Happy Birthday to Bob Wills!

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Bob
Wills, born as James Robert Wills on March 6, 1905 near the town of
Kosse, Texas is regarded as the undisputed King of Western
Swing.
He was taught the fiddle and mandolin at a very early age by his father
and his grandfather. He also spent his younger days picking cotton in
Texas and listening to the songs that the adults sang as they moved up
and down the rows of cotton. Bob was a “drifting cowboy” for
awhile–attending barber school, getting married, moving to New Mexico
and then back to Turkey, Texas which is now considered his home town.
He began work as a barber but the fiddle soon started to play a big
role in his life as he started to pursue a career in music after moving
to Fort Worth, Texas.

 
  BOB WILLS
The King of Western Swing

In 1930, the Wills Fiddle Band
was formed when Bob Wills met Herman Arnspinger. Later, Milton Brown
joined the group as lead vocalist and the band was renamed to the Light Crust Doughboys because of a radio sponsorship. The band lineup changed but Bob stayed with the Doughboys
and replaced Brown with Tommy Duncan in 1932. However, both musicians
left the band together in 1933 because Bob had missed one too many
shows due to his occasional binge drinking.

Bob Wills formed a new band called “The Playboys”
in Waco, Texas. With his popularity growing, Bob moved the band to
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1934. Soon afterwards, Bob moved the band to
the Cains Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He had landed a gig with the
50,000 watt KVOO radio station. From the Cains Ballroom, Bob Wills and
his band performed their radio show from 12:30 pm to 1:15 pm every
Monday through Friday. Nearly all of the performances came from the now
famous stage of the Cains Ballroom in Tulsa. And of course, Tulsa’s
timeless honky-tonk, the Cains Ballroom, was kept swinging by regular
dances led by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. In 1940, the song “New
San Antonio Rose” sold a million records and became the band’s
signature song.


 

Bob starred in a movie with Tex Ritter (Take Me Back To Oklahoma)
in 1940 and served a hitch in the Army that was severely shortened by a
medical discharge. His band was drawing more people than Benny Goodman
and Tommy Dorsey at the time and the band was eventually lured to
California for a syndicated radio show originating from the Fairmont
Hotel in San Francisco. Many of these shows survive today in an album
called The Tiffany Transcriptions, the first time the band was able to
exceed the three-minute song limits on 78 rpm records and really stretch out
their sound for all to hear.


Bob’s
binge drinking became a problem later in his career as he toured to
keep funding a pretty lavish lifestyle for the times. He moved from
California back to Oklahoma City and opened a club in Dallas, Texas
that ended up being a dismal failure due to the dishonest managers
hired by Bob. Eventually tax problems arising from the failed club
wiped him out financially. Bob suffered from a stroke in 1969 that ended
his career.


The legacy of Bob Wills endured through the decades.
Just about any country and western performer will list Bob as an
influence on their music. In 1973, a reunion was planned for all of the
Texas Playboys including Bob Wills. They titled the album “For The Last Time”.
Bob Wills only did some his famous hollerin’ and speakin’ on a couple
of the tracks during the first session because of the advanced
deterioration of his health. He then suffered a stroke overnight and
then he had a big stroke a few days later.


The Texas Playboys completed For The Last Time
without their leader, who by the completion of the album was in a coma.
Bob Wills remained comatose until his death May 13, 1975. Even though
Bob is barely on this album, For The Last Time
is probably the best summation of the history of Bob Wills and The
Texas Playboys due to its retrospective nature and the bittersweet
circumstances of its creation. And, because of it late date, Bob Wills
and The Texas Playboys have never sounded better–unlike the muted and
scratchy sound of a 78 rpm record. It is highly recommended that you
listen to this album just so you can hear how good this band really sounded. You can still hear
the sounds of Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys these days. The Cains
Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma has celebrated Bob’s birthday with a
weekend of western swing every year since his death in 1975. And, even some
surviving members of The Playboys show up for a little
honky-tonkin’ …..