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Hit the Road with Chet Garner

Toe Tappin’ in Turkey

Learn all about Bob Wills—the King of Western Swing—in his Panhandle hometown

If you ask someone to name the king of music, they’ll likely mention Elvis Presley (the King of Rock ’n’ Roll) or George Strait (the King of Country). However, true students of music genres will give credit to the everlasting King of Western Swing—Bob Wills. I took a trip to the Panhandle town of Turkey to pay homage to the legacy of this Texas-sized king.

Days generally pass by quietly in Turkey, unless you’re here on the last Saturday in April, when thousands attend the Bob Wills Day celebration and keep string-pickin’ circles going into the morning hours. I visited on a normal Thursday afternoon and found the main drag nearly empty, save for a few folks filling their bellies at Galvan’s Restaurant. After polishing off a Mexican Platter No. 9, I scooted over to the old elementary school that’s now the Bob Wills Community Center.

I wasn’t too familiar with Wills other than a few of his hit tunes, like San Antonio Rose and Bubbles in My Beer. But inside this museum, I received a full-on education.

Chet has fun fiddlin’ around the tranquil town of Turkey.

Courtesy Chet Garner

Wills spent much of his childhood in Turkey and began playing music right out of the crib, as his father was a champion fiddle player. Over time, Wills became enamored with musical styles that included jazz and blues. By the early 1930s, he had formed the Texas Playboys and created a new genre called Western swing, which blended all his favorite styles. It’s a feat that landed Wills in both the Country Music and Rock & Roll halls of fame.

The museum is full of artifacts and stories of Wills’ rise to stardom. Visitors are sure to leave with a new appreciation for the King of Western Swing—and a foot that won’t stop stomping.