Great recordings of blissful tunes like the original performance of “San Antonio Rose” are hard to come by in the modern era. As we listen to songs like this, fine memories of the traditional country styles are being elicited. Bob Wills completed the song by playing its bridge backward. The song reflected the Mexican influence Wills have learned from the Southwest culture.
Two years after its first record was released, he added new lyrics to the tune. He performed his new version with his Texas Playboys on November 28, 1938, with the title “New San Antonio Rose.” The new version turned into a national hit. However, traditionalists and purists criticized the new version. Many protested against its deviation from the idea of “real country.”
Wills received mixed reactions when he played his signature song at the Grand Ole Opry with drums and horns. Behind all the critics and opinions, members of the Western Writers of America listed it on their Top 100 Western songs of all time. It also landed at number 16 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Country Songs of all time.
Bing Crosby and Bob Crosby recorded the most successful cover. The new version was released in December 1940. Their version sold over a million copies which Bing was awarded a gold disc.
He may not have invented the Western swing, but Bob Wills definitely defined the genre. Wills helped boost the popularity of Western swing in the 1940s when he formed a band called the Texas Playboys. Backed with the combination of strings, horns, and electric string guitar, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys filled the dance halls across the south with their blended harmonies. Their exposure went into a wider venue as they appeared in eight Western movies. The mania for Western swing ended in the fifties and Wills continued to perform solo on tours while occasionally recording. Wills called his group together in 1973 for the recording of their final album, For the Last Time.
Watch Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys perform “San Antonio Rose” live in 1944: