Legends of Country Music (Columbia)

Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys

By Bob Mitchell

Legends of Country Music is one of the most generous and enjoyable box sets I've had the privilege of hearing. It contains 105 meticulously re-mastered original Bob Wills tracks recorded from Victor (1932), Okeh/Vocalion (1935-40), Columbia (1945-47), MGM (1947-54), Liberty (1960), Kapp (1966, '69) and United Artists (1973). The songs are culled from 43 recording sessions that span 41 years and they feature such legendary artists as singers Tommy Duncan, Leon McAuliffe and Leon Rausch; guitarists Herman Arnspiger, Sleepy Johnson and Eldon Shamblin; pianist Al Stricklin; drummer Smoky Dacus and Tiny Moore and Johnny Gimble on mandolins and fiddles.

Legends is the most extensive single collection of Wills' music ever issued in this country and it is presented in strict chronological order of recording dates. All I can say is, "So much music, so little time."

In addition to timeless standards such as "Steel Guitar Rag," "San Antonio Rose," "Texas Playboy Rag," "New Spanish Two Step," "Ida Red," "Roly Poly," "Stay A Little Longer," "Sugar Moon," "Faded Love," "Time Changes Everything," "Sittin' On Top Of The World," "I'm A Ding Dong Daddy (From Dumas)," and others, the box set also includes nine songs (from the 1930s and '40s) that were not released at time of recording.

This exceptional collection celebrates Wills' impact 100 years after his birth. Additionally, Rich Kienzle's liner notes are among the most extensive and enlightening I've ever read. "In Wills' universe, musical boundaries simply didn't exist," writes Rich Kienzle in his informative 3,500-word liner notes essay, which he follows with a rigorously detailed 4,000-word session-by-session annotation that covers every track. (Much of the information in this review has been excerpted from those liner notes.)

Wills fashioned a highly danceable sound that transformed the music of the great Depression era. It brought fame and fortune to Wills and a level of radio and film superstardom unheard of for a rural-based "string band." The Texas Playboys virtually single-handedly elevated country music to big city tastes. The final session, a reunion LP entitled For The Last Time (United Artists) was in December 1973. A severely incapacitated Wills passed away less then a year and a half afterwards.

The band broke every rule from Wills shouting and hollering and egging-on his band during recording, to developing his trademark amplified lead guitar/steel guitar/dual- fiddle attack on top of the rollicking piano/bass/drums rhythm and full-tilt brass section that was to become the template for every western swing band that would follow. And it's all here in this one unbelievable collection. It's authentic, infectious, feel-good-music - unadulterated listening pleasure.

For more information check out www.legacyrecordings.com.