Thursday, 23 April, 2009

V/A - Doughboys, Playboys & Cowboys: The Golden Years of Western Swing (Box-Set)

Secret Jazz: The Swinging Side of Western Swing
by Norman Weinstein

Western Swing is a musical genre wonderfully described by its leading historian Cary Ginell as "a bastard child that neither country nor jazz is willing to accept into their own house. In my opinion they are an important part of both genres." Jazz historian Ted Gioia in this thoughtful The History of Jazz, while also omitting any mention of Western Swing, does address a key reason for its neglect among jazz listeners: For example, most chronicles of musical activity in the 1920s will draw an implicit delineation between popular music, jazz, and classical composition. Hence, accounts of jazz tend to present a polarized landscape in which hot bands (Henderson, Ellington, Goodman, Basie) thrive, develop, and change in complete isolation from other musical currents.

Such categorizations may make the narrative structure of a music history book flow more smoothly, but much is lost in the process. Strange to tell, I heard an album of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, the best known Western Swing band of all time, the same year I first heard a Coltrane album. Who I was many decades ago could not have allowed myself to conceive of Bob Wills and John Coltrane as belonging to the same musical universe. True, I heard Wills as a creator of eccentric mutation of big band swing, but the steel guitar and fiddles? And, oh, they looked so Texan redneck on the album photo, so unhip. Age brings with it an appreciation of musical hybrids, those defined out by academic music histories as well as those predicated on reverse-racist stereotypes.

'The pure products of America go crazy,' wrote the esteemed poet William Carlos Williams, and if America has produced 'pure' musical products unique to its national identity, Western Swing must be counted among them. Part of its purity of form is its wholehearted embrace of jazz. The simplest way to define the genre is to identify it as a style evolving from a hybridization of black and white Southwestern string band styles encompassing a broad variety of jazz, blues, and country music characteristics. Strings bands began in several parts of the country with fiddlers and guitarists performing a variety of old folk, blues, and minstrel tunes. When Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies, the subject of the only authoritative book on Western Swing, written by Cary Ginell, added a piano and Brown's crooning voice (think early Bing Crosby) to the string band format, Western Swing emerged. And there was one other unlikely jazz flavor instrumentally Brown added: the steel string guitar of Bob Dunn. Dunn, as unlikely as it would seem for a steel guitarist circa 1935, had as his musical idol the great jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden. So he improvised on steel guitar with Teagarden's trombone sound in mind. And less we neglect the piano man, Fred 'Papa' Calhoun certainly performed with a sophisticated awareness of Jelly Roll Morton and Earl Hines.

For any Western Swing novice on a budget, but with a deep hankering for a superbly sequenced overview of the style, there is the four disc box on the Proper label, Doughboys, Playboys, and Cowboys: the Golden Years of Western Swing. All of this suggested listening involves going to your favorite music store and veering away from where jazz CDs are displayed. It may feel a bit odd to rub shoulders with the Dolly Parton set, but the rewards are stunning. Next time you hear about 'the West Coast' jazz style, think of the wild West style as a neglected forerunner. More stars shine bright in the heart of Texas than you may have ever realized.

DISC 1: THE EYES OF TEXAS (1932-1936)

1. Sunbonnet Sue - Fort Worth Doughboys
2. Nancy Jane - Fort Worth Doughboys
3. Oh You Pretty Woman - Milton Brown & His Brownies
4. Brownie's Stomp - Milton Brown & His Brownies
5. Osage Stomp - Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
6. Who Walks in When I Walk Out - Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
7. Boyd's Blue - Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers
8. I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart - Patsy Montana & the Prairie Ramblers
9. Sadie Greee (The Vamp of New Orleans) - Roy Newman & His Boys
10. Who's Sorry Now - Milton Brown & His Brownies
11. Down by the O-H-I-O - Milton Brown & His Brownies
12. Barn Dance Rag - Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers
13. Never No More Blues - Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
14. Too Busy - Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
15. Rambler's Stomp - Doug Bine & His Dixie Ramblers
16. Eyes of Texas - Milton Brown & His Brownies
17. Yellow Rose of Texas - Milton Brown & His Brownies
18. Red's Tight Like That - The Tune Wranglers
19. Buster's Crawdad Song - The Tune Wranglers
20. Big Daddy Blues - Jimmie Revard's Oklahoma Playboys
21. Feather Your Nest - Lem Fowler's Washboard Wonders
22. Dirty Dog - Jimmie Revard
23. My Galveston Gal - Milton Brown & His Brownies
24. El Rancho Grande - The Tune Wranglers
25. Texas Sand - The Tune Wranglers


1. Women Women Women - Shelly Lee Alley
2. Mean Old Lonesome Blues - Buddy Jones
3. Bring It on Down to My House - Derwood Brown & His Musical Brownies
4. Corrine, Corrina - Cliff Bruner
5. One Sweet Letter From You - Cliff Bruner
6. Fort Worth Stomp - The Crystal Springs Ramblers
7. Women ('Bout to Make a Wreck Out of Me) - Buddy Jones
8. Streamlined Mama - Buddy Jones
9. Blue Guitars - The Light Crust Doughboys
10. Dirty Dog Blues - Mountain Mountaineers
11. Mississippi Sandman - Modern Mountaineers
12. Hot Tamale Pete - Bob Skyles & His Skyrockets
13. Married Man Blues - The Nite Owls
14. There'll Be Some Changes Made - W. Lee O'Daniel & his Hillbilly Boys
15. Dirty Hangover Blues - W. Lee O'Daniel & his Hillbilly Boys
16. Lose Your Blues and Laugh at Life - Jimmie Revard's Oklahoma Playboys
17. Range Rider Stomp - The Range Riders
18. Hold That Critter Down - The Sons of the Pioneers
19. Chicken Reel Stomp - The Tune Wranglers
20. Playboy Stomp - Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
21. Moonlight in Oklahoma - Smokey Wood
22. Keep on Truckin' - Smokey Wood
23. I'm Confessin' (That I Love You) - Derwood Brown & His Musical Brownies
24. Just Once Too Often - The Light Crust Doughboys
25. Loudmouth - Modern Mountaineers


