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After 40 years in the music business, Bill Smallwood has returned to his first love, the big band sound. The Lone Star Orchestra performs big band music, Dixieland, and jazz for concerts and dances. Photo by Phil Houseal


Details:
Bill Smallwood and his Lone Star Orchestra are available for dances, parties, clubs, festivals, weddings and bar mitzvahs. Smallwood also can provide solos, duos, trios, and any other combination and style of music. Call him at 830-997-8505.

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Bill Smallwood comes Full Circle
Back to Big Band

by Phil Houseal
Dec 28, 2005

 

Big band. Solo act. Duo. Trio. Five-piece show band.

And back to big band.

After 40 years on the music circuit, Bill Smallwood has come full circle.

Smallwood started playing music as a teenager in the living room of his friend’s home in Richmond Dale, a small burg in the hills of southern Ohio. They played big band tunes and a little Dixieland jazz. Smallwood loved it so much he went on to major in music at Ohio State University.

After graduating he tried teaching music for a year. “It didn’t take me long to figure out I didn’t want to do that,” he said.

He quit, and with his wife, Sandy, another OSU music major, he hit the road in 1968.

The duo soon grew. Brother Bob got out of the Navy and formed a trio. Bob married, adding a wife and bass player in one stroke. They picked up a drummer, hit the lounge circuit and played hotel lounges, military bases, and clubs across the United States.

As all bands do, the Smallwoods evolved, split, reformed, and in 1980 Bill and Sandy bought a little town in Texas called Bankersmith, just a washer’s throw from Luckenbach. Smallwood formed a new group, turning in the polyester of the 70s for blue jeans and cowboy hats. The Smallwoods - now known as the B.S. Band for many reasons in addition to being his initials - played the tail end of the dance hall circuit.

Throughout his musical journey, Smallwood never abandoned his first love - the trumpet. When he blasted the instrumental in Ghost Riders in the Sky, it never failed to electrify even the most jaded dance hall regulars. Some say it brought rain.

Around 2000, Schatzie Crouch was cleaning out an old building when she discovered several old boxes filled with sheet music and band charts.

The first person she called was Bill Smallwood. He was amazed at the treasure trove of vintage music memorabilia.

There were old band sheets, hand-written lead sheets, and songs from as far back as the 1800s. Titles included Keep Sweeping The Cobwebs Off the Moon, Honolulu Moon, Hawaiian Harry, Sam You Made the Pants Too Long, and Piccolo Pete.

“You can’t find that stuff anymore, anywhere,” Smallwood said, adding. “Many of the tunes are forgotten, and deservedly so. They were just bad.”

One example was the song Mississippi Mud, complete with the original lyrics. “Talk about politically incorrect,” he said.

As he leafed through the yellowed pages, Smallwood began to form an idea. He asked a few friends to bring their horns and they tried reading the music. It was just for fun until they were called to fill in a gig for the Band-Aids, a Dixieland group.

Smallwood convinced some more horn players to oil up their valves and soak their reeds and join him to resurrect the beloved big band sound.

Today, Smallwood’s “Big Band” is a loose collection of eight to 20 musicians who continue to rehearse every week. They play concerts and dance clubs. No matter the location, the strains of Stardust continue to pull couples out on the floor.

It puts Smallwood back where he began. “Basically, I’m doing the same stuff I was doing in high school,” he said.

Through all those years and all those groups, he has no doubts which bands were most satisfying.

“The ones that were in tune,” he said, waiting for the rim shot. “Seriously, I like it all. That’s why I continue to do it.”

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