Today, Bob Wills' "New San Antonio Rose" is widely regarded as a classic of the country music genre. However, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys used the song to push against the boundaries of western swing and country music to produce the band's first national hit in 1938. Eighty years later, the song is still arresting with its peppy swing rhythm, forlorn lyrics and -- on the Texas Playboys' recording, a ripping steel guitar solo.
Wills initially brought the band together in 1934, leading the band while playing fiddle. The Playboys also featured Tommy Duncan on piano and vocals, rhythm guitarist June Whalin, tenor banjoist Johnnie Lee Wills, and Kermit Whalin, who played steel guitar and bass. Once they began to play a regular show on a Tulsa, Oklahoma radio station Wills added Leon McAuliffe on steel guitar, pianist Al Stricklin, drummer Smokey Dacus, and a horn section that expanded the band's sound. This was the version of the band Wills brought into the studio when he recorded "San Antonio Rose."
It may surprise you to know that the song was initially an dance tune designed for a big band to play in a dance hall. During their 1939 Dallas recording session, the band's A&R manager, the English-born Art Satherly, asked Wills if he had other songs like his instrumental fiddle number "Spanish Two Step." On the song, Wills drew inspiration from his Southwest upbringing to incorporate Spanish elements into his music. According to Texas Monthly, Wills reworked some of the melody lines from "Spanish Two Step" into a new song. Satherly had a fondness for Texas place names and gave the song its original title: "San Antonio Rose." The song became a regional hit and perked up the ears at Irving Berlin's publishing company in New York. They requested that Wills add lyrics. The band returned with what we know now as "The New San Antonio Rose."
The song became a crossover hit when Bing Crosby covered it in 1940, selling a million copies and earning Bing a gold disc. The song has been recorded by country legends such as Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, and Dwight Yoakam, among many others.
"New San Antonio Rose" Lyrics
Deep within my heart lies a melody
A song of old San Antone
Where in dreams I live with a memory
Beneath the stars all alone
It was there I found beside the Alamo
Enchantment strange as the blue, up above
A moonlit path that only she would know
Still hears my broken song of love
Moon in all your splendor knows only my heart
Call back my Rose, Rose of San Antone
Lips so sweet and tender like petals fallin' apart
Speak once again of my love, my own
Broken song, empty words I know
Still live in my heart all alone
For that moonlit pass by the Alamo
And Rose, my Rose of San Antone