Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: New San Antonio Rose

Track

New San Antonio Rose

Group

Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys

CD

The Essential Bob Willis 1935-1947 (Columbia Legacy CK 48958)

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Musicians:

Bob Wills (fiddle),

Jess Ashlock (fiddle), Louis Tierney (fiddle), Herman Arnspiger (guitar), Eldon Shamblin (guitar), Leon McAuliffe (steel guitar), Son Lansford (bass), Tiny Mott (reeds), Zeb McNally (reeds), Wayne Johnson (reeds), Louis Tiernet (reeds), Don Harlan (reeds), Joe Ferguson (reeds), Tubby Lewis (trumpet), Everett Stover (trumpet), Al Stricklin (piano), Tommy Duncan (vocals)

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Composed by Bob Wills

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Recorded: Saginaw, Texas, April 16, 1940

Albumcoveressentialbobwills

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Musical schizophrenia . . . the first four bars sound like a big band record from the Swing Era; then we make a sudden U-Turn into down-home cowboy music. But at the end of the intro we switch back to jazz. Welcome to the crazy world of Western Swing! Yet this record sold a million copies and made Bob Wills into a national star. For a time, Western Swing was a big money-maker . . . and Wills needed a bundle of cash to support a touring band that sometimes boasted as many as 23 members. In truth, he needed to have the equivalent of two bands -- a country unit and a jazz ensemble -- to pull off this strange hybrid. But even jazz cats paid attention. (Bing Crosby quickly released a cover of this song which scored even better on the charts than Wills' version.)

Western swing never really disappeared, but its force as a commercial style was mostly exhausted by the late 1940s. Wills, for his part, had only one top ten hit after 1950. Yet for a short period, jazz and country seemed to have found a fertile meeting ground. One wonders what prodigies might have seen light of day if later jazz players had focused on jazz-country fusion with the same energy that they brought to, say, jazz-rock fusion. We will never know. But at least we still have the Texas Playboys to give us a glimpse of how cool and swingin' cowboys could get.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia


If you liked this track, also check out

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: Twin Guitar Special
Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: Take Me Back to Tulsa
Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: Take the A Train


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  • 1 jridetroit // Aug 20, 2008 at 09:20 PM
    I tend to think of this music as less a fusion of jazz and country, and more as simply a regional approach to jazz. These guys were, which the exception of WIlls himself, and perhaps some of the other fiddle players, jazz musicians, simply and exclusively. They happened to be white and from the southwest, and the only local commercial outlet for them was in what outsiders called "cowboy" bands. I'm sure the Playboys themselves simply called it "music", much as early black jazz musicians did, without any sense of it being fundamentally different from any other non-classical playing. Al Stricklin, in particular, was simply a stride pianist from Texas. No more, no less. That they played material from their surrounding milieu makes them no different than black jazz musicians covering white pop songwriters like Gershwin and Berlin. Nobody would call Lester Young a "fusion" player, although his influences were often white players like Frank Trumbauer and Bud Freeman, his background was as a home-schooled musician in the family band that played European arrangements of carnival tunes, and his later choice of material was strictly white pop songs. The first time I heard Western Swing, I heard it as jazz being played on unexpected instruments, not as some odd gumbo of styles. This splits a lot of semantic hairs, of course, and Wills' music stands tall on its own without any apology or explanation from me. I simply fear that some of the uninitiated might marginalize it if it's described as some sort of Texas yokel dance music with vague jazz roots. I think it's closer to Cab Calloway's stuff in that it's mostly novelty tunes, broken up by some dandy improv soloing, being played by skilled jazz musicians. Calling these guys "cool and swingin' cowboys" is about as accurate as calling Basie's music from the same period "swinging field hollers and spirituals". Don't let them goofy Roy Rogers get-ups fool ya. Also note that some serious, genre-busting ground was broken by this band. Electric guitars were being featured as solo instruments herein well before Charlie Christian appeared on the scene. In fact, Christian himself was deeply influenced by these guys, who not coincidentally played in his musical and geographic backyard. Eldon Shamblin, and to a greater extent, Leon McAuliffe, were direct and profound influences on all sorts of later guitarists, from jazz to blues to rock and roll. Think of them as the Hot Club of Dallas, if you'd prefer.