Western Swing on 78


I've always found that the most interesting art lies at the intersection between two totally different styles. One of the best examples of this theory existed more than a half a century ago as an unlikely offshoot of country and western music.

From the 1930s through the 50s, country music exploded into a bunch of different styles- old time hillbilly folk music (exemplified by the Carter Family), bluegrass (Bill Monroe), honky tonk (Hank Williams) and cowboy music (Sons of the Pioneers). But the most exciting (and most fun) branch of the country and western musical family tree was the fusion of jazz and country music- Western Swing.

Before you say, "I hate country music." take a few moments to listen to the unrestrained madness of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant at their peak...

I'm a record collector... a dangerously fanatical one. I have thousands and thousands of LPs and 78s covering a 25 foot long wall of my library from floor to ceiling. A long time ago, I realized that only a tiny fraction of the world's great music existed on CD. The only way to get a true picture of the history of 20th century popular music was to haunt garage sales and swap meets and scoop up the detritus from the golden age of recorded music. You wouldn't believe the amazing stuff that is totally forgotten today!

swwestswing02lkfeg.jpg78 collectors are a bit of an enigma to other record collectors. I was at a party of musicians, record collectors and radio DJs once and the topic of conversation came around to the most money any of us had spent on a single record. One girl spoke of spending $250 on an obscure do-wop 45rpm single. Another guy admitted to spending $500 on an LP. I was the only 78 collector in the crowd, so they turned to me and asked what was the most I had ever paid for a 78. I replied, "My budget is $2 a disk. When I stop finding interesting disks at $2, I'll consider going up to $3. But there's so much good stuff out there at $2 and below, I can't absorb it all."

You don't have to fill your kitchen sink with soap suds and dusty old shellac any more to hear this music. Kind souls on the internet are bringing their treasures to you every day. You just need a link. Here is the only link you need for Western Swing music. Soak it up!


Highfalutin' Newton's Western Swing on 78


  1. Speedy West blows my mind. This isn’t the best example, but some of the things he does borders on the miraculous. Hooray for 78’s!

  2. Those 78 records are incredibly thick and heavy—built to last!

    I can take an 80-year old record and pop it onto a turntable purchased recently at Target. Sounds great.

    But floppy disks I wrote to less than 10 years ago are useless to me…the data unrecoverable.

  3. ♪Bob Wills is still the king♪ – Waylon. Country music gets a bad rap. I have to always explain myself when I say I love country music. Country is not Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban. Hank Williams is country. By the way, in addition to Honky-Tonk, You could also attribute Rockabilly to Ol’ Hank.

  4. 78s are way cheaper because the speed was largely phased out of modern turntables, and the needles required are a bit different. They’re also extremely delicate, not nearly as forgiving of drunkenly DJing as plastic 45s and LPs are. You can break 78s just by setting your box down wrong.

    That said, anyone looking for old Country, Blues, and super gritty R&B and Do-wop, the 78 is unmatched. Bo Diddley sounds 10 times better on 78.

  5. Why would anyone say they hate country music? that would be silly. i agree with #5 that judging country by the watered down pop of today’s artists is not understanding the genre. If you want something that is recent but really good, check out Willie Nelson’s recent album with Asleep at the Wheel. they rocked it on Austin City limits and it is also Texas swing.

  6. My Dad joined a western swing band right out of high school in 1947. He was/is a pedal steel guitar player. Sadly his collection of 78 albums (you know like binders of records) was thrown out during a move. I never got to hear them… some of them were acetates of him playing on the radio. Thanks for the link. Here’s a link to some of my Dad’s ’47 band the Sunset Ramblers http://www.bigvjamboree.com/SunsetRamblers.htm

    PS BoingBoing why the hell is it so hard to login on this site!? jeez get real!

  7. Oh yeah, this is great stuff. “Country” covers everything from old Vern Dalhart records to Uncle Dave Macon whoopin’ and beatin’ his banjo to Ray Charles’ “Modern Sounds In Country and Western.” Me, I like the old-time Appalachian music, but part of that is because I play the banjo and listening to those guys go at it is one of the ways to improve my own playing.

    BTW this is exactly how Dr. Demento got his start. He used to hang out at thrift stores in the Twin Cities where he could buy old 78s for a nickel each, and over the years has amassed one of the biggest private collections of recorded music in the country. (He knows his stuff too — name pretty much any obscure 78 and he can probably go right to the shelf it’s on, pick it out and tell you the entire story behind the recording, sometimes down to the guy at the controls.)

