Friday, January 28, 2011

Frankie McWhorter: Cowboy Fiddler in Bob Wills' Band

This excellent narrative, as told to John R. Erickson and published in 1997, offers some great commentary on Bob Wills' playing out of meter.
To quote from p. 34: "one time the band was recording a song and one of the musicians quit playing. Bob asked him what was wrong. 'Bob, you're playing that song out of meter.' Bob asked him what he meant by that. 'Well, you're holding that note thirteen beats and you ought to be holding it just four.' And he played it and showed Bob what he meant.
"Bob said, 'That's the way I feel it. That's the way I do it, whether it's right or wrong, and that's the way we're going to do it. If the Lord had written the first music, I wouldn't question you at all, but a man wrote the first music and for all you know, I may be smarter than he was. If you don't want to play it like this, put your fiddle up and be gone.' And the old boy left.
From page 38:
"A lot of those tunes were out of meter. When he found a note he liked, he'd hang on to it."
From page 61:
"He'd play out of tune on occasion and he'd break meter quite often. The people who were studied and professional knew that they were right and he was wrong. But what they didn't take into consideration was that he was Bob Wills, and he was signing the checks."
Frankie McWhorter was a Texas Playboy in the 1950s and 60s. Regarding his "out of tune" comment, he refers elsewhere in the book to twin-fiddling with Bob, where he played the same notes out of tune each time, because he liked it that way,and Frankie had to learn those notes and positions, as well as emulate Bob Wills' long bow technique.
I enjoyed so many of these details in the book, as they help articulate Bob Wills' blues and jazz interests, which stood him apart from all other fiddlers, and in his fame, stood him apart from all other country bands. The term "western swing," which to some seems archaic and descriptive of a certain pragmatic approach to dance music, seems to me more than ever a term of high esteem and honor, standing on its own and not just a hybrid of other things.

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