On This Day: Bob Wills, the King of Western Swing, Dies in 1975

by Clayton Edwards
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Many people know Bob Wills as the King of Western Swing. However, he was even more than that. Wills was a bandleader, fiddle player, and one of the originators of western swing. He was also an actor and one of the best medicine show performers in American history. However, the sound that he created with his Texas Playboys laid the groundwork for modern country music. Many of the biggest stars of the genre count Wills among their major influences. For instance, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, and Merle Haggard all built their careers around the sound that Wills and his Playboys laid down in the early twentieth century.

Bob Wills’s career spanned over forty years. In those years, he helped to create and popularize two of the most important subgenres of country music. Not only did he play a major part in the creation of western swing but he was also at the forefront of the Bakersfield Sound. His impact on music as a whole is immeasurable. In short, Wills was a legend.

Looking Back At The Legendary Bob Wills

The Carter Family cut one of the first country albums in 1927 at a studio in Bristol, Tennessee. Six years later and over a thousand miles away, Bob Wills formed one of the most influential bands in country music in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Texas Playboys started as a string band. As the years went on, Wills continued to add members to the band. In the end, the group contained both horns and drums. Both of these things were nearly unheard of in country music at the time.

So, when you hear horns in modern, or even classic, country music, you have Bob Wills and his band to thank for it. For instance, Merle Haggard’s classics like “Rainbow Stew,” or “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” or Johnny Cash’s iconic “Ring of Fire,” wouldn’t be the same without the horns. That’s just scratching the surface. Wills, his band, and their sound influenced all the greats.

Because they had such a wide range of instruments and talented musicians, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys could incorporate a wider range of styles into their sound. They seamlessly blended traditional country music, jazz, blues, and big band swing into the mix.

To hear a great example of that eclectic blend, listen to “Red Hot Gal of Mine.”

While that song wasn’t a hit for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, it stands as a solid example of their sound.

Bob Wills died in Fort Worth, Texas 46 years ago today at the age of 70. Wills left behind a large family and a legacy that will live on forever.

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