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King of Western Swing

San Antonio Rose

The confluence of Black and White cultures in Texas produced a distinctively Texas music called Western Swing. It combined the blues and jazz African Americans brought from New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta with fiddles and mandolins carried to the frontier by Anglo settlers from the eastern United States. The existing Hispanic culture in Texas provided many of the melodies.

The new "Hot String Bands", as they were known for their combination of strings and horns, played at a frenzied pace. With its punchy rhythm, Western Swing was the raucous relative of Big Band jazz. The horn players copied the Dixieland style and piano players pounded out beer barrel polkas. Musicians like Leon McAuliffe and Herb Remington played take-off solos on the Hawaiian steel guitar, made popular as Hawaiians migrated to Los Angeles and appeared in early motion pictures.

The Western Swing sound reflected the diversity of Texas.

Groups like the Tune Wranglers recorded in both Spanish and English. The Kilocycle Cowboys put on lively radio performances in West Texas, while Adolph Hofner dominated the airwaves in San Antonio with a blend of "South Texas Swing" and Bavarian polkas. Many groups broadcast on border radio from powerful Mexican stations in Monterrey and Ciudad Acuna.

Houston produced many great Western Swing artists including Cliff Bruner, Leon "Pappy" Selph and Shelly Lee Alley. Innovative groups like The Hi-Flyers and Crystal Springs Ramblers commanded the dancehalls around Fort Worth. In Louisiana, Harry Choates was known as the "Fiddle King of Cajun Swing."

The often imitated but unrivalled Bob Wills was widely known in the United States as the "King of Western Swing." His Texas anthem "San Antonio Rose" is a classic example of the influences that formed Western Swing.

Following World War II many prominent Western Swing acts settled down to perform regularly as house bands for dancehalls in California. Economics drove many to play in smaller combos, spurring the Roadhouse Blues, Rockabilly and Honky Tonk traditions.

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