Pencil Stubs Online
Reader Recommends


A Short History of Western Swing

By Leocthasme

Part I

What's Western Swing?

When did I get interested in music? Well, I guess when I was growing up in the '30s. I had to go to a boarding school in a little town in Western Illinois, Nauvoo, that is. Population about then, maybe 200. So, what did a little kid in a little town, Nauvoo, do?

If I told anybody today what a kid of 8, 9 or 10 could buy from mail order catalogues then, they probably would say, "No way". But, I could send for gun and knife catalogues, hunting and target pistol catalogues, and, among others, radio and "electronic" (I don't know if "electronic" was a widely used word then) catalogues. Thank God, Guardian Angels and whatever else were out there then watching over me, I was only interested in radios, electronics of the time, and music (not playing it, but listening to it). Oh yes, I did send away for a couple of hunting knives and a scout knife or two during my young life, but they were indispensable items to a little boy in a little town.

But, what I really got all spaced out about was crystal radio sets, horse hairs, cat whiskers, and other little pieces of wirey substance. Crystals and radio parts I could send for, horse hairs, cat whiskers, and other wirey substance, I could find anywhere in Nauvoo. That combination brought in all sorts of radio stations (don't ask me how it worked, but it did). Chicago and Saint Louis came in like a charm, especially late, very late, at night and early, very early, in the morning. I used to duck way down under the covers with my ear phones and crystal set so the wardens (Sisters) couldn't hear.

So, what did I hear very late and very early? Here's what! Did you know you could send off for a hundred baby chicks for two to three bucks? Beef and pork, on the hoof, was selling for about twenty bucks per hundred pounds. The Chicago Worlds Fair was raking in a hundred thousand bucks a day. A bunch of mean, mad, "mamas" wanted Sally Rand to wear tar with her feathered fans. Mae West and her comedy routine about Adam and Eve got banned from radio, but I heard it on the illegal Mexican stations that would come in very late at night. And, throughout every fifteen minutes of choice information, advertising, market reports and news I heard music, "Western Swing" that is. Those great big powerful, illegal (because they used more than 100,000 watts to beam out their broadcasts), across-the-border stations would play one song, and then advertise or inform for about 15 minutes before you would hear another Western Swing tune. (Always Western Swing because they copped it right off the local Texas stations.)

And, just for all you music-illiterates out there who want to know,
"Yeah, OK, so what's Western Swing?"

Simply put, it was "Regional Music."

"OK, you got me on that one, lay some more on me."

"Regional Music" has long been a feature of the American scene. The vastness of the country and its varied population has contributed to this pattern and the trend continues to the present time Like, you know (did that on purpose), sophisticated easterners, midwestern hoosiers, hicks and hillbillies, rednecks, and far out westerners. The mass media and the American way of life give the impression that all Americans are alike and maybe the impression is somewhat a reality. But, even within the narrow limits of new Rock and Modern Music there are a surprising number of cultural variants.

Starting in the late '20s and early '30s, in the vast southwest, especially Texas and Oklahoma, and Louisiana somewhat also, a new form of dance music was being developed. It came from many ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Some were country boys who played music by ear, others were big city musicians who were interested in orchestration and jazz. It all came together in the bad years of the depression to develop into what is now commonly called "Swing Music" and divisionally called "Western Swing".

The elements of what went into this music are easily identifiable. The rage, at that time, all over the country was "Swing". White and black bands, Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and others were widely heard on radio, records, and personal appearances. Texas had its own heritage and the influence of blues, fiddle music, and ragtime was strong in this new music. The Texas boys used to hit town on Saturday and run to the furniture store which also sold records. There they listened to the "race" and "blues" music, and copied the lyrics to fit their own music to them. An old example is "Swing Blues #1", a tune recorded in the early 30's, by Bob Wills with some of his early band members, that incorporates 'race' and 'blues' into a Texas style fiddle, dance tune with bluesy words.

The father of country music, Jimmy Rodgers, was one of the most influential recording artists, and his style can easily be heard. Mexican Border music, Cajun music, German, Czech, and New Orleans Jazz, and of course the Anglo-American fiddling tradition can be heard through it all.

Not only musical traditions and heritages blended to make "Western Swing", but a number of remarkable musicians must take credit for making this music. The Daddy of them all, of course, was Bob Wills. Bob's ability to please audiences and to gather good musicians around himself, made him popular and he was on his way to fame.

