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|Birth name||Estel Eldon Shamblin|
April 24, 1916|
Clinton, Oklahoma, U.S.
|Died||August 5, 1998
|Genres||Jazz, Western swing|
|Associated acts||Bob Wills, Merle Haggard|
Eldon Shamblin (April 24, 1916 – August 5, 1998) was an American guitarist and arranger, particularly important to the development of Western swing music as one of the first electric guitarists in a popular dance band.
Born in Clinton, Oklahoma, Shamblin taught himself how to play guitar, read music, and arrange it. He learned by studying the solos of jazz guitarist Eddie Lang. He performed in clubs in Oklahoma City, and he sang and played guitar on his own radio show. In 1934, he joined the Alabama Boys, a Western swing band, and stayed with them for three years. He established a reputation as one of the best guitarists in Oklahoma City, an honor he shared with Charlie Christian.
After leaving the Alabama Boys, he joined Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. He became the band's musical arranger, as he had learned to read music by studying big band arrangements. His electric guitar style and musical knowledge were important to the success of Wills' Western swing band. On "Take Me Back to Tulsa" in 1940, he invented a two-beat rhythm arrangement which became his trademark sound. His guitar featured prominently on the band's 1946 hit "Ida Red", which was later rewritten by Chuck Berry as "Maybellene".
Shamblin's style incorporated a big band style similar to Freddie Green's from the Count Basie Orchestra, much of it based on what Shamblin had learned from studying Eddie Lang. He hired musicians who made an impact in jazz.
In 1941 Metronome magazine called him the most creative and inventive guitarist since Charlie Christian. They magazine acknowledged him as an emulator of Christian's style and said he was an innovator, not an imitator. Thirty years later, a Rolling Stone writer wrote a piece praising Shamblin's creativity and repeating Metronome magazine's assessment. Down Beat acknowledged his contributions, calling jazz-oriented and a swing musician, though he worked in Western swing and country bands.
His acoustic, single string, lead guitar work in the 1930s resonated with the influence of Lang and Django Reinhardt, while his brief chord solos evoked the harmonies of George Van Eps. By the 1940s, his style was reminiscent of early bebop, with the occasional chord flourish added to good effect.
Bob Wills told Shamblin what to play on only two occasions. On the first, while recording "Ida Red", he told Shamblin to put a lot of runs in his rhythm chords to keep up with the bassist. He told him to imitate Junior Barnard, who had been part of the band and had a bluesy style. Shamblin was instructed to play louder and bend strings. The result was what can now be considered proto-rockabilly.
Shamblin and steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe began experimenting with what would become their Twin Guitar idiom. At a rehearsal years later, Wills heard what they were doing and asked them to work up a solo arrangement for a fiddle tune he was going to record called "Bob Wills Special". A few days later Wills asked them to write an instrumental that would feature them as primary artists. They came up with "Twin Guitar Special", which Wills recorded with his fiddle tune in 1940. The other song was "Twin Guitar Boogie". Wills never recorded it, but McAuliffe did in the 1960s under the name Bouncing Bobby, a nickname for fiddler Bobby Bruce.
In December 1973, Wills made his last recording with the Playboys. Shamblin and McAuliffe played "Twin Guitar Special" but it was renamed "Twin Guitar Boogie", with the two of them listed as composers. The twin guitar idiom inspired a generation of guitarists, including Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band. Betts credits Shamblin and McAuliffe for inspiring the songs "Rambling Man" and "Jessica".
Army service and teaching
Shamblin was drafted into the Army in 1942, where he served for four years as a Captain in Patton's 3rd Army in the European Theater of War and was there at the Battle of the Bulge. After his discharge he rejoined the Texas Playboys in September 1946 (after a brief stint with Leon McAuliffe's Western Swing Band in Tulsa), rejoining Wills in Fresno, CA where the Playboys were headquartered, staying with them until 1956. In 1957 Eldon joined Hoyle Nix and the West Texas Cowboys band in Big Spring, Texas where they played at the Stampede Ballroom. After two years on the Nix band Eldon returned to Tulsa where he managed a convenience store and went to night school earning a CPA license. He quickly decided the CPA business was not for him and began teaching guitar at the Guitar House music store there in Tulsa. He expanded his work to becoming a first rate piano tuner and electronic organ serviceman who was much in demand.
