…It takes lots of strength to run and play

Born on a cotton-farm near Kosse, Texas in 1905, his father was a statewide fiddle champion and so Robert “Bob” Wills gained some impressive skills at a very young age, namely how to pick cotton and how to play fiddle and mandolin. As part of a large family he, his parents and several siblings frequently played at “kitchen” dances, either in their home or at other ranches around West Texas and eastern New Mexico.

In addition to traditional country music Wills was also deeply immersed in the world of Negro spirituals while working in the cotton fields. “I don’t know whether they made them up as they moved down the cotton rows or not,” Wills once said, “but they sang blues you never heard before.”

Other than his siblings, his playmates were all children of African American cotton pickers and his father, in particular, enjoyed watching him dance the jig with the other kids. However, by the age of 16, with his family struggling to make ends meet, Wills ventured out on his own and drifted for several years by hopping freight trains (he was nearly killed more than once). In his early 20s he attended barber school and got married, alternating between barbering and performing at minstrel shows where he played his violin, cracked jokes and entertained the audience with his amazing jigs.

By 1934 he had formed the basis of the band that would make him famous and moved his family to Tulsa, Oklahoma where Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys became a local institution with live (Monday through Friday) noontime broadcasts and evening dances at Cain’s Ballroom (still in existence).

While the band’s front line consisted of fiddles and/or guitars, Wills accidentally added a trumpet when he hired an announcer who happened to have played with the New Orleans symphony and thought he’d been hired as a trumpeter and simply began to play with the band. Then a struggling young sax player was allowed to play and Wills realized he now needed a drummer to balance things out.  In 1935 a steel guitar player who could serve as a second vocalist was added and by 1938 Texas Playboy recordings included lead, rhythm, steel and electric guitars.  Inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in the Early Influence category) their recording of Ida Red was tellingly re-worked by Chuck Berry as Maybelline decades later.

By now a new genre had been developed, incorporating jazz, blues, popular music and improvised scats, and with an orchestra that sometimes contained as many as 23 members, Bob Wills was (and is) known by all as the King of Western Swing.  Written by (Evansville, Indian born) Fred Rose, today’s selection was first recorded by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in 1946.


Roly Poly

 Roly Poly, eatin’ corn and taters

Hungry every minute of the day

Roly Poly, gnawin’ on a biscuit

Long as he can chew it it’s ok

He can eat an apple pie

And never even bat an eye

He likes everything from soup to hay

Roly Poly, daddy’s little fatty

Bet he’s gonna be a man someday

 Roly Poly, scrambled eggs for breakfast

Bread and jelly 20 times a day

Roly Poly eats a hearty dinner

It takes lots of strength to run and play

Pulls up weeds and does the chores

Runs both ways to all the stores

He works up an appetite that way

Roly Poly, daddy’s little fatty

Bet he’s gonna be a man someday

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