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Dec. 30: It was 65 years ago today that Bob Wills rocked the Grand Ole Opry before he ever played a note. Listen to this rollicking number recorded six years earlier, then come back for the story.

Wills and his band were based in Waco, then Tulsa, then (after Wills got out of the Army) Hollywood. Their first cross-country tour brought them to Nashville and the Opry, radio’s premier barn-dance program. And on Dec. 30, 1944, the King of Western Swing and the staid Opry locked horns … drumsticks, actually. FamousTexans.com picks up the tale:

    “Bob unknowingly created quite a stir at his Grand Ole Opry performance. A drum set was a natural, integral part of the Playboys’ music, but it was unheard of in the world of country music back then. When the Opry staff told Bob that his drummer couldn’t play, he angrily declared that he would not leave a band member out. It was all the Texas Playboys or none. Bob did agree, however, to let the drums be set up behind the curtains. That is, until time to play, when he hollered, ‘Move those things out on stage!’ In that moment, Bob Wills had left a permanent mark: there would forever be a beat in country music. (He and the Texas Playboys, by the way, were not invited back.) “

They played the band’s signature number, “The New San Antonio Rose.” It would be the only song — even though the audience whooped and hollered for more, Opry brass weren’t happy they’d been showed up, and there was no encore.

This song, though, predates the Opry drama. It was cut in Dallas in late 1938, on the last of three days of sessions that also yielded “Ida Red” and the original instrumental version of “San Antonio Rose.” Lead vocals here were provided not by normal frontman Tommy Duncan but by steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe. Wills adds his usual scats and wisecracks. It’s the sound that made him a star — and an influence on Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Ray Price and so many more.

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