NorthWest Western Swing Music Society
To encourage, foster and promote the preservation of America’s Western Swing Music
The NorthWest Western Swing Music Society  January 2018
It is through his music that these organizations have thrived. Dedication is made to Bob Wills the first weekend in March each year, as his birthday is celebrated at Cains Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  His hometown of Turkey, Texas, holds a Bob Wills’ Day celebration the last weekend in April (check as well as for more information on these annual events). THE DEVELOPMENT OF WESTERN SWING Born and raised in Alabama, Hank Penny was turned off by the relatively stilted and stodgy sounds coming from the Grand Ole Opry and gravitated toward the freewheelin' sounds coming from WBAP in Fort Worth. It was the band led by Milton Brown that struck Penny's fancy, a band that played such songs as "NOBODY'S SWEETHEART", "TIGER RAG", and "I'LL BE GLAD WHEN YOU'RE DEAD YOU RASCAL YOU". Penny had to distinguish the vital jazz-string band combination from the Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers sound coming from nearby Georgia, and so "western swing" bands became known to Penny (and other Easterners) as "Texas Fiddle Bands."  But to Texans, that or any other term was unknown throughout the first decade of Western Swing's existence (1932-42). It wasn't until 1944-45 that promoter Foreman Phillips actually coined the term "Western Swing," creating a title for his star act, Spade Cooley. Cooley then became "The King of Western Swing," in reaction to Roy Rogers' title of "King of the Cowboys." It is ironic that Phillips would come up with the term which now defines the music whose entire make-up is made of freedom of expression and jazz improvisation, since Phillips, himself, put signs up at his places of exposition proclaiming "WHERE'S THE MELODY" and even went so far as to fire one Hank Penny for instructing musicians Harold Hensley, Noel Boggs, and Jimmy Wyble to jazz it up and ignore Phillips' edict. . . . So, if the term "Western Swing" did not originate until after World War II, what did they call it, the band members themselves and the people in Texas who lived with the music throughout the depression? Unlike Bluegrass, there was no one band or bandleader who spearheaded the audio assault on audiences. (Bluegrass taking its name from Bill Monroe's organization in the 1940's.) In fact, there was a different driving force in each major section of Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. In Fort Worth, Milton Brown and the Light Crust Doughboys were the kingpins. Dallas was ruled by three bands: The Wanderers, Roy Newman and his Boys, and Bill Boyd's Cowboy Ramblers. Tulsa had Bob Wills' Texas Playboys and Dave Edwards & The Alabama Boys; San Antonio had The Tune Wranglers and Jimmie Revard's Oklahoma Playboys; Houston had Cliff Bruner 's Texas Wanderers, who later invaded and conquered Port Arthur. It was the Shelton Brothers' outfit that ruled Shreveport, along with Leon Chappelear's Lone Star Cowboys. In other words, it was a city-by- city assault on the Southwest, with each band holding court over its terrain like Middle-Ages warlords. In interviewing musicians from each of the above organizations, as well as numerous minor groups, the consensus was that there was never a name for Western Swing in the 30's, although Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies were universally recognized as being the #1 band in the Southwest and the other groups' inspiration. The record companies that distributed Western Swing recordings were also at a loss to describe the music. The three labels (Vocalion, Bluebird, and Decca) made feeble attempts to encompass the cumulative repertoire under the banners of: "Old-Time," "Hot String Band," "Fox Trot," "Novelty String Band," "Hot Dance," and the like, but none caught on with the public. The reason there was no one term to describe Western Swing in the 1930's was relatively simple. Getting out of Texas was still next to impossible in the 30's. With the Depression enveloping the people like a sodden blanket, airplane travel was out of the question, train travel was too expensive, and automobile travel too arduous on the long, dusty Texas "highways" to attempt by all except the most adventurous. Therefore, Texas was in essence a gigantic fishbowl in which there was no escape to the "civilized" world of Bing Crosby, Paul Whiteman, and Rudy Vallee. The only sounds that crept in from the outside were from the radio networks and the powerful stations beaming their signals down from Chicago or up from New Orleans. These stations featured the pulsating sounds of jazz: Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Jack Teagarden were three of the favorites. This being the only outside influence on Western Swing, Southwestern musicians drew from their own cultures for material and soon, the rich mixture of Blues, Ragtime, Dixieland, Cajun, Mexican, German, Anglo-American, and Cowboy Traditions began to churn and blend. The result was a brand of music that was so all-encompassing, so pervasive throughout the area, that there was no need to distinguish it from any other kind of music. It all became one. The repertoires varied from city to city, but basically? it was the same sound. And when there is only one choice, there is no need for a label to distinguish it from another genre. It was simply music to dance to. The development of Western Swing was as complicated as the definition of the genre itself. (I will be referring to the music as "Western Swing" because, despite there being no term for the music in the 30's, it is a most befitting term today.  