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Bob’s Holler Echoes in  Tribute by WT Professor

  By Betty Coleman                                           Amarillo, Texas Globe News Staff Writer                                           December 19th, 1974

Bob Wills Dec. 19th, 1974
Bob Wills Dec. 19th, 1974 - 2
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Bob Wills Dec. 19th, 1974 - 5
Bob Wills Dec. 19th, 1974 - 6
Bob Wills & Texas Playboys

Who played Western Swing when Bob wasn't in Town

After Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys became popular a number of bands in West Texas (among other places) began playing Will's songs and copying his style. Although Wills and his band continued to play in West Texas at places like the Cotton Club (in Lubbock) and the Avalon Ballroom (in Amarillo) it is still interesting to know just who carried on, when Bob Wills wasn't in town!

Let's begin with a somewhat famous band that played out of Amarillo, 'The Sons of the West'. This band had originated in Ft. Worth in the mid thirties when one of Bob's cousins founded the band. His name was Son Lansford and he played upright bass. Not long after their beginning, the band moved to Amarillo where much opportunity awaited them. This was the age of radio and ballroom dancing and they thrived well in Amarillo during the later thirties and forties playing radio shows, the Nat Ballroom and other night spots. However Lansford turned the band over to Jimmy Meek and returned to Bob Will's band not long after the band moved to West Texas in c.1938. Early members of the band included Jimmy Meek-vocals & fiddle, Billy Briggs-steel guitar, Jesse Williams-guitar, Loren Mitchell-piano, Pat Trotter-fiddle, Cliff Wells-banjo, Jess Robertson-banjo, Freddie Dean-guitar, Buck Buchanan-fiddle, and Leonard Seago-fiddle.

One of the earliest groups to play western swing down in the Midland-Odessa area of West Texas was a band called 'Bob Skyles and the Skyrockets'. This band was made-up of the Kendrick brothers: Bob, Clifford & Sanford. It seems that Bob had only used the stage-name 'Skyles' because it fit well with the word 'Skyrockets'. This eclectic group worked out of Pecos, Tx and they purportedly played all types of music, including western swing in the late thirties and early forties. They had numerous 78 rpm records on the Blue Bird and Decca labels and even traveled to El Paso for bookings. However, most of their recordings are corny, novelty songs and not western swing it appears. Besides the Kendrick brothers, other members at various times included Moon Mullican-piano, Curley Nichols-guitar, Max Bennett-piano, Frank Wilhelm-accordian, Brooke Kendrick & Dave Hughes.

In the fifties Bob Wills music was much in vogue in West Texas and the early Maines brothers of Lubbock played it. Their band was called 'The Western Swing Kings'. Their key members were Sonny & James Maines while other members included Curley Lawler, Frank Carter, Gerald Braddock & Fernie Reed. Their familiar haunt was the Cotton Club and later their sons would carry on the tradition as the new Maines Brothers Band. Lloyd, Kenny & Steve Maines would eventually record for Mercury records in the early eighties.

Billy Briggs and the XIT boys in Amarillo and Hoyle Nix in the Big Spring area would also continue the tradition of western swing during the fifties. Briggs was not only a good musician (steel guitar) but like Nix he also was a good writer. In circa 1950 his song 'Chew Tobacco Rag' hit the national charts and for a time he booked his band under the name 'Chew Tobacco Rag Boys'. But most of his recordings are listed under 'Billy Briggs and the XIT Boys' and he was quite a star in the Amarillo-Dalhart area until he moved to California in the late fifties.

Fiddler Hoyle Nix and his brother (Ben Nix) had established the West Texas Cowboys in 1946 in Big Spring, Tx. They also established regular bookings that included Lubbock, Odessa, Midland, Abilene and San Angelo. Then in fifty-four they decided to build a dance hall outside of Big Spring and see if they could make a go of it. The Stampede Club was a resounding success and Nix was on his way to fame & fortune, playing Bob Wills music! Then in 1958 he wrote and recorded 'Big Balls in Cowtown' which Wills himself covered and the rest is history. Hoyle Nix became the heir apparent to Will's legacy, at least in West Texas. Aside from Ben Nix, other musicians associated with Hoyle Nix have included sons Larry Nix & Jody Nix, Wink Lewis, Deonne Dome and Merle David of Clarendon.

