills grew up in a part of Texas where diverse cultures and forms of music overlapped. His enthusiasm and mastery were such that he assimilated disperate genres into what might best be termed American music. (Wills called it “Texas fiddle music.”) “We’re the most versatile band in America,” Wills forthrightly asserted in 1944. He might’ve added that they were most innovative band as well. Certainly, they forced country music to open up in its acceptance of electric instruments. Even rock and roll’s freewheeling spirit of stylistic recombination has antecedents in the work of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.
Wills was born into a family of fiddlers that included his father, John Wills, who regularly won Texas fiddling competitions. Bob Wills learned how to play fiddle and mandolin from his father. As a young man, Wills performed at house dances, medicine shows and on the radio. With commercial sponsorship, Wills’ bands performed on radio in the early Thirties as the Aladdin Laddies (for the Aladdin Lamp Co.) and the Light Crust Doughboys (for Light Crust Flour). Following a salary dispute, Wills renamed his band the Texas Playboys and relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he had a live radio show. This exposure led to a contract with American Recording Corp. (later absorbed into Columbia Records).
In 1935, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys laid down 24 tunes during their historic first session at a makeshift recording studio in Dallas. The group recorded prolifically in the late Thirties and early Forties, laying down such classics as “Steel Guitar Rag” (written by Leon McAuliffe, the Texas Playboys’ longtime steel guitar player), “Take Me Back to Tulsa” and Wills’ signature song, “New San Antonio Rose.” Their biggest hit, “New Spanish Two Step,” topped the country charts for 16 weeks in 1946. Wills’ mix of horns, fiddles and steel guitar made for a uniquely swinging sound that grabbed the public’s ear at mid-century. The Texas Playboys always had fine singers like Tommy Duncan and Leon McAuliffe, and Wills punctuated the tunes with jive talking, falsetto asides and cries of “ah-ha!” He’d call out soloists by name and instrument, good-naturedly goading them on to rollicking performances.
In terms of personnel, the Texas Playboys expanded and contracted like an accordion over the years, according to Wills’ desires and the whims of the market. At one point the Texas Playboys were 22 pieces strong, although the band more typically numbered between 9 and 18 members. There were personnel changes and musical shifts as Wills struggled to adapt to the changing face of America in the postwar era. Nonetheless, there was always a solid core of loyal regulars in the Texas Playboys. After leaving Columbia in 1947, Wills continued to record prolifically for such labels as MGM, Decca, Longhorn and Kapp. The group also toured the country and often performed at a Wills-owned dancehall in Sacramento, California.
Would I like to go to Tulsa, you bet your boots I would.
Just let me off at Archer, and I’ll walk down to Greenwood.
Take me back to Tulsa, I’m too young to marry.
(‘Take Me Back To Tulsa’ by Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan)