Compendium of Fiddle Styles/Western swing fiddle

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Westerns swing originated in 1920s and 1930s; small towns in the US Southwest. Although sometimes subject to the term "Texas swing" it is widely associated with Tulsa,[1]others contend that "Western Swing music finds deep roots in the dust bowl of Oklahoma"[2], and its influences include jazz from the major urban centers of the USA. Its' stylistic origins lie in Old Time, Western, blues,folk,swing,Dixieland and jazz. Writing in Rolling Stone, Dan Hicks described it as Texas-bred music grafted to jazz, or as "white country blues with a syncopated beat.".[3]

Bob Wills is considered by many music authorities one of the fathers of Western swing along with his old Fort Worth friend, Milton Brown. Nevertheless it is Wills who is called the King of Western Swing. A key factor in its development was the competition that the radio and recordings brought to compete with the more insular and time honored traditions of old time fiddle music.[4][5] "Hep cat" and sometime Roy Rogers stand-in Spade Cooley used the title of "King of Western Swing" as per a 1945 Warner Brothers film.[6][7]

Distinctives of the style[edit | edit source]

One of the characteristics of the genre is that fiddle is the lead instrument, unlike other genres such as Cajun fiddle|Cajun in which the lead instrument varies in different eras. [8] A major characteristic of the style is syncopation and rhythmic drive - it is dance music.[9] It was typically played in bars and in big city Western hotel buildings with large ballrooms; alcohol was served and fights were not unknown. The musicians had to keep the music going until they had fulfilled their contract and could get paid. Twin fiddles and even triple fiddle was another distinctive of Western Swing fiddle.[10] Jesse Ashlock was the first and longest-standing of Wills’s fiddle players, and the first to do “take off” solos. He had a considerable armoury of techniques including the double shuffle, triplets, parallel fifths and lots of syncopation.[citation needed]

Repertoire[edit | edit source]

Many old time fiddle tunes were adapted to Western swing.[11] "Faded Love" is a Western swing song written by Bob Wills, his father John Wills,[12] and his brother, Billy Jack Wills. The melody came from an old fiddle tune Bob learned from his father, John Wills.[13][14]

San Antonio Rose written by Wills, was his biggest hit, taking him "from hamburgers to steaks!". It sold over a million copies.[15]

Notable Western Swing fiddlers (partial list)[edit | edit source]

Bus Boyk

Cecil Brower

Cliff Bruner

Johnny Gimble

Billy Hughes (musician)

Merl Lindsay

Rose Maddox

Billy Jack Saucier

Dave Stogner

Bob Wills

Johnnie Lee Wills

Joe Holley

Louis Tierney

Cliff Bruner

Crossover and influence[edit | edit source]

Westerns swing is influential on country music as demonstrated by, for instance, collaboration of Willie Nelson with Asleep at the Wheel on Austin City Limits in 2009.[16]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Boyd, Jean Ann. Jazz of the Southwest: An Oral History of Western Swing. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0-292-70859-4
  • Boyd, Jean A. "Western Swing: Working-Class Southwestern Jazz of the 1930s and 1940s". Perspectives on American Music, 1900-1950 (ch. 7, pp. 193–214), edited by Michael Saffle. Routledge, 2000. ISBN 978-0-8153-2145-3

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Bob Wills - Take Me Back To Tulsa: The Original Columbia Recordings Vol. 1 CD Bob Wills
  2. Oklahoma Trading Post Fiddlers
  3. Dan Hicks|Review of Merle Haggard A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (Or My Salute to Bob Wills)|
  4. Brink, Western Swing, p. 550: "In many ways, western swing music is a manifestation of the cultural forces that came together where the geographical isolation and harsh living conditions of the frontier met the electronic age. People still living in dugouts and sod houses on the Southern High Plains became a part of popular culture through the radio and the jukebox, mingling their musical talents and tastes with the new sounds introduced to them through the accessibility of phonographs and the airwaves."Cited at
  5. Logsdon, "Folk Songs", p. 299: "In the 1920s Bob Wills, a fiddle player son of a cotton farmer in West Texas, started playing ranch-house dances. His desire to play dances eventually developed a dance genre known as western swing. While the music has elements of jazz and blues, it actually evolved from the specific merger of cowboy and farmer folk song and instrumentation." Cited at
  6. Spade Cooley King of Swing|Warner Bros|1945
  7. ^ The Soundies Distributing Corporation of America: a history and filmography of their "jukebox" musical films of the 1940s. Terenzio, MacGillivary, Okuda. 1954. page 129. ISBN 0-89950-578-3
  8. ^ Boyd, "Western Swing", p. 208: "... modernization did not diminish the unique and basically rural character of western swing, which remained distinct from mainstream horn jazz because of the prominent place given to fiddles and guitars, both standard and steel. The fiddle was the lead instrument in any western swing band, even those with horns, and every other instrumentalist adjusted to the fiddlers' stylings and preferences for sharp keys. "
  9. Boyd,"...there were also rhythmic differences between western swing bands and horn bands. Western swing was dance music, with the emphasis on a clearly discernible and uncluttered beat pattern. Western swing bands tended to use a highly syncopated rhythmic bass (i.e. \tfrac{2}{4} time signature), moving to the more relaxed swing-four (i.e., \tfrac{4}{4} time signature) only to back certain soloists. This gave western swing bands more rhythmic drive and an overall more aggressive character than most horn bands...
  12. San Antonio Rose - The Life and Music of Bob Wills. Charles R. Townsend. 1976. University of Illinois. page 11. ISBN 0-252-00470-1
  13. Wolff, Country Music, p. 112: "It ['Faded Love'] originated with western swing pioneer Bob Wills, who grew up in the 1910s and '20s fiddling in rural Texas with his father, John Wills. They wrote the melody together when Bob was very young; it wasn't until 1950 that the song gained lyrics, courtesy of Bob's younger brother, Billy Jack."
  14. McWhorter, Cowboy Fiddler, p. 61: "And he [Boyd Rogers] played a tune called 'Forsaken Lover.' It's note-for-note the same as 'Faded Love.' Bob took that old tune and slowed it down and put in that long Bob Wills bow, and it became 'Faded Love'."
  15. Fiddling Around the World|Chris Haigh|Website|
  16. You Pretty Woman|Willie Nelson with Asleep at the Wheel|Austin City Limits|2009