Although not nearly as widely remembered as his sometime associate Bob Wills, Big Spring bandleader Hoyle Nix made his own indelible mark on western swing, cementing his name in the pantheon of Texas fiddlers.
William Hoyle Nix was born in Azle, Texas, just a little ways northwest of Fort Worth, on March 22, 1918, son of Jonah Lafayette and Myrtle May Nix. When he was still a baby, the Nixes moved out west to a farm in Big Spring, Texas, where Hoyle and his brothers were reared. His father played fiddle and mother played guitar, and passed their skills on the instruments down to Hoyle and his brother Ben. Inspired by his musical hero Bob Wills, Hoyle and Ben Nix formed the West Texas Cowboys in 1946, who soon established themselves as a hit in West Texas dance halls. In the summer of 1949, Nix brought the band to Dallas to cut their first records for the recently established Talent label, debuting with his own “A Big Ball’s in Cowtown”, which proved to be a hit and became one of the genre’s most popular standards. Subsequently, Nix’s West Texas Cowboys began touring with Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, and Nix’s band expanded to include several former Playboys, including guitarist Eldon Shamblin. In 1954, Hoyle and Ben established the “Stampede” dance hall outside of their hometown of Big Spring, which still stands in operation to the present day. Meanwhile, the West Texas Cowboys continued to record somewhat prolifically on local Texas-based labels throughout the 1950s and ’60s, mostly using the new 45 RPM format. After the dissolution of the Texas Playboys, Bob Wills made regular appearances with Nix’s band. He made his last recordings in 1977 with the release of an LP on the Midland-based Oil Patch label. The following decade saw his induction into no fewer than four halls of fame, including (posthumously) the Western Swing Hall of Fame in 1991. Hoyle Nix died on August 21, 1985, in his hometown of Big Spring. His legacy was carried on into the next century by his sons Larry and Jody.
Talent 709 was recorded at the Sellers Company Studio at 2102 Jackson Street in Dallas, Texas, around August of 1949. The West Texas Cowboys are Hoyle Nix on fiddle, Tommy Harvell on steel guitar, Wayne Walker on lead guitar, Ben Nix on rhythm guitar, Charlie Smith on banjo, Loran Warren on piano, and John Minnick on string bass. It is Nix and the West Texas Cowboys’ first record.
Hoyle sings the vocal on the famous Texas swing anthem “A Big Ball’s in Cowtown”, covered by Bob Wills and others—and it’s a hot number, too. While Nix gets credit for creating the song, it may actually be traced back a ways earlier to “Big Ball in Town” (Brooklyn, Boston, or some such Yankee town), which was recorded by Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers in 1928. You may note that it is “a big ball is in Cowtown,” and not—as some listeners understand it—”Big Balls is in Cowtown”; it’s not that kind of a song.
On the flip—actually the “A” side—brother Ben Nix sings the vocals in a more sentimental mood on “I’m All Alone”, an original composition of his own, with Hoyle backing up with some Willsian hollers.
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