MCAULIFFE, LEON (1917-1988)
Leon McAuliffe, Western-swing bandleader and steel guitar player, was born March 1, 1917, in Houston, Texas. At age sixteen he quit school and joined the Fort Worth based Light Crust Doughboys, Bob Wills's first group. For the audition he played one of his signature compositions, "Steel Guitar Rag."
In 1935 McAuliffe joined the Tulsa-based Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. During performances McAuliffe was the other end of Wills's famous phrase, "Take it away, Leon." He played with Wills until being drafted into the army in 1942. Following World War II he returned to Tulsa and organized his own band called the Western Swing Band, which changed to the Cimarron Boys, after he purchased the Cimarron Ballroom. Through the 1950s and 1960s McAuliffe enjoyed tremendous success on Tulsa radio stations KVOO and KRMG as well as performing across the United States.
In 1975, upon Wills's death, McAuliffe became the leader of the Original Texas Playboys, which continued to tour until 1980. A year later, McAuliffe began teaching at Will Rogers State College in the Hank Thompson School of Country Music in Claremore, Oklahoma. There, he worked hard to preserve the legacy of traditional Western-swing music through his students and a side group named the New Cimarron Boys. He died August 20, 1988, in a Tulsa hospital.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Essential Bob Wills, 1935-1947 (Columbia Country Classics, October 1992). "Leon McAuliffe," Vertical File, Country Music Hall of Fame Library, Nashville, Tennessee. Charles R. Townsend, San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976).
© Oklahoma Historical Society