"Western Swing"

Story by Roger Edison, the South Texas Cowboy:

The Ambassador of Western Swing is at it again, and this time with a goal bigger than Texas! Musician Billy Mata is looking for dancers and sponsors to make a bid for the Guinness World Record for the most couples dancing to the official music of Texas, Western Swing.

On May 4, 2013 the record-breaking attempt will take place at the Ahhalt Dance Hall near Spring branch, Texas. The historic Dance Hall was featured in Texas Monthly magazine in its coverage of the rich tradition of Texas Dance Halls.

Many of the Texas Dance Halls, began with roots to the early European migration into Texas. Groups like the ODHS (Sons of Hermann) hall, founded by Germans, the SPJST (a Czech fraternal organization) hall, and the Catholic church’s parish hall often provided funding for the social gathering centers which featured Saturday night dances where the whole family could attend for food, entertainment and socializing at the end of the long hard week of work.

Western Swing is uniquely an American music born out of the tradition of these hard-working folks who gathered on the Saturday night. Early bands featured a fiddle player, guitar, banjo and the occasional jug band. In the Depression Era, early names such as Arty Shaw, Benny Goodman and Glen Miller would entertain the large metropolitan cities with Big band Sound, while rural America danced Western Swing to names like Tommy Duncan, Milton Brown, Spade Cooley and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Their instruments of cowboy and country-western music blending in European and Mexican polka styles, even some New Orleans jazz and taking their music to the radio where entertaining community dance halls. It was music with the heart of the American Southwest, but soon it became a national, an today a worldwide phenomenon.

The dance steps are mixed influences from early square dances and ballroom steps combine with cultural influence polkas but true Swing dancing finds its roots with the Texas Tommy. A dance that began in 1910 in the San Fransisco Bay Area. It would later influence the popular Lindy Hop dance steps that originated in Harlem in 1927. These early forms of swing dancing would give way to various influences and take root creating new dance steps as the Charleston, Fox Trot, Jig Trot and Jitter Bug which often placed more emphases on footwork, though Western Swing has out survived them in popularity.

Swing changed the standard tempo of step-step combining crotchets and quavers (quarter notes and eighth notes) that many swing dancers interpret as 'triple steps' and 'steps' — yet also introduces changes in the way these rhythms were played — as a distinct delay or 'relaxed' approach to timing. Once just a fiddle and guitar, bands added electrically amplified instruments. Drums would reinforce a strong backseat of tempo giving a heavier honky tonk beat that would be superimposed onto a polka, waltz, jazz or blues styles music.

Western swing's up-beat tempo attracted huge crowds to dance halls, from Texas to California during the 1930's and 40's. Once called folk or hillbilly music until the 1932 hit, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and Western Swing came to name. Swing became so popular, renown Los Angeles Disc Jockey Al Jarvis held a radio contest for top popular band leaders. The winner would be named "the King of Swing". Unexpectedly, big names like Benny Goodman and Harry James were beaten by Western Swing artist Spade Cooley. Jarvis declared Cooley to be the King of Western Swing.

As the Federal Government imposed the 1944 war-time nightclub tax, swing began to decline. Although, the music grew to influenced other genres known as honky-tonk, rockabilly, and country rock. At the height of swing, Decca Records in 1955 released what "Billboard" called (an ambitious project) issuing seven albums of country dance music featuring a popular arrangement of dancehall favorites.

While swing music decline to the picking of country western and rock a billy tunes, Austin, Texas would become a major center point around music of many genres. As Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings introduce Outlaw Country, Grammy Award winning artists Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel tour the country and release recordings that kept Western Swing alive. PBS aired the TV show, "Austin City Limits" which often hosted local and known artist of country music. Many of those artist as many country artist of today continue to play the early sounds of Milton Brown and legendary king of swing, Bob Wills. Great songs such as "Osage Stomp," "I'm a Ding Dong daddy from Dumas," "San Antonio Rose," "Miss Molly," "Roly Poly," and "Take Me Back to Tulsa" are played coast to coast across the country. Today those older songs of Western Swing continue to influenced every form of country music that followed. In 2011, the Texas Legislature formally declare Western Swing as the "Official Music of Texas."

Lockhart, Texas resident Joel Gammage with Texas Hatters, is co-hosting the event with Billy Mata and Mata's manager, Joanne Heston. Gammage who grew up in Austin, Texas relocated when family decided to move the renown hat business to the rural town of Lockhart, Texas famous for Texas style Barbeque.

Texas Hatter's, who's customers have included many celebrities from the nations Presidents to movie stars has long been a popular hat business among musicians. Such names like Hank Willianms Jr, Van Zants, Jerry Jeff Walker, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Willie Nelson among them. When Texas Hatter's moved to the new location in Lockhart, Joel reintroduce Western Swing to the small town becoming involved with the civic community. Today, he not only masters the nations best hat's but also is heavily involved with music as booking manager for Cedar Hall, Music and Entertainment Coordinator at Imagine Lockhart and the Event Manager at the recent opening of The Chisholm Trail Ballroom. Gammage along with Teri White from the Broke Spoke nightclub in Austin, Texas will assist teaching the Swing Dance steps before the event starts. The current Western Swing Dance record was set August 2012 in Grands Rapids, Minnesota consist of 756 swing dancers. Gammage plans to bring 400 couples together for this event in hopes to break the current record and return Western Swing to Texas.

American Cowboy Picture

Jordon Riley Sarver learns Western Swing Dance steps from Joel Aaron Gammage

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