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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Westphalia Waltz

by Clay Coppedge
Even in Texas, more people probably know more about the song 'Westphalia Waltz' than they know about the town of Westphalia, the song's namesake.

Some educated -- but erroneous -- guesses have the song written to honor the German province of the same name. People who know of Westphalia, Texas, do not labor under that illusion.

An otherwise savvy journalist who hailed from climes far north of the Mason-Dixon line, after interviewing an old-time Texas fiddler, referred to the fiddler's favorite song as 'West Failure Waltz.' "He pronounced it West Failure, I swear," he said in his own defense.

He described the encounter as 'two people separated by a common language.'
Church of Visitation, Westphalia, Texas

Church of Visitation in Westphalia
Photo courtesy Beverly Reid, 10-04

Other than the song, the Falls County community of Westphalia is best known for its annual homecoming and picnic. About 5,000 people show up every second Sunday in October for the fried chicken and sausage meals. Many stay into the evening to enjoy the down home ambience of a town the German immigrants named in honor of Westphalia Province in Germany.

The town's church, the Church of the Visitation, is notable as the oldest wooden church in the state.

The highway that leads to Westphalia, Highway 320, is notable as the shortest state highway in Texas.

The town, for out-of-towners, is notable for the song written by Cotton Collins, a fiddler with Lone Star Playboys, who are perhaps best known as an early backup band for Hank Thompson.

Collins heard the song while he was stationed with the Army in Germany during World War II. He committed the melody to memory and then to the fiddle after the war.

What he did not do was name the tune.

After a dance at Westphalia Hall in 1946, the band met with hall manager B.J. Lignau to divvy up the evening's proceeds. Collins mentioned the crowd sure like his 'No Name Waltz.'

Lignau said that since the song had no name, he might as well call it 'Westphalia Waltz.'

Collins agreed, and the 'Westphalia Waltz' became a number one hit when it was released on Herb Rippa's fledgling Dallas label, Bluebonnet Records.

Fiddle master Johnny Gimble played with the band in 1948, and it is Gimble's version of 'Westphalia Waltz' that is included on most compilations of Texas dance hall music.

The band's national popularity waned following a West Coast tour with Thompson in 1949, but the Waco-based band remained popular in Central Texas well into the 50s.

The Lone Star Playboys' final recordings are on Everstate Records under bass player Charlie Adams' name. Adams recorded 'Hey, Liberace,' a minor hit in 1953.

Helen Lignau, B.J. Lignau's daughter-in-law, knew the Lone Star Playboys well. During a visit to the Little School Museum and Covenant in Westphalia, Ms. Lignau pointed to a picture of the band and rattled off the names: Pee Wee Truehitt, singer Hamlet Booker, his brother Morris Booker, Bob Walker and banjo player Vince Incardona.

Another picture shows the band with steel player Lefty Nason. Nason, who joined the Lone Star Playboys in 1947, supplied the band with its other well-known song, 'Steel Guitar Bounce.'

Ms. Lignau shakes her head. 'Lefty was a Yankee,' she says. 'He was from New Jersey or some place. I don't know how he ever got in the band.'

A version of the song called 'New Westphalia Waltz' has lyrics written by Hamlet Booker but the original instrumental version is the one most often recorded.

The display is at the Little School Museum and Convent and features photos of the band, sheet music, a fiddle, and an original 78 rpm Bluebonnet Records version of 'Westphalia Waltz.'

A unique, striking handmade quilt serves as a backdrop for the display. The name of the quilt: Westphalia Waltz.


Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
- May 30, 2006 column


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