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Still Swingin: 100th Birthday Special Edition
Still Swingin 100th Birthday Special Edition
Actor: Tracy Byrd
Genres: Westerns, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
NR     2005     5hr 3min

Laughter may be the best medicine, but Western Swing music undoubtedly comes in a very close second as documented in Still Swingin', a documentary that traces the history of Western Swing music as well as legendary sing...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Tracy Byrd
Genres: Westerns, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Westerns, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
Studio: Vci Video
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color,Full Screen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 03/01/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 5hr 3min
Screens: Black and White,Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
Edition: Special Edition
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

The King of Western Swing on Video!
James Morris | Jackson Heights, NY United States | 12/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I have been in love with the unique sound of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys for over a quarter century, and I never grow tired of listening to his wonderful records. Although he and his band appeared in many movies in the 1940's, and his records have sold in the millions, films clips of Bob and the band are hard to come by. This documentary, packaged in a deluxe two-disc DVD, goes a long way toward correcting that imbalance.

The first time I first saw a clip of a Bob Wills performance was during a trip to the Country Music Museum in Nashville in 1978. The clip I saw that day was Ida Red, and I have been looking forward to seeing it again for almost 30 years - now I can, for it's included amongst the vintage performance clips offered on this DVD.

For anyone who doesn't know, Bob Wills was a fiddle player who played his first professional gig as a young boy, substituting for his father at a barn dance. Although he grew up around Western music, the Wills family lived in a poor area where there were many black families, and very early he was exposed to and grew to love the Blues and other forms of traditional African-American music. Legend has it that he once rode fifty miles on horseback to attend a Bessie Smith recital, and was the only white person in the audience. He was one of the founding members of Milton Brown and His Brownies, the band credited with creating the style of music now known as Western Swing. When he started his own band, the Texas Playboys, he took a cue from Count Basie and included Brass, Horns and rhythm instruments, and if he couldn't claim to actually invent Western Swing, he certainly perfected it. In the 1940's he was one of the highest paid bandleaders in the US.

There are a few DVD (and some VHS) programs that offer biographical data and film clips of Bob Wills. All are of varying quality - unfortunately, few video records of Bob Wills performances have survived in pristine condition; the clips in this particular set are about the best I've seen, which isn't saying much. Still true fans will find these clips exciting and priceless, and even the uninitiated will find them quite enjoyable. Some of the vintage performances included here are: a 1944 one reel short, "Warner Brothers Presents Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys" which provides a brief (and somewhat inaccurate) bio and history of the band, as well as several songs, including a wonderful version of In My Adobe Hacienda featuring an unidentified female vocalist. There are five or six shorts made for television in 1951; each presents a complete song, usually with Bob's preferred male vocalist, Tommy Duncan. Some of these titles are: Yodel Mountain, Deep Water and two versions of the aforementioned Ida Red (one is a movie clip) among others. There is also an additional movie clip from the early 40's.

I believe very strongly that if you know Bob Wills records, but have never seen him perform, then you're missing half the picture. From his hundreds of records, many fans know that Bob was most famous for his "calls" or "hollers". When the band got hot, he would frequently holler "Ahhhhh-hahhhh" or prod them along with such exclamations as "Take it away, Leon" or "Here's that old piano pounder". Or, if the band was playing below his expectations, he would shout, "Johnny in key, please" or virtually anything else that came into his mind. But a key part of his performance was his animation - when the band played, he would dance around, clown with the band, and make expressive and entertaining gestures and faces, all while leading the band with a baton, or his fiddle, or just his hands. In short, his physicality during his performances was a show in itself. Anyone who loves the music of Bob Wills will find these video performances priceless, despite the limitations of their quality.

The DVD also includes many extras; there are interviews with original band members, and performances by Western Swing artists Tracy Byrd and Asleep at the Wheel. There are also fascinating interviews with Bob's surviving siblings, Luke Wills and Lorene Wills. An additional bonus consists of extensive contemporary concert footage that runs about 90 minutes, including Asleep at the Wheel and surviving members of the Playboys. The contemporary footage includes such Bob Wills numbers as Right or Wrong, Take Me Back to Tulsa, Hawaiian War Chant, Roly Poly, Bubbles in My Beer, Faded Love, and Big Balls in Cowtown. There is also an historic performance of the Johnny Lee Wills classic, Four or Five Times, featuring Luke Wills.

For many years during the height of his popularity, Bob and his music were rejected by the orthodox country music establishment for being too "jazzy" and ignored by the jazz world for being too "hillbilly". Western Swing is a blend of jazz and western music - it is primarily dance music, with a strong emphasis on vocals (like country), but it also includes jazz instruments like saxophone and trumpets. What makes it most unique are instruments that are traditionally associated with country music (like fiddles and steel guitars), being employed in a "swing" or jazz fashion. Almost every performance by Bob Wills Texas Playboys incorporated spotlight solos, improvisation and other musical trademarks generally associated with jazz. In other words, his band and his music are totally unique.

Fortunately, there was a revival of interest in Bob Wills and his music which started in the 1960's and continues to this day. After his death in 1974, there was an explosion of new Western Swing bands, with young admirers anxious to copy the Bob Wills sound and keep Western Swing alive. Even country music has finally paid him his due, for today Bob Wills is proudly embraced and revered in country circles as a pioneer and a true original. He is now acknowledged as one of the first to incorporate African American rhythm and Jazz into country music, and his influence has been acknowledged by such diverse artists as Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and even Elvis Costello.

For those who are interested, there is another DVD, "Fiddlin' Man - The Life and Times of Bob Wills" which is also available. Besides a biography, it presents many additional film clips (actually more than "Still Swingin'") but the video quality varies greatly, and some of the clips display video quality that is poor indeed. Still, if you are a devoted fan, I recommend that you acquire both.
Not what it is cracked up to be but OK for the hard core fan
Tony Thomas | SUNNY ISLES BEACH, FL USA | 04/28/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This DVD is pretty good, but it is not at all what the advertisements make it appear to be. Watch out!

