Shoot Low Sheriff
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Shoot Low Sheriff

Dallas, Texas, United States | SELF

Dallas, Texas, United States | SELF
Band Americana Jazz


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This band has not uploaded any videos



"Erik Swanson, Once a Cowboy & Indian, Swings Back Into Action With His New Band"

?While Pete's giving away a suite to see Lil Wayne over on DC9, you'll pardon this musical interlude over here on Unfair Park. But this morning's mail brought a most pleasant surprise: the debut disc from Shoot Low Sheriff, which marks Erik Swanson's return to his perch upon the Western Swing a decade after the demise of Cowboys & Indians, who, full disclosure, performed at my wedding back in '97.

Actually, Swanson's not entirely sure when Cowboys & Indians called it quits -- "I'll say 2000," he offers. But since the band disbanded, Swanson's been playing with the Texas Gypsies. Bass player Larry Reed, who'd been with Swanson a long while, urged the bandleader to pick up where he (and Bob Wills and Milton Brown) left off: "Larry got me going," Swanson says. Hence, Friday night's CD release party at the Sons of Hermann Hall (where else?), during which the band will perform originals, covers and even Cowboys & Indians do-overs from its Mockingbird Sessions CD for the low, low price of five bucks.

The disc started out as a demo tape so Shoot Low Sheriff could score some gigs; the band cut five songs in an afternoon at a buddy's loft in Mockingbird Station. "But it went together so easily, we decided, shoot, we ought to do a whole record," Swanson says. Finishing it took another six months. But, kind man he is, Swanson's actually letting you download a handful of its 13 tracks -- among them such familiars as "St. James' Infirmary," "Roly Poly" and "The Western Life" -- absolutely gratis.

I'm reminded of something Christina Rees wrote about Swanson for our Music Awards issue back in '98: "He's a modern music man with a savvy appreciation for the past, for authenticity." It holds just as true today: With the death of Tom Morrell in 2007, Swanson's among the last links Dallas has with its Western Swing roots. "But this is what I've always been doing," he tells Unfair Park, "keeping the sound alive and reminding people what used to be here and what it means to be part of Texas." Amen, brother. - Dallas Observer

"Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Western Swing"

By Cary Darling
Posted 8:13am on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012
When crowds jam into this year's Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo on Saturday evening, they might just hear a hint of jazz mixed in with the ubiquitous country music.

That's because Dallas band Shoot Low Sheriff will be taking the stage at the Rodeo Roadhouse with its take on Western swing, the North Texas-born love child of rural Americana and urban cosmopolitanism. The style became a sensation -- especially in the Southwest -- in the '30s and '40s with such acts as Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and the Light Crust Doughboys. And now a newer generation is carrying on the legacy of this hybrid of country, bluegrass, blues and jazz.

Long-running acts like the Doughboys and Austin's Asleep at the Wheel are today's standard-bearers of Western swing, but such outfits as Shoot Low Sheriff, Fort Worth's Great Recession Orchestra and the Quebe Sisters Band are providing increased visibility for the form. So is a declaration by the Texas Legislature last year, which adopted Western swing as the state's official music.

In fact, it was the Texas aspect that initially attracted Erik Swanson, guitarist and leader of Shoot Low Sheriff. "I'm from Texas, grew up here, but I really wasn't familiar with [Western swing] until a buddy of mine turned me on to Bob Wills," he says. "Something about it struck a chord with me, no pun intended. It's part of the common experience of growing up in the Southwest. It's there even if you haven't listened to it.

"A lot of what I like about the music is that it evokes a Texas of the '30s and '40s.... I like that Western swing ... allows you to play jazz-oriented music but gives you the license to do it dirtier," he says, with a laugh. "You didn't have to be so clean and pristine."

In the '90s, he was in a band called Cowboys and Indians (which played, he says, a mix of Western swing, jump blues and rockabilly) that broke up in 2001. But Swanson's love of Wills' music didn't subside. He took the name of his current group from a classic Wills line, "Shoot low, sheriff, he's riding a Shetland," and the band's debut album, The Mockingbird Sessions with such tracks as Big Texas and Take Me Back to Tulsa, is a tip of the cowboy hat to Wills.

Wills was also an inspiration for guitarist Whit Smith and fiddler Elana James to form Hot Club of Cowtown, which, despite its name, is based in Austin. Their most recent release, What Makes Bob Holler, is a tribute to the master.

Neither Smith nor James had any Southwestern ties -- they're from the Northeast -- but, while working in a New York City record store in the '80s, Smith tripped across Western swing. "I was discovering a lot of different swing music, but Western swing, I had a natural affinity for," he says. "Bob Wills and pre-World War II Western swing was my favorite.... I started taking field trips to Texas and Oklahoma."

After a brief stint in San Diego (a friend had a beach house), Smith and James moved to Austin, where they immediately felt at home.

"We felt we had to try this in Texas," Smith says. "Even now, playing shows around Texas, I still can't get over being in Texas, playing to a bunch of people drinking beer and dancing. There are very few places in the country to have that feeling."


While Western swing bloomed across Texas, its seeds were planted in Fort Worth. Early pioneers from the '30s like Wills, Milton Brown and the Light Crust Doughboys were all, at one point, based in Cowtown.

As to why Western swing then took off in the Lone Star State -- and ultimately throughout the West -- like a prairie wildfire, it seems it was a happy accident of geography and culture.

"Bob [Wills] through Milton had all those jazz players who were from Texas, and Bob mixed in the Dixieland and the blues from the cotton fields and the big bands. It happened here because this was the confluence of all those different sounds," says Barbara Martin, publisher of the magazine Western Swing Monthly and its website,

"The music had a Texas attitude built into it," Swanson says. "It was like, 'We do it ourselves, we do it our way.' It's a rugged individualism sort of thing, and that's a big part of what Texas swing is. Bob Wills was the first one to have drums on the Grand Ole Opry. That's the kind of attitude that comes from Western swing."

