The BENNY STRICKLER Story Bob Wills & Tulsa, 1941-42
Strickler was transformational in two contrasting music genres: Bob Wills Texas Playboys Western Swing orchestra, and the San
Francisco Traditional jazz sound of Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band.
interview clips vividly describe Benny’s key role in Wills’ superlative
‘Tulsa Orchestra’ of 1941-42 and his meteoric rise in Los Angeles, Tulsa
and San Francisco, before his career was ended by tuberculosis at age
Above: BENNY and the MAESTRO at CAIN’s (Photo from: The King of Western Swing: Bob Wills Remembered, Rosetta Wills, 1998)
“The Benny Strickler Story” profiles the brief career of a brilliant
young trumpet player from the Southwest. Strickler was transformative
in two contrasting music genres: the San Francisco Traditional jazz
sound of Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band and Bob Wills Texas Playboys
Western Swing orchestra.
Colorful interview clips vividly describe
Benny’s key role in Wills’ superlative ‘Tulsa Orchestra’ of 1941-42 and
his meteoric career in Los Angeles, Tulsa and San Francisco before it
was ended by tuberculosis at age 25.
Benny Strickler Story 2A.mp3 LET’S RIDE with BOB [excerpt] -- The New Orleans Rover Boys, 1991 BIG BEAVER [excerpt] -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1940 OH, YOU PRETTY WOMAN [excerpt] -- Bob Wills Texas Playboys, 1941 TULSA STOMP [excerpt] -- Bob Wills Texas Playboys, 1941 BOB WILLS STOMP [excerpt] -- Bob Wills Texas Playboys, 1941 WHOSE HEART ARE YOU BREAKING NOW? -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1942 MAIDEN’S PRAYER [excerpt] -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1941 WE MIGHT AS WELL FORGET IT -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1942 NEW WORRIED MIND [excerpt] -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1941 MY CONFESSION -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1942
Benny Strickler Story 2B.mp3 WHEN ITS HONEYSUCKLE TIME IN THE VALLEY [unissued] -- Bob Wills & Texas Playboys, 1942 ITS ALL YOUR FAULT [excerpt] -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1941 TEN YEARS [issued take] -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1942 LYLA LOU [excerpt] -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1941 LET’S RIDE with BOB -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1942 TEN YEARS [unissued take] -- Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, 1942
At age 24 Strickler was not only first-trumpet but "Straw Boss" of the horns (informal section leader) in the Bob Wills Texas Playboys large Swing orchestra of 1941-42. His story is told in intimate detail by his friend in the band,
third-trumpet player Danny Alguire, later well-known for his two
decades with Firehouse Five Jazz Band.
Though Benny took no solos on records he was featured in a Bobcats-style Dixieland unit and helped to compose Wills' theme song "Let's Ride with Bob," Behind the scenes he brought a strong ensemble unity and rhythmic bounce to one of Wills' best outfits . . . as he did with any jazz ensemble. His watchwords were, "play together," "listen to each other," and, "make the tune sound good."
When WWII broke up the Wills band, Benny went back to LA for a while, and then to San Francisco and his legendary run at the Dawn Club in San Francisco. But in late 1942 tuberculosis caught up with Strickler, silencing his horn at age 25.
Benny's personality is vividly evoked by Danny Alguire's colorful narrative tracing his 11 months as Strickler's band mate. The delightful behind-the-scenes tales of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll in the Bob Wills band are continued in extended clips on this page.
BROADCASTING on KVOO, c 1942
Benny is the trumpet on the left with mute, Alex Brashear to his left and they’re sitting behind Woodie Wood.
During his tenure in Tulsa Benny was broadcasting
with the band, five days a week at noon from Cain's Dance Academy, the
Wills informal HQ at that time. (Unpublished photo from collection of Rosetta Wills)
The main argument for Strickler’s greatness is a half-dozen recordings
made with Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band at the Dawn Club in San Francisco, but issued only after his
death nearly a decade later with little fanfare. That chapter of Strickler's tale is told in another episode.
