Duncan McLean has a dilemma. He's head over heels for a music that's not only going out of style, but is found most prevalently in Texas--a long way from his home in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. After exhausting Scotland's supply of western swing, in 1995 McLean travels to America, rents a Chevy Cavalier, and heads west to explore the birthplace, meet the makers, and dig up the roots of the sounds with which he's fallen in love. As he describes it:
"This is the hottering chili-pot of New Orleans Jazz, old country fiddling, big-band swing, ragtime, blues, pop, mariachi and conjunto that dominated Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and beyond--all the way to San Francisco in the west, Memphis in the east--from the mid-Thirties till mid-Elvis. This is western swing."
Lone Star Swing is both musical pilgrimage and witty travelogue. As McLean trails his favorite music over the back roads of Texas, his adventures make for interesting reading. He has a way of making you feel you're riding along in the passenger seat as he finds the top 10 things to do in Turkey, Texas, on Bob Wills Day (Bob is McLean's western-swing hero), learns how to nibble an onion cooked up sunflower style at the Presidio Onion Festival, gets lectured for cussing in front of ladies after his Chevy gets its doors rehung by a hit-and-run driver, and suffers the wrath of Gulf Coast prawns eaten too far from their home waters. And although he's far away from the Orkney Islands, McLean has a way of making himself at home in just about every place the music takes him.
Touring Scotsman McLean focuses on the underappreciated western part of what used to be called country-and-western music. As he searched for the roots of the western swing music of, most notably, Bob Wills and his band, he also took in other manifestations of the glorious cultural wonderland known as Texas. His initial encounter with Texan fried cuisine leaves him confused as to which platter deposit is the catfish and which the hush puppies, and that sets the stage for bemused commentary on the cultural landscape displayed on the Lone Star's seemingly endless highways. Of a Pink Panther mural at the Roy Orbison museum in Wink, McLean ventures, "Why the Pink Panther? . . . Why the pink 100 lb. weight at his feet? Why the pink three of clubs?" Haunting questions, indeed. Much to his consternation, McLean found precious little contemporary interest in classic western swing. The style reached its zenith in the 1940s and is periodically revived, without much effect. Oh, well. McLean's rollicking journal is immensely good fun, anyway. Mike Tribby