Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
February 7, 2001
Bob Wills deserves to be on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac every single day, so it's with great happiness that I presented a story on the King of Western Swing for this week's Almanac. Bob Wills' contribution to the American music scene is immeasurable. If the next music you hear, (post-1950) was not directly influenced by Bob Wills you can bet that it owes at least some indirect nod of thanks to Wills' musical genius. Stop reading this and go listen to some Bob Wills!!
Townsend, C. (1986). San Antonio Rose: The life and music of Bob Wills. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Hello, I'm Steven Kite welcoming you to the Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories of our state's past.
On the evening of February 9th, 1934 many residents of Tulsa and surrounding areas listened to their usual Saturday night radio programs. One of the most prominent of Tulsa stations KVOO normally went off the air at exactly 12:00 am each night, but this weekend listeners were in for a treat. At 12:00 as undoubtedly many listeners reached to turn their radios off, instead of the usual silence, a new sound was heard. It was music, but it wasn't the usual country radio fare, this was Bob Wills making his first ever appearance in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Bob Wills was born the son of itinerant cotton farmers and spent most of his early life in Texas. While spending time as a cotton picker, barber and county jail inmate, Bob constantly worked on music. His father and grandfather were fiddlers and the Wills family was known for their raucous musical style. Bob followed in his families footsteps quickly mastering the fiddle. Along the way young Wills played in various minstrel and old-timey medicine shows learning a line of stage talk and patter that would continue for the rest of his life and become his most famous show business trademark.
Bob along with his family was living in Turkey, Texas when financial and legal matters as well as prospects for the future looked grim. On a whim Wills loaded up members of his current band and headed to Oklahoma City. Fortuitous circumstances there caused the band to look for work in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it was on February 9th of 1934 that the band rolled into that town with just a few dollars between the seven members.
The manager of KVOO saw enough potential in the band to put them on the air, albeit at 12:00 midnight, that same day. Response to the band was phenomenal, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys were an instant hit in the oil capital, and the two entities began a relationship that lasts to this very day. Tulsa naturally became the headquarters for the band and almost every weekend for years the group played a dance at the Cains Ballroom and Dancing Academy that was simulcast on KVOO. Wills and his band went on from Tulsa to national and international acclaim playing and pioneering a completely original blend of big band and western swing music. Bob Wills "is" the King of western swing, and Tulsans heard him for the first time this week in 1934.
I'm Steven Kite.
The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.