Although a case could probably be made for steel-guitarist and future bandleader Leon McAuliffe, Tommy Duncan was the most high-profile of all Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys of the ‘30s and ‘40s — next to Bob himself, of course. His easygoing and warm vocal style, which could turn plaintive on a dime, Is as big a component of the classic Bob Wills sound as anything else.
However, as good as he was, Tommy Duncan was far from the only vocalist in the band during that time. On recordings and in live shows, other members of the Playboys regularly got the chance to warble a tune or two. That group included Bob Wills himself, who famously broke meter on most of his vocals, as well as McAuliffe. In fact, Eldon Shamblin, Bob’s great guitarist and arranger, once told me that his boss assigned just about every musician in the group a song to sing. (Eldon’s was “There’ll be Some Changes Made.”)
All of that is to say that the SWING ON THIS opening number this week is sung by a Texas Playboys linchpin whom we seldom think of as a vocalist. It’s the top-notch fiddler Jesse Ashlock, who does a fine, jivey job on a jazz standard that first came out in the 1920s. Authorship is credited to a New Orleans bandleader from the ‘20s named A.J. Piron; Louis Armstrong, however, has said that he was its actual writer — something I didn’t know until I’d put this week’s show to bed.
Also, it was apparently inspired by a madam in a New Orleans brothel.
In addition to that hot opener, I’ve got a rare version of “Milk Cow Blues,” sung by a Hall of Fame disc jockey with accompaniment by the Brazos Valley Boys, as well as vinyl-album cuts from Billy Parker and Michael Nesmith, and a “Shellacked” entry that hit Billboard’s Country & Western Top 10 in 1953.
So join me, won’t you, for an hour of Western swing, cowboy jazz, and maybe a surprise or two. That’s SWING ON THIS, Saturday night at 7 p.m. Tulsa time over radio station KWGS, 89.5 FM, and streaming everywhere at publicradiotulsa.org
1. “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
(for JOHN HAMILL)
2. “Boogie Back to Texas,” Asleep at the Wheel
3. “Driving Nails in My Coffin,” Hank Thompson and His Brazos Valley Boys
(for WES & JEANNIE BENGE and the GLASS LIFTERS)
4. “Comin’ Down the Pecos,” Hoyle Nix
5. “Milk Cow Blues,” Brazos Valley Boys w/Dugg Collins
(for MOREY SULLIVAN)
6. “San Antonio Rose,” Jerry Deer
(for AP MCQUIDDY)
7. “Average Man,” Billy Parker
(for JACK & CAROLE BENDER)
8. “I’m Going Back to the Middle of the Middle West,” Spade Cooley
(for RICK REILEY)
9. “Grand Ennui,” Michael Nesmith
(for JANE MALCOLM)
10. “You’re Doing It Wrong,” Brennen Leigh
(for BRETT BINGHAM)
11. “Goodbye My Heart,” Jimmy Wyble
12. “Cheatin’s A Sin,” Kitty Wells
13. “Awake But Dreaming,” Tom Morrell and His Time-Warp Tophands
14. “Crafton Blues,” Jimmie Revard and His Oklahoma Outlaws
(for CAT MORGAN BURTON and CHRIS BURTON)
15, “Hot Check Baby,” Johnnie Lee Wills
16. “Just Like A Rose of San Antone, Approximately,” Michael H. Price and His Western Swingmasters