"Original" music West Coast Swing was danced to

Steve Pastor

Staff member
Wikipedia states that WCS was orginally danced to 16 note blues music.
Overlooking the fact that "16 note blues music" doesn't make sense to me (I'm not a musician, but I have learned a bit about blues.) I don't think this statement in WIkipedia is correct.
So, folks, I've been doing on line research, exchanged a message with Sonny Watson, pulled out some blues books I have, etc.
Does anyone here have any knowledge, hopefully not just hearsay, but something that can be referenced, about the "original" music WCS was danced to?
If you don't just go ahead and write what you know.
Oh,,, tough one.

There's not a lot of recorded information about the history of the dance. A lot of the "accurate" discriptions are pretty bias to begin with. If you look at Sonny's webpage, StreetSwing you get a few origins of the dance and some of that can be refuted.

A lot of the old timers aren't that old as the dance isn't that old and they all have a personal bias about how it got started and their connection to it all.

WCS, as an offshoot of Lindy, went with the music of the times, but there was no clean break of today we have lindy and now we have WCS...there was a gradual growth from one dance to the next, which results in a lot of music overlap. The current hiphop/contemporary phase (which is a few years old) has really changed the look and feel of the dance a lot.

Talking to older dancers like John Festa, who has a background in Lindy and WCS (with a father who was very involved in Lindy), WCS use to be a lot more veratile. People danced to anything -- faster music (around 180bpm where as fast now is 140) being one major point and a lot more blues (which doesn't mean slow -- there are a variety of genres with in the blues category).

Most people seem to agree that early WCS music was R&B and Blues. Not the R&B Usher music you hear today. But real Rhythm and Blues, it requires searching music history to understand rather than dance history.


Well-Known Member
Steve Pastor said:
Overlooking the fact that "16 note blues music" doesn't make sense to me
It probably meant "16-bar" blues (where, in this context, one bar is two beats / two quicks). This is less common than 12-bar blues, which accounts for most of the blues songs you've ever heard. So that's a bit unusual. Maybe it was a regional thing. Hmm, I'll have to research that. Could be interesting.


Well-Known Member
And I should add that my mother knows WCS (something that I dicovered to my surprise a couple of Christmases ago). She told me that she learned it in college, which would have been Auburn University in the early '50s. I'll have to admit I'm a bit surprised that it had propogated that far into the hinterlands at that early date. I'm guessing that happened as a result of WWII vets going to Auburn on the G.I. Bill.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
"d nice" had a "Dean Collins" thread that was just started. I thought I saw it earlier today. Where did it go?
Anyhow, Dean is reported to have started dancing a more slotted version of Lindy in the late 1930s. That was about a full decade before the term "R&B" was coined by the recording industry/ a dj in Cleveland.
Dean passed through the Savoy when swing was king, and was a Lindy dancer, and also danced and choreographed for Hollywood. He did most of that work through the 1940s. Again, before "R&B" existed as a catchall for what had been termed "race music" by the recording industry. I just don't see the connection with blues as I think of it, and as it is defined strictly.
Anything is possible, of course. But if something is going to be on line in Wikipedia, I'm just thinking it shouldn't have such a definitive statement if there is no actual evidence of "16 note blues" being involved. Or was it 16 ba blues, or 12 bar blues, or not blues at all?
Steve Pastor said:
But if something is going to be on line in Wikipedia, I'm just thinking it shouldn't have such a definitive statement if there is no actual evidence of "16 note blues" being involved
That entire article, pretty much, has no business being in the Wikipedia (it badly fails the verifiability standard).


New Member
Dancelf said:
That entire article, pretty much, has no business being in the Wikipedia (it badly fails the verifiability standard).
That is the case in quite a few of the dance related articles in Wikipedia; people have written what they know or what they think they know (which is not always the same thing).


Well-Known Member
old school

was first introduced to the style in late fifties thru a chain school in which i was teaching., dont know if that time period fits the mould, can tell you what band was very popular to dance to, " Bill Black ", I,m sure any one who is of my era will remember them. Someone, some where ,will have recordings may even be traceable on the net ; this was fairly typical of the music style of the period. Hope this helps

Steve Pastor

Staff member
I may be answering my own question here about the 1953 "Hound Dog", but anyone interested in the history of music and dance should find this interesting.
"The famous rock 'n' roll deejay Alan Freed once remarked that "rock 'n' roll was merely swing with a modern name."
"Hollow Rock & the Lost Blues Connection" by Martha Bayles. The Wilson Quarterly. Summer 1993.


