I first heard about this recording session in the middle of September of 1973 or somewhere there about. My Daddy, Hoyle Nix told me one Saturday night at the Stampede, that there was going to be a recording with Bob Wills, and that Johnny Gimble was going to be there too. At that time I didn't know who all would be there. As time went on and it got closer, I did know. I felt very honored to be a part of this, I didn't know what all I was to do...but I knew I was going to record with Bob Wills and his Texas Plaboys, and I was only 21 years old.
But now it was different, I just wasn't the drummer, he said to me and I remember it as if it were yesterday and I quote "You see what I wanted don't you?" He meant, that he wanted me to be featured on this album vocally, as a singer, a chance to be heard by other people and it was him that gave me that chance, it was him that I was singing for. It was a great feeling, an honor, and a humbling experience. Soon after the visit, other Texas Playboys, and family members started arriving. Johnny Gimble, Tommy Allsup the producer and long time friend of Bob, Charles Townsend, the author of the book San Antonio Rose, Smokey Dacus, Eldon Shamblin, Leon McAuliffe, Leon Rausch, Al Stricklin and Keith Coleman......all former and famous Texas Playboys. The jam session had started, Betty rolled Bob into the living room, there were drums, fiddles, steel, guitars, all of it was there, and he was in the middle of it again......we rehearsed, played for fun, ran over songs for the session.
Soon after it got started, they probably had done one song and he called on me to sing "My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You", I was sitting on the couch just watching, and I was ready when it was my turn.......I told them the key, which was E, Eldon Shamblin said "E", and I said yes, Johnny Gimble kicked it off as smooth as silk. There I was, singing with Bob and the Texas Playboys, you think that won't get at you? I can't remember in order all the songs that we did that afternoon, but Bob loved it. Betty prepared a wonderful meal for all of us, and the house was full....with family, friends, and musicians. It was just great. I remember later on after the meal we were jamming again and I just had to play drums. They were playing Twin Guitar Special and really smokin' it, and it was so great to put a beat behind those guys, I just loved it. Soon, the jam session was over. We all were headed to Dallas to the Hotel where we were staying. Eldon Shamblin rode with me, which was great. I hadn't seen him in a long time, he worked with my Daddy from 1957 until 1962. We had a great visit on the way over.
When we got there, everybody was going to their rooms and talking about the session coming up the next two days. I remember starting up the stairs to go with my Dad to get a room, and Tommy Allsup, said "He can stay with me". I shared a suite in between Tommy and Johnny Gimble, what a thrill to be around those guys and hear stories. The one song that Bob wanted in particular for me to sing was "When You Leave Amarillo", written by the great Cindy Walker. Don Cherry had a hit record on it, Bob wanted to record it on this album and wanted me to do it. I wasn't real familiar with it.. I had the words and we ran over it that night in the room while visiting and just having a good time. Jimmy Latham, a fine steel man from Odessa was there also, he had his motor home. He and Tommy Allsup were great friends, and I had known Jimmy a long time too. He was there to take pictures and just be a part of the session. He hung out with us the whole time.
We laughed and went on about ol' Bob and things that would happen the next day. The next morning we got up early, I remember really dressing up that day, nice western dress pants, nice shirt, western sport coat, and good boots and my good hat, I went to breakfast and then I went to the studio. I had my drums so I had to take them to the studio for Smokey, all the other men were getting there. The session was held at Sumet-Burnet Studios in Dallas, a great place to record. The engineer's name was Bob Sullivan, what a guy, great man to have on board. Soon after, around 10am or so, the session started, all the Texas Playboys were there, along with dignitaries, press, Larry Scott a big time DJ from KLAC Los Angeles, Bill Ward from Los Angeles, the general Manager of KLAC, Kelso Hurston a record executive with United Artists, that is the label the album was recorded on.
Betty arrived with Bob, she rolled him into the studio, he was smiling and excited to be there. All the Playboys were greeting him and saying hello. My Daddy Hoyle was elated, because Bob Wills was his hero. They rolled him into the middle of the studio and the band was just around him. There they were once again, as it was long ago, and I was in the middle of it. I remember the first song they recorded was "Blue Bonnet Lane" another Cindy Walker song. Johnny and Keith played the sweetest kickoff on it....just would give you chills....Leon McAuliffe sang it and on the bridge, Johnny and Keith sang harmony.....just beautiful. Ol' Bob had his microphone and was trying to put his ahh-haa's in, they were there, but not as crisp as they were in days gone by. The atmosphere was just overwhelming....the Charisma of Bob Wills was evident.
