Once upon a time in America, as people who know history and/or watched Ken Burns’ JAZZ doc, there weren't quite as many "barriers" between different kinds and styles of music. Oh sure, there was the "classical" world, which sometimes looked down on "popular" music; there were social, racial and economic barriers that kept people apart, but music kept crossing all those lines. The 1920’s/’30s: in rural America, white country music - sometimes derisively called "hillbilly" - and black blues and folk music (pick a pigmentation) all influenced each other. In the cities, Duke Ellington, George & Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael and Louis Armstrong were working their synthesis of various types of American music: Tin Pan Alley, blues, New Orleans jazz, echoes of European classical, et. al. Then, jazz WAS "pop music." In the Southwest, there was a unique synthesis of American music happening, and for some reason that vector of The American Sound hasn’t been given its proper due. One of the main movers of this synthesis was a guy name of Bob Wills.
Bob Wills was a fiddler, singer and bandleader who led a big band in the 1930s & ‘40s, only this band didn’t share any bills with the really big Big Bands of the day (Goodman, Basie, etc.) This band worked the Southwest, and they were gods in Oklahoma, California and the flatlands of Texas. Bob Wills &The Texas Playboys played western swing, a hybrid of western/cowboy balladry, big band swing, small-band hot jazz, blues, country fiddle tunes and Tin Pan Alley pop. It was dance music, but a dance music where hot solos a la Earl Hines and Joe Venuti alternated with down-home twang and western drawl in the same song. Long before the concept of Third Stream and "fusion" was a controversial (then reviled) term for the union of jazz, rock, funk, etc., there was western swing. (Maybe because of its western/hillbilly roots, western swing wasn’t considered "real" enough by city folk and the jazz snobs therein - or perhaps, like big band jazz and jump blues, its days were numbered as a "pop music" in the post-WWII years. By the early ‘50s, most big bands of all varieties were history.)
Enough with The History Lesson: the music is great! If you can imagine Gene Autry singing with the Fletcher Henderson band of the ‘20s (or genuine African-American cowboy and jazz singer Herb Jeffries with Eddie Condon), well, shucks, that comes darn close. (Don’t laugh or sneer - Wills’ steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe was said to have influenced fellow Oklahoman guitar whiz Charlie Christian, and Gene Autry recorded several country blues records before his fame as a movie cowboy. Not to mention that Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines played on a couple of country singer Jimmie Rogers’ records in the’30s.) This is where hick cool meets city savoir faire, where country & western tunes swing and! le jazz hot solos are played by fellows decked out in western gear - and everybody dances and has a swell time. Mr. Bob Wills is up there with Bill Monroe, Bing Crosby, Charlie Parker (who was a country music fan - and Legend has it there’s a tape Out There of Bird jamming with country singer Ray Price’s band), Chuck Berry and Duke Ellington as one of the Giants of American Music.