Well-Known Member

Would maybe slightly disagree with the " maestro, s". opinion . if you listen to the "swing " bands of the forties, harry james, benny goodman etc., they had a different sound to the fifties music , bill haley is generally held up as a standard . Actually went see him play when he came to u.k. in 1955 ?. if memory serves me well, it was a true paradigm shift in music .Why do you guys all keep taking me back to my mis spent youth ? ( well, really wasnt a youth )

Steve Pastor

Staff member
The article goes on to state that "Rock 'n' roll was different from swing because it was played by smaller groups in a bluesier, rhythmically heavy style". I think I posted a non definition of "swing" somewhere. It's how the music is played, and blues, jazz, and country have all had a swing feel. "Swing", as a way to play music, and as a dance, was new to most people in the 1930s, and it was incorported into how people played.
I take people's opinions with a grain of salt, even if they are "experts". On the other hand I defer to expert opinion, if they seem to know what they are talking or writing about.
In the meantime, I really like learning/relearning all this stuff. So much has been written, and I'm trying figure out what is fluff, or speculation, and what the facts are.
Some people like to pick things apart, and put them in separate places. Other people see the way things are connected.
And for me at least, it looks like, as we've heard before, no man is an island.


Well-Known Member
tangotime said:
Would maybe slightly disagree with the " maestro, s". opinion . if you listen to the "swing " bands of the forties, harry james, benny goodman etc., they had a different sound to the fifties music , bill haley is generally held up as a standard .
Yes, a lot of historians designate Haley's "Rock Around the Clock" as the first rock and roll song. (Incidentally, if you catch a rerun of an early episode of the TV show "Happy Days", Rock Around the Clock was the original theme song.) I have to partially disagree with the Alan Freed quote -- rock and roll did indeed borrow a lot of its rhythm and drum sound from swing, but melodically and harmonically it was a lot different. For those not familiar with it, the basic structure of a swing jazz band was:

* A horn section, usually 2-4 players. This section usually played the most prominent melodies.
* A woodwind section (might also include sax), usually 2-5 players and possibly including the band leader. This section usually played a counter-melody to the horns. Occasionally the woodwinds would take the lead while the horns either rested or played accents.
* A rhythm section consisting of guitar, piano (yes, guitar and piano were considered rhythm instruments in swing), bass, and drums. Swing drummers were the ones who invented the "drum kit" that we now take for granted.

Swing bands played loud! People today don't realize that; everything thinks you have to have amplification to be loud. That's one reason swing was recorded and broadcast so much; it was easy to pick up and get down with the primitive recording / radio equipment of the day.

When bebop jazz came along, they stripped this down a lot. There is such a thing as big-band bebop, but most bebop combos used only three or four pieces -- horn or sax, keyboards, bass, and drums being typical. And in bebop, any instrument can be melody, harmony, rhythm or all of the above at any given moment. (That's one reason we don't dance to bebop.)

The early rock bands used, for the most part, the same instruments as the bebop combos at first. That's probably because that's what they saw, and also those were the instruments that they had learned and had access to. Incidentally, if you go back and listen to really early rock, in a lot of cases you hear bands without any guitar. For a while, it looked like the sax was going to wind up being rock's "lead" instrument, with piano (e.g., Jerry Lee Lewis) and accoustic guitar also being contenders. It wasn't until the early '60s when electric guitar established itself as rock's predominant instrument.


Well-Known Member

Just one more interesting tid bit, quickstep until the advent of swing bands , was danced mainly to 2 / 4 time, when the bands of the late 40s / 50s, started to play more syncop. rythms mainly in 4 / 4, it changed the face of q /s for ever.
From my understanding of the history of "West Coast" and Lindy Hop, there was a pretty long blurry evolution from one to the other, so the most accurate answer would probably be "Big Band Swing"...as West Coast moved from being a ballroom-friendly Lindy Varient to a dance in it's own right it moved through jump blues, blues, and R and B, and most recently added pop and rock to it's dj books.

