Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: For most music lovers, there is no difference between terms like Rhythm & Blues (R&B) and Country & Western (C&W). Each has been in use all of my life.

Others say there is a difference, R&B being a style unto itself whereas Country and Western are two separate and distinct styles.

I have never seen a Western music chart, only a C&W one. Seems the chart industry sees C&W as just one field of music.

I would appreciate your take on this?
—Rocky Wolf, Madison, Wisc.

DEAR ROCKY: My take is the one shared by anyone involved in the field of Western music: there definitely is a difference.

Many essays detailing those dissimilarities exist, but for now a condensed explanation will have to suffice.

Western music has been around so long that we don't know how long it's been around. Probably since the mid-1700s when the westward movement began.

Since then, the primary focus of Western songs has remained the outdoors: the land, sky, livestock, romance, and the cowboys and characters of the old west.

From Western, also known as Folk music in the early days, came what we know as Country, also known as Hillbilly music early on.

Among its charter recording stars are the singing cowboys (Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, etc.) and groups like the Sons of the Pioneers and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

As for the birth of Country, most historians point to Jimmie Rodgers as well as the Carter Family as getting that ball rolling.

If Western is usually about things outdoors, most Country tunes involve indoor events, whether set in a house, honky-tonk, factory, or a truck.

Many Country artists have recorded Western music, whereas Western performers seem to stick with Western songs.

Even the Billboard C&W chart has been retitled over the years, trying to stay in step with the times. They have described this style at one time or another as: Folk, Hillbilly, Country & Western, and just Country.

To my knowledge, a separate national chart for Western music has never been, though they do have the same type of awards, honors, and festivals as the other styles.

Remember, I promised only a condensed explanation. Numerous books exist to further enlighten you

Here is an interesting conception of these two styles, as expressed by Sharyn R. Sheffer, co-promoter of the Tucson Western Music Association Festival.

In “Legacy of the Singing Cowboy,” a WMA pamphlet, Sheffer writes:

“Both genres of music have their own unique place in history and both have their vast array of fans. So what's the difference between Western and Country music?

“It's the way it makes me feel.

“Western music lets me fly to the edge of the sunrise and restores hope in the future.

“Country music keeps me anchored to the ground.”

DEAR JERRY: In the mid-'70s, I had a two-record Merle Haggard LP featuring songs made famous by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

Recorded at his Bakersfield home, Haggard even used some of the original Texas Playboys (Johnny Gimble, George French, Tiny Moore, etc.) on the sessions.

I have since lost the records, but am hoping this is out on CD.
—Danny in Anniston, Ala.

DEAR DANNY: This LP bears the lengthy title “A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (Or, My Salute to Bob Wills).”

For the record, it is just one disc, and was recorded at the Capitol studios in Hollywood, April 6-8, 1970.

Not only is it on CD (Koch 099923-79002-0), but I even found copies for sale online.

Postscript: Shortly after this first ran in newspapers, Dean Crocker sent what is very likely the album sought by Mr. Anniston:

DEAR JERRY: I believe the two-record Merle Haggard LP featuring songs made famous by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys that Danny is looking for is "Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys for the Last Time" (United Artists UA-LA 216-J2). Recorded December 3-4, 1973, produced by Tommy Allsup. It was indeed recorded shortly before Wills' death.

Listed personnel are: Leader: Bob Willis (unable to play, but heard doing a few shouts and hollers); steel: Leon McAuliffe; guitar: Eldon Shamblin; piano: Al Stricklin; drums: Smokey Dacus; fiddle/mandolin: Johnny Gimble; fiddle: Keith Coleman, Hoyle Nix; bass: Leon Rausch, Tommy Allsup, Bob Moore; vocals/fiddle: Merle Haggard; vocal/drums: Jody Nix; vocal trio: Johnny Gimble, Keith Coleman, Leon McAuliffe.
—Dean Crocker

IZ ZAT SO? Merle Haggard's Bob Wills tribute album (Capitol 638) is a good example of an established Country star jumping over and recording Western music.

Knowing both the difference and significance, Merle also saluted Jimmie Rodgers a year earlier, with “Same Train, Different Time” (Capitol 223).

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