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Bob Wills

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James Robert (Bob) Wills (March 6, 1905May 13, 1975) was an American country musician and songwriter.

He was born near Kosse, Texas; his father was a fiddle player who taught the young Wills to play the fiddle and the mandolin. In his 20s 'Bob' attended barber school, got married, and moved to Turkey, Texas, to be a barber. He regularly entered fiddle contests in West Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma and soon the fiddle had replaced the scissors in the young Wills' imagination. He headed to Fort Worth to pursue a career in music.

In Fort Worth Wills met Herman Arnspinger and formed The Wills Fiddle Band. In 1930 Milton Brown joined the group as lead vocalist and brought a sense of innovation and experimentation to the band, now called the Light Crust Doughboys due to radio sponsorship by the makers of Light Crust Flour. Brown added twin fiddles, tenor banjo and slap bass, pointing the music in the direction of swing. The band split up though, with Wills going on to form The Texas Playboys with new singer Tommy Duncan while Milton Brown formed his own band, Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies.

After relocating the band to Waco, then Oklahoma City, Wills eventually settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and began broadcasting noontime shows over the 50,000 watt KVOO radio station. By 1935 Wills had added horn and reed players to the Playboys and the band numbered 13. The addition of steel guitar wiz Leon McAuliffe provided the final ingredient to the development of western swing. With its jazz sophistication and blues influence, plus improvised scats and wisecrack commentary by Wills, the band became the first superstars of the genre. In 1940 "San Antonio Rose" sold a million records and became the signature song of The Texas Playboys.

By 1945, Bob Wills had moved to Sacramento where he operated the Bob Wills Point nightclub, but continued to tour where his dances outdrew those of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and other high profile bandleaders of the day.

During the postwar period, KGO radio in San Francisco syndicated a Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys show recorded at the Fairmont Hotel. Many of these recordings survive today as the Tiffany Transcriptions, and are available on CD.

With mounting IRS debts, in 1949 Wills sold his Sacramento club, moved back to Oklahoma City, then went back on the road to pay off his debts.

Bob Wills continued to tour and record well into the 1960s, when he influenced performers Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in a style of music now known as the Bakersfield Sound. After several strokes, in 1973 Wills was invited by Haggard to join the surviving members of the Playboys band in one final recording session called "For the Last Time". Bob Wills slipped into a coma a few days later and died May 13, 1975.

Bob Wills was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

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