“Take Me Back to Tulsa” Turns 70

by Lee Roy Chapman


Located at 504 East Archer in Tulsa, a plaque marks the intersection of Archer and Greenwood immortalized in Bob Wills’ song “Take Me Back To Tulsa” which was recorded in Dallas, Texas 70 years ago on February 25, 1941 with his Texas Playboys.

In this subtly subversive tune, Wills penned the line “drop me off on Archer I’ll walk down to Greenwood” suggesting he’s breaking the racial code of segregation.

Raised in the West Texas cotton fields, Wills “sharecropped” alongside ex-slaves and their descendants. Wills picked up field song tempos and harmonies, as well as an affection for his fellow workers, that shaped his musical life and created a musical force that would help break apart a centuries-old American racial code.

Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, all admirers and imitators of Wills, began their careers covering Wills’ music and continued the cultural integration that Wills began in the late 30s while playing for the 50,000 watt KVOO station at the Cain’s Ballroom.

While the influence of African American music on early balladeers such as the Carter Family, Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie is well known, no one pushed the integration of country and jazz as far as Bob Wills. By mixing horns, amplified strings (including guitar) and drums for the first time, Wills set the stage for Rock and Roll right here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Right there, at the corner of Archer and Greenwood.

In the early 40s, Bob joined the service and began making Hollywood movies. This lucrative new era in Bob’s career would place a cowboy hat on him for his performances for the first time. The hat and cowboy image, along with the commercial label “Western Swing” that Columbia Records began promoting in 1945, would pigeonhole his career for the rest of his creative life. It’s been said that over his 44 years as a recording artist, over 600 musicians worked as Texas Playboys under the legendary Bob Wills.

In 1999 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  A small collection of artifacts belonging to Larry Schaeffer, including his hat and boots, went on display.