Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Feb. 13, 2009
Bob Wills & His Texas PlayboysThe Tiffany Transcriptions (Collectors' Choice Music)
In 1975, Waylon Jennings sang, "Bob Wills is still the king." Digging through this 10-CD box set makes plain what provoked that sentiment. The Kosse, Texas-born Wills (1905-1975) didn't invent Western swing, but he took it to places no one could've imagined. The Tiffany Transcriptions were cut for radio syndication, recorded in San Francisco 1946-1947, with Wills & His Texas Playboys at the height of their powers and popularity. There are official studio releases from the time, but the Tiffany sessions capture the band in its essence – live – revealing chain reaction musical spontaneity that's utterly infectious. Naturally there's Wills' best known tunes, "Faded Love" and "San Antonio Rose," as well as the Playboys' take on Duke Ellington ("Take the 'A' Train" positively smokes), Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Cole Porter, Nat Cole, and Benny Goodman, plus traditional folk and fiddle tunes, blues and boogie, show tunes, yodeling from the McKinney Sisters, and seemingly improvised instrumentals on occasion, all of it jiving and jamming like mad. Wills' ear for talent is obvious as the Playboys include such all-time great players as steel guitarist Herb Remington, guitarist Junior Barnard (whose stunning solo on "Fat Boy Rag" influenced rock & roll guitar players for decades), mandolin player Tiny Moore, fiddler Joe Holley, and, perhaps most importantly, guitarist/arranger Eldon Shamblin. These discs were initially available individually on vinyl and then CD but have long been out of print. The box expands original liner notes with a new historical essay by Rich Kienzle and brief, insightful comments from Austin's Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, Big Sandy and Ashley Kingman of the Fly-Rite Boys, and Ranger Doug of Riders in the Sky. For fans of those acts and like-minded champions of country and swing – i.e., the Hot Club of Cowtown and Wayne "the Train" Hancock – The Tiffany Transcriptions are the Holy Grail.