Bob Wills, Herman Arnspiger ("Pig", you'll hear Bob 'holler' on some of his recordings) and Milton Brown (The Brownies) were broadcasting over KTAT in Fort Worth and soon were in demand to advertise Light Crust Flour. The band named "The Light Crust Doughboys" managed by Lee O'Daniel came into being early in 1930 and Bob stayed until 1933. At that time Bob started a band he first called "The Playboys" and when he moved to Oklahoma on Station WKY he changed the name to "The Texas Playboys". That name stood until Bob Wills died in 1975. In 1934 Bob moved the band to Tulsa, OK (KVOO) and bought his own radio time and advertised for General Mills. Leon McAuliffe joined the Playboys as a teenager and became a master at playing an amplified steel string guitar.

Leon first tried an acoustic guitar on his lap and changed the gut strings to steel and hooked up batteries and amplifier wires to that. It's said he had a few burned fingers on occasion, but he became an innovator and master of the later pedal steel guitar. Leon has some takes on an album "Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, For The Last Time" which was recorded by United Artist on Dec 3, and 4, 1973 in Dallas, TX. Bob was with the Playboys at this recording and when it was about finished he had a stroke from which he never recovered, which makes this recording somewhat of a 'keeper'. Although Leon recorded on his own between the '30s and '70s, he started with and ended with the Playboys.

Bob Wills learned to combine the folk-fiddle music he had learned from his father with black jazz and blues he heard on the records at the furniture stores, to develop his own style of dance music. After forming the Playboys band, with good musicians, and his own improvisations, he fathered "Western Swing". Eventually Bob Wills (Bob referred to his music as "Western Dance Music") incorporated every jazz idiom, blue note, syncopation, improvisation, and a heavy New Orleans Dixieland beat into his music. Bob Wills' music could, just as well, have been called "Western Jazz". It was the jazz that made Bob's 'Western Dance Music' swing.

Western Swing made a strong impact on the pop charts, especially during and after WWII and radio helped spread its popularity until TV became the mass media. But you could still hear it, late at night, on those high powered, illegal Mexican stations over the border in Del Rio, TX and Baja, CA. Later, after my school years, I could listen, late at night and early in the morning, on my Hallicrafters™ [better than crystals and cat whiskers (hope I spelled that ™ name right)] aboard a Merchant Ship all the way across the Pacific during WWII and the Korean War. And, I listened, late at night, while driving my rig between Alexander City, Alabama and Worland, Wyoming, and other interesting places between "A" and "Z", in the later '50s. All my students that I taught to drive in the '60s and '70s never heard of "drive time traffic reports". All they ever heard on my car radio was "Western Swing", but not necessarily late at night, unless they were taking a post-graduate course.

Getting into the history of Western Swing and making it a short history can be a problem as there really is no 'short history'. So here are more details.

While Bob Wills and others were composing the beginnings of Western Swing in the '30s, let's look at where they got their ideas for the music they composed and played.

I would suppose growing up in West Texas during the '20s, playing a fiddle for local dances, young Bob Wills would need to know a few selections to play. He probably couldn't afford to buy sheet music or records with the few dollars he might earn fiddling at dances. But, the local furniture store that sold phonographs, pianos, radios, and of course records to go with the phonographs, would let you listen in hopes of selling something. Wills and other musicians would spend their Saturdays looking through the sheet music and listening to the jazz records from the big cities. Something like standing in front of the TV and Appliance store now, window shopping and watching a program. If those city guys could play it on a sax or a horn, Bob surely could play it on a fiddle. And, if he put the right combination of strings together, he could sound as good as the big city guys.

What could you hear on records and radio during the Roaring '20s? In the early and mid morning in West Texas, most certainly you would hear the local station market reports (stock?, NO; livestock and commodities?, YES). These reports were interspersed with a few Jimmie Rodgers' recordings and a few local bands good enough to play live for the station. Mom could catch up on her sewing in the afternoon listening to 15 minute 'soaps' of "Lum And Abner" and "The Guiding Light" with a few more Jimmie Rodgers' and The Carter Family's recordings interspersed. The name 'soaps' stuck because Mom was being pressured by the announcers to buy Lux, Oxydol, Ivory soap, or washing powder. In the evenings after all the chores were done the local station would hook in with a network and pick up some big band music from New Orleans, Chicago or New York. These bands played Dixieland, Jazz, Swing, and Broadway Show Themes.

