Bob Wills (1905-1975) was a fiddle player, songwriter and bandleader from rural west Texas. His band, Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys, achieved great regional popularity, in the thirties in Oklahoma and the greater Southwest, and in the forties in California and the west coast. Not generally the lead singer, his distinctive cries and calls to band members are unmistakable.
The Texas Playboys played Western swing, a simple, danceable big band music. Wills and another fiddler often state the melody in the first verse, and then return in the last stanza with another faithful reading of the melody. He does not improvise, but his supporting cast — piano, horns, and electric string instruments — all contribute short, swinging solos as dictated by Wills.
“Western swing is nothing more than a group of talented country boys, unschooled in music, but playing the music they feel, beating a solid two-four rhythm to the harmonies that buzz around their brains. When it escapes in all its musical glory, my friend, you have Western swing.”
— Merle Travis
Why is Bob Wills wearing a gun?
Here the Texas Playboys play “Ida Red”. Chuck Berry cites “Ida Red” as the basis for his first hit, “Maybellene”.
“From a background of old-time fiddling and the ragtime-flavored string-band music of the Southwest, he blended these strains with the jazz and blues that had fascinated him since his childhood — he would later claim that he was influenced by the songs of black workers alongside him in the cottonfields — and devised a hybrid country band music more instrumentally diverse, more omniverous of repertoire, than anything that had gone before. Western swing became, like bluegrass, a musical dialect…”
— Phil Hardy & Dave Laing, “The Faber Companion to 20th-Century Popular Music”
Here Bob Wills sings “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”, a folk blues originally by the Mississippi Sheiks:
These videos are fascinating; sharing another seems the right idea. Bob Wills is surprisingly quiet in two of the first three videos. Virtually every recorded song includes his trademark cries of approval. In this video we see the Texas Playboys playing their best remembered song, “San Antonio Rose”:
(I used to have a better video of this song, but now it’s gone.)
I have an old, talkative cat, Pandora, who grew up in our talkative family. Reach down and pat her on the back, maybe give her a little squeeze, and Panny will bleat in response. That’s what Bob Wills reminds me of.
A little bit of Bob Wills goes a long way. I have trimmed the collection down to thirteen important songs. The album Legends of Country Music: The Best of Bob Wills is an excellent place to start. My favorite versions of “Faded Love” is found on volume 2, and “Basin Street Blues” on volume 3 of The Tiffany Transcriptions.
Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys Songs:
Faded Love, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭✭✭
Basin Street Blues, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭✭✭
New San Antonio Rose, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭✭
Cherokee Maiden, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭✭
Stay A Little Longer, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭✭
Red Hot Gal Of Mine, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭✭
Corrine Corrina, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭✭
Roly Poly, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭✭
Take Me Back To Tulsa, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭✭
Three Guitar Special, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭✭
Steel Guitar Rag, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭
Barnard Blues, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭
Ida Red, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ✭
Maybellene, Chuck Berry ✭✭✭✭
Stay A Little Longer, Willie Nelson ✭✭
Corrina, Corrina, Bob Dylan ✭✭✭
Basin Street Blues, Louis Armstrong ✭✭✭
Basin Street Blues, Sidney Bechet ✭✭
Pussy, Pussy, Pussy, Light Crust Doughboys ✭