Bob Wills Lives!
Hot Club of Cowtown is coming to play in my town this fall. Hot Club is a great “hot jazz” acoustic trio out of Austin that I played a bit on my volunteer radio DJ gig at KRFC-FM in Fort Collins. I’ve had some folks on my playlists come visit nearby, but this is a first in walking distance.
I am thrilled!
Western swing is a style of popular music that evolved in the 1920s in the American Southwest among the region’s popular Western string bands. Fundamentally an outgrowth of jazz, much Western swing is dance music with an up-tempo beat consisting of an eclectic combination of rural, cowboy, polka, and folk music, New Orleans jazz, or Dixieland, and blues blended with a jazzy “swing” and played by a hot string band often augmented with drums, saxophones, pianos and, notably, the steel guitar. Later incarnations have also included overtones of bebop. The similarities between Western swing and Gypsy jazz are often noted.
Hot Club isn’t easy to classify—they are not fit for Country Radio by anyone’s standard, but they don’t fit so neatly into my standard library of Americana and alt.country artists even if they are charting on Americana Radio. Maybe it’s the jazz influence, or my ignorance of the legacy of jazz. One thing I do know: Hot Club does fit in somewhere, right in that spot on my playlist reserved for the legacy of good old Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys.
Wills, born in Texas in 1905, came to be known as the King of Western Swing. Taking elements of traditional country music pioneered by the likes of Jimmie Rodgers, he cranked up the tempo with his string band for the hoot-hollerin’ dance halls of Texas and Oklahoma in the 1930s. After World War II, the legendary fiddler conquered California, but eventually rock and roll won the war. Wills died back in Texas in 1975.
Or did he? The makers of the documentary video above believe Wills is very much alive, in spirit if not in person. He can be heard in dance halls and fiddlers’ contests across America; seen in the legacy of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and George Strait; felt in the scruffy old boots of cowboys around the world.
No question about it, Waylon knew what he was talking about. Wherever real live authentic roots music is played, Bob Wills is still the king.