The fiddles and mandolin drew toe-tapping and spirited applause, but the standing ovations were reserved for the first-person stories about the King of Western Swing.
The Oklahoma History Center was packed on Wednesday for “Bob Wills @ the OKPOP,” a reference to the Museum of Popular Culture being developed by the Oklahoma Historical Society in the Brady Arts District of Tulsa.
The late singer's family, represented on stage Wednesday by his daughter Carolyn Wills, has donated the Bob Wills archival collection to the historical society to feature in the museum.
And biographer Charles Townsend, a retired history professor from Wills' native Texas, told the crowd he has given 150 tapes of his interviews with the band leader and his Playboys to the historical society.
Carolyn Wills shared family photos and talked about growing up in California, Texas and Oklahoma as her father made moves to further his career and accommodate his love for horses and ranch country.
“We really weren't raised in the music,” she said. “He thought that was kind of a rough business.”
Horses and humility
Bob Wills “always wanted a place where he could raise horses, and his family and the band could live close,” Carolyn Wills said. In California, she said, “he bought a ranch in Fresno and mowed down the orange trees” to make room for the horses.
The singer, who died in 1975 at age 69, “was amazingly humble,” his daughter said.
His biographer agreed.
“I don't think Bob wanted a book,” Townsend said. “He was so humble, I don't think he thought he deserved a book.”