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Nolan Porterfield

Listen to this group

TUNE WRANGLERS. An early western swing band organized in 1934 by guitarist Buster Coward and fiddler Tom Dickey, the Tune Wranglers began broadcasting that year on San Antonio’s 50,000-watt WOAI and toured annually in more than 200 towns throughout the area, billing themselves as true cowboys (they were one of the first western swing bands to appear in cowboy regalia, which later became the standard for such groups). Two years later, they were signed to a Bluebird recording contract and eventually released seventy-eight sides on that label. Of these, Buster Coward’s “Texas Sand” was the biggest hit, followed closely by “Red’s Tight Like That,” a slight variation on Tampa Red’s risqué 1928 “It’s Tight Like That,” and “El Rancho Grande”—all three recorded in 1936. The latter title, sung in Spanish, developed an audience south of the border, and some Tune Wranglers’ sides were issued in Mexico under the name of Tono Hombres.

In the beginning, the Tune Wranglers played lively and compelling music, influenced by jazz and pop tunes of the day. This trend continued with the addition of jazz pianist Eddie Whitley, steel guitar legend Eddie Duncan, and hot banjo player Joe Barnes, who took the stage name of Red Brown. Tom Dickey left the band in 1937. Later members of the group included fiddler Leonard Seago and the twins Beal and Neal Ruff, reeds and tenor banjo respectively. Almost all of the Tune Wranglers took a turn as vocalist; “El Rancho Grande” features a trio from the group, with the others tossing in asides and shouting encouragement. The band tended to grow more subdued in the late 1930s, although they remained popular on radio, on recordings, and in live performances. They scored another hit, “Hawaiian Honeymoon,” from their last session for Bluebird on October 25, 1938. In 1939 the Tune Wranglers moved to KFJZ in Fort Worth, then disbanded in 1940. In 1981 the Texas Rose label released a compilation of their recordings—The Tune Wranglers, 1936–38.


All Music Guide (www.allmusic.com), accessed June 4, 2011. Paul Kingsbury, ed., The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). Adam Komorowski, Liner notes to Doughboys, Playboys and Cowboys: The Golden Years of Western Swing (Proper Records, 1999). Tony Russell, Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921–1942 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Nolan Porterfield, "TUNE WRANGLERS," accessed May 26, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xgt05.

Uploaded on March 20, 2015. Modified on November 1, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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