Three other bands that played western swing in West Texas in the late fifties, probably competed for prime rodeo dances. They were the Miller Brothers Band of Wichita Falls, Jimmy Heap & the the Melody Makers of Stamford and Don Allen and the Sunset Ramblers of Lubbock, Tx. I recall hearing the Miller Brothers at the Horse & Colt Show in Paducah in 1960. They played western swing with an Eldon Shamblin feel and were good! I am sure Heap and the Melody Makers were very good during their heyday also. Both of these bands music has now been re-issued on a CD titled: 'Dance Hall Music of Texas'. Don Allen and his Sunset Ramblers used to play the VFW at Matador in the late fifties. They also played a television show on KLBK channel 13 regularly at this same time and were quite popular on the South Plains. Allen's dad had founded the original Sunset Rambler band over in Allenreed, Tx some years prior. Quitaque native James Baird played upright bass with Don Allen during the late fifties, I should add.

In the mid-fifties a musician named Tiny Colbert fronted a band that included musicians, Eddie Miller and Durwood Haddock who were destined to become famous song-writers. Colbert played in the Odessa and Lamesa area of West Texas at this time and his band was popular there. Haddock had come into the area to work as a disc jockey at Lamesa, Tx and had first played fiddle with Colbert at Danceland in Odessa in c.1954. There is little doubt that the Tiny Colbert band played a lot of western swing and Haddock seemed to have also been a singer as well as fiddler. He had several 78 rpm releases under the name 'Durwood Daily' back then. Although the band that Tiny Colbert founded in Odessa has been mostly forgotten Miller and Haddock co-wrote the country standard 'There She Goes' and their creation lives on! Eddie Miller also co-wrote another great standard 'Please Release Me' and he also fronted a successful band "Eddie Miller & the Oklahomans". This band also toured Texas and played some western swing, I beleive..

Will's type music was continued in west texas by Charlie Phillips & the Sugartimers of Amarillo. Phillips got his start in big-time music when he co-wrote the classic song 'Sugartime' with Odis Echols and recorded it in Clovis, NM in 1957. Sugartime became a country & pop hit when it was covered by the McGuire Sisters. It appears Phillips then left his hometown of Farwell, Tx and went into radio in Amarillo where he became a noted disc jockey & singer. Although radio may have been his mainstay, on weekends he played at the Avalon Ballroom and eventually signed with Columbia records for more record releases. Turkey's own native son Gary Johnson played drums with Phillips band for a year in the mid-sixties!

Some lesser known bands in the Turkey area also were playing Bob Wills music and deserve mention. Pat Seigler and the Hepcats, an instrumental band from Matador played a few western swing numbers at local dances. One of their favorite places to play was the old VFW there and I recall their music fondly from the late fifties. They played San Antonio Rose very well,! Bobby Wynne was also playing western swing over in nearby Floydada, in the early sixties. In fact he started a band called Kings of Western Swing while working at the Ford house there and began playing weekends at the VFW in Plainview. Bobby sang & played trumpet well enough to travel with Hank Thompson and has been inducted into the Western Swing Hall of Fame.

In the early sixties Cliff Stodghill & wife Joy fronted a band in Silverton that also played western swing. Initially, Morris Stephens, Dick Polk, Odis Honey and the Mayfield brothers played some with them. Later the Stodghills teamed with Bennie Brown, John & Maybelle Francis and Jimmy Burson and called themselves 'The Country Sounds'. This band kept Will's music alive around the Silverton-Quitaque-Turkey area for decades and were (or have been) real proponents of Western Swing!

I cannot conclude this article without mentioning several other old-time musicians of our area. One was Bob's old friends, the late Zip Durrett of Lakeview, Tx. When Bob was in the area he always visited Zip and tried to play some with him. Durrett played guitar with a lot of other, local fiddlers in his lifetime also. Another somewhat legendary musician was Ollie Miller of the Dickens area. He also was noted for playing guitar behind local fiddlers and had a reputation for being good at it! A good western swing fiddler Travis Carruth of Olton, Tx deserves mention also because he always played a lot of Wills music around Plainview and the South Plains. Now perhaps we know the answer to the question, "Who played Western Swing when Bob was not in town?" Travis, Miller, Durrett and the other musicians I have mentioned continued the tradition of Western Swing in West Texas, when Bob was not in town!

The Wills-Shafer Connection

by Robin Brown

Sometime after Bob Wills left Turkey for the last time in 1929 (and sometime before 1939) the rest of the John Wills family had moved away from Hall county also. They had first moved to a farm near Muleshoe, Tx. to join relatives there. It seems that one of John's sisters had married a man named Shafer who had lived in Hall county also. One of the Shafer's sons (Bub) had later married a girl from Gasoline, Tx. Her name was Fiddle Stevenson and her parents were early Gasoline residents John & Elizabeth Stevenson. The Shafers had moved to the Circle-Back community (near Muleshoe,Tx) before the John Wills family had decided to move to Muleshoe. According to Ronnie Shafer the Wills had moved to that area of west Texas to join them (perhaps in the early or mid thirties). The Wills had lived there for awhile before they moved on to Tulsa, Oklahoma where Bob was then living. The whole family was living in Tulsa in 1939 when Bob married Mary Louise Parker (Rosetta's mother).

