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Johnnie Lee Wills


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Johnnie Lee Wills (September 2, 1912–October 25, 1984) was an American Western swing fiddler popular in the 1930s and 1940s.

Wills was born in Jewett, Texas, and was the younger brother of Bob Wills. He played banjo with Bob as a member of the Texas Playboys starting in 1934, the year the ensemble began playing on KVOO-AM in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1939 he founded his own group, the Rhythmairs, but returned to the Playboys in 1940 when Bob split the ensemble into two groups and named Johnnie Lee leader of one of them. Following Bob’s move to California in 1940, Johnnie Lee renamed his group Johnnie Lee Wills & All The Boys, remaining in Oklahoma. Johnnie Lee switched from banjo to fiddle in this group.

In 1941 he signed with Decca Records, and recorded again with Bullet Records in 1949, where he saw his greatest success with songs such as “Rag Mop” and “Peter Cotton Tail”. In 1952 he signed with RCA Victor, where he was less successful, though he was still a popular draw in Oklahoma and remained a fixture on KVOO until 1958.

He continued to record through the early 1960s, but his ensemble dissolved in 1964, after which he was only intermittently active in music. He opened a clothing store in Tulsa, and recorded for Flying Fish Records and Delta Records in the 1970s after Bear Family Records and Rounder Records reissued some of his old material.


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