Folklorist Alan Lomax has contended that Texas was where the miscegnation of black and white music was most complete. The life of Bob Wills--hobo, rancher, cotton-picker, farmer, insurance salesman, construction worker, barber, and bandleader--bears him out. Under the rubric of popular culture and relying heavily on ""oral history,"" Townsend (History, West Texas State Univ.) has produced a biography of the frontier fiddler who created ""Western swing."" A true labor of love, it's weakened by Townsend's adulatory, simpy style and limited compass--he passes up the chance to place Wills in a cultural context with Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Williams, and other dirt-poor southern whites who gravitated to black idioms and lifestyles. The product of three generations of country fiddlers, Wills created the Tulsa-based Texas Playboys who broke all the musical conventions of the time; in the 1930s hillbilly string bands and jazzmen who played horns and drums didn't mix. Wills combined them and came up with a sound that was part Benny Goodman, part fiddle breakdown, part Dixieland. ""I slurred my fiddle to play the blues,"" said Wills, who achieved pop immortality with San Antonio Rose and survived a dozen or more bad Hollywood films. Townsend deserves some credit for his scholarly efforts and some blame for not being more intellectually venturesome.