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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Leon McAuliffe

Steel Guitarist and Vocalist

Born January 3, 1917, Houston, TX, USA
Died August 20, 1988, Tulsa, OK, USA

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 as a member of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys play "Steel Guitar Rag."

I first met Leon McAuliffe when I was around five years old. I have only gotten two autographs in my life. The first was Leon McAuliffe. The second was Bill Burnett, who was a famous running back for the Arkansas Razorbacks (OK, famous to Hog fans). At that time, McAuliffe owned a radio station in Rogers, AR, which was next door to my hometown of Bentonville, AR. McAuliffe was known by his fans for listening to what they said. While on tour with his own band, McAuliffe might get a song suggestion from a fan and put it on the setlist for the next time he played the town.

When I listen to electric blues sounds, I sometimes hear hints of Texas Playboys steel guitar sounds. Some musicologists generally do point to a link between McAuliffe's steel guitar playing and the development of Chicago blues style electric guitar.

Leon McAuliffe appearing with one of the reunion groups, which included Eldon Shamblin on guitar and Leon Rausch on vocals. I believe this is from a 1986 performance in Fort Worth, TX. The part featuring McAuliffe on steel guitar begins at 1:48.

McAuliffe was famous for his steel guitar solos and for Bob Wills' intro, which was, "Take it away, Leon." McAuliffe started out in the Light Crust Doughboys, which was a precursor of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

After he joined up with Bob Will and His Texas Playboys, McAuliffe found himself being courted by Gene Autry for a spot in his band. Gene Autry offered McAuliffe a job that paid substantially more than his gig with Bob Wills. McAuliffe declined, saying he did not want to get too far from home. Later, when in California, Autry told McAuliffe, "Looks like you're gettin' pretty far from home." Much to McAuliffe's regret, Autry never offered the job again.

McAuliffe stayed with Bob Wills up until he was drafted during World War II. After the war, McAuliffe started his own band. I was told by Eldon Shamblin that the band initially played at the Cain's Ballroom. I do know that it later relocated to McAuliffe's own place, which was known as the Cimmaron Ballroom. At that point in time, his act became known as Leon McAuliffe and His Cimarron Boys.

After World War II, Leon McAuliffe formed his own band, Leon McAuliffe and His Cimarron Boys. One of his biggest hits was "Panhandle Rag." Bob Wills was jealous and sort of pushed steel player Herb Remington to write a hit, which was "Boot Heel Drag."

Leon McAuliffe appears on a 1960s TV show promoting one of his post Playboy recordings.

In 1965, McAuliffe purchased KAMO radio station in Rogers, AR. He hired Smokey Dacus, drummer from the pre World War II Texas Playboys, as the station manager.

McAuliffe later rejoined his fellow Texas Playboys for different reunion recordings and tours. He also appeared at churches to give his testimony and taught at the Hank Thompson School of Country Music at Claremore, OK, Junior College.

--Steven Langer

Leon McAuliffe obituary at the New York Times

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Eldon Shamblin

Guitarist and Arranger

Born April 24, 1916, Clinton, OK, USA
Died August 5, 1998, Tulsa, OK, USA

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 as a member of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

Eldon Shamblin sings in a 1986 performance of the Texas Playboys. Eldon possessed a sort of infectious cackling laughter which can be heard at the beginning of this clip.

I met Eldon Shamblin in 1981 at Claremore, OK, Junior College (now known as Rogers State University) where he taught guitar at the Hank Thompson School of Country Music. Eldon taught me guitar for one year prior to my attending the University of North Texas as a jazz studies major.

Eldon related to me that he learned music theory by studying big band charts in the 1930s. I consider Dan Haerle, who was a professor at University of North Texas, to be one of the best jazz theory teachers anywhere. I consider Eldon every bit his equal.

Eldon joined Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys after Wills relocated to Oklahoma. Eldon sort of possessed a love/hate relationship with the band. He developed his rhythm guitar soundwith a walking bass line partly due to the inability of Bob Wills to get or keep a quality bass player. He also developed the style in response to Wills' request to put a lot of runs in "Take Me Back To Tulsa."

