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.
Bob Wills Duotone – (1993) Eric Hatheway
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 Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
He had landed a gig with the 50,000 watt KVOO radio station. From the Cain’s 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 Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. And of course, Tulsa’s timeless honky-tonk, the Cain’s Ballroom, was kept swinging by regular dances led by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.
Cain’s Ballroom Diptych – (2010) Eric Hatheway
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 His Texas Playboys due to its retrospective nature and the bittersweet circumstances of its creation. And, because of it late date, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys have never sounded better – unlike the muted and scratchy sound of a 78 rpm record. Aww, fiddles!