In high school a friend lent me an album called Mel Tillis and Bob Wills In Person. It was my first serious introduction to the joy of Western swing. Later as a teenager I would sneak into Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin Texas to hear the music of Asleep at the Wheel and Commander Cody. I have loved their free wheeling styles of improvisational music since and I'm enjoying the experience of recording my 14th album, For the Love of Western Swing, as a tribute to the musical genre.
During my college years at the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor my buddy John Spaar and I hiked several miles toting three ice chests of Coors (the entrepreneur Spaar thought we could sell most of them to pay for the tickets but we wound up drinking our profits) to a great spot to watch an amazing lineup of music at Willie's 4th of July Picnic. This particular year it was held on ranch lands near my home in Marble Falls. I awoke from a late afternoon nap after a long day of music, eats and cold beverages at Willie's Picnic to the sounds of under Asleep at the Wheel, Willie and the cast from Honeysuckle Rose belting out Bob Wills's "Miles and Miles of Texas." It was a life-changing moment. I may not have completely convinced myself at that time that a life in the music industry was my calling but certainly the seeds were planted as I watched the multitudes singing along with the chorus as the sun set over the hill country near Willie's Pedernales Recording Studio.
I eventually transferred and graduated from Southwest Texas State University and took a temporary job in catering. Which leads me to an early chapter in my growth as a lover of Texas swing. It involved a fellow "cookie" on an extended catering adventure in the mountains north of Phoenix. Doug "Dadgum" Davis, as I called him, brought his own one man tent to this job where we were hired to cook and feed 50 or so businessmen pretending to be cowboys. Doug played his fiddle and I played his guitar the first night after KP duty up the mountain at his campsite. I loved and knew many Hank Williams songs. Doug loved, knew and played many Bob Wills songs well. The businessmen could hear us at their camp and from then on we never had to wash dishes again. The men, who were paying our catering outfit quite well, told our boss to get us out of the kitchen on on the stage every night that followed. I learned several Bob Wills songs from Doug during that road trip and some cool chords too!
Fast forward a few years and I'm doing gigs with some of those musicians from Camp Willie, like David Zettner, Willie Nelson's bass player before being sent to Viet Nam, and Bucky Meadows who was a significant part of Nelson's Red Headed Stranger album and who toured with Bob Wills as a younger man. I'm also playing and recording with some of the musicians who were part of that Asleep at the Wheel show at that pivotal 4th of July Picnic performance, players like John Ely, Western swing steel virtuoso, and Floyd Domino, the piano wizard who also played on many of George Strait's biggest hits. Because of those influences I began writing and performing more and more western swing compositions. "A Girl Named Texas," originally included on the Stand Your Ground record and later on Lone Starry Night (Dualtone Records), was born of out of that period.
One of my most memorable moments as a professional musician followed a day of golfing at Barton Creek Country Club in Austin for a charity I can't recall. I do remember that generous contributors gave to the charity and in return were able to play in a foursome with one of Austin's celebrities. Some of the biggest donors were able to play with the likes of Lyle Lovett & Ray Benson while the smaller contributors played with musicians of my stature. The after party, held at Guero's Tacos, featured Tex-Mex, adult beverages and concert by Asleep at the Wheel. Shortly before the show Jason Roberts, fiddler at the time for the band, approached me and asked if I minded fronting The Wheel while Ray got his bearings (apparently there were plenty of libations available on the golf course). What a moment of exhilaration it was to be able to perform a short set with that band in front of that Austin crowd not far from the state capitol! Two of the songs I played that day are on my forthcoming release, For the Love of Texas Swing.
My current lineup of Chris Reeves, Kurt Baumer, Mark Epstein, B.B. Morse, Luiz Coutinho de Souza, Stefano Bertolotti, and Kevin Hall all love to swing and all feel as I do that it's our obligation as musicians to keep alive the tradition of Western swing and Bob Wills music. Of course, playing the old songs is important, but it's also important to create new ones in that vein.
One of my favorite songs on the album began as a fiddle instrumental written by Ron Knuth. I asked Ron if he had any lyrics for the tune and he said, "No, I was waiting for you to write 'em." So, after researching the history of Cherry Spring Dance Hall I created the early lyrics for "Cherry Spring Swing," which detail some of the great shows that went through Cherry Springs, not far from Fredericksburg, Texas, north of San Antonio and west of Austin. I recently finished the second verse. It'll be one of the featured gems on the new recording, For the Love of Western Swing which you can pre-order through the Indiegogo link: https://igg.me/at/jamfans/x#/.
The album will include a bilingual rendition of "Roly Poly," A cumbia and swing version of "Take Me Back To Texas," which is the lyric Wills sang before moving to Oklahoma, "For the Love of Western Swing," the title track written about our travels to see the Bob Wills Museum of Western Swing, "You Bring Out the Best In Me," a more modern Keith Whitley meets George Strait contemporary swing number co-written with Jerry Harkins. For the Love of Western Swing, the album, is indeed a labor of love.