Eldon also acted as the arranger for the band. He explained that the extent of Wills' songwriting might be coming to Eldon and playing a melody on his violin and telling Eldon to finish it up. He said he considered Wills an "idea man" who knew what sort of melody the fans would like. Eldon would take a Wills' melody and develop it into a composition for the band including the arrangement. He told me that a saxophone player, Granville King, also did a lot of arranging for the band.

Eldon told me that as America started to become involved in World War II that Bob Wills signed a contract for the band to appear in several movies. Wills supposedly went to the band with news that he arranged for the band to stay out of military service during the war in order to entertain troops, which included, in part, finishing the movie contract. Nevertheless, almost all the band members left the band in a short period of time to join the military. He said that he believed that Wills felt betrayed by almost all of the band members abandoning him at this crucial juncture of their careers.

Eldon said that he served in the United States military during the war. Eldon spoke of serving in the U.S. Army. The New York Times said of Eldon's military service, "As a captain in the 99th Infantry Division, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He was missing in action behind enemy lines for three weeks and presumed dead but found his way back to his unit."

Eldon never told me about being in the Battle of the Bulge. Like any serious musician, he said that due to being around artillery that he worried about his hearing. Upon returning from the war, Eldon immediately found work playing in a band for Leon McAulife at the Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa. He told me that his hands were so out of shape by not playing guitar for so many years that he developed a blister under a callous on one of the fingers on his left hand that stayed with him for six weeks. He told me that he believed that never returned to his pre war level of ability on the guitar. He played with McAuliffe's band for approximately nine months.

Eldon returned to work for Wills after his stint with McAulife. According to Merle Haggard, Bob Wills hired Hank Williams during this time. Haggard said, "Bob and Hank were playing at the Opry when they got drunk together, and Bob hired him. The next morning when [Wills' guitarist Eldon] Shamblin woke up, he went to Bob and told him, 'Look -- I might be able to handle your ass when you're drunk, but I ain't even going to attempt to handle you and that skinny son of a bitch. It's either him or me.' Well, that's as long as Hank Williams lasted."

During his 1950s stint with Bob Wills, Eldon received a prototype of the Fender Stratocaster from Leo Fender. This particular Stratocaster is known as the infamous "Gold Strat."

I have been asked several questions about the Gold Strat. I never played it. Eldon carried it in a tweed case that he checked with his luggage when traveling. Yes, you read it here. He checked it with his luggage when flying. I asked him if he ever thought about using a road case for his guitar. He said a road case was too heavy. He said that the guitar did get damaged on occasion but that he knew a good repairman in Tulsa. Eldon regularly received offers to buy the Gold Strat from collectors and celebrities.

When Leo Fender started G&L Guitars, he gave Eldon another guitar, also painted gold. Eldon told me that he considered Leo Fender to be sort a tinkerer who happened to regularly stumble upon things to improve musical instruments. He contrasted Fender with Hartley Peavey. He said Peavey set out to build an empire. He said Fender just sort of created one as a by product of his tinkering.

Eldon stayed with Wills until 1956. He joined Hoyle Nix's band and stayed until 1960 when he returned to Tulsa. He took up work as a piano and organ technician. He enjoyed telling a story about how the man who taught him wood finish repair borrowed a coffee table from a hotel lobby, damaged it with lots of mistreatment, including cigar burns, and used it to teach his students how to repair finishes. He said that the coffee table was returned in excellent condition.

He told me about servicing the pianos of touring groups coming through Tulsa. Many never knew the famous guitarist was the guy who repaired their piano. He told me that he liked J.J. Cale and worked on Cale's piano.

Eldon Shamblin was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

According to Johnny Gimble, all the musicians who came to watch the Texas Playboys always started the night listening to Bob Wills or one of the soloists but by the end of the evening they were listening and watching Eldon. He called Eldon's playing a sort of "melody-rhythm."

Eldon's music career surged with the release of Merle Haggard's album entitled "The Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or My Salute to Bob Wills)," which was released in 1970, and the "For the Last Time Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys" album, which was released in 1974.