The ads make it iseem like this is a large collection of videos of Bob Wills. Such things exist. There are lots of video from Bob Wills's TV performances in the 1950s and early 1960s and lots of film from his movies and musical short subjects. On this DVD, you don't get to see them except spliced clips without much explanation.

The DVD ad and introductions suggests that on it you will see video of the great 100th Anniversary of Bob Wills performance Asleep at the Wheel did in tribute to Bob Wills at Cains dance hall in Tulsa. However, you don't. You see some cuts from a sound check performance Asleep at the wheel did on KVOO the afternoon before that great performance with a few guest stars. And there is not much of that!

These DVD provide little real information about Bob Wills. There is just a small bit of general information that is sometimes inaccurate in the first DVD.
Tommy Duncan is named, but only in a way that people who already know who Tommy was could understand. Wills is presented as if he were the only person in the Western Swing arena. No mention is made of the vast array of other Western Swing bands.

As mentioned, Milton Brown, Wills's partner and close friend is not mentioned, so there is of course no mention of Brown's Band "The Musical Brownies" which many credit as being the first full scale Western Swing band. A knowledgeable person could have easily done this while this video was showing stills of the Light Crust Doughboys including Brown, Bobby Dunne, Durwood Brown, and other Brownies.

The first DVD has too much music by Red Steargall and Tracy Boyd who are country western Hat Act singers who do a few Wills influenced songs. Unfortunately, there is not enough music by Asleep at the Wheel.

This, the top Western Swing band in the last 30 years, does performi at the soung check at Cains with Wills' guitarist and arranger and band manager Eldon Shamblin and master fiddler Johnnie Gimble. There is some nice music with the great Leon Rausch bassist and singer joining in as well as Joe Frank Fergueson, also a bassist and singer (and I believe cousin) for Wills on and off in the 1930s and 1940s.

Two people who could have said a lot about Wills that is more than just fan praise are Gimble and Shamblin. On other videos, not this one, they do say interesting things about Wills. Even here among all the kind of useless praise, Eldon points out the problem of the early band was that the musicians were so bad. He's elsewhere commented about how he thought Wills was "nuts" selecting musicians based on their looks, i.e. Wills believed a guitarist looked one way and a fiddler looked one way etc. Shamblin who was a professional studio guitarist at a Tulsa CBS radio station became the musical master of the band and helped Wills hire better and better musicians, many out of the lower ranked white swing bands.

Eldon either played or managed Wills group from the 1930s until the band broke up in the mid 1960s with time off in the late 1940s and the mid 1950s to work with Leon McAuliffe's band in Tulsa. He is an acknowledged musical genius and received a lot of praise since the 1930s. The film inaccurately quotes Rolling Stone as claiming he was the greatest rhythm guitar player in the country, but it was actually Rolling Stone quoting Downbeat from the 1930s. Most who know rhythm guitar, including Eldon were he living, would probably put Freddie Green, Eddie Durham, and a few others ahead of him.

Likewise, Gimble is just very smart, very thoughtful and seems to have a very keen mind about the Wills legacy. He even plays Wills main fiddle in the clips shown here, though we aren't told this. He can tell you, for example, about one of the fundamental questions in Wills life, his alcoholism. Wills's problems with the bottle was involved in most of the big decisions of his life from quitting barbering and becoming a full time musician to the breakup of his classic band in 1949, to his going from Columbia to MGM in the mid 1940s. Unfortunately, Gimble is not asked any questions of this kind.

The second DVD is better. There are no Hat Act singers. It contains performances by true Western Swing peformers. The first band is a band led by Jody Nix, son of the great Hoyle Nix, a great Texas Fiddler and contemporary of Bob Wills, whose Band Wills used as his own in the mid 1960s. Nix who used to be a drummer but has really mastered the Texas ranch dance fiddle style that his father and Bob Wills played. He has a crack swing jazz musician on electric mandolin and fiddle in his band and creates a good but interesting sound.

However, the best thing in the whole DVD is a performance of a Texas Playboys and Johnny Lee Wills and his Boys survivors group including Bob Koefer on steel, Gleen Rhees on Tenor and Soprano Sax, Truit Cunningham vocals, leader and bass, fiddlers Curly Lewis and Bob Boatwright, Eldon Shamblin on guitar, Clarence Cagle on piano and Luke Wills on vocal. Of course, even in 1994 when this was filmed except for Eldon, all of the great stars of Wills Top bands in the late 1930s and 1940s like Leon McAuliffe, Louis Tierney, Jesse Ashelock, Jim Joe Holly, Herbie Remmington, Noel Boggs, Cameron Hill, Lester Barnard Junior, Millard Kelso, Tiny Moore, and Alex Brashear had died. Most of this group joined Wills in the late 1940s or 1950s. Curly Lewis and Clarence Cagle were actually more well known as members of Johnnie Lee and His Boys, which was like the farm team for the Texas Playboys.

While they are probably not as hot as they were 10 years before at the large scale Bob Wills 50th celebration in 1984, these guys are having fun playing some good Western Swing music, cutting up for the audience, and giving you a flavor of the breadth of real Western Swing. Pianist Clarence Cagle who continued working as a session pianist for rock, blues, and country recordings into the 1990s really outsmokes them all. Bob Boatright, who is probably the youngest of the bunch, does some great fiddling as does Curly Lewis.

However, this second CD is worth it if you buy this at remaindered prices.

However, you don't see much real Bob Wills here. You don't see any complete tune played by Wills and the Texas Playboys. You don't learn much about Western Swing if you buy this.