1. Kangaroo Blues - Cliff Bruner
2. Pine State Honky Tonk - Claude Casey & His Pine State Playboys
3. Better Quit It Now - Adolph Hofner
4. Pussy, Pussy, Pussy - The Light Crust Doughboys
5. I'll Keep My Old Guitar - Adolph Hodner His Texans
6. Cowboy's Swing - Hank Penny & His Radio Cowboys
7. Lonesome Road Blues - W. Lee O'Daniel & his Hillbilly Boys
8. Liza Pull Down the Shades - Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
9. Truck Driver's Blues - Cliff Bruner
10. My Untrue Cowgirl - Jewel Cowboys
11. San Antonio Rose - Cliff Bruner
12. Gonna Get Tight - Sunshine Boys
13. Let's Make Believe We're Sweethearts - The Light Crust Doughboys
14. Mississippi Muddle - Hank Penny & His Radio Cowboys
15. Billy Boy - Louise Massey & Her Westerners
16. Good Gracious Gracie - The Light Crust Doughboys
17. Mean Mean Mama (From Meana) - The Light Crust Doughboys
18. Jones Stomp - Port Arthur Jubileers
19. Rockin' Rollin' Mama - Buddy Jones
20. Blue Steel Blues - Ted Daffan's Texans
21. New San Antonio Rose - Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
22. Bob Wills Special - Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
23. Pussywillow - Port Arthur Jubileers
24. Tobacco State Swing - Hank Penny & His Radio Cowboys

DISC 4: OAKIE BOOGIE (1941-1947)

1. Draftboard Blues - Cliff Bruner
2. Whatcha Gonna Do - The Hi-Flyers
3. Cotton Eyed Joe - Adolph Hofner
4. Sally's Got a Wooden Leg - The Sons of the West
5. What's the Matter With Deep Elem - Sunshine Boys
6. Li'l Liza Jane - Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
7. Pistol Packin' Mama - Al Dexter
8. Forgive Me One More Time - Spade Cooley & His Orchestra
9. Shame on You - Spade Cooley & His Orchestra
10. Steel Guitar Stomp - Hank Penny
11. Boogie Woogie Boy - Porky Freeman Trio
12. That's What I Like About the South - Cliff Bruner
13. Stay a Little Longer - Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
14. Oklahoma Blues - Zeke Clements
15. Oklahoma Stomp - Spade Cooley & His Orchestra
16. Nails in My Coffin - Jerry Irby With His Texas Ranchers
17. Bob Wills Two Step - Luke Wills Rhythm Busters
18. I Got Texas in My Soul - Tex Williams & the Western Caravan
19. Wildcat Mama - Hank Penny
20. Betty Ann - Jesse Ashlock
21. One Year Ago Tonight - Don Churchill & Texas Mavericks
22. Oakie Boogie - Johnny Tyler
23. Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette) - Tex Williams & the Western Caravan
24. Square Dance Boogie - Johnnie Lee Wills
25. Humpty Dumpty Heart - Hank Thompson

Box-set released by Proper Records in 1999.

disc 1 :: disc 2 :: disc 3 :: disc 4 - all@320 -


Anonymous said...

yee-haw!!! this seems like a very good introduction into the music of "western swing". since i haven't dived much into it, this all is fresh and unconquered for me.

reading your tags for this makes me wanna holler:
bizarre love triangles, bluez, cigars, cowboys, famous felines, mississippi, murder, Texas, the ewings, truck drivers
cheers, hank lucks

icastico said...

This almost (almost) gives me fond memories of my days playing drums for a thoroughly dysfunctional western swing band in Albuquerque in the 90's. But when your gigs include playing for the AARP Saturday morning Mall Walk...well, you just can't muster too much fondness.

Anonymous said...

Ex-Blogger said...

Thanks a million for sharing this. I was craving to acquire some fresh vintage country, but wasn't sure where to go. Problem solved.

Thanks again.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hey-How To?
Tutorials for your blog! Rapidshare, Megaupload, Easyshare...

Anonymous said...

I mean i'm not interested on it, not 1%, but i must say bravo juju bravo!

Anonymous said...

I mean i'm not interested on it, not 1%, but i must say bravo juju bravo!

dan skarbek said...

would you be interested in reviewing the new western swing cd from willie nelson and asleep at the wheel - "Willie and The Wheel"? There is some classic bob wills songs on there.
drop a line to if you are interested. thanks. nice write up on this one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a ton for this! After delving into "That Devilin' Tune" I was definitely looking to explore more western swing. This came at a perfect time.

bravo juju said...

We're glad that these men with hats are keeping you guys busy. Just swing along.

Lucko: I didn't know there was a doughboy within you, although I should have known better when you posted that "country music for people who don't like country music" record.

Icastico: although your description of the gigs can surely creep anyone out, I am very curious about anything that can be described as a "thoroughly dysfunctional western swing band in Albuquerque". Feel free to share a sample with us, if you like.

Mr. Skarbek: although reviewing a record with the contribution of someone like Willie Nelson would be a honor for any Ewing, it should noted that the Western Swing review presented here was written by a professional reviewer, not by us.

All: Thanks for the comments, and enjoy the Stomp.

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