The Western Flyers perform Western Swing music on February 7th in Harrisburg

The Western FlyersOne of the most exciting new bands to hit the music scene in years, the Western Flyers, comes to central Pennsylvania on Saturday, February 7, 2015, for a 7:30 p.m. concert sponsored by Susquehanna Folk Music Society at the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn, 5300 N. Front Street, Harrisburg.

Concert tickets are $22 General Admission, $16 for SFMS members and $10 for students ages 3-22. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets online at www.brownpapertickets.com or toll-free (800) 838-3006. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society Web site at www.sfmsfolk.org

I had a chance to speak to guitarist Joey McKenzie recently. Joey is recognized as one of the foremost practitioners of this style of music. He is a two time Texas Guitar Champion and is considered to be a state treasure.

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FOLKMAMA: I’m really excited about your upcoming concert with the Western Flyers! The three of you are all such great musicians. I’m wondering if you can tell me a little bit about yourself and your band mates.

JOEY: I live in Burleson, Texas which is a suburb of Fort Worth, and I’ve been playing music my whole life, basically since I was about 11 years old. I play guitar and fiddle and mandolin and tenor banjo, and have really been enamored with Western Swing especially, and a lot of music that is played in the state of Texas

I grew up in Oregon and I moved to Texas 25 years ago to be close to the music and learn from the great Western Swing musicians.   I got to know a lot of those people and become friends with many of the Western Swing musicians and Texas style fiddle players.

So I’ve been teaching also for all those years. I taught the Quebe sisters and eventually we started a band and did that for 10 years. We made the mutual decision to go our separate ways. We wanted to slow down a little bit; we wanted to keep playing but not constantly gone. So we started The Western Flyers with Gavin Kelso and Katie Glassman.

Gavin left the Quebe band the same time that I did. We were on the same page with what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it so we started the Western Flyers. Katie is an old friend—I’ve known her since she was a kid, for 20 years, and we’ve always loved playing together and feel musically very compatible. So we had the opportunity to form The Western Flyers and Katie was as fired up about it as we all were.

Katie Glassman is incredibly talented. She’s been a two time National Fiddle Champion and a 7 time Colorado State Fiddle Champion and a wonderful singer and songwriter—truly one of the most talented people that I have ever known. She’s just a fun person to be in a band with.

You know the time that you play on the stage is only a fraction of the time that you spend together. Katie, Galvin and I get along great. You know you have lots of hours traveling together, staying at hotels, and eating together. It’s really fun to spend time with Katie and Galvin.

And Galvin Kelso and originally from Neosho, Missouri and he moved to Texas to go to school in Denton at the University of North Texas which has a world class upright bass program. Probably one of the largest program of its kind in the world. He has a degree in classical bass performance, but he really comes primarily from a jazz background.

You know, Western is just country jazz. I always say that we’re just playing jazz with cowboy hats on.

FOLKMAMA: It interests me that you would move to Texas to learn about Western Swing. Is Texas the hotbed for this style of music?

JOEY: Yeah, it was born here. That’s where it all started. You’ve probably heard of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Well, Bob Wills was known as the king of Western Swing. So he started it all in Texas and then he went to Oklahoma in Tulsa and was based there for awhile and then went to California. In those years Bob Wills was a huge star. He was making records and he was a radio star and he was in a lot of movies. He was a huge star back in the 30s and 40s and 50s and the Western Swing became a really popular music. So being in Texas where I’ve gotten a chance to play with a lot of the original Texas Playboys—although there are not many of them left—I’ve been really fortunate to be friends with those guys and learn a lot from them.

The Western Flyers are really trying to carry on the rich tradition that Bob Wills began. We love Western Swing and think it’s important to get it out there and bring it to the folks that aren’t as familiar with it. I really try to do the music authentically, as does Katie and Gavin. So on our individual instruments we really try to capture the style—but do it with our own kind of twist.

FOLKMAMA: So, what has happened to Western Swing music since the time of Bob Wills? Has it evolved? Is it still as popular?

JOEY: Bob originated the style in the 40s, and although it was really popular, by the late 50s and early 60s it became tougher to earn a living because of the advent of television. A lot of this is dance music and people started staying home and watching TV and staying away from the dance halls. The advent of television really changed music in a huge way. So the times got pretty lean and rock and roll came in and a lot of the young people that were listening to Western Swing started listening to rock and roll. So towards the end of the 50s there was a gradual decline in Western Swing music and it made it harder for bands to be able to make a living. It was always around, but you had to look music harder for it.

But in Texas and Oklahoma it still stayed, even in the years when it was not popular everywhere else, it still happened here. And then you know bands like Asleep at the Wheel came to be and they helped keep Western Swing alive and we really try to do our part with traveling and we do workshops. It’s really something that we love and we want to promote and help to perpetuate the music. It’s the sort of music, that when most people hear it, even if they are not familiar with it, they can’t help but like it.

Its fun music and I think a lot of the songs that are associated with Western Swing music are pretty timeless. You know you wonder about some of the music that is being played now, there are some big bands that are playing nowadays, but will their music be able to stand the test of time?

Bob Wills music is still very popular, in fact my wife Sherry and I and our production company, Twin Fiddle Productions, along with the city of Greenville Texas, started in 2014 the Bob Wills Fiddle Festival and Contest. And Bob Wills daughter Carolyn is a friend of ours and she got the Bob Wills Heritage Foundation on board so we started this huge festival.

We had the Time Jumpers with Vince Gill, a wonderful Western Swing band from Nashville and we had other Texas bands, Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys played plus Bobby Flores and the Yellow Rose Band—they’re a great Western Swing band from San Antonio. And then we had a world class fiddle contest. We had competitors that came from 10 different states.  We also had a Bob Wills division where people had to play a song associated with Bob Wills. And that was very popular, and they also played the traditional Texas Breakdown style of fiddling. That was a first year event and people came from everywhere. The shows were sold out—it’s an indication that Western Swing music is really having a resurgence. There are so many young kids that are starting to learn to play Western Swing so I think the future is pretty bright.

FOLKMAMA: So, how would you describe a Western Flyers concert?

JOEY: We always have fun when we play. The main reason that we play is because we love it. And we love to travel.

So we play music that we love and it’s not entirely Western Swing. We’ll throw in an old swing jazz tune like you may hear some Benny Goodman, we throw in a Texas Style Fiddle tune every once in awhile, like you may hear from Benny Thomasson or Howdy Forrester. Or we might throw in a classic country song like you may hear from Ray Price or Connie Smith. And we try to play music that is not all just the same, but also has a connection.

So Ray Price loved Bob Wills and Bob Wills love Ray Price and the fiddle players loved Bob Wills and Bob Wills loved the fiddle players (of course he was a fiddle player). They were all listening to one another—Benny Goodman listened to Bob Wills and Bob Mills listened to Benny Goodman. It’s all related, so we try to do a little bit of all that and we have some fun and we talk a little bit about the music as we move through the show.

It’s just a real passion for all three of us, and a pleasure and an honor to go out and be able to share this music with the rest of the country.

 

 

 

 

 

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