Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys' 'Tiffany Transcriptions'

Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys were the originators and best-known practitioners of Western swing, their repertoire including classics like "New San Antonio Rose, " "Faded Love" and "Take Me Back to Tulsa." In 1945, Wills teamed up with Oakland, Calif. disc jockey Cliff "Cactus Jack" Johnson and businessman Clifford Sundlin to launch Tiffany Music, Inc. The company's goal was to supply syndicated radio programs to subscribing stations. Wills and the Playboys were the featured performers.

These programs, known as the Tiffany Transcriptions, have been assembled into a 10-disc, 150-song box set the first-ever box set from venerable reissue label Collectors' Choice Music. The collection, due for a January 27, 2008 street date, is fully and lovingly remastered by Bob Fisher (who has been waiting years for a crack at 'em) and features liner notes by Wills expert Rich Kienzle, who writes: "For all the great records Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys made in 1946-47 for Columbia and MGM and there were plenty the Tiffany sessions captured something deeper, intangible and vibrant, music that even the occasional miscue or missed note can't diminish. It represents the very soul, spirit and musical passion of Bob and the band as they really were on those Western and Southwestern bandstands. Sixty years later, it still sounds like yesterday."

The package also features written testimonials from the next generation of Western swing stars. "To be honest, " writes Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson, "without the Tiffany Transcriptions, Asleep at the Wheel would not have had the materials needed to become proficient Western swingers . . . which I hope we are." Riders in the Sky's Ranger Doug adds, "I am honored, I am blessed, I am grateful, and I am a fan of the Texas Playboys forever."

Over the course of the 1946-47 Tiffany Transcription sessions, Wills and the Playboys recorded sores of tunes not just their hits and their bandstand repertoire. They utilized the sessions as an opportunity to work out new tunes, revisit older Playboys recordings, and, in true Western swing fashion, cover songs by other country & Western acts along with pop, big band classics, fiddle tunes, blues and instrumentals created on the spot. Not bound by the space restriction of 78 rpm singles, the programs were furnished to subscribing radio stations on 26 16-inch vinyl discs, encouraging the band to stretch out and jam. When you had a band that included such stars as singer Tommy Duncan, steel guitarists (not pedal!) Noel Boggs, Ray Honeycutt and Herb Remington, guitarists Eldon Shamblin and Lester "Junior" Bernard, and fiddler/mandolinist Tiny Moore among others, space was an asset and the jazz-like room for improvisation distinguishes the Tiffany Transcriptions from Wills' studio recordings. The band often recorded the sessions directly following tours, which is why they were always in top form.

The Tiffany sessions were broadcast over a network of radio stations that spanned Wills country (Oklahoma and Texas) to Oakland (home of Tiffany), plus Houston, Texarkana, Austin and even the Pacific Northwest and Santa Monica. Tiffany partner Cliff Sundlin retained ownership of the material until he died in 1981. El Cerrito-based Kaleidoscope Records later purchased the materials from Sundlin's estate, issuing selected tracks on a series of LPs, later reissued on long out-of-print CDs. The Collectors' Choice collection reissues the original Kaleidoscope albums intact.

The Tiffany tracks have proven influential in the later development of country music, informing the sound of Merle Haggard's classic 1970 Wills homage A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World, and inspiring a new generation of Western swing revivalists including Asleep at the Wheel, the Hot Club of Cowtown, the Saddle Cats and Big Sandy & his Fly-Rite Boys. They're also quite possibly the hottest country music ever recorded.

"Play it loud and listen, " Kienzle writes in the notes. "The magic is still there."

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