In 1938, Bob Wills, who was known as “The King of Western Swing,” managed to turn an old song into a hit. But that, probably, wasn’t his real intention. He only wanted to have something for his Western swing dance band, The Texas Playboys, to play. What he did was take some lyrics from an 1878 popular song, arranged and set it to a 2/4 dance beat. Little did he think that the experimental tune would instantly become a smash hit. In fact, they even used it in two movies, Go West, Young Lady (1941) and Blazing the Western Trail (1945).
Over a decade later, Wills and The Texas Playboys reinvented the song and made a boogie-woogie version of it. They called the new interpretation “Ida Red Likes the Boogie.” In 1950, a year after this recording came out, the song cracked the chart’s 10th spot and stayed on that position for 22 weeks. Many artists had since covered this version numerous times.
Watch Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys performing “Ida Red” below.
Additional Facts of the Song
While this traditional song’s origin had been unknown, its lyrics were taken from a popular 1878 tune. Entitled “Sunday Night,” the song which provided the basis for the lyrics to “Ida Red” was penned by Frederick W. Root. Wills came up with his own lyrics by making minor changes to the original text. Before Wills and his band, The Fiddlin’ Powers & Family were the first to record the song with vocals. The American old-time group Dykes Magic City Trio was likewise said to have provided an early popular instrumental for the song.
In 1955, “Ida Red” gave birth to a new song that propelled the singer Chuck Berry to instant fame. His record “Maybellene,” which drew inspiration from Will’s record, reached No. 10 on the pop chart while topping the R&B chart. In addition, the song ultimately sold over a million copies.
“Ida Red” also had bluegrass and country versions. The Father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe was credited for his interpretation of the song in a bluegrass style. On the other hand, country legend Roy Acuff rendered a country cover of the song. In their records, they both used the traditional free-floating verses that incorporated a humorous vibe. However, instead of following the easy-going Appalachian tempo, they set the tune in a 4/4 time beat.
In 1970, Merle Haggard, who considered Wills his childhood idol recorded a tribute album for him. The album was called A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills. The record was Haggard’s eleventh studio album.
Below is a clip showing Haggard and The Texas Playboys giving out a tribute performance for Bob Wills.
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bob wills, Chuck Berry, Frederick W. Root, ida red, Maybellene, Sunday Night, The Texas Playboys
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