Bob Wills in Roy, New Mexico


By Rudy Gonzales

Note: Rudy Gonzales lives in Tucumcari, New Mexico and wrote this story during a writing workshop I conducted there in 2010. Rudy is a retired sign painter and a man with a lot of stories about the old days in Roy. Ken Burns recent history of Country Music prompted me to post this and give some little known information on Wills. What Rudy writes  is confirmed in Wikipedia.

I was raised in Roy, New Mexico where the events I will talk about took place. What I am about to talk about was related to me by my father. My father was Diego Gonzales. He was a barber by trade, and very well known at that time in Harding County. Barbershops were kind of local meeting places.

My dad played the fiddle and usually had a fiddle handy in the barbershop. During this period there were a lot of local violinists who would drop in to play with my dad when he wasn’t busy attending to a customer. Usually guitar players would accompany him.

Roy, New Mexico

On the day in question, my dad was playing his violin during a break from barbering. He was being accompanied by a well-known local man named Adolph Romero. I’m not certain whether Adolph was playing the banjo or the guitar. He could play both instruments. He was the only banjo player that I know of who lived in Harding County.

During the time my dad was playing, a stranger walked in. He was dressed in overalls and looked like a typical farmer. My father asked if he wanted a haircut. The stranger said he just wanted to listen to the playing. My dad continued to play and then a customer walked in. My dad placed the fiddle in the fiddle case and proceeded to attend to his customer. The stranger then addressed my dad. He said, “Mister, do you mind if I play your fiddle?”

My dad replied, “You’re welcome to.”

Bob Wills

My dad told me he thought to himself, “He’s welcome to play my fiddle, but I’ve never seen a gringo farmer that could play worth a damn.” The stranger then proceeded to play. My dad and Adolph Romero were pleasantly shocked! The stranger was a great fiddler. His name was Bob Wills!

It seems he was traveling through small towns looking for work in a barbershop. He had recently graduated from barber school in Amarillo, I believe.

After the initial introductions, my dad and Adolph proceeded to plan a dance at the local dance hall. The owners were to rent or lend the dance hall free of charge. Dances were well attended and attracted a large clientele to the bar, thus benefiting everyone.

The word was quickly passed on that there would be a dance and that a very good fiddler would play with the local musicians.

During this period, there were many fiddlers in Roy and Harding County. It was the custom for fiddlers to take turns playing, allowing the contracted musicians to have a brief respite.


Bob Wills was introduced to the local musicians and played regularly during his stay in Roy. Some of the musicians he played with were Abram Vargas, a locally renowned fiddler, and his two brothers, Juan and Mark Tafoya, names now probably known only to very old people. I am fortunate enough to have known these gentlemen. Unfortunately, I met them several years after Bob Wills left Roy. Another fiddler, probably lot younger at the time was Abenicio Salazar, known as “Abe.” Abe had very fond memories of the events I am relating and filled some of the gaps that my dad hadn’t told me.

I am not exactly sure of the time these events took place or how long Bob Wills resided in Roy. But it was probably in the thirties. It is known that he composed the music to “San Antonio Rose” in Roy, but had titled it “Mexican Two Step.” He later changed it to “San Antonio Rose” when he auditioned to play on a radio station somewhere in Texas. His prospective employer liked the tune but said that he needed lyrics to go with the tune. Supposedly, Bob and his accompanist retired to his home and in one afternoon wrote the lyrics that became famous.

When Bob Wills decided to leave Roy, he asked my dad to accompany him. He had plans of starting a band.

My dad told me that Bob Wills really like my dad’s violin and attempted to buy it from him. My dad was very attached to his fiddle and wouldn’t sell it. My dad said Bob invited him to a local bar and proceeded to try and intoxicate him and convince him to sell his fiddle. My dad refused and accompanied Bob to the train depot. Years later, my dad learned that Bob had become famous.

Years later I learned to make and repair fiddles in order to repair my dad’s, which had been severely damaged. When I made my first fiddle I visited Abe Salazar in Las Vegas, New Mexico to show him my fiddle. It was then that he filled me in on the details of Bob Wills’ attempt to buy my dad’s fiddle. He told me that after my dad refused to sell his fiddle, Bob said that if he wouldn’t sell him the whole fiddle, would he sell him only the neck. That he would pay for a new neck to replace my dad’s. My dad refused.

A sign by Rudy Gonzales

There are no fiddlers left in Harding County [Roy is in Hardin County] and only a few in Tucumcari. Violin music was very popular in the forties and fifties. Unfortunately, most of the younger generation prefers to play guitars. I love guitar music also, but would love to hear more fiddle music