Leon McAuliffe

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Leon McAuliffe
Birth name William Leon McAuliffe
Born (1917-01-03)January 3, 1917
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Died August 20, 1988(1988-08-20) (aged 71)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Genres Western swing
Occupation(s) Musician, bandleader
Instruments guitar, slide steel guitar
Years active 1930s–1980s
Associated acts

Leon McAuliffe (January 3, 1917 – August 20, 1988), born William Leon McAuliffe, was an American Western swing musician from Houston, Texas. He is famous for his steel guitar solos with Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, inspiring Wills's phrase, "Take it away, Leon." As a member of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, McAuliffe was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 in the early influences category.


McAuliffe, at age 16, first played with the Light Crust Doughboys, playing both rhythm guitar and steel guitar. In 1935, at age 18, he went on to play with Bob Wills in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He stayed with Wills until World War II.[1] While with Wills he helped compose "San Antonio Rose". He is more noted, however, for his most famous composition, "Steel Guitar Rag", and his playing, along with that of Robert Lee Dunn (of Milton Brown's Musical Brownies), that popularized the steel guitar in the United States.[2] His playing (and Dunn's) is also credited with inspiring the rhythm and blues electric guitar style occurring some twenty years later.[3][4]

After the war, McAuliffe returned to Tulsa, forming his Western swing band and releasing a number of recordings, including "Panhandle Rag" (Columbia 20546) which reached number six in 1949.[5] McAuliffe soon opened his Cimarron Ballroom in the remodeled Akdar Shrine Mosque in Tulsa. He and his band, Leon McAuliffe and His Cimarron Boys, named for the ballroom, recorded several songs. He also opened a recording studio, Cimarron Records.

In the late 1950s, he appeared on ABC-TV's Jubilee USA and other broadcasts. McAuliffe funded a music program at Rogers State College in Claremore, Oklahoma, paying for a recording studio and office on campus. It was from this studio and office that Junior Brown taught guitar and met his wife Tanya Rae. McAuliffe was always giving to his students, featuring them in his concerts around northeastern Oklahoma. He died after a long illness on August 20, 1988 in Tulsa. The studio gear was donated by Eleanor, his widow, to a church McAuliffe favored.


Year Single US Country
1949 "Panhandle Rag" 6
1952 "Bitter Tears"
1961 "Cozy Inn" 16
1962 "Faded Love" 22
1964 "Shape Up or Ship Out" 35
"I Don't Love Nobody" 47
1971 "Faded Love" (with Tompall & the Glaser Brothers) 22


  1. ^ Townsend, San Antonio Rose, p. 42: "McAuliffe, who was with Wills from March, 1935, to December, 1942, is one of the most distinguished artists in the history of western swing."
  2. ^ Townsend, San Antonio Rose,p. 99: There are authorities, McAuliffe among them, who believe this recording ["Steel Guitar Rag", March 25, 1935] and the subsequent use of the instrument in Wills's organization played the leading role in making the steel guitar popular in American music."
  3. ^ Brooks, Guitar: An American Life, p. 148-149: "At time he [McAuliffe] sounds like a blues-rock six-string, at time like a ragtime banjo, at times like an ethereal whisper. One of his astonishing achievements was his precision. It takes a lot of experience and precise hands and ears to hit a note exactly right on a steel, given that it lacks frets, but McAuliffe played his as if it were a Telecaster, using the steel to create slurs that sound very much like the bent notes that the blues electric guitarists in Chicago would develop twenty years later."
  4. ^ DeCurtis, Present Tense, p. 17-18: In San Antonio Rose, his exhaustive study of life and music of western-swing kingpin Bob wills and his Texas Playboys, Charles Townshend [sic] offers fragmentary but suggestive evidence that T-Bone Walker and Charlie Christian, the front-runners in the first generation of black electric guitarists, were inspired, at least in part, by the early amplified playing of white musicians such as Dunn and McAuliffe. ... Western-swing and jazz present a similar continuum on the white side of the tracks, with men like McAuliffe a jazzy but heavily country-inflected style, while mavericks like Dunn played a kind of pure, futuristic jazz all their own. And every one of these player, black and white, was solidly grounded in the blues."
  5. ^ Whitburn, The Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits, p. 217.


  • Brooks, Tom. Guitar: An American Life. Grove Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8021-4258-3
  • DeCurtis, Anthony. Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture. Duke University Press, 1992) ISBN 0-8223-1265-4
  • Townsend, Charles. San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob wills. University of Illinois Press, 1986. ISBN 0-252-01362-X
  • Whitburn, Joel. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits. Billboard Books, 2006. ISBN 0-8230-8291-1

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