Townsend said when he started his research, he told his grant funders “society is not sophisticated enough now to appreciate Bob Wills, but someday they will.”
He was nervous about calling Wills' home and asking for an interview, Townsend said, but once permission was granted, he drove all night to get there. It would be the first of many sessions.
“He was so gracious,” Townsend said. “My manuscript was finished before he had his last stroke, and I went over the whole thing with him.”
Devoted fans in the mostly gray-haired audience included Lloyd Corlee, 89, of Norman. In 1940, Corlee said, Bob Wills played for his junior-senior prom at the Elks Club in El Reno.
“That would be like the Beach Boys performing in my generation,” said Corlee's son, Michael.
Lloyd Corlee, who left high school to enlist in the military nine days after Pearl Harbor was bombed, said he started going to “honky-tonk” dances as soon as he got his driver's license in 1939. “San Antonio Rose” is his favorite Bob Wills tune.
The Red Dirt Rangers drew cheers for their renditions of “Oklahoma Hills” and “Faded Love,” and one couple danced in the aisle to the finale, “Take Me Back to Tulsa.”
Townsend, who said he saved his childhood earnings from shining shoes to buy Bob Wills records, explained why two states can claim Bob Wills and his style of music.
“Western swing was born near Turkey, Texas, where Bob played his first dance,” he said. “Fort Worth was the nursery. But when he came to Oklahoma, that's when it matured.”