Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Voices Of Oklahoma

A stray comment over at Batesline has put me in the mood to listen to a bunch of the old Texas Playboy recordings from their heyday (1935-1945, say). And, since I live right next door to the old transmitter tower, I had to ruminate a bit about the impact of KV00, the "Voice of Oklahoma".
Between cable TV and the intertubes, it is probably easy for us to forget that how profoundly local the so-called "mass media" was for most of the Twentieth Century. Heck, even when I was a teenager it was still possible for a pop record to be a big hit in Tulsa while dying up in Kansas City.
But KVOO was true mass media....when it went to 50,000 watts in the mid-1940s on a clear night it could be heard west to the Sierra Nevadas and north to Canada. This immense reach virtually ensured the success of a hot band like the Texas Playboys.
The usual riff on the origin or Rock n' Roll is that it was the result of the shotgun marriage of R n' B sounds with country music and a disproportionate amount of credit goes to Worthy musicians such as Elvis and Bill Haley, over looking the country/blues/boogie collision that Bob Wills had already popularized.

Take their version of "Ida Red", which is almos' the same tune as "Maybelline". Or better yet listen to "Three Guitar Boogie". Forget about The Allman Brothers or The Yardbirds, The Bob Wills bands had a patent on dueling electric guitars. Often on these recordings guitarist Eldon Shamblin would just hop right past the blues and head off into jazz territory.
Wills himself recognized the connection to the Rock explosion back in 1957 in an interview with the Tulsa Tribune:""Rock and Roll? Why, man, that's the same kind of music we've been playin' since 1928!...We didn't call it rock and roll back when we introduced it as our style back in 1928, and we don't call it rock and roll the way we play it now. But it's just basic rhythm and has gone by a lot of different names in my time. It's the same, whether you just follow a drum beat like in Africa or surround it with a lot of instruments. The rhythm's what's important."
To his credit, Wills always acknowledged his debt to other, earlier performers who married jazz-pop stylings with country music, such as Jimmy Rodgers.
Seems like everyday I manage to walk right past the Ida Red Boutique here in Brookside without remembering to set foot in the place. Maybe I'll rectify that omission today.

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