You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Willis: A Brand of twang that swings

Pioneer put big band sound into country

Cowboy Nick Stahl is one of the few DJs keeping the country of yesteryear and today alive. He’s got two radio shows in Southern California: Cowboy Nick’s “TWANG!” show, every Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 88.5 FM and KCSN.org, and “Toe Tappin’ Music,” Saturdays 9-10:30 p.m. on 88.9.

When you talk about Bob Wills, the music he made with the Texas Playboys was so far beyond their time. This is a guy who was using electric instruments very early on. Bob Wills actually performed on the Grand Ole’ Opry once. After his first performance, they banned him because he dared to use a drum kit. Country music up to that point — if you look at the popular singers, the Roy Acuffs, the Ernest Tubbs — was very much steeped in the bluegrass tradition.

He decided to swing and put a big band sound into it. Sometimes he would use one, maybe two drummers (and) a full horn section. This hybrid music — part country, part swing, part jazz — really laid a foundation for rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly and other styles that came after.

To this day Merle Haggard has a saxophone player that plays with him. I don’t know a whole lot of horn players (in country music). It’s a direct link to Bob Wills and that swing influence.

The Bob Wills sound is in essence so wild, so raw, that he ended up influencing many of the outlaw movements of the ’70s. Waylon Jennings wrote a really big hit for him called “Bob Wills Is Still the King.”

I once heard this story from Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel. He’s having dinner with Clint Eastwood, and Eastwood is talking about when he was working at a factory in Washington. He’d gone to see Bob Wills, and Eastwood said to Benson: “I was more of a jazz fan, wasn’t into country music, heard there would be some pretty girls there.” Clint was blown away by the fact that those guys onstage were essentially jazz musicians with cowboy hats.

It’s also important to remember that even though … James Brown prided himself on having the best band in music — a band that could stop on a dime and turn — well, Bob Wills had that same kind of band. They could rip.

As told to D.R. Stewart.

More Scene

  • 'Patrick Melrose' TV show premiere

    Benedict Cumberbatch Calls 'Patrick Melrose' His 'Passion Project'

    Cowboy Nick Stahl is one of the few DJs keeping the country of yesteryear and today alive. He’s got two radio shows in Southern California: Cowboy Nick’s “TWANG!” show, every Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 88.5 FM and KCSN.org, and “Toe Tappin’ Music,” Saturdays 9-10:30 p.m. on 88.9. When you talk about Bob Wills, the […]

  • 'Cobra Kai' premiere

    ‘Cobra Kai’: Why Ralph Macchio Revisited 'Karate Kid' Character After 30 Years

    Cowboy Nick Stahl is one of the few DJs keeping the country of yesteryear and today alive. He’s got two radio shows in Southern California: Cowboy Nick’s “TWANG!” show, every Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 88.5 FM and KCSN.org, and “Toe Tappin’ Music,” Saturdays 9-10:30 p.m. on 88.9. When you talk about Bob Wills, the […]

  • Robert Downey Jr'Avengers: Infinity War' film

    'Avengers: Infinity War' Premiere Draws Largest Contingent of Marvel Superheroes

    Cowboy Nick Stahl is one of the few DJs keeping the country of yesteryear and today alive. He’s got two radio shows in Southern California: Cowboy Nick’s “TWANG!” show, every Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 88.5 FM and KCSN.org, and “Toe Tappin’ Music,” Saturdays 9-10:30 p.m. on 88.9. When you talk about Bob Wills, the […]

  • 'The Week Of' film premiere

    'The Week Of' Director Talks Reuniting With Adam Sandler After 'SNL'

    Cowboy Nick Stahl is one of the few DJs keeping the country of yesteryear and today alive. He’s got two radio shows in Southern California: Cowboy Nick’s “TWANG!” show, every Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 88.5 FM and KCSN.org, and “Toe Tappin’ Music,” Saturdays 9-10:30 p.m. on 88.9. When you talk about Bob Wills, the […]

  • Beautycon Festival

    Laverne Cox, Paris Hilton Promote Self-Love at Beautycon NYC

    Cowboy Nick Stahl is one of the few DJs keeping the country of yesteryear and today alive. He’s got two radio shows in Southern California: Cowboy Nick’s “TWANG!” show, every Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 88.5 FM and KCSN.org, and “Toe Tappin’ Music,” Saturdays 9-10:30 p.m. on 88.9. When you talk about Bob Wills, the […]

  • Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

    The Duchess of Cambridge Gives Birth to Baby Boy

    Cowboy Nick Stahl is one of the few DJs keeping the country of yesteryear and today alive. He’s got two radio shows in Southern California: Cowboy Nick’s “TWANG!” show, every Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 88.5 FM and KCSN.org, and “Toe Tappin’ Music,” Saturdays 9-10:30 p.m. on 88.9. When you talk about Bob Wills, the […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content