This weekend I was able to go home to San Angelo with some friends and visit for a couple days, which is always refreshing and serves as a way to get away from school for a little bit. It was the last weekend of the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo, and we didn’t want to miss out on all the fun.
Unfortunately, since tickets sell out several weeks in advance, I wasn’t able to attend the actual rodeo performance. As disappointing as that was, at least I was still able to take part in something rodeo-related. One of my best friends, Case Hardin, started a country music band after we graduated high school, and since then he has made a name for himself, playing shows at dance halls all over the state. The past two years he has played shows during rodeo season in what is collectively known as “the beer barn”. Located directly next to the coliseum where the rodeo is held, the beer barn is where people go to, well, drink beer before and after the rodeo. It’s a non-insulated wooden building, includes a stage and a dance floor, and it has no seats or tables. Instead, everyone packs in as tightly as possible and those remaining gather outside.
While it may sound like an unpleasant place, what makes it awesome is the music. What is usually a run-of-the-mill shack basically in the middle of nowhere comes to life as an authentic dance hall. Case played for three hours to an audience of hundreds of rodeo-goers, and the dance floor was filled during every song. Case, a bona fide fan of traditional/neotraditional country music, performed covers of singers like George Strait, Tracy Byrd, and Conway Twitty, and he mixed in some western swing with songs from Bob Wills. Backed by his band, which simply includes a guitar, bass guitar, steel guitar, and drums, Case keeps the spirit of traditional country music alive with his twang and his salutes to legends past. I knew when I saw him sing George Strait’s “Heartland” in the 4th grade talent show that Case was destined to be a country music performer. Case’s next show is March 14th at the London Dance Hall in London, Texas, which is considered to be the oldest dance hall in Texas. It’s awesome to see one of my good friends experience some success, and it was great to be able to catch one of his shows.
Because of our recent focus on country sub-genres and our talk with Christine Warren, I have taken an interest in Western Swing. As I was listening to some of Bob Wills’ music, I recognized a certain sound: Mariachi Music. Mariachi music includes, similar to Western Swing, a fiddle or violin, blaring horns, a variety of string instruments and the traditional “Big Band” Sound. These similarities struck a chord with me because of my interest in learning more about older country music (I have little knowledge before Neo-Traditional George Strait and Pop country Garth Brooks) and because of my love of Mariachi music and my Hispanic culture.
To further understand the influences of traditional Mexican music on Western swing, we must listen to the King of Western Swing himself, Bob Wills. His interesting band leader qualities and his high pitched interjections make for lively dance music. The big band sound is key to the inner workings of Western Swing as well as Mariachi music. Now here is Bob Wills…
I have chosen this next video that features Los Lobos singing “El Pescado Nadador” because although it is not heavily traditional mariachi music it does feature many of the same qualities.
Wanting to look more into Mexican and Tejano influences, I stumbled across Radio Cultures: The Sound Medium in American Life. I found that not only is Western Swing and later forms of country music influenced by the instrumentation of mariachi bands but also by German and Czech polka bands. One of the easiest sounds to pin point as a similarity between Western Swing and Mariachi Music is the fiddle and, in some cases, the violin. The following video features violinists from Mariachis Los Arrieros and the Quebe Sisters’ fiddlers as they demonstrate the similar sounds of the two distinctly different genres and their ability to get the crowd dancing.
Big names that were influenced by this traditional Mexican music include Johnny Cash, Buddy Holly, Freddy Fender and Linda Ronstadt. Much of the western swing style with other incorporated influences eventually morphed into the beginnings of Rockabilly. The exploding horns in the beginning of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” exemplify the obvious Mexican influence on country music.
Understanding the intricacies of artists’ influences is a difficult task but it does make for some inspiring findings. If there is any one thing that I love about country music, it is its ability to transcend one specific influence and incorporate a variety of genres and styles.