Johnnie Lee Wills

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Johnnie Lee Wills (September 2, 1912 – October 25, 1984)[1] was an American Western swing fiddler popular in the 1930s and 1940s.

Biography[edit]

Wills was born in Jewett, Texas, United States,[2] and was the younger brother of Bob Wills.[2] He played banjo with Bob as a member of the Texas Playboys starting in 1934, the year the ensemble began playing on KVOO in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[2] In 1939, he founded his own group, the Rhythmairs,[1] but returned to the Playboys in 1940 when Bob split the ensemble into two groups, and named Johnnie Lee leader of one of them.[2] Following Bob's move to California in 1940, Johnnie Lee renamed his group Johnnie Lee Wills & All The Boys, remaining in Oklahoma.[2] Johnnie Lee switched from banjo to fiddle in this group.[2] In 1940, both brothers appeared the film, Take Me Back to Oklahoma, starring Tex Ritter.[1]

In 1941, he signed with Decca Records, and recorded again with Bullet Records in 1949, where he saw his greatest success with songs such as "Rag Mop" and "Peter Cotton Tail".[2] In 1952, he signed with RCA Victor, where he was less successful, though he was still a popular draw in Oklahoma, and he remained a fixture on KVOO until 1958.[2]

He continued to record through the early 1960s, but his ensemble dissolved in 1964, after which he was only intermittently active in music.[2] He opened a clothing store in Tulsa, and recorded for Flying Fish Records and Delta Records in the 1970s;[1] after Bear Family Records and Rounder Records reissued some of his old material.[1]

Wills died from heart failure on October 25, 1984 in Tulsa.[3]

On September 14, 1996, Tulsa honored Wills with a street named after him. Johnnie Lee Wills Lane is directly in front of the Expo Square Pavilion at the Tulsa State Fairgrounds.[4] At the official dedication in 1996, his son John T. Wills said, "...although Dad was born a Texan, when you think about it, he lived and died a Tulsan."

Discography[edit]

  • At the Tulsa Stampede (Sims 108, 1963)
  • The Best of Johnnie Lee Wills (Crown CST-565, 1968)
  • Reunion (Flying Fish FF-069, 1978)
  • Tulsa Swing (Rounder 1027, 1978)
  • The Band's A-Rockin' (1941–1951) (Krazy Kat KK CD-18, 1996)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Country Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 459/460. ISBN 0-85112-726-6.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Johnnie Lee Wills | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved August 12, 2021.
  3. ^ "Fiddler Johnny Lee Wills, brother of Western swing bandleader..." Upi.com. Retrieved August 12, 2021.
  4. ^ "FROM THE VAULTS: Johnnie Lee Wills born 2 September 1912". Fromthevaults-boppinbob.blogspot.com. September 2, 2019. Retrieved August 12, 2021.