Singing Playboys: 3 Great Bob Wills Vocalists

Since I have to write like I have to breathe, The Miltons website gives me a place to come to and order some of my thoughts about music, life and art. Thanks for stopping by.

 

Bob Wills was a fiddle man, a soulful one. He was also a great bandleader who inspired loyalty amongst his fellow musicians, in spite of all the tales of Bob’s notorious drinking and temper and sharp tongue. He obviously was an artist of some musical taste, bringing us some of the great songs and dance music of our American culture. But when it came to singing, to these ears, Bob’s voice is, at the very least, unusual. He retained the vocal inflections that he had developed on the blackface minstrel circuit in the early 20th Century, employing African-influenced phrasing and singing in what one would almost have to call a high-pitched whine. It’s not necessarily unpleasant; it has an amusing appeal to my ears, but Bob’s vocals lack the modernity, the sophistication, the class, if you will, that would bring his music to the ears of people around the world. So the King of Western Swing would leave most of the singing to others that were stylistically closer to the successful Pop singers of the day. He certainly had a model in Milton Brown, with whom Bob had worked with early on and who could sing anything – Blues, Jazz, Ragtime, old sentimental folk ballads, hokum, even the earliest examples of Tex-Mex.

Bob could pick them, too. The Texas Playboys laid down literally hundreds of great vocal tracks over the years of their run – listen to guys like Tagg Lambert, Jack Loyd, hell even Bob’s own brother Luke, and you’ll hear some great singing. But for my money, there are three great Playboy voices that really stand out – Tommy Duncan, Joe Andrews, and Leon Rausch.

Anyone who knows much about Western Swing music knows the name Tommy Duncan, who hailed from around Whitney, Texas and who Bob hired after auditioning 67 other singers to replace Milton Brown in the Light Crust Doughboys. Bob had “discovered” Duncan singing and playing a ukulele outside a Ft. Worth root beer stand. Over the years, Duncan would become the best known Playboy apart from Wills himself, and record songs that ran the gamut of all popular music styles. His rich, mellow voice possessed the same warmth as his idol, Bing Crosby, yet he retained enough Southern accent in his phrasing to assure all the folks that he was still one of us, and he carried a certain charisma onstage. He is the great American singer, in my opinion, which won’t buy coffee, but it is an earnest and steadfast one, nonetheless.

Check out Joe Andrews, lead vocalist for the Playboys in the 1950s, who came from the same area of Texas as Tommy Duncan (and Willie Nelson), and who, in fact, was Duncan’s brother-in-law, having married Tommy’s sister, Corrine. Joe had a unique vocal style, similar to Tommy’s, yet Andrews tended toward really precise enunciation, excelling on the ballads, prompting Bob Wills to re-record his classic Faded Love, just to get Andrews’ voice on the song. I almost wore out a vinyl copy of Bob Wills – Live In Concert, which features Andrews as lead vocalist, when I was a younger man.

The Voice of the Texas Playboys is what they call Leon Rausch, a Missourian who wandered out to Tulsa and soon Found himself a Texas Playboy.  Rausch’s voice is nothing like Duncan or Andrews’, rather, it is somewhat raspy and even more a true tenor – suited very well for Blues and Jazz, yet most capable of delivering the honky-tonk shuffle as Well. He’s been called “the greatest Western Swing singer ever.” After Bob’s incapacitation and eventual death, it was Rausch who carried on with the Playboy name, finding some considerable success in the 1970s. He’s still at it today.

Our lead singer in the Miltons may not ever approach the greatness these three wonderful warblers possessed, but we endeavor to capture their spirit in every song.

Keep Swinging!

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5 Responses

  1. Van says:

    this is really interesting, Davis.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Well written article, the history, the music is great, the Milton’s bring back the ages of great music that stirs ones soul. I remember listening to Bob and the Texas playboys on my Grandpas radio when I was a tike, replays I assume has it was around 1963, but I loved it, it was one of the few times my momma could get me to be still. So glad that artist performers such has yourself and the Milton’s keep the music playing.

  3. Tommy St. John says:

    Joe Andrews is my great grandfather. He passed in 1999. I was 15 years old. I never met “Uncle Tom”, but I share his first name. This is a very nice article as I don’t see much written about my great grandpa. I have some of his music and I absolutely love Bob Wills music in general. Thanks for writing!

    • Davis Raines says:

      Great to hear from you, Tommy! I’ve loved Joe Andrews’ singing since hearing a “Bob Wills — In Concert” LP that I bought as a much younger fellow in the 1970s. His vocals on “Sooner Or Later,” and “You Can’t Break A Heart,” still give me goosebumps. Of Course, I’m a big fan of those other two guys also. Thanks for checking out The Miltons. We have great respect for the music we play, and those that came before us and made it so great.

      • Tommy St. John says:

        Thanks for the reply sir. I love those songs as well. Glad to see you’re carrying on that type of music. Thanks again!

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