A Rifftides Extra: Wagon Wheels

I met a grown man the other day who came right out and admitted that he had never heard Sonny Rollins play “Wagon Wheels.” We were in public and I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I took the only civilized option that sprang to mind. I promised him that if I could find it on the web, I would post the track for him and anyone else similarly deprived. Here it is, with Ray Brown on bass and Shelly Manne on drums, from Way Out West (1957), a basic repertoire item if ever there was one.

“Wagon Wheels” debuted in the Ziegield Follies in 1934. Among several successful recordings over the years were those by—strange though it may seem—Jimmy Lunceford, and Tommy Dorsey with strings. It was a hit for Spade Cooley and Paul Robeson, too, but the record permanently installed for a decade in the jukeboxes of my hometown was by The Sons of the Pioneers. You may find it a contrast to the Rollins version. Click here.

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  1. says

    One of my favorite jazz … *covers*. — No, I don’t wanna reduce it to that. Master Rollins had the humor and the personality which allowed him to take even such a bitty-ditty and make it his own. Can you imagine that the trio needed hours of loose jamming (a.k.a. rehearsing) before one single sound was recorded?

    “Thanks for the inadvertent tip” as well, Doug 😉 The Tommy Dorsey LP will be next on my list. Paul Robeson’s “Wagon Wheels” are spinning here already.

  2. says


    You were kind not to embarrass that man in public. Yet, you should not be surprised that, depending on his age, he had not heard this wonderful piece of music. I am continually amazed at how little people know of this music we love so much – of course, there are musicians from the 40s and 50s I have yet to hear.

  3. Jim Brown says

    While the Rollins recording was momentous by any standard, the first jazz recording I heard of Wagon Wheels was on a Dave Pell Octet LP, “Swingin’ In the Old Corral,” which I acquired as part of an RCA record club (remember those?). The session, which predates the Rollins date by half a year, was a good one, with charts by Shorty Rogers, Marty Paich, Med Flory, and Bill Holman. As a teenager, it was my introduction to Pell’s music, and more than fifty years later both sessions remain among my very favorites.

    Kevin Whitehead noted the Pell work in this piece about the Rollins recording.