By 1928 and 1929, Bob Wills was good enough to play on local stations, but he also worked as a barber to supplement his income. Eventually he met Herman Arnspiger and they played at KTAT in Fort Worth. By 1930 Wills and Arnspiger were joined by Milton Brown and that group soon formed "The Light Crust Doughboys". They had a good Jazzy, Dixie, Swingin', Inspirational, Fiddlin' sound that caught on all over Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.

By 1933, Wills and Arnspiger left Milton Brown, and Bob formed an orchestra called "The Playboys". Then, when Lee O'Daniel, the boss of Light Crust Flour, tried to keep The Playboys off the air in Texas, Bob moved them to Oklahoma and renamed the band "The Texas Playboys". Wills had a good group and he attracted good musicians. Beside a fiddle and string section he had a brass and reed section. His arrangements and compositions had the sound of the big bands. Swing, Jazz, Dixieland, a hint of Bessie Smith singing blues, of Jimmie Rodgers strumming and yodeling, some Carter Family inspiration, west Texas fiddling, and the addition of Leon McAuliff with his steel innovations made new sounds. Bob Wills called it Western Dance Music; the folks who flocked to the dance halls called it "Western Swing".

Part II


(As I mentioned, getting into the history of Western Swing and making it a short history can be a problem.
The first part can stand alone without this part and now, getting into the "Roots" can also stand alone.)

While Bob Wills and others were composing the beginnings of Western Swing in the '30s, let's look at where they got their ideas for the music they composed and played and the stylings found in the 50's and later.

The "Roots" of Western Swing can be found in these old recordings if you can find them. Beside old record shops and garage sales, some of these recordings have been remastered by various Recording Companies, and the Smithsonian. They have a catalog of old records and historic items.

A piano solo by Jelly Roll Morton, recorded in 1928.

    Title: "Maple Leaf Rag" Composer: Scott Joplin
    You will hear a break in the middle of this recording, not because the recording was bad, but because it was recorded on a portable disk recorder and about half way through, the recording was interrupted for a change of blank acetate disks.

A couple of Jimmie Rodgers recordings. Vocal and Guitar.

    Title: " In The Jailhouse Now". Composer: Jimmie Rodgers
    Title: "Nobody Knows But Me". Composer: Jimmie Rodgers
    Both were recorded between 1928 and 1929 by RCA Victor. In 1963 RCA re-mastered many of Jimmie Rodgers' recordings and put them on LPs. These two titles are included on the LPs.

A 1928 Bessie Smith vocal. Recorded for Columbia on a 78.

    Title: "Lost Your Head Blues" Composer: Bessie Smith
    The musicians are Fletcher Henderson on piano and Joe Smith on cornet. Sometimes the Lyrics are louder than the Musicians, but in 1928 only one microphone was used to pick up sound, and placed in front of the star. Mixers, per se, weren't invented yet.

Three recordings by Jelly Roll Morton And His Red Hot Peppers, c.1926. All recorded by RCA Victor on 78s.

    Title: "Grandpa's Spells" Composer: F. J. Morton
    Title: "Dead Man Blues" Composer: F. J. Morton
    Title: "Black Bottom Stomp" Composer: F. J. Morton
    This is Dixieland Jazz. "Dead Man Blues" is a New Orleans style Funeral March.

Louis Armstrong And His Hot Five. Recorded for Columbia on 78s c.1927

    Title: " Struttin' with Some BBQ" Composer: Lillian. H. Armstrong
    Title: " Hotter Than That" Composer: Lillian H. Armstrong
    At this time Louis Armstrong did not have his own band. The musicians he called the Hot Five were studio musicians except that Lillian Hardin Armstrong composed and arranged these two numbers and she also played the piano.

Frankie Trumbauer And His Orchestra. Recorded in 1927 for Okeh.

    Title: " Singin' The Blues" Composer. D. Fields, J. McHugh
    Bix Beiderbecke (cornet) and Jimmy Dorsey (clarinet) play on this recording and are part of this band. Beiderbecke made Jazz a soloist art, he was called the first White Man Jazz Musician whose work one can take seriously. He was dead before he was out of his twenties, but his recordings survive because of his own sound and imaginative solos. Several in the band have trouble with Swing and trouble escaping from the jazzy cliche's of the day.

Fletcher Henderson And His Orchestra. Recorded 1934 for Brunswick.

