Lone Star Swing
Before Duncan McLean won the Somerset Maugham Award (for a book of short stories), all he wanted to do was sit on his “arse and think about Bob Wills.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), one of the stipulations of the award was that he travel, and farther than the Scottish waters outside his door. So, armed with a few cassette tapes and a map, he did the next best thing: He got off his arse in Orkney, Scotland, and went to Texas in search of Bob Wills — or at least his spirit. The result is Lone Star Swing.
From Big Pines Lodge, where he was somewhat befuddled by hush puppies, to Turkey, where the annual Bob Wills festival is held, McLean takes the reader on a 10,000-mile trek throughout the state. Along the way McLean introduces us to a variety of Texans, some musicians, some not, and does an admirable job of portraying the Texas spirit — something which generally proves enigmatic even to fellow Southerners — while subtly educating us in the music’s legends and classic songs.
Although McLean doesn’t get a chance to interview all of the musicians he had hoped, including Adolph Hofner and Floyd Tillman, he does attend a nursing home performance by Roy Lee Brown (brother of Milton Brown) and meets Buddy Ray, former Texas Playboy, in the Noble Bean coffee house. He has an interesting encounter with Clifford Kendrick (brother of Bob Kendrick, a.k.a. Bob Skyles of Bob Skyles & his Skyrockets), who tells McLean of their beginnings playing in a band that toured with their parents who sold “wonder cures.”
McLean is a storyteller, and he tells the story of Western swing and his journey across Texas with humor and insight. Lone Star Swing is by no means a comprehensive guide to Western swing; instead, it is a hilarious crazy quilt of characters, landscapes, local flavors and musicians’ tales that helps the reader understand a little bit better how this hybrid of jazz, blues, country and mariachi was born.