It wasn't long after the first song that he called on me to do "When You Leave Amarillo." I will never forget that. The vocal mic was right by him, as I stood there, he was to my immediate left, watching me the whole time. I can see those jet black eyes to this day just gleaming. He put quite a few ah-ha's and other words in my song and the feeling I had doing that is indescribable, knowing that the King of Western Swing was right there, and had ask me, to be a part of it.....everytime I sing that song today, I can still see him sitting there.....man what a feeling. At the end of the song, the line says "When You Leave Amarillo, Turn Out The Lights", and Bob said on the end, "Cut Out The Lights." That is the last recorded voice of Bob Wills.
The session continued....I can't remember all of them in order, but we recorded about 12 songs that day......he got Daddy Hoyle up real soon after me to play the Fiddle tune that he wrote called "Coming Down From Denver". Bob loved this old tune, Daddy wrote it in 1958. He was driving his tractor and said the tune kept swirling in his head. He picked his plows, came to the house, went to the bus, got his fiddle and played it....that is how it was written. Anyway.......on with the session...My Daddy was so witty, and kept everybody laughing. I remember they left the mic on all the time when he was either playing or singing. They wanted to hear what he was going to say next. Before he started the tune he said "I'm used to playin' in front of all these ol' boys with the toe of their boots out.
Bob loved it and you can hear him say "Hoyle"......during the fiddle tune......it was great........it just went on from there. They ask Daddy to do "Big Balls In Cowtown", he was hesitant to do it.....didn't want to, but they kept on, so he did it......I played drums with him on that. He always said his bow wouldn't work right if I wasn't playing the drums behind him. He fiddled it just like always, and Johnny Gimble sang harmony with him. They had a great time doing that.....then it was my turn to do another one....."My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You"......it came off on the first take.........Bob was pleased........it was getting later on in the day.......several songs and several stories were told.....I think we broke for lunch......can't remember and didn't care, I was too enthralled with the music to be very hungry.
We all knew Merle Haggard was going to be there, but he couldn't arrive until the next day. I was sitting on the piano stool with Al Stricklin, talking about things in general and I remember telling him that I really wanted to do some things in music and he said "You will". Late that afternoon, Bob was getting tired. He had a good day, but he wanted to go home. Betty was rolling him out of the studio and in came the newly formed group "Asleep At The Wheel." There was big Ray Benson, Lucky Oceans, Richard Casanova, Chris O'Connell, Lee Roy Preston and Floyd Domino the great piano man.....the new western swing boys. They met Bob and visited briefly before he left. They hung out with us the rest of the night.....we recorded alot more. I went to the Bus with Ray......his Scenic Cruiser Greyhound and got the words to "I can't Go On This Way", it was on a record player...that was before the big fine stereos...then we came back and I recorded it. I played fiddle with Richard Casanova...during a break, we visited.....laughed and went on. I remember Floyd Domino sitting with ol' Al at the piano and they were playing up a storm. Of course Johnny Gimble was smiling the whole time. He was pretty well the leader of the session.......he knew all the tunes.....the style, tempo, and everything........he and Keith played so good together.
Well........the evening wore down and the session was over for the day.......the stories abounded......some I can't repeat on here....but they were funny. We left and went to the hotel to rest to get ready for the next day. I saw Merle Haggard's bus when we got to the hotel, and I was visiting before I went to my room. I opened the door and Merle was sitting on my bed. I thought, "Wow" that is Merle Haggard." They introduced me to him, another thrill. The stories and jokes were all around the room, Merle was thrilled to be there to be a part of the session. He absolutely love Bob Wills.. I woke up early again....was visiting with Johnny Gimble and Tommy before we left. They had some tapes going of long ago. Johnny made the remark that he would rather hear music of 30 years ago that to hear something that was new. Isn't that true today? Oh well....on with the show here. I walked to the studio that day. I remember carrying my fiddle with me and crossing the railroad tracks. All the Texas Playboys were gathering along with the dignitaries, press, etc. I remember they were doing some playbackd of songs from the day before and Leon Rausch was singing "Going Away Party." Johhny Gimble said "Leon was singing his rear off" to which Merle replied, "I wondered what that funny looking object was out there. The whole control room was laughing. My Daddy came in about that time. They introduced him to Merle..and he ask if I had met him, and Merle said "Jody and I spent a couple of days together last night," meaning the long visit and stories from the night before. Not long after that Betty called with the news that Bob had a bad night. He had suffered a massive stroke. The atmosphere changed in the studio. All the Playboys were quiet.....but there was a job to do.
Merle had wanted so bad for the "Old Man" to be there, but it just wasn't going to happen. The session started, they recorded the "Playboy Theme" that had been heard by millions of people. Dr. Charles Townsend did the intro of "The Texas Playboys Are On The Air." Merle Haggard sang it.....played fiddle with Johnny and Keith, and Hoyle put the Bob Wills touch on it with the ahh-haa's......in the right spots too....it came off like a champ. Merle then recorded "Yearning" and old song that Bob always sang. He did such a great job on it, and then he did the beautiful "I Wonder If You Feel The Way I do". That was the 3 songs that Merle did for the album. He stayed around for most of the day, visited listened to stories. I remember so well him visiting with my Dad. He said "I am going to come by Big Spring someday and visit," but he never did, I wish he would have.