Those that may still argue are requested to witness whether Johann Sebastian Bach called his music of the 17th and 18th centuries "Baroque.") ....The popular opinion today is that Bob Wills was the creator and disseminator of Western Swing, its biggest asset and most popular bandleader. The Bob Wills story has turned legendary, thanks to the colorful makeup of the Wills persona and his long-lasting popularity in the Southwest and his migration to Hollywood after 1940. It is time that this assumption is put to rest. Although Bob Wills was one of the key musicians to appear in a Western Swing band and who later formed one of the best organizations in the Southwest, his was not the first, nor the most listened to for most of the 1930's. He was a master bandleader and showman, and possessed a unique talent for picking talent. Wills started out by teaming with guitarist Herman Arnspiger as a two-man "fiddle band", playing breakdowns and waltzes in the late 20's for house parties and other social get-togethers. The two hailed from the counties in the Texas Panhandle which thrived on cotton rather than cattle for economic survival. Wills was from a musical family; his father, both grandfathers, nine uncles, and five aunts all played the fiddle and young Wills, along with his three brothers, were encouraged to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors and take up the fiddle. Frontier fiddling in Texas was similar to its Eastern counterpart in the Appalachian region with its repertoire of breakdowns, waltzes and occasional rags as many Texans had migrated from that and other Eastern regions at the turn of the century. But by the late 1920's, there were other influences that crept into young Bob Wills' ear and soon these began to affect his repertoire.  The blacks that picked cotton in and around the Wills ranch would sing field hollers, blues, and popular numbers during their labors and Wills' already keen sense of rhythm was drawn to this music which was so different from the relatively stolid, straightforward strains of Bob's ancestors. By the late 20's, Bob Wills' breakdowns were becoming more and more danceable and partner Arnspiger began emphasizing the off-beat in his rhythm accompaniment; the two and the four of the four-four fox trot beat that was the rage of the Roaring 20's. Western Swing reached its key developmental stage when the two musicians were joined by vocalist Milton Brown. An erstwhile cigar salesman, Brown was a fan of popular jazz and blues recording artists and was an avid record listener with a remarkable ear. (Brown band member Ocie Stockard remembered that Brown could listen to a jazz record no more than twice before being able to memorize the jazz licks and take-offs played in it.) After singing W. C. Handy's "ST. LOUIS BLUES" with Wills at a medicine show, Milton Brown was welcomed in as the third member of the band. After several band name changes, the three were joined by Milton Brown's younger brother, Durwood, whose rhythm guitar joined Arnspiger's in furthering the insistent beat. This band found a sponsor in the Burrus Mill and Elevator Company in Fort Worth and in 1931 became the Light Crust Doughboys. ....It was at this point that the development of Western Swing became an epidemic that spread like wildfire throughout the Southwest. Bands sprung up instantaneously which purported to exploit, imitate and refine the Doughboys' sound. Record companies caught wind of the popular new sound and, searching wildly for a way out of the Depression sales doldrums, snatched up Western Swing bands by the armful to release records on their new, cheaper subsidiary labels aimed at the rural market. By the end of the decade, some 75 bands had recorded for the three major labels, a repertoire on disc of some 2000 sides. Milton Brown split off from the "Light Crust Doughboys" in 1932, creating "Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies"; with Bob Wills forming his own band, "Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys," a year later. The innovations created by Brown while no longer under the iron fist of Burrus Mill mogul W. Lee O'Daniel were the most important and influential additions to any band in the 1930's. The first, and some say the best, swing fiddler to play with a Western band was Cecil Brower.  