The Sunday Listens: Students' recommendations

I'm taking a cue from students this week.  My students teach me as much about music, arguably more, than I teach them.

This week was the Swallow Hill graduation, where all of the group classes culminated with a performance for each other.  I had several classes perform.  The songs spanned Joni Mitchell, The Beatles and Frank Sinatra.  I must say they all performed fabulously.

One of my students performed with a class I was not teaching - a fingerstyle guitar class with fellow instructor Jeff Rady.  Her class performed "Colorado Girl" by Townes Van Zandt.  I'd never heard it before, but it was just breathtakingly beautiful. The original version ain't too bad either.

Down a similar steel-stringed acoustic vein, my student Shannon has been persistently telling me to get in touch with the style of Western Swing, specifically Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.  When I mentioned it to Dustin - who has never before this moment displayed any knowledge of country and western - he was like, "Oh yeah, Bob Wills, he's the best."  Apparently you can't grow up in the Texas Panhandle and not know about Bob Wills.  So much for me, I grew up in Kansas!

I'll share two tracks.  The first one is instrumental, although you'll hear a lot of hootin' and hollerin' going on in the background.  The YouTube video comes with a thorough introduction to Mr. Wills:

One of the best Bob Wills western swing pieces you probably never heard. A notable and quotable music historian said that Western Swing was nothing more complicated than White men playing jazz on guitars and fiddles. While Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys may not have been the first Western Swing Band (That honor probably belongs to Pappy Lee O’Daniel and His Light Crust Doughboys) Wills was the hottest, most prolific, and most innovative of the bands with a vision and a stage presence that would make the sound wildly popular. Listen to Too Busy and you will hear some of the most joyous and upbeat swing jazz ever arranged. Wills made Western Swing impossible to nail down as he played waltzes, reels, blues, pop, ~all the most unlikely hybrids While the sound originated with groups from Houston to Beaumont, up East Texas to Tulsa, and back to Ft. Worth, it was known as hot string band music in Texas and Oklahoma and was not tagged as Western Swing until the 1940s as is became popular in California.
Wills had been a member of that first Swing Band, Pappy Lee O’Daniels Doughboys, but left around 1932 for station WACO in Waco taking vocalist Tommy Duncan and Wills’ brother, banjo player Johnnie Wills. In Waco, Leon McAuliffe, steel guitar, pianist Al Stricklin and drummer Smokey Dacus were added, the nucleus of the best band Wills ever managed. Pappy Lee, still seeking revenge for the loss of Duncan said he would put commercials for his flour on WACO if they would fire Wills. WACO went for the money and Wills went to Tulsa where he played at Cain’s Dance Academy, a place where men would be taught to dance for, as the song says, 10 cents a dance, and where you could also be treated to some bootleg hooch while spending time with the young ladies. Cain’s evolved into Cains Ballroom as Wills packed the hall full every night he was booked there. The Wills sound would soon be broadcast over clear channel powerhouse KVOO, (Voice Of Oklahoma) in Tulsa. Pappy Lee showed up once again seeking more revenge on Wills. He promised KVOO he would pay a lucrative sum to the station to advertise his flour if they would fire Wills. KVOO, fired Pappy Lee instead and an 8 year association with Bob Wills & KVOO began which made the station famous for it could be heard from the Rockies to the Canadian border and the East Coast to the Gulf Coast.
Too Busy was recorded September 1936 in Chicago on the Okeh and Vocalion labels 03537A, the flip side of “No Matter How She Done It”, 03537B.
— YouTube user preservationhall01,

This little ditty is charming my cowgirl boots right onto the dance floor.  A couple of listens will have you singing along.  It also includes a pedal steel solo that Jeff Rady would probably be proud of.  Shannon, I hope I chose well!

If your curiosity has been piqued and you'd like some more exposure to folk music of all styles, western swing yourself over to Swallow Hill.  New classes start tomorrow.  I've got a number of classes and workshops to choose from myself.

Y'all take care now!