At age 24 Strickler was not only first trumpet but "Straw Boss" (informal band director) in the Bob Wills Texas Playboys large Swing orchestra of 1941-42. His story is told in intimate detail by his friend in the band,
third-trumpet player Danny Alguire, later well-known for his more than two
decades with Firehouse Five Jazz Band.
Though Benny took no solos on records he was featured in a Bobcats-style Dixieland unit, helped to compose Bob's new theme song, and brought a strong ensemble unity and rhythmic bounce to one of Wills' best outfits . . . as he did with any jazz ensemble. His watchwords were, "play together," "listen to each other" and "make the tune sound good."
Strickler's personality is vividly evoked by Danny Alguire's colorful narrative tracing his 11 months as Strickler's band mate. The delightful behind-the-scenes tales of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll in the Bob Wills band are continued in online podcasts and extended clips.
BROADCASTING on KVOO, c 1942 (Unpublished photo from collection of Rosetta Wills)
Benny is the trumpet on the left with mute, Alex Brashear to his left and they’re sitting behind Woodie Wood.
During his tenure in Tulsa Benny was broadcasting
with the band, five days a week at noon from Cain's Dance Academy, the
Wills informal HQ at that time.
The main argument for Strickler’s greatness is a half-dozen recordings
made with Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band at the Dawn Club in San Francisco, but issued only after his
death nearly a decade later with little fanfare. That chapter of Strickler's tale is told in another episode.
(The original interview materials herein are
open-source and available to broadcasters, researchers or enthusiasts
Best-known photograph of Strickler
(from the photo collection of Hal Smith)
ON the AIR, late 1941
L to R: Danny Alguire, Louie Tierney, Benny Strickler, Leon McAuliff, Alex Brashear, Woodie Wood, Red Agnew (driver/band man), Don Harlan, Darrell Jones, Bob Wills, Wayne Johnson, Gene Tomlins, unidentified announcer
BOB’s BRASS, late 1941 Trianon Ballroom, Oklahoma City, 1942
Back row, L to R: Earl Graves, tbn; Danny Alguire, Benny Strickler, Alex Brashear, tpts
Front row, L to R: Louie Tierney, tenor sax; Woodie Wood, clarinet & alto sax; Bob Wills; Don Harlan, alto sax; Wayne Johnson, tenor sax
Wills probably introducing singer TOMMY DUNCAN
Back row: L to R: Darrell Jones, bass; Gene Tomlins, drums; Alex Brashear, Benny Strickler, Danny Alguire, trumpets
Middle row L to R: Wayne Johnson and Woodie Wood, reeds
Front row L to R: Bob Wills; singer Tommy Duncan; Leon Mcauliffe, electric steel guitar
SIDEMAN Sidebar: DANNY ALGUIRE
Between WWII and 1949 he worked and recorded with Country & Western Swing acts like T. Texas Tyler and Merle Travis, and then for two decades was trumpet in the Firehouse Five Jazz Band.
Alguire, soloing in a music short with Merle Travis
L to R: Reed players Don Harlan and Woodie Wood; trumpet players Danny Alguire & Alex Brashear
Oddly, Danny, Woodie and Alex were all hired the same night at Trianon Ballroom in Oklahoma City. Brashear and Wood were among Wills' all-time best horn soloists.
Woodrow 'Woodie' Wood is a bit of a mystery. (Incidentally, this is how his name is spelled in discographies and Wills official biography.)
well-known marijuana smoker Woodie had worked for trumpeter Red Nichols. Bob gave
him plenty of solos and hollers his name often. In most photos Wood is holding a sax but he's best-known as a
fine clarinet soloist, and was part of the Bobcats-style Dixieland subunit
with Benny and trombonist Cornelius 'Neil' Duer.
William Alex Brasher spent almost a decade playing with Bob and seems to have been one of the trumpet players best suited to the role.
Hal Smith's extensive research into Benny's music, career and
background is found in these articles published by the San Francisco
Traditional Jazz Foundation, 1998-2002. Permission Hal Smith & SFTJF.
(Clicking on a .pdf file link below will provide a download of each article.)
I strongly suspect this is the event we see above with Bob's horse on stage
SIDEMEN Sidebar: L to R: Pianist Al Stricklin, guitarist Eldon Shamblin & Benny Strickler
Alton Meeks 'Al' Stricklin (no relation) played piano for Bob between 1935-42. He wrote an acclaimed memoir about it, My Years With Bob Wills, 1976.
Eldon Shamblin was a fine electric guitar player heard on hundreds of Texas Playboys records, including the famed 200+ Tiffany Transcriptions: one of the best and most representative single collections of Wills music.