Duncan McLean – Lone Star Swing

While I was in Denver at new year (I did mention I was there, didn’t I?), talk was often about all things country. At one point mention was made of Western Swing, and specifically Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys. Of course, the real hardcore ‘Swingers (as I’m sure they’re not known) will tell you that there is nothing country about this music. As Wikipedia has it:

Western swing is, first and foremost, a style of jazz.[1] It is dance music with an up-tempo beat and a decidedly Southwestern United States regional flavor. It consists of an eclectic combination of country, cowboy, polka, and folk music, blended with a jazzy “swing”, with a tip of the hat to New Orleans jazz and Delta blues, and played by a hot string band often augmented with drums, saxophones, pianos and, notably, the pedal steel guitar.

Which is fair enough. I suppose it is jazzy, in that way that really good early stuff (eg The Hot Club Quintet) is just jumping tunes and great playing – for dancing not thinking.

Anyway, I had been introduced to the joys of this near lost corner of musical history by a radio reading of Duncan McLean‘s book Lone Star Swing. This was an amusing part travelogue, part history about him traveling around Texas in search of the spirit of The Swing (and the few living legends still kicking about). At the time I remember thinking I’d like to read the book, but never got around to picking up a copy. Although, I was inspired enough to buy one of Proper Music‘s excellent Doughboys, Playboys & Cowboys series of compilations, which has intermittently graced my stereo for nearly the last decade. And, somewhat less intermittently on my return from Denver (did I mention….).

And so, I decided to actually read the book this time. Cruelly, out of print but thanks to the wonders of the interweb I managed to track myself down a copy for not many pennies. (Although, I’m sure Mr McLean wouldn’t find this as wonderful as I do.) And jolly good it is too. At turns hilarious and touching, and always informative. For me the best thing is the way that overall McLean captures perfectly the experience of being a british tourist in the states. I recognised a lot of it (did I mention that…)

Now, I’ve got a 109 track Bob Wills boxed set to get working through…

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Written by Tony Kiernan

08 February 2006 at 6:07 pm

Posted in Books

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