Try asking anyone in Texas about musical legends, and there’s a big chance they’ll proclaim Bob Wills is still the king with might and main. Though the country music legend has long been gone, his legacy lives on through his contributions to music. He left an indelible mark on country-and-western music throughout the decades, and his influence is still evident to many modern country artists.
Let’s celebrate the life of a top-notch fiddler, songwriter, and bandleader with these facts.
1. He’s a proud native of Texas.
Bob Wills, whose real name is James Robert Wills, was born on March 6, 1905, in Limestone County, Texas, in the United States – where his family owned a cotton farm.
2. He was born to a very musical family.
Wills’ father was a renowned violinist and a fiddle player. He had several fiddle-playing relatives and family members who played musical instruments to entertain others.
3. He was fifteen when he first performed solo.
Wills played backup to his father at a local ranch and square dances as a boy. His first solo performance came when his father was late for a dance they were to perform at.
4. He worked different jobs to make ends meet.
Wills was only seventeen when he left the family farm. He drifted from one job to another – working in construction, selling insurance, laboring on various farms – to earn his living.
5. He trained as a barber.
During his 20s, Wills trained to become a barber and picked up a position at Hamm’s Barber Shop. He took barber work and fiddled in turns to get by.
6. He used to be a member of a black medicine band.
He would wear blackface to do his comedy routines, which was commonplace at the time.
7. He formed The Wills Fiddle Band.
It was later renamed to Light Crust Doughboys after it earned sponsorship from a certain radio station. Three years later, Wills relocated to Waco, Texas, and built another band, The Playboys – which became very popular.
8. He was a stylish, western rogue.
In addition to his fiddle, his cowboy hat and cigar were all part of his hallmark appearance.
9. He also had a successful Hollywood career.
Wills actually appeared in a total of nineteen films. He made his screen debut in 1940 in the American western film Take Me Back to Oklahoma, which also starred Country Music Hall of Famer Texas Ritter.
10. Pneumonia took Wills’ life.
In 1969, Wills sadly suffered a stroke – just a few months after being elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Other strokes followed, but he breathed one’s last on May 13, 1975, after suffering pneumonia.
Though they don’t play Bob Wills songs on the radio anymore, the veteran western swing band leader’s legacy will truly remain until the end of time.