Wednesday, March 16, 2005


heading west

Leon McAuliffe & his Western Swing Band, Take It Away, Leon.

A sideman's turn in the spotlight. Leon McAuliffe had joined Bob Wills' legendary Texas Playboys in 1935 when he was 18; in the Playboys, McAuliffe, who had started out on Hawaiian guitar, played a four-neck electric steel guitar, each neck in a different tuning. "Take it away Leon!", Wills' cue for Leon to solo, became the band's catchphrase.

By 1950 Western swing was fading--the forces that had brought jazz and country together in the '30s had dissipated. The younger country singers who wanted some punch to their sound were following Hank Williams' lead into honky tonk ( in a few years, the most ambitious and the craziest would start playing rockabilly), the traditionalists now had bluegrass and mainstream performers in Nashville were crafting a refined pop-friendly music.

McAuliffe took obsolesence well. He had left Wills' band after the war, during which McAuliffe had served as a flight instructor. For the rest of his career, which extended into the 1970s, McAuliffe was anchored in Tulsa, content to play the old dance hall circuit that Wills' band had itched to break out of years before. John Morthland: "For him at least, Western swing had come full circle."

This track is from an LP compilation that really ought to be reissued--OKeh Western Swing, a 28-track set that starts with Al Bernard and the Goofus Five and Emmett Miller's "Lovesick Blues", has a whole side dedicated to Wills, and finishes with McAuliffe. It was released on CD, briefly, in the early 1990s but is now only available at extortionate prices in the second-hand market. (LP copies show up fairly often on Ebay.)

"Take it Away" lacks the wild genius of the great Wills band recordings, but it's fun and catchy, built to showcase a typically fine McAuliffe solo. It was recorded in Hollywood on July 30, 1950 and featured Marvis Billington Jr. on piano and Bob Kizer on guitar, along with a host of uncredited players. You can find it on CD here.

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