Clarinets are Cool!
Cowboy & Western Swing
Lucky Bill and the Cactus Kings from Mechanicsville, VA (yours truly on clarinet)
For those of you who remember the Blues Brothers Movie, it's hard to forget that famous line from the scene at Bob's Country Bunker, "We play both kinds, Country and Western." Western is indeed a different genre from Country, and there are three prime components to the style. Cowboy songs from the 19th century, the jazz-influenced dance music known as Western Swing, and a vast musical literature from the "B" western movies of the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's. Until joining the above band in 2004, I was unaware that the clarinet played a role in this type of music.
This page is currently under construction, while I assemble more data to include on it. But in the meantime, here are a few groups that you can investigate:
Riders in the Sky - One of the more recent players on the western music scene, this quartet can sing and play with the best of them while presenting the whole product in a very witty and entertaining package. It's leader, "Ranger Doug" Greene has also authored a definitive book on the singing cowboy, entitled "Singing In The Saddle", published by the Vanderbilt University Press.
Asleep At The Wheel - Today's premier western swing band. Buy a CD and you will be hooked.
Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys - The undisputed champions of the genre. Waylon and Willie have no qualms in telling you that 30 years after his death, "Bob Wills is Still the King."
Spade Cooley and the Western Swing Dance Gang - A colorful and flamboyant group from the same era as Bob Wills. Spade's group at times included four fiddles, two accordions and--hold your breath--a harp!
Sons of the Pioneers - The premier cowboy band, whose revolutionary approach helped founder Roy Rogers get into the movies. In addition to tons of great albums, SOTP also appeared in the movies with Charles Starrett starting around 1935 and then with their old pal Roy Rogers from 1942-1948.
Hank Thompson and his Brazos Valley Boys - Great purveyor of western swing.
Cass County Boys - Just as the Sons of the Pioneers formed Roy Rogers' posse in the 1940's, the Cass County Boys became a fixture in the movies of Gene Autry after he returned from his military service in World War II. Great band with great vocal harmonies and fine jazz feel. Guitarist Jerry Scoggins is best known for singing, "Come and listen to my story 'bout a man named Jed..."
Light Crust Doughboys - If you remember "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" focus on Pappy O'Daniel, played by Charles Durning. Pappy was a real character, who helped launch western swing by forming this band which initially included Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan who went on to form the Texas Playboys. Bassist Bert Dodson would help form the Cass County Boys. But the Light Crust Doughboys continue to play today. They make a terrific appearance in Gene Autry's movie "Oh Susanna!" (1936).
Roy Rogers - King of the Cowboys, and founder of the Sons of the Pioneers. A real American hero, along with his wife, singer/composer Dale Evans.
Gene Autry - The original singing cowboy. Oddly enough, his first starring role as a singing cowboy was in a sci-fi serial called The Phantom Empire. Great music in all his movies with guest bands like The Beverly Hillbillies, Sons of the Pioneers, Light Crust Dough Boys, Colorado Hillbillies, Tennessee Ramblers, Cass County Boys, and more. His sidekick, Smiley Burnette was a prolific composer, and a pioneer in the role of comic sidekick.
The Old Corral - Your #1 source of info on the classic "B" westerns, including music performers.
Clarinetists found in western music. Many appear in movies uncredited. Here are two to start with:
Woody Wood (Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys)
Darol Rice (Republic Rhythm Riders/Roy Rogers Riders)
Okay, there are some starting points for you, and hopefully some links will follow soon. Below, a few more pictures from my own western activities.
Me with my B-flat and A clarinets onstage at Meadow Farm
While normally used for orchestral work, the A clarinet is great in this style.
It plays well in the 'guitar keys', has a very mellow sound, and high notes are
less shrill than with its B-flat counterpart. It takes a two-fisted player to tackle this heritage!
My saddle pal of almost 30 years, Gary Shaver joins me for a gig
with the Cactus Kings. Pictured in the summer uniform, Gary holds his
A clarinet while I hold my B-flat clarinet. (An unlikely combo if we were actually playing)
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