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Those Masterful Saddle Cats

“Western swing, commonly associated in the past with states like Texas and Oklahoma, is alive and well in California, as evoked Saturday afternoon at Alameda Towne Centre by The Saddle Cats. The four-piece band with local ties warmed the crowd for a couple of hours on a cool summer day with a masterful performance. Their feel-good repertoire of country jazz ran the gamut from Bob Wills, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams to Irving Berlin and Billie Holiday, inspiring a number of audience members to dance in front of the stage. Everyone from septuagenarians . . . to tiny tots to tattooed 20-somethings showed off their stuff, further delighting the audience.

“The Saddle Cats are: Bobby Black, a legendary steel guitar virtuoso, who has played in other bands famous for helping to revive interest in Western swing, such as Asleep at the Wheel and Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen; Richard Chon, whose fiddle playing, smooth singing and yodeling are key to the group's sound; Gordon Glegg on acoustic guitar, backup vocals and humorous asides; and fine bassist Bing Nathan, who was dressed in black from his boots to his Stetson and cool shades.”

  Andy Sinaiko, The Alameda Sun



The talents of the Saddle Cats are enormous and their unique presentation of Western Swing left the crowd begging for more.

Margo Metegrano,


“This CD, Herdin' Cats, is first-rate Western Swing.      

Bob Wills would have loved it -- just as I do. It is pure Western Swing. No compromises.”

                                                                                  – Charles Townsend, author of  San Antonio Rose, the definitive biography of Bob Wills



In the form of new CDs I often get nice surprises through the mail. Sometimes it's a new discovery, and other times it's just simply Xmas. I knew what to expect when I found the Saddle Cats' new CD in one of the packages, but I still felt like hanging ornaments.

Just how effortless can brilliant musicians make jazzy Western Swing seem to be?? . . .  The Saddle Cats' precision is breathtaking. Sly passages from other famous songs occasionally flit by in the arrangements bringing a smile. There's a mellow intimacy in the sound as top pros and legends work magic in a salute to the West Coast swing classics . . . 

Herd Herdin' Cats into your collection. This pristine CD is

 as close to purr-fect as you'll find!

Rick Huff, Best of the West reviews


It’s worth taking note when music journalist Rich Kienzle cites a relatively new Western-swing group in the same breath as Asleep at the Wheel and Hot Club of Cowtown in the liner notes of the recently reissued Bob Wills Tiffany Transcriptions. Indeed, the Bay Area-based Saddle Cats is not only worth a little eyebrow-raising, but you can also expect to be blown away by the quartet’s brilliant instrumental virtuosity.

This group of towering titans is centered around Bobby Black, a phenomenal steel guitarist who (as a teenager) declined invitations to tour behind Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. Later, Black became an integral cog in Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen and did stints in Asleep at the Wheel, the Sir Douglas Quintet, and with Barbara Mandrell. Black comes from the old school of steel guitarists: He plays the pedal-less variety with imaginative harmonies and alternative tunings that result from slanting the cylindrical steel bar in various positions.

Though Richard Chon is a pleasant and sometimes magical (“Along the Navajo Trail”) vocalist, as a fiddler, he’s as hot as they come and makes his expressively played instrument sing to the high heavens (“Stardust”).

Additionally, the Saddle Cats provide a living link to California’s Western-swing legacy.  .  .  .  Many Western Swing pundits contend that Wills’ best-recorded work came as a California resident — specifically with the Tiffanys — which explains the significance of several of the selections heard here. Also strengthening that California Western swing/Bob Wills link is the Saddle Cats’ enlistment of former Texas Playboys drummer, the amazing 92-year-old Johnny Cuviello, to be their session drummer. (Live, the quartet plays sans drums.) The glory days of Western swing may be long gone, but at least with the Saddle Cats riding the range, it’s the real thing being recreated.

Dan Willging  Dirty Linen


“So let’s face it, there isn’t much humming and bumbling about the new “fiddle and steel guitar” driven swing records out there. But as estranged as the genre can be, these guys do a great job of making themselves accessible to some kind of popular audience. In the obvious spirit of Bob Wills’ style, this mostly four-piece crew stomps out a high energy, uncluttered sound, with the charm of your favorite barbershop fellows and the precision of the hot shot jazz virtuoso, all taking place inside the old west saloon.

 “Swing has always had one thing going for it, with the seesaw tipped to one side: easy to listen to, hard to play. It demands good playing in order to be interesting, and the Saddle Cats impress. You can take or leave the singing, but Richard Chon’s fiddling is undeniably razor sharp, and just as charismatic is Bobby Black’s two neck Fender steel work. They even bring in the legendary drummer Johnny Cuviello, a face from the glory days of the Texas Playboys, for a touch of historical authenticity. The whole record has a touch of humor, shown visually in its cartoon-kitty cover art.

