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Southwest Shuffle: Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing and Country Jazz by Rich Kienzle

Southwest Shuffle documents, in authoritative, comprehensive fashion, the ties between jazz, especially the blazing “hot” style, and such genres as Western swing and honky-tonk. Rich Kienzle dispels myths, corrects inaccuracies and provides readers with ample technical and musical analysis. He clearly shows how such artists as Spade Cooley, Hank Penny and masterful guitarists Jimmy Wyble, Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant absorbed the influence of jazz players, notably Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, then skillfully utilized improvisational influences despite often working in very restrictive settings. He devotes an entire chapter to Bob Wills’ 1944 trip to the Grand Ole Opry, which wasn’t nearly the debacle previous accounts claimed. The book contains many other colorful accounts of on and off the bandstand adventures in which Southwestern players frequently emulated their jazz heroes, both in challenging conventional wisdom and being unable to overcome self-destructive tendencies.

Kienzle doesn’t profile only jazz-oriented stylists. Other subjects include Tennessee Ernie Ford, a booming vocalist and easygoing personality who became an early television variety superstar, as well as his comrade, manager and bassist Cliffie Stone; influential superstar country and pop producers Lee Gillette and Ken Nelson; and the incomparable Willie Nelson, whose writing and playing was never fully appreciated or comprehended by stodgy Nashville types.

Through a great blend of humor, knowledge and cynicism, Rich Kienzle exposes the inherent silliness in making assumptions about musical affinities on the basis of regional background, while also spotlighting the historical importance and impact of famous figures like Hank Thompson, Ray Price and Tommy Duncan.

Originally Published