He returned to music in 1970 when he was called upon to help organize a tribute to Wills and played on Merle Haggard's album A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills). Shamblin later joined Haggard's award-winning Stranger's band, the Strangers in 1973. He toured with Hag on a fairly irregular basis, with most of his participation being in the Oklahoma & Texas area as well as Hag's usual seasonal 2 week stands every year at Harrah's in Reno, NV. Eldon played sessions with Hag in Hollywood at Capitol Records and studios in Nashville, TN. During his off time he worked in Tulsa playing locally with various acts playing everything from Jazz to Swing, Country music to western swing. Most notably was his presence at the Caravan Ballroom playing in a band led by Shirl Cummins a local drummer who owned a first class music store there in Tulsa called The Guitar House where Eldon taught music and guitar and also worked tuning guitars and servicing keyboard instruments. Shamblin had his own piano tuning and electronic organ servicing business that afforded him a decent living because he was so in demand. At one point he had nearly every church in town as one of his accounts. Word has it that not only was he the best in town, he was the least expensive and most reliable.
In 1983 Eldon left Haggard because he was tired of the touring which had become more frequent and the extended stays away from home and his business. He returned to Tulsa and joined a late version of the Texas Playboys in 1983 led by Leon McAuliffe who fronted the Original Texas Playboys band which had been reassembled in 1971 for the 1st occasion of Bob Wills Days celebration held every year since the last weekend of April in Turkey, Texas near the area where Wills grew up. The Original Playboys recorded several albums for the now defunct Delta Records (as well as 2 pre-Eldon outings for Capitol Records featuring Bob Kiser on guitar) which also re-released an album that had been recorded locally called Eldon Shamblin - Guitar Genius. Eldon recorded with other artists including an album by Joe Venuti with Jethro Burns and Curly Chalker - 'S Wonderful 4 Giants of Swing as well as solo outings by fellow Texas Playboys & Stranger's alumnus Tiny Moore, Tiny Moore Music and Back To Back with Jethro Burns accompanied by two Jazz greats Ray Brown and Shelly Manne, as well as guest recording spots with Asleep at the Wheel, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Johnny Gimble and a host of others.
Shamblin is noted for being one of the earliest adopters of the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. A special demonstrator model, painted gold and dated 6/4/54 was given to him personally by Leo Fender. Eldon used the guitar with the Texas Playboys in what became the final Bob Wills recording session for MGM Records, later taking it on the road with Bob Wills on a month and half long tour of the great Northwest. The guitar is also notable in that Eric Clapton called Eldon at his home in Tulsa and offered him $10,000 for it in the early 1980s. Shamblin declined, later selling the instrument to a long time friend and owner of Cain's Ballroom and Little Wing Productions, Larry Shaeffer. Since then, the instrument has traded hands several times, always for many multiples of the original offer.
By 1996 Shamblin was in ill health and retired from music except for a few of rare special appearances. He died in a nursing home in Sapulpa, OK on August 5, 1998. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 (along with Bob Wills and a select group of about a dozen the most active and productive of his Texas Playboys) and was also inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 2006.
- Yanow, Scott (2013). The great jazz guitarists : the ultimate guide. San Francisco: Backbeat. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-61713-023-6.
- Price, Jazz Guitar and Western Swing, p. 81: "Eldon Shamblin was a session player for CBS and a regular in standard jazz and swing bands before he joined Bob Wills."
- Carr, Western Swing Guitar Style, p. 3: "Many of these recordings feature the great Eldon Shamblin, Bob Wills' longtime guitarist and the undisputed master of this style [rhythm guitar]."