In the panhandle of Texas, on what was once Comanche land, a museum dedicated to Bob Wills draws intrepid tourists in modest numbers. The king of Western swing claimed Turkey as his hometown, although it wasn’t. It just sounded down-home to him, an image he and his Texas Playboys cultivated. Turkey was probably the third closest town to where Bob grew up, but Kosse and Lakeview certainly didn’t roll off the tongue quite as well.
In Texas, Bob Wills is a legend. Elsewhere, not so much. Supposedly, Wills invented the genre of Western swing, which combines elements of early blues, country (which wasn’t called that then), and, of course swing. In reality, Wills didn’t invent Western swing, but he popularized it to the point that in the war years of the 1940s, his band was the most popular in the country, selling out huge dance venues all over the southwest. His band members were virtuosos, often innovating in ways that spawned other fledgling genres.
At the museum, you can see Bob’s barbering tools from before he made a living playing the fiddle and strutting around the stage like a banty rooster. His hats, shirts, boots, B-movie posters, and photographs are laid out for the curious, or the die-hard fans who make the pilgrimage to the small town. Oddly, they don’t even play his music at the museum. (Perhaps this is because the exhibits are within the walls of the tiny city hall.)
If one made a special trip, driving for hours across North Texas just to visit the museum, would the museum be worth it? Probably not. What about if one were a rabid devotee seeking a shrine in which to worship this long-dead musician? Maybe. But who knows? Maybe if one visited on the annual Bob Wills Day. After all, what passes for a crowd in minuscule Turkey sometimes peruses the detritus of the man who wrote “San Antonio Rose” and “Faded Love.” Wills’ legacy museum and Turkey might see a bump in visitors soon. The site is featured in several scenes in the young adult novel Prodigy Quest, by Verlin Darrow.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free.