James "Guy" Willis, Charles "Skeeter" Willis, and John "Vic" Willis started playing music on their family farm as kids. As teenagers in 1932, the Willis Brothers formed the Oklahoma Wranglers, formed as a band, playing a blend of Western swing and cowboy. Skeeter Willis sang and fiddled; Guy sang lead and played guitar; and, in the original lineup, eldest brother Joe played along. The Willis Brothers played on Shawnee, OK's KGEF throughout the '30s. In 1939, Joe married and left, and Vic, who played accordion, piano, and sang, joined. The brothers moved to Kansas City to appear on Brush Street Follies until 1942, when they disbanded to fight in the war. Reunited in 1946, they joined the Grand Ole Opry and signed to Sterling Records, and had the distinction of backing Hank Williams on his first recordings. After leaving the Opry in 1949, the Willis Brothers toured with Eddy Arnold until 1957 and appeared in the films Feuding Rhythm and Hoe Down. In an attempt to play to an audience beyond just Western fans, the Oklahoma Wranglers name was dropped for the Willis Brothers. The band recorded steadily with Mercury, RCA, and Coral before signing with Starday and finally charting with the truck-driving country hit "Give Me 40 Acres (To Turn This Rig Around)" in 1964. Back at the Opry, the Willis Brothers remained there until Vic died at 73 in a 1995 car crash.
Share this page