A new talent | Fredericksburg Standard
It’s no secret that the Internet and the digital revolution have changed almost every industry of human endeavor, but no more than the creative arts.
With the evolution of streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, and the ability to create studio-quality recordings on a laptop in a bedroom, music is now accessible to anyone on a budget and on a budget. a little time. Blows can be done at home. Video performances can go viral.
But before that age, music was created, polished and perfected on stage. No one knows this better than Bill Smallwood, musician from Fredericksburg and bandleader of the Lone Star Swing Orchestra.
Smallwood grew up in southeast Ohio and attended Ohio State University in Columbus as a music student and trumpeter. He met his wife, Sandy, while looking at the list of students who were accepted into the selective school program.
“They posted (the results of the audition) on the wall,” Smallwood said. “She’s only six feet tall, so I came to see her and there’s this little girl standing there.”
Throughout school, Smallwood played jazz music with a school band that was not officially sanctioned by the university. At the time, jazz was considered edgy by more traditional musicians.
“They were all giddy that I was playing this stuff,” Smallwood said. “We were the black sheep.”
Smallwood already had a background of familiarity with the guitar, banjo, and fiddle due to the musical culture near Appalachia. He was familiar with many different musical genres, from jazz, pop, country and bluegrass.
With a music degree under her belt, Smallwood taught music at the old school in her hometown. However, he soon realized that he had had enough of school and was ready for something different. Newly married to Sandy and father to her newborn son, Will, the family hit the road to perform.
“After that, we put together a little musical number, just the two of us and we left, found a booking agent in Nashville and hit the road,” Smallwood said. “We traveled full time for about 10 years.”
During those years, Smallwood and his wife were in a van, RV, or bus with their new son playing on stage all over the United States. Sandy had evolved from a classical pianist to a professional organist in popular music.
“I got a subscription to Billboard magazine, and we would see the top 40,” Smallwood said. “Most of our stuff came off the easy-listening or country and western charts.”
After a period of touring as a four-piece band without drums, Smallwood decided they needed drums in the band. While in Colorado for a gig, Smallwood asked about drummers who would like to travel with a band. Local writer and musician Phil Houseal was found and began playing regularly with Smallwood on drums.
Touring as The Smallwoods, they eventually bought a Greyhound bus. Rising expenses and regulations forced Smallwood to abandon the bus as a mode of tourist transportation. This bus is now retired and can be seen in Bankersmith where it once resided.
While performing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Smallwood was invited by Texas oilmen to hold several events around Houston. This brought Smallwood and his band to Texas, where they performed regularly in Houston and Austin.
At some point on the road, Smallwood was asked by a bartender to speak on the phone with the Texas swing artist’s manager, Tex Williams.
“Tex was supposed to come and they had lined up a bunch of guys from the studio to come with him,” Smallwood said. “And they couldn’t play his music, which kind of took me by surprise.”
Smallwood’s band was able to perform music that Tex’s musicians were unable to play.
Circumstances brought Smallwood to Fredericksburg when he was performing primarily as a Texas musician.
“We were driving through Fredericksburg and blew a radiator hose,” Smallwood recalled. “We got to town and there was City Auto Parts where the (Fredericksburg Brewing Company) is now. I walk into the store and everyone speaks German.
Sandy had always wanted to spend time in Fredericksburg. Now the Smallwoods have resided here for nearly 40 years.
Smallwood stopped touring in December 1976 when his band and family were in North Dakota for a show. Temperatures dropped below 40 degrees.
“At that point, I just called (the booking agent) directly and said, ‘I’m done, it’s minus 40 here. I can’t handle it. I quit,” Smallwood said.
With a book of stories and experiences from the road, Smallwood settled in Fredericksburg with his family and spent many years performing in the area as a solo musician, with a small band or with his large band, The Lonestar Swing Orchestra.
Smallwood’s house is filled with instruments and sound equipment. His many years as an itinerant musician made him a proficient repairman for organs and amplifiers out of sheer necessity.
Over the years Smallwood has acquired other bands’ music catalogs and has a library of charts and arrangements of all styles of music. At one point, his band was able to perform up to 500 songs on demand without the need for rehearsal, simply through a familiarity that can only be gained through stage experience.
Smallwood represents a rapidly fading era of music. Not only is his style of music a retrospective on popular tunes from decades ago, but his stories are reminiscent of the hard work and knowledge that once differentiated an expert musician from a mere amateur.
Still performing regularly in the area, Smallwood and his bands carry on a long tradition of Texas and Western Swing.