As for the origins of rock and roll...simply listen to the difference between louis armstrong and louis Jordon...it's pretty clear that rock and roll rythms and melodies originated in swing before becoming it's own beast.
The old timers and historians all tell different stories about the origins of West Cost Swing. All the stories are correct. West Coast Swing evolved as a street dance. It evolved differently in different cities, on different dance floors, among different groups of dancers. There's no gold standard of truth for the origins of any street dance.

'course, that's just my opinion.


New Member
I will love to have a music specialist explain in technical terms the difference between Swing music, Western Swing, Rockabilly, Classic Rock, Jump Blues, etc.

It must be possible because we can listen to a tune a give a both a genre and even a sub-genre, eg Surf Music as a separate section of Rock.

Victoria is served by a great web site, www.VicRock.com.au with a Forum that hosts some heated debates. I try to raise the subject from time to time but all the muso’s shy away.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
Most of what has been posted so far agrees with what I’ve found: the dance evolved, and "started" in the swing era, but it didn’t "officially" have the name West Coast Swing until 1959 or 1961..
One thing that was being left out, that has finally been mentioned by VRRDA, is the Western connection. (Should we be surprised that others sometimes see us more clearly than we see ourselves (us being Americans in this case)?
Here’s how I arrived at the Western connection.
from a personal communication (July 6, 2006 email) from Sonny Watson
Swing Music was the thing for a good amount of time. However the music was changing into Rock and Roll about the mid 40's as Blues, Boogie-Woogie, Western Swing Music etc stated above. (Get started on his web site at http://www.streetswing.com/ to see why I think he has cred)
from a web site ---
"Back east they stayed with the big band sound, which you could only do eastern swing to. But here, we didn't have big band places; we had country-western and blues. Dancing in a slot (i.e., West Coast Swing) fit that kind of music better," Blair says. Dance histories supplied by Diane Jarmolow of the Ballroom Dance Teachers College and reprinted with(out) permission. . (And Skippy Blair was there. She was born 3/15/1924 - streetswing - smp) http://www.firststepdance.com/histories/east_west.php
And this regarding Tex Williams ---
The singer and guitarist caught his first big break after moving to Los Angeles in 1942. At that time California was populated by many former Texans and Oklahomans working in the defense industry, creating a need for Western swing entertainment in a region not noted for country music. http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/williams_tex/bio.jhtml
And... Bob Wills Western Swing
"Toward the end of the decade (the 30s sp) , big bands were dominating popular music and Wills wanted a band capable of playing complex, jazz-inspired arrangements. To help him achieve his sound, he hired arranger and guitarist Eldon Shamblin, who wrote charts that fused country with big band music for the Texas Playboys. By 1940, he had replaced some of the weaker musicians in the lineup, winding up with a full 18-piece band. The Texas Playboys were breaking concert attendance records across the country, filling out venues from Tulsa to California; and they also had their first genuine national hit with "New San Antonio Rose," which climbed to number 11 in 1940. Throughout 1941 and 1942, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys continued to record and perform and they were one of the most popular bands in the country.
...their singles for Columbia, which were consistently reaching the Top Five between 1945 and 1948; ...
Well now. It turns out the West Coast Swing was called Western Swing early on.
"In 1951 Lauré Haile first published her dance notes as a syllabus, which included Western Swing for the Santa Monica Arthur Murray Dance Studio." History of Swing Dancing By: Lori Heikkila - many sites use her articles
By the late 1950s the Western thing no doubt wasn’t selling anymore, what with the popularity of the "new" rock ‘n roll. West Coast Swing had been a generic term for the way swing was danced on the West Coast. Aroind 1960 it started being used consistently for what we think of as WCS.
Although Western Swing doesn’t fit well with the swing kid image, it looks to me like it was an important part of what people danced to in those early years.


New Member

I thought that this was a term in general international usage. Interesting isn't it. Same language but so many regional variations. I guess Australians know so much more about the US and the rest of the world than Americans know about us. As far as I know our exported TV shows mainly go to England.

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