Western swing was teeming with jazz influence from the start, hence the name. Whether the band was led by Bob Wills or Spade Cooley, or one of the Texas groups like the Light Crust Doughboys or the Port Arthur Jubileers, Fiddlers, pianists, electric guitarists and steel players, many of them more devoted to jazz and big band music, improvising blazing solo breaks. Most picked ideas from the jazz records they loved. In the east, in Nashville, Cincinnati, Atlanta and other places, sidemen started emulating what they heard on the records of Wills, Spade Cooley and others. Here are three records that exemplify that change.
1946: "Wild Man Boogie" by Ray Batts.
Another quirky Nashville record by small-time singer Ray Batts (later a major-league Nashville furniture dealer). Note the prominent (and totally appropriate) trombone and the hot guitar. Who is it? No question. The licks give away Chet Atkins, not yet a star. Some of his riffs quote the 40's Tommy Dorsey Orchestra hit "Boogie Woogie." Chet hadn't settled permanently in Nashville. He was there playing guitar on the Opry as part of Red Foley's band. He'd leave after a few months and return for good in 1950.
1946: Oklahoma City by Paul Howard and his Arkansas Cotton Pickers
Paul Howard, along with Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys, were one of two Western Swing style band on the Opry, banned from using their drummers on the Ryman Auditorium Stage. Howard brought 16 year old Hank Garland into his band in '46. The twin guitars were an idea lifted from Wills, who'd used them in his 1944-45 Texas Playboys. While recorded in Chicago this reflected the Cotton Pickers' sound at the Opry and elsewhere. The guitarists: Garland and the obscure Nashville lead man Jabbo Arrington and Slim Idaho on steel guitar. No one in Nashville did anything like this in '46. Grady Martin, another Nashville session giant, was a later member of the band as was, for a time future Dave Brubeck drummer Joe Morello.
1947: "You Gotta Leave Those Other Guys Alone" Autry Inman
Inman was a bit better known at the time, but not much (he gained prominence nearly 20 years later for a pro-Vietnam-anti protester tune titled "The Ballad of Two Brothers"). But at this time he was recording for Bullet. The song was "You Gotta Leave Those Other Guys Alone." He recorded this in Nashville with Opry star Cowboy Copas's backup band. Inman was a member of that band at the time, along with steel guitarist Slim Idaho, fiddler Red Herron, bassist Marshall Barnes and the guitar...Hank Garland, then just 17, but already on his way to guitar legend. His licks are straight out of Django Reinhardt, his hero at the time. And yes, it sounds a bit like another Django devotee about to become a star himself: Les Paul.
1947: "Jamboree" Cowboy Copas
We've talked about Copas here before. But this is one of the sleepers. He recorded it not in Nashville but at King Records' Brewster Avenue studio in Cincinnati. Copas only brought along part of his band: Slim Idaho, Red Herron and Marshall Barnes, who played on the Inman record. Who does the guitar honors? None other than Homer Haynes on rhythm guitar and Jethro Burns, known as "Dude" (pronounced "Doody) playing intense, swinging electric guitar instead of his usual mandolin. Homer and Jethro were recording their own music for King, and often did recording session work with other acts.
This is a burner--one of the best 40's country-jazz recordings done east of the Mississippi. Copas channels Bob Wills by announcing the soloists. Oh, and the photo with the video shows Copas with the band you heard on the Inman track: Marshall Barnes, band members Garland, Inman, Idaho and Herron in front. Homer's rhythm is clearly inspired by the driving rhythm work on Django recordings.
1947 "Fly Trouble" by Hank Williams Sr.
"Talking Blues" records became popular after the 1947 success of Tex Williams's "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)," another example of Western Swing influence Nashville. This was one of Hank's more off the wall record and one of the hottest records he ever made. This was done at Hank's second session for for MGM. These aren't the later Drifting Cowboys featuring Don Helms and Jerry Rivers. Only lead guitarist made that cut. The band here features Sammy Pruett on lead guitar; fiddler L.C. Crysel and steel player Herman Herron. Pretty wild.
There were a lot more, and as hot soloing, inspired by Wills and others, took hold in Nashville, the sound of country music there changed forever. Even the heavy (often too heavy) electric guitar-driven sound of today had its origins there. Wills himself didn't care much for Nashville music (he defied the Opry's no-drums rule when he first played there in 1944).Doesn't matter. Records like these five are another reason Wills was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1968.