Eldon Shamblin

Eldon Shamblin was born on April 24, 1916, in Clinton, Oklahoma, and learned to play the guitar in his teens by studying the techniques of Eddie Lang. In the early days of his career, he performed in clubs in Oklahoma City. In 1934, he got the opportunity to sing and play the guitar on a regular thirty-minute program with an Oklahoma City radio station; his pay was two square meals per day. Thanks to these performances, he was asked to join Dave Edwards’s Alabama Boys who were playing a lively, upbeat hybrid of country and jazz that became known as “Western swing.” While playing Edwards’s band, Shamblin picked up his fluid, innovative guitar style. They were performing on KV00 radio station in Tulsa, where a cigar-chewing, hooting-and-hollering Texan fiddler named Bob Wills was also building his reputation. “I was the first one out of the Alabama Boys to join the Wills band,” Shamblin remembered, “but they all gradually joined.” Shamblin became a member of Bob Willis and His Texas Playboys band in 1937.

The band soon began prolifically touring and recording with the best western swing players. This created Wills’s reputation as the King of Western swing. Another member of the band was steel-guitar maestro Leon McAuliffe. During that period, Shamblin and McAuliffe experimented with what would become their Twin Guitar idiom which is at the basis of some of the band's hits. Shamblin indeed participated to the writing of a number of the band’s classics, including the bopping “Twin Guitar Special” with McAuliffe. Shamblin was a prominent member of the band up until 1942 when he enlisted and served in the military during World War II. When the war was over, he returned with Wills in 1947 and remained with him until 1957. Afterwards, Shamblin left the music for a decade, while giving guitar lessons and running a convenience store in Tusla. In 1970 he was asked to participate to a tribute to Bob Wills. In this occasion, he met Merle Haggard and, soon after, he joined Haggard's band The Strangers, with whom he played until 1983 when he retired.

When Shamblin began performing with Wills, he was playing a radical Rickenbacker Electro B, the small semi-solid body similar to the Rickenbacker Frying Pan lap steel. As Shamblin told historian Rich Kienzle, Wills took him aside and said, “I like the sound of that thing, but hey, man, they don’t know you’re playin’ a guitar.” Shamblin acquired a pair of massive Gibson super 400 archtops that no one could mistake for anything but a guitar.

Wills had nothing to complain about when Shamblin showed up with a newfangled Stratocaster. The 1954 Strat, with serial number 0569, that Leo Fender presented to Shamblin was painted metallic gold. It wore a neck dated June 1954, but, except the golden finish, the guitar was pretty much stock, not even having gold-plated hardware. Shamblin remembered, “It was pretty beaten up when I got it; must have been some demonstrator”. Or perhaps a testbed for Leo. Despite that, Shamblin added many miles and many a show to its history, using it throughout the rest of his long career.


Next player: Richard Thompson