During last years Bob Wills Celebration I had the pleasure of visiting with Bub Shafer's son, Ronnie. He had some interesting stories about our area to relay to us! For one, he stated that the country school his father had attended while in Hall county was nicknamed 'Buzzard Roof School'! There were a number of country schools in the area near the two rivers (where the Shafers lived) including the one at Plaska and also the Weatherly school. Although it would be near impossible to know today which school his father attended, nevertheless it would be interesting to know which one bore the funny name, Buzzard Roof School!

Ronne Shafer who was born in c.1938 also related an unusual story about Gasoline, Tx that is worth telling. Sometime, perhaps in the twenties, one of his aunt's (Oleta/Jelly) was born and soon she developed some sort of colic and was in jeopardy of dying. A country doctor advised the baby's mother to find a 'wet nurse' of African descent, telling her this might cure the baby. According to the clues that Ronnie provided it has been determined that the late Vella Dowd (Mrs. Lamb Dowd) of Gasoline, Tx was the young lady who did nurse the baby back to health! The Dowds had worked for Cap Wise and had lived on the Wise farm (on the Gasoline curve) for many years beginning in the twenties if not earlier.

Shafer also told me though his father (Bub Shafer) had been a cousin of Bob Wills and had lived in Hall county near the Wills but he himself had never lived in this area. This was because after his father & mother married they moved to Circle-Back community, near Muleshoe, Tx before Ronnie was born in 1938. History records that after Bob Wills left Turkey for the last time in 1929 (and sometime before 1939) the rest of the John Wills family did move away from Hall county. According to Rosetta Will's book they had moved to a farm near Muleshoe before moving on to Tulsa. Ronnie told me that the Wills family had moved to Muleshoe to be near relatives, the Bub Shafers of Circle-Back!

I'm not good at geneology but let's see if we can keep this complicated story of the Wills and Shafers straight! It seems that one of John Will's sisters had married Ronnie Shafer's grandad and they had perhaps migrated west to Hall county at about the same time the Wills had. Then sometime around 1930 one of the Shafer's sons Bub (born in 1913) had married the Stevenson girl from Gasoline, Tx. As already stated, she was the daughter of John & Elizabeth Stevenson. All the Shafers seem to have moved to the Circle-Back community before the John Wills family had decided to move to a farm near Muleshoe & Circle Back. According to the clues it seems the Wills had moved there perhaps in the early or mid thirties. There the Wills had lived for awhile before they moved on to Tulsa, Oklahoma where Bob was then living and playing on KVOO radio. Bob's parents had left Texas and were living in Tulsa in 1939 when Bob married Mary Lou Parker. Rosetta Wills states that when Bob married her mother in thirty-nine, "Bob lived on a ranch (near Tulsa) with his parents John & Emma Wills, his young brothers and sisters and other relatives. He had moved his family from a farm at Muleshoe, Tx."

A final story that Ronnie related to me is somewhat touching and part of family legend. Many know that Bob's father (John) was also a champion fiddler and had competed against the great Eck Robertson (among others) at fiddle contests here & there. However, the Will's fiddling tradition goes back even farther in the family lineage. As the story goes one of Bob's ancestors (I'm not sure which one) was on his deathbed and he asked to hold his favorite fiddle just one last time. With the family nearby he composed the melody to the classic song 'Maiden's Prayer' just before he died. I'm not sure who today is credited as the song's author but in the Wills-Schafer part of the family, the song is said to have been handed down from generation to generation. Thanks Ronnie for your interesting family stories!

I might also add, my father (Blue Brown) had lived in the Lakeview-Plaska area during the 1920's not far from the Wills farm. Occasionally he would tell a Bob Will's story to us kids. He stated numerous times that he had attended some of the country dances where Bob Wills had played. One such dance was held on the Hancock Ranch, near Oxbow crossing I think it was. My father stated that Bob had played a dance there in c.1926 and he had attended. In a recorded interview Bob once reminisced about playing 'ranch dances' in West Texas during his youth and how much fun it had been. During this same inteview he had mentioned playing at the Barton Ranch which was on the North Pease river (between Turkey & Matador). The headquarters of the old ranch is now the Wilson Barton place or it was nearby.