    Title: "Wrappin' It Up" Composer: Fletcher Henderson
    This is strictly Big Band Era Swing. Solos or Section Solos are featured. "Wrappin' It Up" was one of several Henderson pieces provided for the Benny Goodman orchestra.

Benny Moten's Kansas City Orchestra. Recorded for RCA, Camden Records in 1932.

    Title: "Moten Swing" Composer: Buster and Benny Moten.
    Count Basie plays piano in this band and the recording was made in Camden, NJ in the midst of the depression by a bunch of hungry, demoralized musicians from the Midwest. They hitchhiked to NJ in an old bus from Kansas City to make this and some other recordings. Considering their state, the music is excellent.

Fats Waller's piano solo recorded for RCA Victor in 1937.

    Title: "I Ain't Got No Body" Composers: S. Williams and R. Graham.
    This recording is one of Fats' best and most thoughtful recordings, his control of dynamics throughout is exemplary.

A Meade "Lux" Lewis piano, boogie-woogie recording made for RCA Victor in 1937.

    Title: "Honky Tonk Train" Composer: "Lux" Lewis
    You might want to check out some Jerry Lee Lewis (no relation to 'Lux') recordings, Wonder where Jerry Lee picked up the wild piano style?

Coleman Hawkins And His Orchestra's recording for RCA Victor, c. 1939.

    Title: "Body And Soul". Composers: Sour, Green & Heyman
    This recording was a full blown hit in the late '30s and was still found on Juke Boxes up into the '50s. Good jazzy dance music.

These recordings are the basics of Western Swing. The ingredients are Jazz, Swing, Individualistic stylings, Blues (Bob Wills went out of his way to listen to Bessie Smith), Dixieland and the artists' own improvisations.

And here are a mix of '30s and '40s Swing with some later Western Dance Music as it changed into Western (Honky Tonk) Swing.

A couple of Billie Holiday recordings for Okeh Records. Late 1930s.

    Title: "He's Funny That Way" Composers: R. Whiting & N. Moret
    Title: "All Of Me". Composers: S. Simons & G. Marks
    The first recording says Billie Holiday And Her Orchestra. Most of these musicians were studio musicians. On the second recording she is singing with Eddie Heywood's Orchestra. Billie Holiday always said she liked Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong and you'll hear the influence of both in her vocal stylings.

You may think Ella Fitzgerald's recording for Verve, in 1964, is beyond Western Swing, but not really--this is Western Swing revisited.

    Title: "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" Composer: Cole Porter
    This song was recorded in France at a Jazz Festival, and Ella swings in the manner of her beginnings about 1936.
    Her stylings can be traced to Ethel Waters and Connie Francis.

Jimmie Lunceford And His Orchestra, Vocalion 1936

    Title: "Lunceford Special" Composer: Eddie Durham
    A big, 'Big Band Era' Swing Band. The Lunsford Orchestra had good soloists, but no stars. Good Swingin', Jitterbugin', dance music.

Gene Krupa And His Orchestra, Okeh 1941.

    Title: "Rockin' Chair" Composer: Hoagy Carmichael
    "Another Big Band", but this one had Gene Krupa on drums and Roy Eldridge, the most original trumpet soloist between Armstrong and Gillespie. This was an instant classic recording.

Two Duke Ellington recordings with the same name, one recorded in 1927 and the other in 1937.

    Title: "East Saint Louis Toodle-OO" Composer: Duke Ellington
    According to the history of this song, taken from The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, the original title was 'East Saint Louis Toad-low'. Ellington explained that he referred to an old man called 'Toad' from East Saint Louis, so bent with age, that he walked as 'low as a toad'. The flappers of the '20s picked it up as Toodle-OO (like good-by). Good jazzy, swing. You can pick up on 'My Sister Kate' buried in there too.

And if you can still find two Jerry Lee Lewis hits from the mid 1950s, look for these:

    Title: "When The Saints Go Marching In". Traditional
    Title: "Lewis Boogie" Composer: Jerry Lee Lewis
    Jerry Lee's piano stylings, sort of 'Western, Loud, Honky Tonk, Swing.'

And finally some recordings by Hank Thompson And His Brazos Valley Boys, a big Western Swing Band that toured the West from Texas to California in the post war era. You will find these almost anywhere.

