Written by Leon McAuliffe and recorded by Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, “Steel Guitar Rag” is an influential Western swing. This style of music influenced by jazz popularizes the steel guitar as an essential instrument in a Western band. On September 29, 1936, Wills and the band recorded “Steel Guitar Rag” at the Furniture Mart Building, 666 Lakeshore Drive, Chicago. The track was under the secondary labels of Columbia, Vocalion, and Okeh.
Some say the song bears a striking similarity to “Guitar Rag” recorded by guitarist Sylvester Weaver in 1927. While others claim stylistic similarities to a popular Hawaiian song, “On the Beach at Waikiki”, many musicians and bands have recorded this instrumental over the years.
And recently, Country Music Hall of Famer Jimmy Russell made his own cover of “Steel Guitar Rag”.
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys
Born in Kosse 1905, Bob Wills comes from Texas. In 1929, he started the Wills Fiddle Boys in Fort Worth. After that, Pappy Lee O’Daniel (a candidate for the Texas Gubernatorial) noticed Bob. Lee ran the Light Crust Flour Mills in Saginaw, Texas north of Fort Worth. Wills instantly became famous playing as the Light Crust Doughboys. However, several years after, the band tired of the gig because they also loaded flour trucks during the day. In ’34, the band moved to Tulsa leaving Pappy Lee and forming The Texas Playboys.
They are the names behind the country music style Western Swing. Some of their music was dead-on jazz while other songs were straight western. But his genre was hard to pin down.
On clear channel 50,000-watt KVOO in Tulsa, The Playboys broadcast from Cain’s Ballroom on North Main and they played it all.
In 1968, Wills was an inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame as the King of Western Swing. Wills died in Fort Worth, Texas in 1975.
Leon McAuliffe, Bob’s steel guitar player, was born in Houston, Texas in 1917. He played with Bob Wills’ band until WWII. After the war, McAuliffe formed his own group in Tulsa.
Bob Willis, steel guitar rag