WUMB November Program Guide

Western Swing and Bob Wills

Western Swing fans, like me, are truly fanatic. This is that musical hybrid of country and big band jazz that grew up in the Golden Triangle and kept people dancing in the West Coast Ballroom through the darkest days of WWII. The mere mention of names like Adolph Hofner, Bill Boyd & the Cowboy Ramblers, Spade Cooley or the Light Crust Dough Boys sets our collective hearts aflutter. And, of course, as Waylon Jennings used to sing “Bob Wills is still the king.”


In 1970 Merle Haggard, a long time Western Swing aficionado, recorded a tribute album to Wills called “The Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World”.  While I might argue with that sentiment, I wouldn’t argue very hard. For this album Haggard augmented his own band with surviving members of Wills’ Texas Playboy, including Johnny Gimble, who I always considered to be a better bow hand than Wills himself. The album is worth tracking down, but remains available only as an import.

Now, long time Western Swing banner carriers, Asleep at the Wheel have created their own tribute to Wills titled “Still the King. Ray Benson, leader of the band for 40 plus years, has assembled an amazing cast to honor Bob and the Texas Playboys. Many are folks you might expect like Texas boys Lyle Lovitt and Robert Earl Keen, Willie Nelson, Old Crow Medicine Show, Carrie Rodriguez and Buddy Miller. Even mainstream Country Music stars turned out for this effort including Brad Paisley and George Strait. There were, however, a few surprise like The Avett Brothers, Amos Lee, Kat Edmonson and Pokey Lafarge. Bring this full circle, Merle Haggard sits in for a tune and a couple of the songs feature Emily Gimble, the granddaughter of Johnny Gimble who worked and recorded with Haggard and Bob Wills himself. There are other familial connections as well with a performance by Shooter Jennings, son of Waylon and both Merle’s son Dan and Ray Benson’s son Sam sit on guitar.

Remember if you do decide to purchase this album, or any other, physical or digital, from Amazon, visit WUMB.org first. If you shop through the Amazon logo in the left hand margin, a portion of the proceeds of your purchase will be donated to WUMB without it costing you a cent.

Oh yes, I also meant to mention another wonderful tribute to Wills called What Makes Bob Holler by The Hot Club of Cowtown. Now I have….


Dave Palmater

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