    Title: "Beaumont Rag" Composer: Bob Wills
    Title: "Headed Down The Wrong Hiway" Composer: Ted Daffin
    Title: "Woodchoppers Ball" Composer: Woody Herman
    Title: "Drivin' Nails In My Coffin" Composer: Jerry Irby
    Title: "Summit Ridge Drive" Composer: Artie Shaw
    Title: "Hangover Heart" Composer: Hank Thompson, P. Hagen
    Title: "Drunkards Blues" A Thompson Arrangement
    Title: "Cocaine Blues" A Thompson Arrangement
    Thompson, like Wills, played the dance halls in the booming post war period.

By the '50s it became evident that large bands were no longer the in-thing. Even big dance halls could only pay so much for entertainment, and moving large assortments of personnel and equipment became unprofitable. The radio stations no longer needed studio musicians because of the large amount of recorded material and the improvement in sound recording.

Bob Wills and his brother Johnnie Lee Wills split the band and thus were able to play two gigs at once with only Bob or Johnnie required to put in an appearance. One good steel musician with big amps could make as much sound (noise? Music?) as an entire horn and reed section.

    "Beaumont Rag", "Woodchoppers Ball" and "Summit Ridge Drive" are Big Band swing/jazz music made famous by Bob Wills, Woody Herman and Artie Shaw.

Thompson and The Brazos Valley Boys do their interpretation of these hits:

    "Headed Down The Wrong Highway",
    "Drivin' Nails In My Coffin",
    and "Hangover Heart" are still that bouncy 1 2, 1 2 Swing, but done with a smaller group.

Some other Thompson tunes are takeoffs of hits like "St.James Infirmary Blues" and done strictly in Honky Tonk style with the words the red-necks wanted to hear. Popular in the beer joints that hired small bands for entertainment, the '50s term of 'Honky Tonk' music stuck ('us-red-necks' loved 'lost-love lyrics' which made us cry in our beer).

These and music like it formed the basics of and made Western Dance Music Swing.

Part III


The term 'Honky Tonk' came into being in the late '40s and early '50s. It was apparent that big bands could no longer survive. So, small segments of the big bands would get weekend or Saturday night gigs in beer joints. The big dance halls could no longer afford the big groups either.

The small bands could make as much noise with the big new amps as the old big bands could in an auditorium or dance hall. The beer joints and roadhouses soon found that they could get a big payday or Saturday night crowd with a name leader and singer with just three or four musicians. Of course, there was lots of loud music, lots of beer, lots of loud mouths and lots of fights, so, 1-2,1-2 Western Swing Dance Music turned into 1-2,1-2 Honky Tonk Dance Music. Little bands learned to survive in this environment by composing and playing what the loud-mouths wanted to hear. That shut them up and kept down fights long enough for the musicians to do their gig and clear out fast enough to save the toll on band members and instruments. As long as the loud-mouths were cryin' in their beer or dancin' with some lost love, everything went smoothly.

We had a flock of Honky Tonks in Saint Louis in the late '40s and up into the '60s right on South Broadway, on Jefferson and Lafayette, and on Vandeventer from south of Olive to Tower Grove avenue. Jenny Jammieson, a Skeets Yaney protégé', and Barbara Mandrell broke in at a few of them. Skeets, who played live on radio station KMOX in the '30s and '40's, had a place called the 'Wagon Wheel' in the old Gambrinus Hall just off Broadway at Selena street. Hank Thompson and His Brazos Valley Boys did a few gigs at the Old Jeffla Hall, renamed the 'Hucklebuck'. Bill Jones, who ran for alderman every time there was an election in Saint Louis, had a joint on Kentucky and Vandeventer and on weekends there was always good music and good fights. I never missed a weekend at one or more of the above mentioned beer joints and Honky Tonks, whenever I pulled my rig into town. So much for the history of Saint Louis' hangouts.

Here is some background on Hank Thompson, aka 'The Poet Laureate of Beer Drinkers.' From the days when the gentlemen of Heidelberg lifted their steins and toasted their 'golden days' on down to the corner saloon and barroom ballads, beer drinking has been the national pastime for 'the good ol' boys.' Like any pastime, beer drinking, had its hazards as well as its joys and Hank Thompson can tell about both in his songs. It's not all beer and skittles or fun and games when your home away from home is a bar. Danny Dill wrote in a song,

"They're sellin' forgettin'
by the drink at the bar,
And I'm at home with the lonely,
where the sad people are. . ."

