In the 1930s, when the urban dance halls of America were ringing to the swing sounds of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie, a unique form of dance music was taking hold in the rural South West. Exposed to big band influences through the radio, rural string bands took jazz and big band music and adapted it for their traditional instruments. Country fiddles, banjos and steel guitars played alongside horns, drums and pianos. Also feeding into this music were the diverse cultural influences prevalent in 1930s Texas and Oklahoma. This was an area filled with the sounds of different communities. Czech and German polka, Mexican mariachi, Cajun and blues were all part of the soundtrack of the Southwest and bled into this new style of music, which would later become known as 'Western Swing'. It was a sound which was to become the lifeblood of the Texan dancehall for the next twenty years, and provide America with a musician regarded by many as 'the best band leader of all time' - Bob Wills.
In this five part series Ray Benson, the founder and lead singer of Grammy winning Western Swing band 'Asleep at the Wheel' charts the history and development of this music. He celebrates the people who created, developed and refined the Western Swing sound, and joins some of the players, enthusiasts and fans who are keeping this unique part of America's musical history alive for the next generation.
The series features contributions from Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and The Hot Club of Cowtown plus former members of 'Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys' Johnny Gimble, Herb Remington, Bobby Koefer, Louise Rowe and Leon Rausch.
In the final part of the series Ray Benson remembers Bob Wills' last recording session and his own near meeting with his musical idol. He also traces the 1970s Western Swing revival, which was kick-started by Merle Haggard's album 'A Tribute to the Best Damn fiddle player in the World' in 1970. The album was a huge influence on Ray himself, and moved the musical direction of his band 'Asleep at the Wheel' towards Western swing. 'Asleep at the Wheel' went on to record two tribute albums to Bob Wills, and is now regarded as the world's leading Western swing band, with a history spanning almost 40 years. We hear from members of 'Asleep at the Wheel', and see the band's own influence on subsequent musicians.
The programme also looks at contemporary artists who are performing and recording their own style of Western swing music such as Lyle Lovett, Hot Club of Cowtown, Cornell Hurd and Willie Nelson, whose album 'Willie and the Wheel' was produced by Ray Benson earlier this year.