(The original interview materials herein are
open-source and available to broadcasters, researchers or enthusiasts
Best-known photograph of Strickler
(from the photo collection of Hal Smith)
ON the AIR, late 1941
L to R: Danny Alguire, Louie Tierney, Benny Strickler, Leon McAuliff, Alex Brashear, Woodie Wood, Red Agnew (driver/band man), Don Harlan, Darrell Jones, Bob Wills, Wayne Johnson, Gene Tomlins, unidentified announcer
BOB’s BRASS, late 1941 Trianon Ballroom Oklahoma City, 1942
Back row, L to R: Earl Graves, tbn; Danny Alguire, Benny Strickler, Alex Brashear, tpts
Front row, L to R: Louie Tierney, tenor sax; Woodie Wood, clarinet & alto sax; Bob Wills; Don Harlan, alto sax; Wayne Johnson, tenor sax
Wills probably introducing singer TOMMY DUNCAN Back row: L to R: Darrell Jones, bass; Gene Tomlins, drums; Alex Brashear, Benny Strickler, Danny Alguire, trumpets
Middle row L to R: Wayne Johnson and Woodie Wood, reeds
Front row L to R: Bob Wills; singer Tommy Duncan; Leon Mcauliffe, electric steel guitar
SIDEMAN Sidebar: DANNY ALGUIRE
Between WWII and 1949 he worked and recorded with Country & Western Swing acts like T. Texas Tyler and Merle Travis, and then for two decades was trumpet in the Firehouse Five Jazz Band.
Alguire, soloing in a music short with Merle Travis
L to R: Reed players Don Harlan and Woodie Wood; trumpet players Danny Alguire & Alex Brashear
Oddly, Danny, Woodie and Alex were all hired the same night at Trianon Ballroom in Oklahoma City. Brashear and Wood were among Wills' all-time best horn soloists.
Woodrow 'Woodie' Wood is a bit of a mystery. (Incidentally, this is how his name is spelled in discographies and Wills official biography.)
well-known marijuana smoker Woodie had worked for trumpeter Red Nichols. Bob gave
him plenty of solos and hollers his name often. In most photos Wood is holding a sax but he's best-known as a
fine clarinet soloist, and was part of the Bobcats-style Dixieland subunit
with Benny and trombonist Cornelius 'Neil' Duer.
William Alex Brasher spent almost a decade playing with Bob and seems to have been one of the trumpet players best suited to the role.
Hal Smith's extensive research into Benny's music, career and
background is found in these articles published by the San Francisco
Traditional Jazz Foundation, 1998-2002. Permission Hal Smith & SFTJF.
(Clicking on a .pdf file link below will provide a download of each article.)
CAIN'S Dance Academy (long story) was where Wills broadcast and based his operations in Tulsa during the early 1940s.
Danny Alguire points to it from the rear from an earlier time.
On "Let's Ride with Bob" Benny gave away his usual featured solo to Alex Brashear on a tune that he helped conceive. Nonetheless, Alex played it closer to Benny's style, open horn and direct.
Benny and his trumpet are just visible.
Special thanks to Hal Smith for use of his images and text, and Chris Tyle for use of the Danny Alguire interview.
STRAW BOSS Sidebar L to R: Pianist Al Stricklin, guitarist Eldon Shamblin & Benny Strickler
I have a theory about this photo. I think its a gathering of Wills' straw bosses. Benny was straw boss of the horns, Al Stricklin was in charge of the singers and Eldon was the absolutely reliable metronome and authority on chords in the 'Tulsa Orchestra.'
Alton Meeks 'Al' Stricklin (no relation) played piano for Bob between 1935-42. He wrote an acclaimed memoir about it, My Years With Bob Wills, 1976.
Eldon Shamblin was a fine electric guitar player heard on hundreds of Texas Playboys records, including the famed 200+ Tiffany Transcriptions: one of the best and most representative single collections of Wills music.