Song: I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me
Album: The Best of the Hot Club of Cowtown
Performer: The Hot Club of Cowtown
Writer: Jimmy McHugh & Clarence Gaskill
I was introduced to western swing and bluegrass music by a bass teacher I had around my junior year of high school. Up until that point I didn’t realize the breadth of musical styles that you can play as a double bassist. I was only familiar with classical and jazz music. One of the bands that teacher introduced me to was The Hot Club of Cowtown. I hadn’t heard much western swing music and I fell in love with the style. To me, western swing is the perfect point of convergence between jazz and country music. There are many Tin Pan Alley era songs like the one I’m writing about today that you can hear sung by Billie Holliday or Louis Armstrong and then turn around and hear it played by groups like The Hot Club of Cowtown or Asleep at the Wheel.
Western swing is historically known as dance music. It grew in popularity in small towns across the Great Plains around Oklahoma and Texas in the 1920’s and 30’s. The music gained more mainstream popularity in the 1930’s and 40’s with the emergence of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. His group was a revolutionary force in country music, starting the trend of using electric instruments like the pedal steel guitar.
Core to this genre of music is the string band tradition. Western swing has a heavy reliance on the fiddle as a lead instrument. My exposure to Hot Club of Cowtown instilled in me a love for string bands. Some modern string bands I love that are not western swing bands but offshoots of the tradition include Crooked Still, The Deadly Gentlemen, The Infamous Stringdusters and the Redstick Ramblers. I’ll be featuring these groups in the future.
I love this song. It was one of the first that I heard from Hot Club of Cowtown. If I had to pick a word to describe why I like it and how it makes me feel, I would say “familiar.” Something about this song and this style as a whole just feels like home to me. I think part of that is my familiarity with jazz music, particularly having listened fairly extensively to Ella Fitzgerald singing the Cole Porter songbook. Many of these songs follow AABA form and have pervasive use of 2-, 5, 1 progressions. A lot of the songs are very similar. Beyond that recognition of the style, I feel that if anything is a part of my heritage as a vanilla caucasian girl from a small town in Missouri, it would be western swing and bluegrass music. Even though this music wasn’t actually a part of my culture growing up, listening to the music now I feel a deep connection to it. It provides a link to the past for me that I don’t feel like I have in any other outlet.