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YouTube Gold: Take It Away Leon

Photo of Leon McAuliffe
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Leon McAuliffe
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Leon McAuliffe, who was born in Houston in 1917, was a masterful musician. He began performing at the age of 16 and at 18 was asked to join Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

He played the steel guitar and, with a handful of other Western performers, busted it out of its country straitjacket to make it really shine in Western Swing, a mix of country, western, jazz and pop that became the most fun American music, possibly, of all time.

He stayed with Wills until World War II when he, like so many of his generation, went off to fight the good fight.

When he came back he started his own band, the Cimarron Boys. During his time with Wills, the bandleader would call out, “Take It Away, Leon!” He says in this video that his new band picked up on that and made it a song.

It’s just an entirely unique song, out of time in the same way that Link Wray’s Rumble was. Take It Away Leon just crackles with energy and presaged a lot of what was to follow. It’s a phenomenal song which brought together so many strands of American music into one irrepressible, beautiful, rollicking tune.

Unfortunately, this video doesn’t have the best audio. So here’s an audio-only version.

Incidentally, in the 1980’s, concerned that people might forget about Western Swing, McAuliffe, along with Junior Brown, whose father was a musicologist, and Eldon Shamblin taught music at Oklahoma’s Rogers State University. What an amazing class that must have been.