Bobby WynneSteelDorisMikeHenryGuitarDonRedwine,LucyDeanRecord

Bobby Wynne - steel guitar, Dorris Baker - microphone, Don Redwine - fiddle, Henry Baker - bass, Lucy Dean - electric piano

Bob Will's Week
Turkey, Texas, April 2008

Living just ten miles from Turkey, Tx made attending the annual Bob Wills celebration easy! Unlike some fans who drove down from Canada, I did not spend $750 on gasoline. In fact I only burned about $35 worth in my daily trips into town! Thanks to Henry Baker the first event began on Friday nite, a week before the main events. Yes, there was a little shindig at the Church of Western Swing that evening as some Panhandle musicians jammed with Henry & Doris. Well actually there was one out-of-stater (besides Henry) who played and it was Alfie Johns, the sax man who drove in (with his wife) from California to attend! They have restored a house in Turkey and are loving visiting the area and making their second home here, at least it appears. They keep finding 'old newspapers' in the house and passing them on to incompetent writers, I might add!

Gary Johnson's backyard picnic was postponed until Thursday evening because of the rain storm. I figured there would be about fifteen musicians & wives to contend with so I mustered up the courage to attend. What a miscalculation! There were well over fifty people present and just feeding everyone a burger darn near broke the host and hostess, Gary & Berdelle!! Out of town guest included Playboy guitarist Joe Settlemires, Oleta and Louis Randall. Mr. Jerry & his wife (from Altus, OK) and Herman & Fern Rhodes were also present as were several musicians from the cast of the show, 'The Toot's'. Local guests included Sandy Fuston & B.J. Mullin among others.

Buck & Rhoda Coghlan also hosted a little get-together at the 66 Service Station near downtown Turkey on Thursday. Rhoda had cooked up some southwestern food including Chili and Spicy Stew (although she called it something else). I'd just feasted at Gary's party so I couldn't eat. I requested instead a carry-out bowl to eat later and it was mucho delicious! Cody Bell, Jay Bradshaw & Richard Green were also present at the Coghlan's party. Buck stated that he had jammed with some bluegrassers during the week and had really enjoyed playing acoustic music. I had jammed with him earlier in the week. The Coghlan's had several relatives who drove in from Iowa (I think it was) and they arrived just as I was leaving the party. Although Buck hadn't felt well upon arrival in Turkey, by Thursday he was feeling good and in high spirits. It seems as though Buck & Rhoda's investment in Turkey is 'working just as planned'! They now have a nice place to park several Motor Homes and they also have a music-studio to entertain in during Bob Wills celebration, etc!

A number of Will's fans and musicians also rendezvoused at the Quitaque Hotel. I ran across Bob Reed, Bruce Nelson (and wife Elaine) who were with the 'Ooty, Pooty & Sister Cutie' show which played the Gem Theatre this week. While the others shopped at the hotel garage sale, I interviewed Reed and he had quite an interesting story to relate to me. It seems that he was born on the Gulf coast while his dad was stationed in Texas in 1941. His last years of high school were spent in California near Edwards Air Base where he opted to drop-out of school and join the military and travel. He seems to have had an early interest in playing guitar and singing and probably met numerous musicians in the military.

In the mid-sixties he had made his first record, a single. It was released on the Arco label out of California. I don't think it sold too well but in 1968 he had a single on a Nashville label that sold well enough for him to tour with some big name country acts. Reed by then had a couple of sons and decided they needed his attention more than the world needed his music, so he dropped out of show biz for awhile. After attending the University of Arkansas and raising his family, Bob Reed began booking some famous recording artists to play Auto Shows which he was involved in at the time. This led to his meeting some important entertainers including Pee Wee King. Eventually King enlisted Reed to produce an album for him. This was recorded in Branson and Nashville and it was King's last 'greatest hits' album. More recently Reed (and partners) are operating a Club-theatre in Mountain View, Arkansas where they produce entertainment shows for tourist and local people. Jimmy Burson of Silverton has played there and of course the Toot's comedy show also plays there periodically when the cast is not appearing in Branson, Turkey or elsewhere!

On my last trip to Turkey I ran across my favorite trader, an octogenarian and country music historian (whose name I can't recall). He & his younger partner were parked on the east end of 'main st.' near Allsups and were selling guitars & fiddles. Undoubtibly the older man knows more about Jimmy Rodgers and Bob Wills than anyone in Texas while the younger one knows more Hilary Clinton jokes than Rush Limbaugh does. Nevertheless, after a short visit I walked away laughing at their jokes and staring at the hull of an antique fiddle, I purchased. Telling myself, "I'll never be able to repair this thang!" Thank you Bob Wills and Turkey, Tx for making my week!!

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