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Billy Jack Wills and His Western Swing Band

Crazy, Man, Crazy! – 1999 (Joaquin)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Billy Jack Wills and His Western Swing Band

This is Joaquin's second CD reissue drawn from radio transcriptions made by Wills and his band between 1952 and 1954 (both were originally issued in slightly different form as LPs by Western Records). Along with Tiny Moore, Billy Jack had left brother Bob Wills' band to take over duties as the house band at Bob's Sacramento ballroom when he moved the Texas Playboys to Oklahoma. These successors were no mere clones of the Playboys, however. Billy Jack was 21 years - a generation - younger than Bob, and that difference was reflected in the sound of the Western Swing Band. The band Billy Jack and Moore put together was characterized by a "younger," more driving sound and often veered into jump blues territory ("Rock-A-Bye Baby Blues," "For You, My Love," and Bill Haley's "Crazy, Man, Crazy")

Vocal duties were mainly split by Wills and Moore, and although Moore was the smoother voiced, both were more ragged than Playboy Tommy Duncan's croon, which contributed to the band's distinctive sound. So, too, did the playing of teen steel prodigy Vance Terry and of trumpeter Dick McComb; witness a driving "Sweet Georgia Brown," fueled by Terry's weaving steel and McComb's robust playing, or Terry showing off one of his influences on - while McComb's trumpet lines add a whole new dimension to - the band's version of Speedy West's "Skiddle De Boo."

For documenting a significant chapter in the history of Western Swing and another precursor to rock and roll, and certainly in its own right for stellar playing on a diverse repertoire, this release is well worth picking up.