Lots of songs were played and stories were told while he was there. I remember Daddy doing two more songs a great song that he and Curtis Haskins wrote called "She's Really Gone", Bob loved that tune.....and he fiddled "Crippled Turkey", Merle Haggard never took his eyes off of him while he was playing that......he liked it. When the tune ended......another little saying came out........Daddy said "I never have drank any but I need one right now." I can still hear Keith Coleman laughing.....the whole studio was..and Johnny Gimble said, "Well give me my fiddle before you fall." It was hilarious.
The news came later that Bob's condition had worsened but the session went on, the most trying time was when they recorded the classic "San Antonio Rose." Leon Rausch just sang the fire out of it. Daddy Hoyle once again did Bob's part with the Ah-ha's.....and they were so close to him it was eerie. When the song ended, not a dry eye in the studio. There was a feeling in that room that will never be again. After the composure was gathered by all of us, the session resumed.
Leon McAuliffe and Eldon did the famous "Twin Guitar Special", Johnny and Keith played "Silver Lake Blues", and Leon McAuliffe sang another Cindy Walker song called "What Makes Bob Holler." Again Hoyle did the part of Bob Wills.......so much like him you would have thought he was there. The session was winding down for the evening.......parts were being played.......overdubs here and there.......pictures being taken........Johnny Gimble drinking out of everyone's beer cans........that was funny. I remember we all left just sort of walking out of the studio it was cold that night......in December. Leon Rausch had a little car that was only room enough for him and his amp. He was having trouble getting it started, Keith Coleman went over and ask him "Leon is it out of Flint?" We were all nearly on the ground laughing. Before we left, the Playboys were talking about Bob, the condition he was in and that more than likely, this would be it. Keith Coleman made the statement that he hoped that "Bob Was Right With The Lord." We all knew that he was. Then we went back to the hotel.........the session was over.......the stories were told......the history had been made.
I didn't see Bob again until the Spring of 1974. I went by myself to Ft. Worth to see him at the Nursing Home after the Album came out. Larry Scott personally hand delivered the album. He came to the Stampede in the spring of "74, came up on the bandstand and presented it to Daddy. When he handed the album to him, you would have thought he was holding a child. He held it close to his chest and just stared at it for a few moments. My feelings about Bob after the stroke was I knew he would probably never be well again. He was able to be in the nursing home and would respond to certain things. I went to see him. Betty and Diane went with me. He was in his bed and that day a radio station was featuring the "For The Last Time" album. I was in the room with him when it came on. He turned his head and was listening. He couldn't talk but he knew it was him and his boys. A very touching moment in my life again. I am glad I went. I had supper with the family that night. My feelings can go back to the very first time I ever met Bob. I was about 4 years old, this was about 1956. He worked our dance hall "The Stampede" in Big Spring. I wasn't big enough to see him just standing on the floor watching, so I pulled myself up and held on to the rail of the bandstand where I could take it all in. I watched all night right there. He was like a great white Stallion. So charismatic, those black eyes, white hat, the cigar, the lonesome fiddle, the great music.....at that age I was just mesmorized. I got to play drums with him when I was only 4, quite a treat for a little boy. I remember I was almost asleep before they got me up there and, it was either Beaumont Rag or Lonestar Rag that he played, I will never forget that either.
I worked with him numerous times from then on until 1969 when he had the stroke. My deep down feelings on the session after all these years is, "I know it has been over 30 years since it was recorded, and it seems like only yesterday when I stop and think about it. I absorbed all that I could......watched every move and we all know how much music has changed in the last 30 years.....but I was a part of a historical album, no one can take that away from me."
When Bob died May 13th, 1975, I will never forget that day. I was in the bathtub at home. My step Mom knocked on the door and said "Wills Died" and my heart sank. We found out the details.......knew we wanted to go to the funeral. Me, Daddy, Uncle Ben and Don Tolle went to Tulsa to the funeral. What a celebration of life. I will never forget that either. I have closure with his death. We all have to face that and I know he is in Heaven with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ because he was a Christian. His music will last forever. My feelings about my Daddy Hoyle being a part of the session was He was elated, just so happy to be with Bob and be a part of it. Of course he knew all the Texas Playboys. He was the life of the whole session....they loved him.......his closure on the death of Bob was sad.......he loved him so much.......but he knew it was time for him to go. Both of us were there as guests because we were ask to be a part of the album by Mr. Wills himself.
Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys FOR THE LAST TIME, recorded December 3rd and 4th 1973 at Sumet-Burnet Studios- Dallas, Texas. A day when musical history was created. Thank you Bob for allowing me to be there. "I'm still carrying on the show for you and Hoyle."