Merle Haggard called him "the best damn fiddle player
in the world." A New York Times obituary said he was "a
super-giant before there were super-giants, an Elvis
Presley of the nineteen-thirties and forties." In Texas,
at least, according to Waylon Jennings, Bob Wills is still
"Until Hank Williams came along, it was just Bob Wills,"
says Willie Nelson. "He was it." And indeed he was,
especially for the thousands in the Southwest who knew
and loved Bob Wills. The colorful bandleader-composer-fiddler
from Turkey, Texas, was the one performer who for years
lassoed the emotions of country-and-western fans nationwide.
For a while in the early forties, his records sold better than
those of any other recording artist. He was voted not only into
the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, but also into the
National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, the only performer
other than Gene Autry to be so honored.
Wills brought country music closer to the city when he
created western swing, a dynamic hybrid of New Orleans
jazz, blues, and folk fiddle music that kept a Depression
populace on its feet. For more than fifty years, Wills and
his several bands -most notably, the Texas Playboys -
entertained the nation with such classics as his "San Antonio
Rose," "Faded Love," "Steel Guitar Rag," and "Take Me Back to
What caught on first in Texas and Oklahoma later spread
across the country, and in the process Bob Wills became a
legend. More than a dozen cowboy movies which he and his
Texas Playboys made in the forties helped swell the legend to
On May 13, 1975, Bob Wills died. But the reverence for
the man and the respect for his music live on. His influence
can be noted in much of what is heard today under the "country"
heading. As a successful melder of several musical styles,
he left an indelible imprint on the music world. The country
rock band Asleep at the Wheel is only one contemporary group
in which the legacy is apparent.
Wills lives on, too, in this compelling and warm narrative.
Affectionately written by a Texan who responded to the
legendary fiddler's magnetism, SAN ANTONIO ROSE is a meticulous
recapturing of Wills and the musical excitement he created.
Charles R. Townsend traces Wills's colorful and dynamic
life, from his birth into a family of frontier fiddlers (1905),
through the development of his career and the poignancy of his
last recording session (1973), to his death in 1975. He shows
how Wills brought black and white musical traditions together
and examines the tremendous impact he had on both popular and
country music through the more than 550 selections he recorded
and the forty years he and his Texas Playboys performed in
dance halls and on radio. Wills's cigar, fiddle, and big
white hat were his trademarks; his "ah haa" was a badge
that endeared him to thousands. They are all part of SAN
ANTONIO ROSE: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF BOB WILLS. Townsend has
mined the rich lode of personal insights and anecdotes found
among Wills's family, members of his various bands, business
associates, friends, and fans. Fortunately, to complete this
definitive study, he was able to interview Wills many times,
and, in fact, sat in on Wills's last recording session. A
comprehensive discography by Bob Pinson of the Country
Music Foundation details all Wills's recordings, from
1929 to 1973. Pinson also presents a Wills filmusicography.
CHARLES R. TOWNSEND, professor of history at West Texas State
University, spent a decade searching out the material to
write this book. SAN ANTONIO ROSE, a moving account in
words and nearly 200 pictures, is the treasure he presents.
In 1975 Townsend won a Grammy Award for his brochure notes
accompanying For the Last Time, a United Artists release
by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. He holds a Ph.D.
from the University of Wisconsin, where he studied with