Like so much of American pop music, Western swing was born at the intersection where of white and black cultures. No one is more aware of that than producer Steve Satterwhite, whose Great Recession Orchestra is all about the roots of the rhythm. The group's new two-disc album, Double Shot (due in February), is split between covers of songs that were on the Fort Worth Hit Parade in the '40s -- everything from the jazz of Louis Jordan to the country of Ernest Tubb -- and a tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks, the pioneering 1930s African-American fiddle group.

Satterwhite says that, without them, Western swing might not exist: "That was the first time blues and hillbilly music came together."


Western swing has mostly been on the musical sidelines since its peak in the '40s. Like more traditional swing, it suffered in the postwar jazz, country and rock eras as styles shifted to smaller combos. But it would occasionally seep into the mainstream. In the '70s, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen (Hot Rod Lincoln) and the Charlie Daniels Band (The South's Gonna Do It Again) took Western swing-influenced pop to the top of the charts, while Asleep at the Wheel would become the standard-bearers for the style, scoring on country radio with such songs as The Letter That Johnny Walker Read, Bump Bounce Boogie and, of course, Miles and Miles of Texas. In the '80s, the rockabilly and swing jazz revivals also piqued some interest in Western swing.

There were some fears along the way that it might disappear and be seen merely as a museum piece. Many musicians switched to straight-ahead country or polka to pay the bills, Martin says.

Today, Swanson says, Western swing is still often the odd man out on the music scene, adrift between genres.

"People who are into jazz and go to dance clubs, that's not what they want to hear," he says. "And with country music, Cross Canadian Ragweed and Pat Green are the biggest things in Texas right now. It's a disconnect for those guys as well. We're too country for jazz and too jazz for country."

Still, Swanson says audiences like those who will show up Saturday for the Stock Show are often very appreciative. "Yeah, we have played venues like this, and it's always gone well," he says. "Fort Worth is one of the best places for us to play; they seem to get what we're about."

Indeed, Western swing may be in for a turnaround. Martin says there has been an infusion of energy from young players, even if they are mixing it up with more rock, Cajun or other Americana styles. Consider San Antonio's Billy Mata & the Texas Tradition, Houston's River Road Boys, Oklahoma's Tulsa Playboys, Louisiana's Red Stick Ramblers and Los Angeles' Lucky Stars. England's even getting into the act with the Swing Commanders.

"It's even more expansive now," Martin says. "Some folks might say, ' That's not Western swing.' But Bob Wills would say it is because you can't put Western swing in a box." -

"Wanted in Texas"

This very exciting western swing band is back with another enjoyable new CD with hit potential. The group features Erik Swanson as the group vocalist, trombonist and rhythm guitarist. Dustin Ballard is heard playing fiddle, clarinet and electric mandolin. Brandon Lusk plays trumpet and also does vocals. Larry Reed plays string bass and the very talented Wayne Glasson is heard playing piano. Geoff Vinton is the band drummer. The group's newest member, Jessica Munn plays lead guitar.

The album is comprised of 15 tunes of which 5 were composed by Erik. The album opens with one of those, the swinging Fort Worth, Texas and then goes on to the Bob Wills standard, Corrine, Corrina. On this cut and Erik's Funny, It's Not Funny, a tune with huge hit potential, the group also features Dustin's dad, Ken Ballard, playing some top class steel guitar. Other Texas originals from Erik's pen are Wanted in Texas, Dallas Fort Worth and My Lone Star Heart. The album also includes two instrumentals, a Dustin Ballard composition Two Left Feet and Wayne Glasson's Valero. Another standard from Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan is the classic, Stay a Little Longer. Other standards that are included are Mississippi Delta Blues from Jimmie Rodgers and Jimmy Hall's T-U-L-S-A Straight Ahead from Leon McAuliffe and his Cimarron Boys. Old standards included are Cab Calloway's Minnie the Moocher, Stuff Smith's I'se A Muggin' and borrowed from Gene Autry and Hollywood is Kennedy and Carr's South of the Border. The album closes with the standard, When the Saints Go Marching in. - Mike Gross - Swingin' West


The Mockingbird Sessions - 2009
Christmastime In Texas - 2009, holiday single
Wanted in Texas - 2012



2012 Academy of Western Artists Western Swing Band of the Year, Shoot Low Sheriff is an authentic Western Swing band based in Dallas, Texas. Inspired by the classic Western Swing bands, our music combines strings, horns and piano to recapture the sounds that swept Southern dancehalls in the 1930s and 40s. Avoiding the formulaic approach common among many modern Western Swing bands, Shoot Low Sheriff make the music fresh and exciting with an energy not usually associated with older music styles. “Western Swing was the rock ‘n roll of it’s time.” says Swanson, “It was stomping, swinging, edgy music that is the very soul of Texas. If you grew up in the Southwest, the sounds of Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, the Light Crust Doughboys and Milton Brown are in your DNA, whether you’ve consciously listened to the music or not.” Equal parts urban and rural, sophisticated and rustic, our music is hard to categorize. Audiences young and old find themselves smiling and singing along to classic songs from the Western Swing songbook like “Take Me Back to Tulsa”, “San Antonio Rose” and “Beaumont Rag” along with hot jazz classics like “Minnie the Moocher” and “After You’ve Gone.” Shoot Low Sheriff also boasts a collection of original tunes destined to be future classics. Come to a Shoot Low Sheriff show and see what Texas is all about.