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Art and Culture

David and Art - Country AND Western

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When we lump two different styles of art together under one label, it hides the distinctiveness of both.

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OK, here’s a question for you: What kind of music do they have at Bob’s Country Bunker? Do you know?  According to the wife of the owner, they have both kinds: “Country AND Western.”

If you’re a fan of the 1979 movie The Blues Brothers, you know this is a joke from the film. The audience is amused by her certainty that there are only two kinds of music and that they, at Bob’s, proudly offer both to their patrons.

But the joke also turns on the fact that most people assume that country-western music is one unified thing.  Country music and western music are related, as many genres of music are, but they’re not the same—not nearly. 

In its past, country music came in large part from the blues.  If you listen to a country singer like Jimmie Rogers or Hank Williams, you’ll hear songs that are deeply rooted in southern blues. In fact, outside of the yodeling, Jimmie Rodgers songs are sometimes indistinguishable from Robert Johnson songs.

Western music comes from somewhere else.  Listen to “The Sons of the Pioneers” or Gene Autry, and you’ll hear western music.  Or better yet, listen to the great Bob Wills, the master of a kind of music called Western Swing.

Wills was born in 1905 in the little Limestone County town of Kosse, about 40 miles southeast of Waco.  His father was a state champion fiddle player and consequently he picked it up when he was still little.  He was a natural.  He formed a group called the Texas Playboys in Fort Worth during the Great Depression.  They made their first recordings in September, 1935 in Dallas.

Wills relocated to California in 1943 and continued to experiment with his sound and add instruments to his group.  At one point in 1944, he had 22 other players performing with him and his band was as big a draw as those led by Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman.  In fact, they played songs by Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington..

Their music, more than that of any other artist I can think of, defies description.  It’s jazz, swing, Dixieland, blues--it has fiddles, trumpets, pedal steel guitars, and saxophones.  Certainly, it flies in the face of anything most people think of when they say country-western.

But defying description is what the best art tends to do.  It never stays in the neatly labeled boxes we seek to put it in.  

(Music Source - You Tube)