The Hot Club of Cowtown

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Hot Club of Cowtown
Background information
OriginUnited States
GenresWestern swing, hot jazz, traditional, Roots music
Years active1997–present
LabelsHighTone, Proper, Concord Rounder
Past members
  • TC Cyran
  • Billy Horton
Hot Club of Cowtown performing live at Dingwalls London, photo by JJ Johnson.jpg

The Hot Club of Cowtown is an American hot jazz and Western swing trio that formed in 1997.


The band's name comes from two sources: "Hot Club" from the hot jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli's Quintette du Hot Club de France, and "Cowtown" from the western influence of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and the band's love of fiddle tunes, hoedowns, and songs of the American west.

Whit Smith (from Cape Cod, Massachusetts) and Elana James (from Prairie Village, Kansas) met through an ad in the classified music section of The Village Voice in 1994. They played together in New York City before moving to San Diego in 1997, where they spent a year playing for tips and building up their repertoire. In 1998 they moved to Austin, Texas and two years later added Jake Erwin (from Tulsa, Oklahoma) on bass.

The band split briefly in 2005, though they reunited for occasional shows in 2005–07, including the Fuji Rock Festival[1] and a tour of Australia as Elana James & The Hot Club of Cowtown, in 2007. Whit Smith performed as Whit Smith's Hot Jazz Caravan, based in Austin, Texas. Elana toured with Bob Dylan in 2005. Changing her last name to James, Elana began performing with her own trio in late 2005. Smith and James resumed playing together full-time in 2006. By early 2008 the Hot Club of Cowtown had officially re-formed.


The Hot Club's first album, 1998's Swingin' Stampede is a collection of standards, fiddle tunes, and classic Western Swing songs, including two written by Bob Wills. Their 1999 follow-up album, Tall Tales, includes original songs by Smith and James, including Darling You And I Are Through by James, and Emily and When I Lost You by Smith, as well as more Western Swing standards by Bob Wills, Pee Wee King, and others. Later albums continued to mix classic Western Swing and hot jazz, with originals in the same style; including the studio albums, Ghost Train (2002) and Wishful Thinking (2009). Their 2011 album What Makes Bob Holler was a tribute to Bob Wills. The disc includes obscure B-sides with some of Wills' most popular work, including Big Balls in Cowtown and Stay a Little Longer, Osage Stomp and The Devil Ain't Lazy.

In 2016, the Hot Club of Cowtown released its ninth studio album, Midnight on the Trail (Gold Strike Records), a vintage mix of 12 Western swing songs and cowboy ballads "hand-collected to reflect the spirit and joy of the American West," including traditional songs as well as works by Cindy Walker, Gene Autry, Bob Wills, Johnny Mercer, and more. The band's previous release, "Rendezvous in Rhythm" (Gold Strike Records, 2013) was a collection of hot jazz standards and gypsy instrumentals played acoustically in the style of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli (The Quintette of the Hot Club of France). The Hot Club of Cowtown released a live DVD, "Continental Dance Party," in 2012 which was filmed at the Continental Club Gallery in Austin, Texas.

In 2017, in recognition of the band's 20th anniversary, the Hot Club of Cowtown released their first set of recordings, Western Clambake, which had previously been available only on cassette and were originally released in 1997 when the band played for tips in and around San Diego, California at farmers' markets, local cafes and coffee houses, and Balboa Park.

Awards & Live Performances[edit]

In 2013, the band was nominated for the first-ever Ameripolitan Music Awards, held in Austin, Texas in 2014, in the Best Western Swing Group category. The band was nominated again for the Ameripolitan Music Awards the following year (2015) and won Western Swing Group of the Year, as Elana James won Western Swing Female of the year. "Often people at our shows, old-timers from West Texas, will come up and tell us that what they really like is those traditional, Romanian-sounding songs. This was the antidote to our Western swing CD. Our band is better known as a western swing act, and even though Western swing includes all kinds of jazzy bluesy idioms from back in the day, the western and country part of it are so prominent that it tends to overshadow the purely jazzy European side," said James.[2]

In January and February 2011, they toured with Roxy Music as the opening act on Roxy's UK leg of their For Your Pleasure tour.

Festivals/career highlights include the Women in Jazz series (part of Jazz at Lincoln Center), the Cambridge Folk Festival (UK), the Glastonbury Festival (UK),[3] the Fuji Rock Festival (Japan), Byron Bay Blues & Roots Festival (AU), the National Folk Festival (US and AU), the Stagecoach Festival, the Winnipeg Folk Festival (CA), Waiting for Waits Festival (SP), the grand opening of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, The Barns at Wolf Trap, the Rochester Jazz Festival, the Strawberry Festival, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, traveling as US State Department Musical Ambassadors to Azerbaijan, Armenia, Algeria, the Republic of Georgia, and the Sultanate of Oman, and being inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame. The Hot Club of Cowtown has toured with Bob Dylan,[3] Willie Nelson,[3] the Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Mavericks, Dan Hicks, Gatemouth Brown, The Avett Brothers, Bryan Ferry and others.

The Hot Club of Cowtown has been featured on television on Larry's Country Diner, Later With Jools Holland and the Jools Holland New Year's Eve Hootenanny (UK), $40 a Day with Rachael Ray (US), The Grand Ole Opry (US), BBC Live From Glastonbury broadcast (UK), Good Morning Azerbaijan. Film credits for songs include indie films Four Dead Batteries and In Search of a Midnight Kiss. United States radio appearances include Mountain Stage, eTown, World Cafe, A Prairie Home Companion, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Sirius Satellite, and XM Satellite.


  • 1998: Swingin' Stampede HighTone
  • 1999: Tall Tales HighTone
  • 2000: Dev'lish Mary HighTone
  • 2002: Hot Jazz (Japan only) Buffalo
  • 2002: Hot Western (Japan only) Buffalo
  • 2002: Ghost Train HighTone
  • 2003: Continental Stomp [live] HighTone
  • 2005: Four Dead Batteries (original soundtrack) HighTone
  • 2008: The Best of The Hot Club of Cowtown Shout!Factory
  • 2009: Wishful Thinking Gold Strike
  • 2011: What Makes Bob Holler Proper American
  • 2012: Continental Dance Party (DVD) Gold Strike
  • 2013: Rendezvous in Rhythm Gold Strike
  • 2016: Midnight on the Trail Gold Strike
  • 2017: Western Clambake (reissue of their first recordings from 1997) Gold Strike
  • 2019: Crossing The Great Divide (tribute to The Band) Gold Strike

Individual media by band members[edit]

  • 2008: Chordination – Instructional DVD by Whit Smith
  • 2011: Chordination, Vol. 2 – Instructional DVD by Whit Smith
  • 2012: Hell Among The Hedgehogs (Old Cow Records) – CD/EP (32:00) featuring the twin guitars of Whit Smith and Matt Munisteri
  • 2014: On The Nature Of Strings (Flying Fortress Records) – Solo CD by Whit Smith
  • 2016: Chordination, Vol. 3 – Instructional DVD by Whit Smith
  • 2007: Elana James (Snarf Records) – Solo CD by Elana James
  • 2011: Elana James's Hot Fiddle: Introduction to Violin Improvisation – Instructional DVD by Elana James
  • 2015: Black Beauty (Snarf Records) – Solo CD by Elana James


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-01-07. Retrieved 2012-07-28.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ Matthew Dicker (2013-04-08). "Musical Gypsies: Well-traveled Hot Club of Cowtown swings into Jammin' Java". Washington Times. Retrieved 2016-03-08.
  3. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-04-23. Retrieved 2013-02-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]