Remembering....The Greatest Hits of Bob Wills was issued by Columbia nearly three years after his death. Though the recordings cover the years 1935-1945, the lion's share come from 1935 (Wills and the Texas Playboys' first-ever recording session in September of that year) and 1940. The earliest material -- "Spanish Two Step," "Maiden's Prayer," and "Mexicali Rose" -- reveals that Wills and his band hit the studio fully developed. They approached the recording session as they would playing a dance -- adding significantly to the feeling of spontaneity and cheer in an atmosphere that was, by Don Law's account (the man who signed Wills to Columbia), hot as hell and miserable in a makeshift studio without air conditioning. Also here is the 1940 version of "San Antonio Rose" (the definitive one), with the horn section adding to the easy mariachi swing feel; under the sheer power glide of Tommy Duncan's voice, it becomes a country song; it is as revolutionary now as it was then, full of elegance, grace, and a certain sense of wildness that never leaves the grooves. Also, hearing Leon McAuliffe and Eldon Shamblin on "Twin Guitar Special," McAuliffe on steel and Shamblin on an electric hollow body, we can hear the roots of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, but also the Allman Brothers Band. This is followed by McAuliffe and Merle Travis kicking it high and lonely on "Steel Guitar Rag," with killer distortion and manic picking by them both. Whether these are indeed Bob Wills' greatest hits or not will always be debatable, but the fact remains that they do show he was at one of his many creative peaks during the '30s and '40s, and that the band he led was invincible. While this title is not available by itself on CD, it is part of a two-fer on the Collectables label (Col 7551) with the excellent The Great Bob Wills, which showcases the '40s side of the band more completely. The price is right, the sound quality is good, and the performances are knockouts.
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