[Yes, that's right, it is Western Swing day on Rocks Off today...]
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
The Tiffany Transcriptions
Western Swing is an enigma for people outside Texas and the Southwest, who - if they spare a thought for it at all - tend to write it off under "country" and move on. (To be fair, it is where the "western" in "country & western" comes from.) But about the only thing it shares with the Appalachian-descended music adopted by Nashville is the use of fiddle and steel guitar as primary instruments.
Everything else - rhythm, phrasing, inflection, improvisation - it adopted from urban styles like jazz, blues, ragtime, swing (duh) and Tin Pan Alley, making Western swing standards like "Faded Love" or "Steel Guitar Rag" much more cosmopolitan than, say, "The Great Speckled Bird." In 1945, Oakland, Calif., DJ Cactus Jack and songwriter/entrepreneur Clifford Sundin founded Tiffany Music, Inc. as a platform to release a series of pre-recorded radio shows featuring Bob Wills, who both embodied and transcended Western Swing (and continues to more than 35 years after his death).
Wills and his Texas Playboys recorded more than 150 songs for what became known as the Tiffany Transcriptions, which boutique label Collector's Choice has now released as a 10-disc box set. The discs are arranged semi-thematically - two best-ofs, songs about Texas, popular standards, one featuring Andrews-like vocalists the McKinney Sisters - and have a stylistic range as large as Wills' outsize personality.
What doesn't change, though, is the players' virtuosity - the Playboys were in peak form throughout the sessions - and the little thrill that comes whenever Wills lets out one of his trademark hollers that signaled one soloist or another had just played (or sung) a lick he especially liked. Over these 10 discs, there are lots of those.
Asleep at the Wheel performs Ray Benson and Anne Rapp's Bob Wills musical, A Ride With Bob, 8 p.m. Thursday, March 5 and Friday, March 6, and 2 p.m. Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8, at The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice, Galveston, 800-821-1894 or www.thegrand.com.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.