  8. I’m a big Tiny Moore fan. He played with Bob Willis, but I don’t recognize him in your picture. Maybe he joined later. Moore played a 5-string solid-body electric mandolin — sweet! In the 1980s he cut a record with Jethro Burns (“Back to Back”) that is out of this world. They were joined by Shelly Manne on drums, Ray Brown on bass, and Eldon Shamblin on guitar. It was produced by the great David Grisman.

  9. Two of my fellow WDBX-FM volunteers (Lonesome Roy and Union County Sal) host “Hard Country and Easy Cowboys,” which features good Western Swing, and a lot of honky-tonkin’ as well.


    It’s on from 2-4pm CST, Mondays. Enjoy!

  10. Just finished reading “Charlatan” (http://tinyurl.com/y8qdkuk). Great book. The connection between the rise of country/old-timey music in the US and the greatest quack medico of the 20th century is fascinating. He — John Brinkley — started the first pirate radio station in Mexico, and featured the Carter Family and other early country stars. Eventually, after his fall, the station fell into the hands of none other than Wolfman Jack.

    Brinkley also invented “barnstorming” political campaigning by plane, remote radio broadcasting (by phone), playing recorded records on the air rather than just live stuff, and the loudspeaker van. He got rich grafting bits of goat balls onto/into people in order to cure impotence and childlessness (mainly), and selling snake oil.

    Terrific read. All kinds of great history junk that nobody ever told you before.

  11. yeah, Western Swing is a largely overlooked gem of Americana. as Waylon said, Bob Wills is still the king, and unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of guys stepping in to fill that void. The guys of Asleep At The Wheel, and Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen (best country band name EVER), and Wayne “The Train” Hancock, and a scant few others. Those guys do some stellar work, mind you, but my heart always craves more.

    i always loved Wills’ Mickey Mouse-sounding “Ah-HA”in songs like San Antonio Rose.

  12. Wow. The most these die hard record collectors have ever paid is $500?? While I’m totally enamoured for finding treasures in trash (~$20 is my usual budget) the die-hard record collectors I know have spent far more on their holy grails.

    Probably though that’s also why it sucks to live in Japan :( Most my boyfriend has ever spent on a record? $1200 on a Blue Hearts 45″. Second going to a Japanese pressing of the Damned’s Neat Neat Neat which technically was $1500 but $500 was absorbed in trades.

  13. If you guys like Western Swing and especially Bob Wills, check out Django Reinhardt and Stefan Grapelli. They were French Gypsies playing jazz they had lifted from Louis Armstrong that Bob Wills (and Les Paul) lifted from them. When you hear Django play then listen to Bob Wills, the link is undeniable. FWIW, Bob Wills was playing the Great American Songbook in the 40’s- his set was very similar to Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman’s of the same time. He didn’t write his signature tunes- “San Antonio Rose”, “Faded Love” and other great hits until the 50’s and 60’s. check it out! PS- that “Mickey Mouse A HA!” was Bob’s trademark, along with his witty add-ons (“Shoot low, sheriff, I think she’s ridin’ a shetland!”) Bob stole the “A Ha’s” from Mexican corridas I’m sure he heard growing up in Turkey, TX. Whenever traditional Mexican music is played, one of the musicians is already with a “A ha ha ha ha HAAA!” in a plethora of variations…..

  14. The Bob Wills “Tiffany Transcriptions” series are probably the best recordings he did (or my favorites anyway).

  15. I second the Tiffany Transcriptions recommendation. At first, listening to Bob Will,s I was really annoyed at his constant chatter, bt the music was so good that I kept listening anyway, and it didn’t take long before it was just part of the music, and the few recordings without his chatter (and that wonderful ah-HA) sound dry and boring. It reminds me of Glenn Gould humming away … natural and right and the mark of an artist at ease with his craft.

  16. Sorry to be pedantic, but for the record, Western Swing dates to the 20s, and is the source of the ‘Western’ in ‘Country and Western,’ not an “offshoot” from the “30s through the 50s” as indicated in the second paragraph of the article. Thanks for posting however. It’s a too-often neglected form.

  17. As for the whole “Country music” issue, although I realize that this is a gross oversimplification, I like to divide Country music into two broad eras: pre-Bakersfield and post-Bakersfield. In my opinion, pre-Bakersfield Country music (which includes bluegrass, honky tonk, Western swing, the Nashville Sound, etc.) was excellent; while post-Bakersfield Country music (i.e. most of the stuff made since the 1970s, with the exception of the occasional retro movement that pops up from time to time) has been hideous. As for the Bakersfield Sound itself (most closely associated with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard), some of it was okay; though I’m not really a fan of the style in general.

