This sentiment from The Blues Brothers movie neatly encapsulates my understanding of country music in 1980.
The first time I saw a record album by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys I mercilessly made fun of my friend Dave for purchasing cowboy music. (Of course, I also made fun of him for buying a [now valuable] Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar, but that’s not relevant to this story.) Having grown up in a household overflowing with the vocal stylings of Tammy Wynette and Charley Pride, my tolerance for what I assumed to be country music was quite low. How much I had to learn.
Some years later, for obscure reasons lost in the annals of time, I checked out a Bob Wills record from my local public library. The album, a prime example of Western swing, quickly became and remains one of my favorites. Ultimately my friend Dave was proved to be right (and he still has a very cool guitar).
Western swing, kind of a cross between country and big band, features cowboy singers, fiddlers, pedal steel guitar, a horn section, and sometimes even drums. The music is often referred to as “hot,” indicating speedy tempos and virtuosic soloing. Lyrics typically focus on rural life in the south of a bygone time. If you like big band but shudder uncontrollably at the thought of country music, you might be surprised to find yourself digging Western swing. Conversely, if you wear cowboy boots and sing Ricky Skaggs in the shower but find jazz to be a fruitless exercise in musical narcissism, you might still find enough country in Western swing to float your Conastoga.
Although Western swing flourished between the 1920’s and 1940’s, it still lives on today in groups such as Hot Club of Cowtown and Asleep at the Wheel. Here are a few titles available at Everett Public Library.