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Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys
The Tiffany Transcriptions
Collector's Choice Music
www.ccmusic.com


This collection of music is most probably one of the most important things to happen in modern music for decades, if not ever. On par with The Bootleg Series that is still being released by Bob Dylan, The Tiffany Transcriptions takes a vast body of musical work and brings it together for the first time. These discs are culled from the famous sessions that Bob Wills, Cactus Jack, and Clifford Sundin put together to create a series of packaged radio shows featuring Wills and his band, The Texas Playboys. The songs were all recorded the way that music is meant to be recorded: live, in a room, everyone playing and having a good time. The sessions were alive with improvisation, really showcasing a band that had become adept at jamming, expanding their songs in a way that few had (or still have) been able to capture on tape at the time. The musical virtuosity of the band that Wills had assembled, including the jazz-infused guitars of Eldon Shamblin and Herb Remington, the electric mandolin of Tiny Moore, the fiery electric guitar of Lester "Junior" Barnard, the trademark vocals of singer Tommy Duncan, the solid bass playing of little brother Billy Jack Wills, and even the incredible fiddling of Wills himself, contributed to the overall loose and friendly feel of the two-year project that produced these recordings. This streamlined band, minus the horns that had become such a part of Wills' Tulsa sound, really shined at playing the more dance-oriented style of tune that made up the bulk of the sessions, occasionally turning their hand to big band tunes (check out the amazing version of Count Basie's "Jumpin' At The Woodside") and more jazzy numbers.

Collected on these ten CDs are some of the world's greatest Western swing tunes, performed by a band that was at its peak. We're talking 150 great tracks from a band that was recording albums, playing dances and traveling around the country, swapping members here and there, and stepping into a studio at the end of a long tour to record the songs they'd been playing on the road. These recordings are sometimes off the cuff, filled with excellent improvisation, the occasional misstep, low-key bloopers, and stand as a fitting testament to a band that laid the foundations for modern music. The history of The Tiffany Transcriptions is an interesting story in and of itself, but the real meat of the two year project is the recordings that it left behind; the music itself.

Texas Playboys' signature tracks, like "Texas Playboy Theme" and "San Antonio Rose" are well represented in the Tiffanys. Good ol' Western tracks like "Red River Valley" and "Little Joe The Wrangler" are presented in glorious versions here, Wills' nod to his roots, while tracks like "Swing Blues #1" and "Beaumont Rag" illustrate Wills' love for blues music and its indelible influence on his own music-making. Songs like "Three Guitar Special" showcase the amazing versatility and groove of the guitarists in his band, while songs like "Smith's Reel" showcase the incredible fiddlers that were part of Wills' band. The included version of "Stay All Night" (my favorite Wills' song, hands down) is a laid-back affair, with a more relaxed tempo than the band normally recorded it, and some excellent piano accenting the fiddle and bass walks and a ripping guitar solo courtesy of Junior Barnard and a great steel solo by guest player Roy Honeycutt. When the band launches into some of their standards, they do so with a vigor and sound that is unequalled in much of the recorded Wills' catalog. Give a listen to the ripping version of "Corrine, Corrina", with Eldon's amazing guitar solo, or the swinging "Ida Red" that downright trumps every other version I've ever heard. "San Antonio Rose" has Junior Barnard playing a guitar solo that is possibly unmatched in the history of that one song, while the steel on "My Window Faces The South" is amazing and the guitar solos are jazzy and gritty, showing a remarkable agility.

Ever present is the voice of Bob Wills, calling out solos and letting folks know what's on its way… These live recordings feature that unmistakable voice even more prominently. For some great examples, check out the vocal version of "Sally Goodin" or the hilarity that goes down in "Keep Knockin' (But You Can't Come In)" as Bob hands down a righteous soliloquy. "Okie Boogie" has the sound that inspired many of country music's greatest players, with not only a hopping rhythm, but some of the finest non-pedal steel licks ever put to tape. Tiny Moore goes for a huge solo on "C Jam Blues" with what Bob Wills calls the "biggest little instrument in the world", his electric mandolin… that was a pioneering step back in those days of acoustic instrumentation. One entire disc of the set is dedicated to songs that the Texas Playboys performed accompanied by the McKinney sisters, Dean and Evelyn. Twenty-some songs of great Western music matched with the lovely harmonies and yodeling of the sisters makes for a great ending to the set. Don't forget to check out "Betcha My Heart" (featuring a blistering Junior Barnard guitar solo), the incredible "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and the jazzy swing of "It's All Over Now".

These ten discs are a treasure trove of what could possibly be the most important band in modern music. It may be oversimplifying to say that rock'n'roll would not exist without the contribution of Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, but not by much. Without Wills' contribution to Country and Western music and the bringing about of Western Swing, there may not have been the Hank Williams we knew, which means there would not have been the Elvis Presley we knew… and therefore, no rock. There are a few who won't admit it, but Willie Nelson will be the first to tell you that Bob Wills is still the king.

-Embo Blake

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