    1. I more-or-less agree with this theory, with the Bakersfield sound as the last example of good honest country music– there’s a crass commercialism that’s crept into all types of music at various times (from “fake Beatles” ripoffs to Pickwick exploito albums to honest funk being turned into cheesy disco)– the 70’s were the beginning of the end for honest country music. A friend of mine points to George Jones “She Stopped Loving Her Today” (1980) as the dividing line, though I think it was a gradual thing all through the 70’s, when country went over the top production-wise, and simpler bands like The Flatlanders were ignored. Buck Owens career went downhill in the 70’s while George Jones basically “went Vegas” and there the two roads diverge.

      1. i always drew the divide with the Nashville Sound/Countrypolitan stuff, around when Chet Atkins, whom i greatly admire as a guitarist, and others began producing countryfied soft rock records. For my personal tastes, i guess that’s the defining moment of critical mass, entering the dark period of country that i can’t really bear to listen to, which still runs strong on Top 40 radio today. I always felt a closer tie between Bakersfield and Outlaw country, both of which had a little more genuine grit in ’em, and produced many of my favorite records. The Bakersfield sound and Nashville sound were competing schools of thought and sound, where Bakersfield and Outlaw were more appreciated by the artists, while Countrypolitan was crossing over and topping both the country and pop charts and making the real money.

  18. Love Western Swing. Love it. The Quebe Sisters also offer up a great mix of 30s/40s girl-group harmony mixed with Texas Swing, check ’em out! http://www.quebesistersband.com/index.php

    Western Swing has been such a big influence on me aesthetically, my entire clothing line is based on the genre. I make western swing-wear, which is always fun to explain to people who have no idea what I’m talking about!

  19. Second on Django and Stefan.

    The best western swing band around right now is “Hot Club of Cowtown” out of Austin Texas. Saw them at a sparsely attended show back in December and they tore it up. It’s criminal that this kind of music doesn’t get more attention.

  20. @Randalll:

    Hot Club of Cowtown is so good! I know that they weren’t touring for a while, but now it seems that they’re back together and playing again. Bought my dad their Best Of CD for Christmas, he loves it to death.

  21. Last comment, promise. Another GREAT GREAT AMAZING INCREDIBLE band to check out are The Red Stick Ramblers from Lousiana. They combine gorgeous hot jazz with tradional Cajun with western swing… the results are unbeatable. I’ve seen them live numerous times, still one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Can’t recommend them enough, and they’re the nicest people to boot! http://www.redstickramblers.com/

  22. I went through a serious western swing phase a few years ago. Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant’s stuff is a total standout, and the stuff that hits the border of rockabilly is great too. You can FEEL when that change starts to happen and how the country/swing/blues combo created rock n’roll.

    And of course Django is one of my favorite musicians ever.

    But what I’m REALLY here to add is a plug for Wayne Hancock. This guy is the true successor to Hank Williams I. His albums combine hot swing guitar solos with Hank’s yodel-y twang, a stripped-down roadhouse sound that can’t be beat. He’s also the quintessential touring musician, always on the road. Try the song “Tulsa” off of his album of the same name, you’ll see what I mean.

  23. I’ve been a huge fan of Western Swing on 78 for a while now, and I’m *delighted* they are getting boingboing-level exposure. Woo hoo!

  24. Since we’re talkin’ old country – a pleasant surprise on boing boing – there’s a local band in St. Louis doing country and honky tonk that I happen to think deserves a wider audience. I love real country, but I don’t have a really deep knowledge of the catalog, and I swear, sometimes I can’t tell their originals from the lesser-known classics they cover.

    www reverbnation com / trigger5

    (If this plug is inappropriate, my apologies. Just supporting good music!)

  25. The lines from “The Blues Brothers” explains it simply;

    What kind of music do you have here?

    Both kinds, Country and Western.

    I dislike Country, but Western? Woo Wee!

    Bob Wills is the King, Asleep at the Wheel, doing a damn fine job!

    As I posted in reference to another comment about the scalawag;
    He said:
    Scalawag is an AWESOME word.

    I’ll bring it back myself if I have to!

    I said:
    Well then you’ll love the song “Is zat you Myrtle?”


  26. Have spent the last couple of days d/ling everything from HighFalutin-Newton’s web site. This stuff rulz!

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