In most of Hank's songs, he touches a chord in anyone who has ever found a few friendly moments over a glass of beer or found the bar's dim lights just right to shed a few salty tears.

A young boy in Texas had dreams of being an entertainer, and this particular boy was Hank Thompson, who made his dreams come true. Hank, and his Brazos Valley Boys, was America's Top Western Swing Band from the early '50s up until the middle '60s He began entertaining locally in high school. When he graduated, he joined the Navy, still devoting time to his music, to the delight of his shipmates. After the Navy he went to Princeton University for a while, but returned to Texas and the band circuit. Hank signed with Capitol Records in 1948. He not only performed but penned most of his hits. He was versatile as a singer, songwriter, and musician. An early hit, "Whoa Sailor", recalls his Navy days.

Whatever Hank Thompson did, he did it up proud. His rich down to earth voice, his story-telling style, his understanding of life and love give the songs he sings and composes their own special brand of Thompson magic. From one night stands to state fair engagements, Hank and The Brazos Valley Boys brought excitement when they used to pull up in his big pink bus. To people everywhere the bus meant a good time, whether it pulled up at a dance hall or the parking lot behind the Capitol Tower in Hollywood. Given a Saturday night, or any night, and the big Western Swing Band of Hank's, and you had the makings of a real "do".

My all-time favorite 'Honky Tonk, Cryin'-In-My-Beer-hit of the late '50s, is called "City Lights". It was written by Bill Anderson in 1956 while he was doing a gig in some little town. He was sitting in his hotel room looking out over the city streets which were deserted except for the street lights and neon signs of the Honky Tonks and he penned his thoughts.

'A vast array of City Lights,
as far as eye can see,
The great white way shines through the night,
for lonely guys like me. . ."

He recorded it in '56, but Ray Price who was doing Pop and Country Western, and had both followings, made it a hit in 1957.

Soooo, pop a' top, open a big box of tear tissue and get in a 'sorry fer m'self mood' and listen close to some of those sad tales, some not so sad, and some just down right funny. It's all western dance, honky tonk, cry-in-your-beer, jazzy, sentimental, if-you're-not-with-the-one-you-love then-love-the-one-you're-with, swingin', Western Swing.  

Refer a friend to this Article

Your Name -
Your Email -
Friend's Name - 
Friends Email - 


Reader Comments

Name: Andre Hunt Email:
Comment: Came here looking for info on Leo McAuliffe, and had great results! In terms of original recording..on 78, it's hard to tell if some of these artists had box sets, or you could only get single 78's. I know that Spade Cooley was on RCA, so I'm looking for a box set of his those box set covers, especially the ones by RCA because they had great paintings of the artists...taken directly from photos...I think early recordings wound up on 78 box sets that were compilations...Rhythm Roundups.....on Majestic Records, etc. thanks for the great info! Anybody with a name like Spade Cooley....I mean really...



Name: John L. D'Andrea Email:



Name: Preston Email:
Comment: Enjoyed your comments about St. Louis Hill-Billy and Honky-Tonk music. I can remember Skeets Yaney from the 30's. As I recall, the M.C. for their program was " Pappy " Cheshire,who later went to Hollywood as character actor Harry Cheshire. Dizzy Dean of the Cardinals was often a guest singer( Wabash Cannon Ball). The sponser of their program was the Slack Furniture Co. or Uncle Dick Slack.



Name: robbie Email:
Comment: hey! i have a t texas tyler 78 with what sounds like bob wills guitarist on it is there any other recordings with guitar players from wills band



