One of the first pieces of music Bob Wills remembered hearing as a child in Kosse, Texas was a fiddle instrumental based around a 19th-century folk song called “Darling Nelly Gray,” written in 1856 by Benjamin Hanby. Bob’s father had developed an original melody and adapted it to the fiddle. John Wills often played the old tune at night, long after everyone else had gone to bed. Some thought that the elder Wills’ song had such a mournful sound that as it drifted across the dark countryside, it must have even caused the stars to weep. Yet, John’s son could hear only a peaceful beauty in the fiddler’s strokes, and that was why this unnamed Wills family original became one of the first tunes the young child learned after he picked up his father’s bow.
By the time Bob Wills began forming his own fiddle bands and striking out in station wagons to play dances across the Southwest, John Wills’ piece had a name, “Faded Love.” Year after year, Bob taught it to his various group configurations, and rarely a day went by that he didn’t play the number himself. When Wills formed the Texas Playboys, the song became one of their standards. But just like Bob’s other trademark song, “San Antonio Rose,” it lived without lyrics. For decades “Faded Love” was what it had been when his father first started playing it, a simple little fiddle tune.