“Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys – For the Last Time”
December 3rd and 4th are two of the most important days in music history. For on these days in 1973, the landmark album “Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys – For the Last Time” was recorded at Summit-Burnett Studios in Dallas, Texas.
Bob had been ailing in the years prior to the session…. a stroke had affected his speech and rendered him to a wheelchair. Nonetheless, he was excited and happy to see his old Texas Playboys bandmates – and honorary bandmates come together to make an album in his honor. The band was a who’s who of Western Swing and Texas Playboy history – Eldon Shamblin on guitar; Johnny Gimble on fiddle, mandolin and harmony vocals; Keith Coleman on fiddle and harmony vocals; Leon McAuliffe on steel guitar and vocals; Al Stricklin on piano; Leon Rausch on bass and vocals; Smokey Dacus on drums; Hoyle Nix on fiddle and vocals; Jody Nix on drums and vocals; Merle Haggard on fiddle and vocals; and producer Tommy Allsup on bass.
The first day of the session was electric! From his wheelchair in the center of the room, Bob was the spiritual leader providing plenty of his trademark banter. The musicians were thrilled to be a part of the album and playing red hot. Our pal Jody Nix said: “It wasn’t long after the first song that he called on me to do ‘When You Leave Amarillo.’ I will never forget that. The vocal mic was right by him, as I stood there, he was to my immediate left, watching me the whole time. I can see those jet black eyes to this day just gleaming. He put quite a few ah-ha’s and other words in my song and the feeling I had doing that is indescribable, knowing that the King of Western Swing was right there, and had ask me, to be a part of it.” At the end of the song, the line says “When You Leave Amarillo, Turn Out The Lights,” and Bob said on the end, “Cut Out The Lights.”
Toward the end of the first day Bob was getting tired and asked Betty to take him home. That night, at his Ft Worth home, Bob had another massive stroke that left him comatose.
Of course, the second day of the session was a very different vibe…. Jody Nix said “The atmosphere changed in the studio. All the Playboys were quiet, but there was a job to do.” And that’s exactly what they did. Under unbelievably tough circumstances, everyone pulled it together and laid down some of the best – and most important tracks in American music history.
Bob never regained consciousness, passing away on May 13, 1975.
“Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys – For the Last Time” is much more than just a great Western Swing album. In the 43 years since it was recorded, this album exposed so many to the music of “Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys”, and helped steer so many appreciative listeners and musicians (like The Western Flyers!) down the path of Western Swing.
For fans of Western Swing or just great music and musicianship, this album is a must have. If you don’t have it, go get it now! It’s available in lots of formats, but there’s nothing like the original vinyl 2-record set with extensive liner notes and lots of cool pics.
* Hear a 2017 recording of a favorite tune from this favorite album – Blue Bonnet Lane