Name: Tony Thomas Email:
Comment: On musical influences, there were two great musical influences on Bob Wills that appear to be neglected. One was the great Jazz and Hokum singer Emmet Miller most known as being the first, and in my opinion the best to record the "Lovesick Blues." Wills always saw Miller's singing as what he wanted. He auditioned Tommy Duncan by asking if he could sing "I Ain't Got Nobody," in Miller's style. Coincidentally the first song Wills recorded after he fired Tommy Duncan in the late 1940s was "I Ain't Got Nobody" still in Emmet Miller's style. Perhaps the Emmet Miller song that Wills is most identified with is Right or Wrong. If you haven't heard Miller look him up. He was the last of the great stars of Minstrelry but had crossed over the bridge into Jazz basing a lot of his singing style and part of his repertoire on the singing of Louis Armstrong. Miller performed with studio musicians who included the dorsey brothers, glenn miller, and others who went on to be great names in the Swing era. He's great. The other decisive influence was the great Mississippi Sheiks, one of the reigning black blues groups of the late 1920s and early 1930s (who incidentally also made records under another name that were marketed as white string band music). The lead instrument in the Sheiks was always the fiddle. Wills always played Sitting on Top of the World with his or other fiddles playing exactly as the Sheiks did it. Another tune that Wills did directly in the Sheiks style is Corina Corina which the Sheiks recorded several times. You can hear a lot of the Sheiks fiddling and singing in the earlier blues numbers the Playboys did. It should be added that before 1945 Wills functioned with basically two units, largely composed of the some of the same players. A lot of his recordings were done with a string based band of guitar, rhythm banjo, bass, drums, steel guitar, two or three fiddles, and one or two horns, sometimes without the horns. However, he also carried a full scale swing band with three trumpets, three or four sax and clarinet players in addition to the string band. The swing band played popular swing tunes from stock arrangements as well as originals. Wills' biggest hit the vocal version of "San Antonio Rose" was done with the swing orchestra, not the string band. It is true there was a steel guitar solo, but a number of the 30s swing orchestras included steel players. You can even hear steel guitar on Louis Jordan's "Boogie int he Barnyard" Bob Will's swing orchestra was said to culiminate in the band Wills carried in 1944 and 1945 which had 18 pieces, but sadly was never recorded. After WWII, like many band leaders, was no longer able to carry the big orchestra and cut his band down to the string band players with just one horn, Alex Brasheer on trumpet, except when fiddler Louis Tierny would "take down his golden saxophone" as Wills would say.



Name: Tony Thomas Email:
Comment: This is very good, but a few factual inaccuracies. Milton Brown and his brother Durwood Brown and fiddler Jesse Ashlock who later joined the Playboys left the Light Crust Doughboys before Wills. The Browns and Wills were also playing outside dances especially at the infamous Crystal Springs resort, off the bookings of the Light Crust Doughboys. O'Daniel who had no real interest in the music, but saw it as an advertising value for his flour company, saw the Doughboys as company employees. In fact, at first he had required the members of the band to work on full time jobs for Light Crust Flour when not performing. Wills drove a truck, Brown was lucky that he was a salesman anyway and got to be salesman, but poor Pig Arnsbarger had to load flour sacks on and off trucks. O'Daniel felt the band was supposed to play at his direction and disciplined the Browns for this. The Browns needed the extra money and founded the superb Western Swing Group Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies which died out when Brown died in a tragic auto accident. Bob Wills always described Brown as the best friend that anyone could have. In fact, after she was widowed, Wills married Brown's wife. One of the great problems and hidden burdens for Wills was that he had a number of brothers and sisters, and he had a sister with many children. While his dad was one of the great old time Texas fiddlers, he was rather enamored with the bottle and inprovident. Moreover, Depression conditions for farmers and country folk in Texas and much of the South had really started in the mid 1920s. Wills always saw his mission as the eldest son as providing not just for his immediate family, but for his parents and brothers and sisters. His links with the Burris Mills and O'Daniel meant not only work for himself, but jobs for brothers and I believe one of his sisters working for Burris Mills. He probably wanted to go with the Browns when they left O'Daniel, but he didn't want to sacrifice the jobs he had gotten for other family members. O'Daniel was a domineering and spiteful boss. When Wills left and formed the Texas playboys he was able to use his considerable political and financial power (O'Daniel would soon be Governor of Texas!) to make it impossible for the Playboys to play or be on any radio station in Texas, which is why they went to Oklahoma. Leon McAuliffe did not join the Playboys. He joined the Light Crust Doughboys when the great father of all Western swing Steel guitar Bob Dunn left with Milton Brown to form the musical Brownies. An idea of how poor they were when working for O'Daniel is that when McAuliffe came up to Oklahoma making the move to join the Playboys, the only shirt he owned was the band uniform shirt for the Light Crust Dough Boys!!! Of course Leon became quite successful not only in music but in owning and managing several radio stations in the post war era.



Name: julia Email:
Comment: : i am a student of msc andI have been given a research topic on Swing dance {history } i therefore request your company to help me in my research please send me all the details on my email addres * Thank you!!!!



