There are multiple potential kings of country music, with Roy Acuff, George Strait and even Elvis Presley among the possible wearers of the crown. Yet of the artists lauded as royalty, none ruled over their chosen sound quite like the king of Western swing, Bob Wills.
From the late 1920s to the early 1970s, Wills and his band the Texas Playboys blended western music with jazz and Big Band instrumentation; what Wills called “Texas fiddle music” became known as western swing. As the leader of a sub-genre, Wills kept fiddle at the forefront of country music while fronting a band inducted into both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Wills’ music inspired fellow legends (Merle Haggard) and future torchbearers (Asleep at the Wheel) with a sound that transcends genres and helped secure Texas’ spot on the country music map. In the process, he proved that straying from his hillbilly roots and embracing outside influences could equal both short-term chart success and a future as a multi-genre tastemaker.
With such royal accolades in mind, here are five game-changing cuts from Wills’ legendary career: