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STRICTLY BY EAR
by Time Magazine
A cold California fog hung over San Joaquin Valley. Inside Beardsley's dance hall, near Bakersfield, the air was steaming with the exertions of 1,358 oil workers and farmers as they jived, jumped, or just jogged to the music. The men were mostly tieless; the fruit-cannery girls they danced with were mostly in sweaters and slacks. On the platform, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys tapped their pointed, hand-stitched boots, and plunked and blew their way through "Take Me Back To Tulsa." On benches lining the ways, babies in blankets slept through it all.
The Bakersfield dance last week was something special: Bob Wills was celebrating his 30th anniversary as a cowboy fiddler. For the occasion, he played his 35th new tune, a fox trot called "G. I. Wish (G. I. . . . wish that I were free to roam, G. I. wish that I were home"). It had the same kind of whine, the same kind of maudlin lyrics that put his "Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima" and "Smoke on the Water" among the nation's top-selling folk records last year.
"Backwoods Lombardo." Bob Wills's music is called "folk" in the trade for want of a better name; there's a lot of fig in the folk. Wills is more a backwoods Guy Lombardo than a balladeer like Burl Ives. His trick is to bring ranch-house music nearer to the city. Says he: "Please don't any­body confuse us with none of them hillbilly outfits."
Swart, handsome Jim Rob ("Bob") Wills, 40, son of a Texas sharecropping fiddler, has fiddled since he was ten. At 17 he preached the gospel at rural revival meetings, then joined a gang of promising Texas badmen, two of whom were eventually sentenced to life terms. (One of his record best-sellers is "The Convict and the Rose.") Wills and a group of pick-up musicians, calling themselves the "Light-crust Doughboys," played on W. Lee ("Pass the Biscuits, Pappy") O'Daniel's radio show. Wills set to music O'Daniel's
"Reprinted by permission from Time, Vol 47, No. 6, February 11, Copyright 1946, Time Inc."
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III