Obituary: Eldon Shamblin
Wednesday 12 August 1998
The corn was as high as an elephant's eye when Eldon Shamblin was born in Oklahoma in 1916, but he was determined not to work as a labourer and practised the guitar from an early age. His first jobs were in the bars on the lower side of Oklahoma City in 1933. He earned little money and even when he was given a regular radio show, the pay was only two meals a day.
In 1935 he joined Dave Edwards's Alabama Boys and they played what is now known as "western swing", a lively hybrid of country music and jazz. Moving to a radio station in Tulsa, he was spotted by Bob Wills and invited to join his band. Shamblin said, "I was the first one out of the Alabama Boys to join the Texas Playboys but they all gradually joined."
Bob Wills became known as the King of Western Swing and he surrounded himself with excellent musicians. Wills was quick to showcase Shamblin's talent on the newly invented electric guitar, and he became the first person to own a Fender Stratocaster, having been given a trial model by Leo Fender himself.
His duet with the steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe, "Twin Guitar Special" (1941), is a seminal record, and other noted guitarists such as Charlie Christian and Les Paul were keen to see him play. Shamblin also arranged Wills's best-known recordings including "San Antonio Rose" and "Faded Love". Being in the band was a rollercoaster ride as Wills was married and divorced five times between 1935 and 1942, and the repertoire would switch from sad to happy songs according to his mood.
The band's lead singer, Tommy Duncan, enlisted for military service and chastised the others for not doing so. Wills's health prevented him signing up but Shamblin enlisted in 1942 and became a captain. He rejoined Bob Wills in 1947, but he contented himself by playing rhythm and occasional lead guitar. Years later, Rolling Stone magazine described him as "the world's greatest rhythm guitar player". Shamblin also became the group's manager and was with them until 1954 when he joined Hoyle Nix's western swing band. He did, however, return to Wills's band for some months in 1956.
Tiring of the road, Eldon Shamblin left Wills for the final time in 1957 and he returned to Tulsa, playing locally and working as a piano tuner and electric organ repairer. He returned to top-level country music in 1970 when Merle Haggard dedicated an album to Bob Wills, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World, on which he was accompanied by the Texas Playboys. The musicians recorded 27 songs in two days but Wills, recovering from a stroke, was too ill to contribute himself.
Haggard, who always loved the western sound, invited Shamblin to become a member of his band, the Strangers, in 1975 and he toured and recorded with the band until 1981, when at the age of 65, he decided to retire. He is featured on the Merle Haggard album, Rainbow Stew - Live at Anaheim Stadium (1981) and he would rejoin Haggard whenever he played in Tulsa.
Merle Haggard said in his autobiography, Sing Me Back Home (1981), "Eldon's guitar work is so great that he can just stop everybody in their tracks." Willie Nelson's own single-note, flat-pick guitar style also owes something to Eldon Shamblin.
In 1983, Shamblin was back playing with his former compadres in Playboys II. Over the years he was involved in various one-off projects and he has recorded with another key western swing musician, Johnnie Lee Wills, as well as the jazz musicians Herb Ellis and Shelley Manne. In 1977 he made the jazz album S'Wonderful with Joe Venuti, Curly Chalker and Jethro Burns, and he released a solo album, Guitar Genius, in 1980. The title amused him, as he was a modest man who made jokes about the music industry.
In 1993 he joined Asleep at the Wheel for their Grammy-winning tribute to Bob Wills for which he was joined by Chet Atkins and Vince Gill on the track "Red Wing". In 1996, he released a solo album for his 80th birthday, There'll Be Some Changes Made. He commented, "There's a fine bunch of pickers on there. I guess they don't have anything better to do."
Eldon Shamblin, guitarist: born Weatherford, Oklahoma 24 April 1916; married (two daughters); died Tulsa, Oklahoma 5 August 1998.
scienceScientists find the answer to a question that even puzzled Darwin
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
arts + entsThe 'Friends' actor on his new role as campaigner on addiction issues
Geoffrey Macnab: The Wolf of Wall Street's account of white-collar excess is A Rake’s Progress on steroids
scienceThe new development in bio-printing technology could be used in the future to restore lost vision - though years of research still await
architectureThe design collective which has stuck two fingers up at the modernists will call it quits at Venice
... But if you’re one of those poor souls offended by Jennifer Lopez’s choice of leotard, Grace Dent wants you to get a bloody grip
Arts & Ents blogs
Brian Griffin returns: Cartoon dog back from the dead in Family Guy Christmas episode
Matthew Perry: He'll be there for you
Nymphomaniac, film review: 'Despite the surreal sex scenes this is a serious drama'
FAT’s all folks: Architecture’s biggest jokers sign off in style
Shia LaBeouf apologises for plagiarising cartoonist's story for Cannes short film
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
You can STILL be jailed for being a republican, government confirms, and it remains illegal to even 'imagine' overthrowing the Queen
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
- 1 Facebook 'self-censorship': study records when you don't post to find more ways to share
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 British prisoner Dr Abbas Khan found dead in Syrian jail days before he was due to be handed over to MP George Galloway
- 4 Vitamin pills are a waste of money, offer no health benefits and could be harmful - study
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- < Previous
- Next >