To the editor:
A slight addendum to Linda Ray's piece on Bob Wills [October 23]: Wills's guitarist, Leon McAuliffe, was being disingenuous if he told Wills that "Steel Guitar Rag" was a tune of his own that he hadn't even named when the Texas Playboys debuted it in Tulsa in the 1930s. "Steel Guitar Rag" is actually a direct cover of Louisville-based blues guitarist Sylvester Weaver's "Guitar Rag," first recorded on the OKeh label in 1923. It was the flip side of Weaver's "Guitar Blues," which is acknowledged by most collectors as the first-ever blues recording to feature a guitar. Weaver recorded "Guitar Rag" again in 1927, also on OKeh.
Weaver played it on an acoustic instrument (of course) in the Hawaiian-influenced "knife" style, a somewhat more urbane version of the slide guitar technique we've come to associate with the Delta-to-Chicago blues continuum. As Wills and McAuliffe's 1936 recording of "Steel Guitar Rag" makes clear, that sound was also the direct precursor of the sinuous steel (later pedal steel) guitar whine that eventually came to characterize country music.
Linda Ray replies:
Thanks! Some of my best friends are country music geeks. Lest Reader readers misconstrue that the progression from acoustic Hawaiian steel ran directly to McAuliffe's electric on its way to country-music tradition, we should clarify that jazz guitarist Bob Dunn of Milton Brown and His Musical Brownies is most likely the originator of that sound.