Eldon joined Merle Haggard's band, which was known as the Strangers or Hag and the Strangers. As time went by, Eldon pulled back from appearing regularly with the band and limited his appearances to shows in or near Tulsa, OK.

I have been asked several questions again and again about Eldon. First, could he play hard country? My answer would be that obviously Eldon probably could play any style to a certain extent but like many greats preferred playing in his own style. I studied Classic guitar. I never heard anyone ponder whether Andres Segovia could play in another style than that for which he was famous. Second, was he influenced by Charlie Christian or did he influence Charlie Christian? Eldon thought it more likely that Christian was influenced by him but he felt they were different guitarists. He said he never saw Christian play. He said that in the time period where Christian might have seen him that African-Americans normally would have watch from the kitchen area. World War II era Playboys' guitarists, Jimmy Wyble and Cameron Hill, were featured in some nice solos in movie clips from this era and were obviously influenced by Christian.

Eldon did meet Les Paul and said he was the "cockiest SOB" he'd ever met. He added that if he was Les Paul then he'd be cocky too. Supposedly, Les Paul tells a story of driving across country to see Eldon play in the late 1930s and finding Charlie Christian in the audience.

Even though he possessed great ability, Eldon enjoyed being a lifetime student of the guitar. He felt Merle Haggard to be underappreciated for his guitar playing as he considered Haggard a solid guitarist. He also thought longtime Haggard guitarist Roy Nichols was not appreciated fully for his talent.

Sometimes, I'd ask Eldon about what he thought about a particular guitarist. I remember asking him about Django Reinhardt. He did not say anything at all really about Reinhardt but said lots of praise about his fellow Hot Club of France member Stephan Grappelli, who played violin. I noted that Eldon sort of felt a kinship to players who could play but also seemed to understand music theory.

Eldon enjoyed telling stories. He told me about a country singer who asked Eldon to step outside a venue to check something out. Eldon said that outside the venue was a tractor and semi-trailer being off loaded. The country singer got up into the trailer and drove down the ramp in a limosine. The singer bragged he took the limosine with him to all of his tour dates. Eldon told the country singer in some colorful language about how he was going to be broke someday.

He told me that he thought anyone with real talent would get a shot at one or two runs of success in the music business. He said that with his success with Wills and then later with Haggard that he'd gotten his two.

--Steven Langer

Eldon Shamblin at My Space
Eldon Shamblin's entry in the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
Eldon Shamblin's obituary at The (London) Independent
Eldon Shamblin's obituary at National Public Radio
Eldon Shamblin's obituary at The New York Times
Eldon Shamblin's obituary from the Tulsa World as posted at rec.music.gdead

Saturday, November 1, 2008


This "essential guide" is devoted to the extraordinary musicians from Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

If you would like to write or provide information for biographies of Bob Wills (fiddle,mandolin, vocals), Tommy Duncan (vocals), Leon McAuliffe (vocals, steel guitar), Johnny Gimble (fiddle, electric mandolin), Joe “Jody” Holley (fiddle), Tiny Moore (fiddle, electric mandolin), Herb Remington (steel guitar), Eldon Shamblin (guitar), or Al Stricklin (piano), then please contact me.

If you would like to provide other material such as a biography on another Texas Playboy or anything else related to the Texas Playboys, then your contribution would be most welcome.



Bob Wills
Tommy Duncan
Johnny Gimble
Joe "Jody" Holley
Leon McAuliffe
Tiny Moore
Herb Remington
Eldon Shamblin
Al Stricklin

Other Content
Rolling Stones play "Bob Wills Is Still the King"


Bob Wills
A site put together by a film-maker who made a documentary entitled "Faded Love."

Bob Will and His Texas Playboys
A fan site devoted to "the greatest western swing band ever."

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The page at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dedicated to the 1999 induction of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard created a renewed interest in Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys with the release of his album, "A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (Or My Salute to Bob Wills)" in 1970 and his participation in the 1974 album, "For The Last Time Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys." He also employed some great Texas Playboys in his band, The Strangers, such as Eldon Shamblin and Tiny Moore.

The Time Jumpers
If there ever was a super group in Western Swing outside of the Texas Playboys, then it might be The Time Jumpers.