In the 1930s, a handful of songs blending blues, jazz, and big-band swing sprang up like mushrooms – but nothing compared to Bob Wills songs. After all, he’s the most popular and influential among all the Western swing band leaders, hailed as the King of Western Swing.
Born in rural west Texas, James Robert Wills started playing the fiddle at dances as young as ten years old. But to make ends meet, Wills had to work as a farmer, construction worker, barber, among others. But in 1931, he found his calling when he joined the Light Crust Doughboys band.
Later on, Wills moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma where he and his Texas Playboys’ brand of country music made history. Over the years, Wills wrote songs that have become enduring classics in the genre. And today, we’re going to dig a little deeper into some of them. Keep on scrolling below to some of the greatest hits of Bob Wills.
1. New Spanish Two-Step
The instrumental piece highlights Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys’ blend of country and western sounds with jazz and blues. Ten years later, Wills recorded it again with Tommy Duncan, a long-time vocalist of The Texas Playboys. The two added lyrics into it, and the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard’s Folk Jukebox chart, where it stayed for twenty-three weeks.
Both versions became signature songs of Wills’ multi-piece band.
2. Sitting on Top of the World
The country blues tune was first recorded in 1930 by the guitar and fiddle group Mississippi Sheiks. “Sitting on Top of the World” became a popular crossover hit and was even inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Since then, the song has been recorded by a number of artists, including Wills, who made it into a staple of his repertoire.
3. Faded Love
Written by Wills’ father John Wills and his brother Billy Jack Wills, “Faded Love” is a sappy song about lost love. Its title came from its refrain that goes, “I remember our faded love.”
Not only did it become a major hit for Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys as it peaked at No. 8 on Billboard’s Country charts, it was also considered as an exemplar of the Western swing fiddle.
4. New San Antonio Rose
This is perhaps the biggest recording of Wills that brought his career to stardom, hailing him as the King of Western Swing. “New San Antonio Rose” grabbed the attention of the bigwigs at the New York music publishing company, including Irving Berlin, who published the song and brought it to a wider audience.
Wills also cobbled together some words with the help of his band to give this instrumental fiddle number some lyrics.
5. Bubbles in My Beer
Ever since Wills recorded the song in 1947, it became a standard which has been performed by several country music artists. It ranked among the best drinking songs and is referred to as “the ultimate self-pity song.”
6. Texarkana Baby
Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys recorded their version of “Texarkana Baby” in 1947, where it reached No. 15 on Billboard’s chart. However, country singer Eddy Arnold brought the song to popularity a year later, making it one of the Best Selling Retail Folk Records.
7. Sugar Moon
“Sugar Moon” is perhaps one of the most successful tracks of Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, reaching No. 1 on the country chart and remaining on the sport for six incredible weeks. Several notable artists covered the song, including k.d. lang, Asleep at the Wheel, and Willie Nelson
8. Stay a Little Longer
Wills wrote this Western swing dance song with Tommy Duncan, which stands out due to several unrelated verses – like one verse that came from an old folk song, “Shinbone Alley.”
The song was also recorded by Willie Nelson and Mel Tillis.
9. Ida Red Likes the Boogie
As soon as you hear “Ida Red Likes the Boogie,” you’ll immediately understand how Wills and his Texas Playboys dwell in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as early influencers.
Just like its name, the boogie woogie version of the 1930s Western swing tune “Ida Red” will definitely have your hips shaking.
10. Time Changes Everything
Here’s another song written by Duncan, which tells the story of a failed relationship and of the pain that has eventually healed as time goes. It was released by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys in 1940, becoming one of the top singles that year.
Two decades later, The Playboys recorded another version which was released on several labels. Since then, the song has been recorded several times by popular country artists such as George Jones, Ray Price, and Merle Haggard.
More Bob Wills Songs From The Leader of the Band
Here are some more songs by Bob Wills that deserve your attention.
So, which among these Bob Wills songs caught your attention?