Name: jon Email:
Comment: Theres nothing on Woody Herman and the Woodchoppers Ball



Name: tariq Email:
Comment: amisha I love you not ajog I realy love you and I rekwest you send me your email eddried and this email love you hamesha you are my jaan iam rich not poor me tumko had se bhi zada chhonga bleev me may darling iloveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee you wheri wheri much tariq your love



Name: amisha Email:
Comment: i am a student of podar jumbo kids and iam doing a course on ECC.ED.ADM and i have been given a research topic on PENCIL {history of pencil,types,etc, etc,} i therefore request your company to help me in my research please send me all the details on my email addres



Name: Email: Unlisted
Comment: Good site lets keep western swing going. Virgil Watts Bowling Green Mo. Triple neck Fender Steel player.



Name: Albert Taylor Email:
Comment: A very enjoyable site .Great detail ,a real treat thanks Albert taylor Northern Ireland I play steel guitar .



Name: Gene Jones Email:
Comment: This is a great website and repository of information about the western-swing venue. As a musician, I started playing with western swing groups about 1950, and actually toured full time for a period in the early 1960's with Merl Lindsay and the Ozark Jubilee Band. During my career I also played other styles of music but my first love was and always will be western-swing. Some western-swing recordings that I was fortunate to play on can be found on my web-site at:



Name: Jonathan Email:
Comment: I search for the lyrics of the song "I got texas in my soul" sunf by Tex Williams but composed by Tubbs/Turner. Has anyone an idea?



Name: Bev Nester Email:
Comment: Enjoyed the short segament on Skeets Yaney. Skeets was my Mom's cousin. If any one would like some photos or more info on Skeets Yaney the can contact Regal and Mary Yaney at:



Name: dale burkett Email:
Comment: i enjoy your site very much. i have my own band called"desert moon" and i'm looking for the lyrics by bob wills called"the kind of love i can't forget". i've searched everywhere on the internet but can't find it. i would appreciate any info. thanks



Name: Tom Hart Email:
Comment: Greeting! I enjoyed reading your site. Perhaps you can assist me. My father was Jimmie Hart of "Jimmie Hart and his Merrymakers" AKA the "Port Authur Jubileers". I am trying to locate some 78 recordings of his music. They recorded 6 sides with Decca as the Port Authur Jubileers, and 6 sides with Bluebird as Jimmie Hart and his Merrymakers. Could you possibly point me in the right direction for locating these recordings? Thank you for your time! Tom



Name: Paul Aaron Email:
Comment: Your history of western swing music is excellent. I have included it as a link on my web site devoted to that genre. Thank you. Sincerely, Paul Aaron "Cowboy Joe." WWW.COWBOYJOESRADIORANCH.COM



Name: Paul Aaron "Cowboy Joe" Email:
Comment: Throughly enjoyed your comments on western swing music. I hope to post it as a link on my web site WWW.COWBOYJOESRADIORANCH.COM Keep up the good work. Sincerely, Paul Aaron



Name: COWBOY JOE Email:
Comment: Great web site on western swing. I'll try to get it added to my links page at Thanks. Sincerely, Paul Aaron "Cowboy Joe."



Name: shelley Email:
Comment: I'm stumped. Wonder if you can help me. I am looking for any WWII era songs recorded by Barbara Mandrell. My Grandmother heard a certain song, can't remember the name, but wants to buy the CD. Kinda makes my job of finding it VERY difficult. Would you happen to know?



Name: Leo C. Helmer Email:
Comment: Thank you, Bev, for your comments. it is nice to know that my articles are read here. For your information, but you may know this, for many years Skeets had a radio show on KSTL here is Saint Louis and had a fabulous Country Western Record Collection. I often wondered who got that collection when he passed on. Surely must be some glorious history in all that music. He also had a few hits of his own on record, "Crying In The Chapel" was one he played a lot on his show. And he did help the careers of a lot of Country Singers. And again thanks for the comments. Leo C. Helmer



Name: Bev Email:
Comment: I'm very happy to find a mention of Skeets Yaney. He was my Mom's first cousin. Mary Yaney (, who knew Skeets personally, and I have tried to be sure he's remembered. So glad I found a mention of him here.



Post YOUR Comments!

Please enter the code in the image above into the box
below. It is Case-Sensitive. Blue is lowercase, Black
is uppercase, and red is numeric.

Horizontal Navigator



To report problems with this page, email Webmaster

Copyright © 2002 AMEA Publications