Some may say it's not "cool" to like honky music but those hipster blowhards may be missing out on the godfather of country swing. This fiddlin' bandleader Bob Wills helped set the template for jazzy licks in hillbilly music and his bands burned up dances of up to 10,000 people a night around Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, the West Coast and the South. He originally came from a musical family in Texas and played mostly with young black musicians before hoboing and train-hopping. He married, became a barber and hit the stage as a comic/musician and cut his first records in '29. His '30s groups the Light Crust Doughboys and the Texas Playboys incorporated black blues and jazz music into the folk repertoire. Emmett Miller and Bessie Smith were huge inspirations, and he even once rode fifty miles on horseback to hear Bessie ("No doubt about it. She was the greatest thing I ever heard."). He added horns and drum kit to the strings and in the late '30s he brought electric guitar into the mix.
Wills would scat and express himself as well as introducing and calling band members during the songs, which makes for a fun listen to his records even today. His band was one of the few that survived post-war economic crunch that depleted orchestras, and a massive 1947 reissue program at Columbia brought back many of his out-of-print tunes for new dancers and listeners. He made a bunch of film appearances in the '40s, sold millions of records and made a lot of money, even opening a nightclub. His undoing came from people close to him ripping him off for a lot of money, not to mention his nasty drinking problem. He suffered a stroke while recording with Merle Haggard in '73 and never recovered.
His influence was huge, even beyond the admiration of country stars like Merle and Willie Melson. Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" was based on "Ida Red", the Rolling Stones and Clint Eastwood were fans. Jimi Hendrix on Wills' band: "I dig them. They used to have some pretty heavy cats, some heavy guitar players." The Bob Wills sound helped make country, rockabilly and rock & roll happen.
Here is some footage of Wills and the boys playing their version of the classic by Mississippi Sheiks "Sittin' On Top Of The World":
Here is the inspiration behind Chuck Berry's "Maybelline":
This is some priceless footage of Wills which makes me laugh:
Here is a nice back-to-backer with Wills' band playing "Swing Blues", an obscure tune they originally recorded in 1936, followed by Merle Haggard's version, retitled "Stingaree":
And an added treat--the Stones covering Waylon Jennings' "Bob Wills is Still The King", live in Texas (where Bob Wills is still the king):