Classically trained in Fort Worth, Brower was taught the art of breakdown fiddling by Milton Brown's banjoist, Ocie Stockard. Brower soon consolidated the two styles and developed a freely swinging, Joe Venuit-inspired style which became the cornerstone of fiddlers in Western Swing bands. Durwood Brown was the rhythm guitarist, but thanks to the influence of black ragtime guitarists of Dallas and Fort Worth, began to take lightning fast solos on the guitar. The bass man was Wanna Coffman, who, to make up for Durwood's abandoning the rhythm for take-offs was forced to reinforce the rhythm by slapping the bass fiddle a la New Orleans and Chicago jazz musicians. The next three additons to Milton Brown's band were vital. The first came in late 1933 when pianist Fred Calhoun joined the Brownies. Calhoun had no hillbilly background whatsoever in his playing, he was the first strictly jazz musician to join a Western Swing band. Calhoun was a fan of Earl "Fatha" Hines who was then broadcasting his network program out of Chicago. Calhoun was nicknamed "Papa" due to his affinity for the great jazz pianist and bandleader. Calhoun soon became a favorite of dancers at Milton Brown's showplace at Crystal Springs, just outside of downtown Fort Worth. .... In late 1934 Milton Brown added another who was to change not only the sound of Western Swing, but the sound of Country and Western Music for years to come. Bob Dunn brought amplification to Western Swing through the homemade pick-up attached to his steel guitar. Dunn's electrifying wailings on the steel reflected his experience as a trombone player and the inclusion of this novelty item (for 1934!) revolutionized Western Swing and introduced the steel guitar to the Country Music World in an entirely new light. .... The final addition to Milton Brown's band was a second fiddler, a kid Milton Brown had heard about who was playing with traveling medicine shows in the Houston area. Soon, 19-year old Cliff Bruner was on his way to Fort Worth to be a Musical Brownie. Bruner brought an uninhibited jazz/blues style to the Brownies that was never equalled. He never did like breakdowns and spent years learning jazz tunes and perfecting take-offs with his friend, mandolinist Leo Raley in medicine shows such as Doctor Scott's. .... The Milton Brown band, with its collection of standout solo performers, each capable of taking superb, jazz-oriented solos, combined with Milton Brown's slick, suave charisma and crooning ability became the band of the Southwest. By comparison, Bob Wills as late as 1935 was still struggling to form a similar outfit, collecting and discarding musicians, and finally being driven out of Texas by W. Lee O'Daniel before settling in at KVOO in Tulsa. But by leaving Texas, Wills abandoned it to Milton Brown. When O'Daniel left the Burrus Mills in 1935, his "Light Crust Doughboys" were revamped through raids on the "Texas Wanderers Band" out of WRR Dallas and Fort Worth's "Southern Melody Boys." Each band that popped up in that crucial year of 1935 emulated the Musical Brownies by adding a Bob Dunn-influenced steel guitar, a Fred Calhoun-influenced piano, a Wanna Coffman-influenced bass, an Ocie Stockard-influenced banjo, a twin-fiddle lead a la the Bruner/ Brower combination, and a crooning Crosby/Teagarden influenced vocalist, a la Milton Brown. Although Milton Brown was killed in a tragic automobile accident in April 1936, which splintered his band, the die had been cast. Bob Wills took over as the guiding force behind Western Swing and with his personnel now relatively stable, easily took over as the model for Western Swing bands. (excerpts taken from "The Devils Box" Spring 1984 article by Cary Ginell)
ROOTS of WESTERN SWING THE LIGHTCRUST DOUGHBOYS (1931) Herman Arnspiger, Bob Wills, Milton Brown, W. Lee O'Daniel.....Much of the Music is based on the Bob Wills era. Bob Wills has been called the "King" of Western Swing Music, entertaining all throughout the USA with his famous "Playboys" and "Playgirls.“


NorthWest Western Swing Music Society OUR HISTORY  As   a   non-profit   organization,   the Western      Swing      Society      of Seattle   was   formed   in   November of   1983   by   a   group   of   Musicians and   Enthusiasts   for   the   purpose of     preserving,     promoting     and performing        western        swing music.     The     purpose     of     this organization   was   and   shall   be   to encourage       and       foster       the promotion,     enhancement     and preservation    of    western    swing music,        to        broaden        the knowledge    of    its    members,    to cultivate   and   promote   fellowship, and   to   make   its   members   and the       general       public       more responsible         to         sustaining western     swing     music     as     a unique     form     of     music.     This corporation     is     organized     for pleasure,    recreation,    and    other non-profitable     purposes     within the    IRS    code    guidelines    which apply    to    our    organization.    We came   to   organize   this   group   with the    guidance    and    help    of    the Sacramento      Western      Swing Society,    and    we,    the    Seattle Western   Swing   Society   in   turn, helped     guide     the     Vancouver, Canada   based   branch   Western Swing    Music    Society    into    its formation.
Listening Selection:  Silver Lake Blues, recorded by Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, Album:  For the Last Time
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