 “Enjoy them for the air-tight fancy playing, the relaxing and simple blend of the mostly acoustic ensemble or for the simple fact that you are a proud American music fan and may not have any good western swing records lying around on your shelf.”


Al Wiseman, Elmore magazine



It was easy to highlight your CD. My difficulty was picking just seven cuts from this outstanding collection of Western Swing numbers. Good job, hats off to all!

Chuckaroo the Buckaroo, KPOV, Bend, OR


“This very talented San Francisco Bay area group has just released their first full CD and it is  simply awesome.”

Mike Gross, Western Swing Monthly


Hailing from the Bay Area, the Saddle Cats devote themselves to keeping Western swing alive while championing the West Coast's role in shaping music more often associated with Texas and Oklahoma. They make a pretty lively case on 'Herdin' Cats' ...

[Steel guitarist Bobby Black  and fiddler Richard Chon] take the lead in defining an ensemble whose playing is hot and virtuosic but never flashy. Chon's tenor, meanwhile, lends an additional warmth to the vocal numbers, especially the slower selections, such as "Along the Navajo Trail" and "I've Got a Woman Crazy for Me (She's Funny That Way)."

Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer



Editor's Pick

This collection of iconic western swing tunes has roots in that unlikely wild West town of Oakland, California, home in the 1940s to Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. The material is culled from the legendary Tiffany Transcriptions, a set of recently reissued 1940s radio broadcasts featuring Wills and his fabled band. Anyone who’s heard Chon on his other main gig — as the fiddler for the eclectic folk-swing artist Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks — knows that Chon has chops galore. He has western swing and Gypsy jazz down cold, sounding at times like a young Stéphane Grappelli. Nathan is a rock-steady player who’s anchored a host of Bay Area rockabilly bands over the years.

Greg Cahill, Strings magazine


On a recent drive, while listening to a CD with a cool retro design, I was transported back to the golden days of Western swing. Herdin’ Cats, by the San Francisco Bay area Saddle Cats, celebrates California’s contributions to Western swing. Far from a simple matter of artwork or song selection, it feels as if the four-piece band is channeling the up-tempo beat that evolved in the 1920s and faded with America’s involvement in WWII. . . .

The group’s stated goal is “to celebrate the swing tradition of Bob Wills, Milton Brown and Spade Cooley with abandon, finesse and exuberant spirits.” I’d say they’re right on target.

Jeri Dobrowski,  Western Culture News & Reviews



Mention Western Swing and most will think of Bob Wills, Texas or Oklahoma, but what about California?  Few realize that Western Swing was regional music until the Golden State got hold of it.  Bob Wills moved to Californy in 1943 to join the 2.5 million (a heap o' folks back then) who'd already escaped the Dust Bowl.  It was SoCal's radio, music and movies that repackaged and sold the cowboy, singing or otherwise, to the world.

Richard Chon (Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, Sons of the San Joaquin) is the Saddle Cats' fearless leader, a hecka fine fiddle player, and a California music historian.  (He's credited in Gerald Haslam's Workin' Man Blues: Country Music in California, Univ. of California Press, 1999.)  He's also got himself a fine bunch o' musicians with pedal steel player Bobby Black (Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, Asleep at the Wheel), geetar picker Gordon Clegg and bassist Bing Nathan, and together they've made Herdin' Cats, a tribute to California's Western Swing legacy.

The CD is divided between standards and not-so-standard western swing tracks: all California born and bred.  "Roly Poly" is a Fred Rose song that's been covered by hundreds of bands yet it was a first for Wills and California in '46.  The perennially popular "What's the Matter with the Mill" is a veiled song, as music like this had to be back in the day, about the closing of a house of ill repute.  "Who Walks in when I Walk Out" is about cheatin'.  "You've Got the Right Key Baby, but the Wrong Keyhole" is about greener pastures.  Yep, all these themes were in Western Swing well before honky-tonk found them.

 Instrumentals, which were popular back in the day, get their play too, and who'd have thought that a classic like "Oklahoma Stomp" was California-born?

 At its best this music flows and flows, and with four crack musicians, plus Chon himself getting a fine country croon on, the Herdin' Cats CD flows like the Big Muddy.  This is music for sittin' a spell, sippin' a little and watchin' the sun go down; and the history lesson comes at no extra charge.

Jose Segue, Hicks with Sticks


“A quartet featuring the skillful Western Swing fiddling and warm tenor vocals of Richard Chon alongside the astounding steel guitar virtuosity of Bobby Black . . . . If you are simply into a tight, hot-picking string band, then The Saddle Cats come highly recommended . . . extremely entertaining, historically educational and capable of producing gorgeous music with jaw-dropping skill and great taste.”

                                                                                  – Ted Silverman, Bluegrass by the Bay


This band is hot! It doesn't get any better or more authentic then this. If you are a fan of traditional Western Swing music like I am, you'll love The Saddle Cats. Hot pickers with a great ensemble sound who really know how to make this music jump.”

                                                                                  – Sourdough Slim

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