The Enduring Legend of The Light Crust Doughboys
The world’s longest continually performing and recording country band
By Terry Reid, Founding Chairman – Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce
This is a story about a band and its members that reads like a classic American novel and contains all the poignant elements that demand the eventual telling of the tale in some epoch feature film.
It is a story of music and politics, perseverance and commitment, talent and luck. This is a Texas story that all Texans will be proud to tell from generation to generation. It is a story that everyone can personally relate to, and it has a series of happy endings despite the many challenges that all successful organizations encounter on their journey to the top.
In 1931, a man who would become a Texas music legend named Bob Wills brought a band soon-to-be-called The Light Crust Doughboys to the Burrus Mill Flour Company. It was the beginning of the great American Jazz age, and the glorious time of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Gene Krupa. Bob Wills and his band, The Light Crust Doughboys, introduced the music genre of Texas Western Swing. Though most of the other great “big bands” disappeared along with the flour company, The Light Crust Doughboys are still performing, recording and “On The Air.”
The band initially performed live on the high tech phenomenon of that generation – the radio – and sang commercials for the Burrus Mill Flour Company. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel ran the company and the flour company owned the band. Although he fired Wills a couple of years after the tremendous initial success of the band, The Light Crust Doughboys continued performing for huge audiences around the country for decades. Despite O’Daniel’s rise to political fame by becoming Governor and U.S. Senator from Texas, and the only politician who ever defeated Lyndon Johnson, O’Daniel believed he would best be remembered for starting The Light Crust Doughboys, one of the most popular bands in music history.
Some of the premier country and western musicians in the world have filled the ranks of the Doughboys, and hundreds of musicians claim to have played with the band when it came through their towns. Over the years, the band boasted its own touring buses and private planes. As with all stories in history, the sad times came with the passing of the once bright stars into their years of illness and ultimate deaths. But somehow, new members came along, and the band would reorganize itself into a cohesive crowd pleaser that just would not disappear. Each new generation of musicians had a cadre of even brighter stars to lead the upward way.
Enter music prodigy, Art Greenhaw, a Mesquite, Texas native who began his musical calling at age 3. A master of several instruments with a vocal range that is the envy of his peers, Greenhaw started working professionally with the band in 1983. By 1993, he had become the youngest official member and co-bandleader of The Light Crust Doughboys. Upon the death of perhaps the greatest four-string banjo player in history, Smokey Montgomery, Greenhaw became the bandleader. In 2003, he produced and won the Grammy Award for “Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album of the Year” for the album WE CALLED HIM MR. GOSPEL MUSIC: THE JAMES BLACKWOOD TRIBUTE ALBUM. This album featured The Light Crust Doughboys, the Jordanaires and Larry Ford.
Led by Grammy Award-Winning musician and producer Art Greenhaw on piano, bass, guitar and vocals, The Light Crust Doughboys in various combinations include such virtuoso instrumentalists and singers as Jim Baker on violin, banjo and guitar; Randy Wills (direct descendant of Bob) on keyboards and bass; Marek Eneti on violin; Dion Pride on guitar and keyboards; and Kristyn Harris on guitar and vocals. The Light Crust Doughboys have played prestigious festivals throughout the United States, have toured Austria, and make frequent television appearances. Current Light Crust Doughboys have over 150 years of combined experience playing in The Light Crust Doughboys band and performing Texas-style country music. The Light Crust Doughboys were named The State of Texas’ Official Music Ambassadors by the 74th Texas Legislature, and are inductees in the Texas Cowboy, Texas Western Swing, Rockabilly, Texas Music, Texas Radio, and Cowtown Society of Western Music Halls of Fame. In every personal appearance by The Light Crust Doughboys, the band pays tribute to its legacy by honoring the musical contributions of Bob Wills, Milton Brown, and especially, Marvin “Smokey” Montgomery, a Light Crust Doughboy from 1935 until his passing in 2001.
In 2012, Dion Pride became the first African American Doughboy, another first in a family heritage that produced the most famous African American country music pioneer, Dion’s father – Charley Pride. Greenhaw selected the young Pride for his extraordinary mastery of guitars, keyboards and vocals, and Pride’s electrifying stage presence. Dion immediately captivated the hearts of large crowds of Doughboy fans.
In 2013, classically trained violin virtuoso, Marek Eneti, surprised the world by joining The Light Crust Doughboys. His handsome eastern European looks and magnificent showmanship highlight his artistry of playing electric lighted violins and his ability to embrace Western Swing music with an immediate proficiency never seen in the annals of country music before this astonishing alliance!
In 2015, guitar and western swing sensation Kristyn Harris joined The Light Crust Doughboys becoming the youngest member of the band since the days of rockabilly Ronnie Dawson in the early 1960s!
All current Light Crust Doughboys have stellar solo careers of their own, so a genuine Light Crust Doughboys stage show takes place when “four or more members come together” for “The Light Crust Doughboys In Concert”. But over the course of a season or a year, fans can catch all Light Crust Doughboys’ members at various shows at various times.
What makes all this a true, American, dream story is that Greenhaw Records is a small independent label succeeding without the financial marketing power of the major labels from Nashville and Los Angeles and New York. Though the industry titans said it couldn’t be done, Greenhaw’s knack for collaboration and outside-the-box concepts have jettisoned The Light Crust Doughboys’ fame to new heights year after year.
Entire books have been written about The Light Crust Doughboys, and there are many exciting chapters yet to be told. If you would like to become a part of the history of Texas music, you are invited to book the band for a show at your school or special event in your town.
YOU MAY WRITE DIRECTLY TO BAND LEADER ART GREENHAW
firstname.lastname@example.org and visit www.lightcrustdoughboys.org and especially The Light Crust Doughboys Archives at Hill College Library, Hill College, Hillsboro, Texas.
From the Texas State Historical Association
The Light Crust Doughboys, founded in 1931, have had the greatest and longest success of all the western swing bands in the Fort Worth-Dallas area. The group’s history covers more than three quarters of a century. In 1929 James Robert (Bob) Wills moved from West Texas to Fort Worth and formed the Wills Fiddle Band, a rather unimposing aggregation made up of Wills as fiddler and Herman Arnspiger as guitarist. In 1930 Milton Brownqv joined the band as vocalist, and in 1931 the Wills Fiddle Band—Wills, Arnspiger, and Brown—became the Light Crust Doughboys.
With help from friends and fans in Fort Worth, Wills persuaded Burrus Mill and Elevator Company to sponsor the band on a radio show by advertising the mill’s Light Crust Flour. After two weeks of broadcasts, W. Lee O’Daniel, general sales manager of Burrus Mill, canceled the show because he did not like “their hillbilly music.” However, a compromise, inspired by Wills’s persistence and the demands of thousands of fans who used Light Crust Flour, brought the group back to the air in return for its members’ agreement to work in the mill as well as perform. People listened at noon each day for a couple of licks on Bob Wills’s fiddle and Truett Kimsey’s enthusiastic introduction: “The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air!” Then the Doughboys sang their theme song, which began: “Listen everybody, from near and far if you wanta know who we are. We’re the Light Crust Doughboys from Burrus Mill.” This went over so well that it became the permanent salutation of the Doughboys.
So impressed was O’Daniel with the band’s following that he became the announcer for the show and organized a network of radio stations that broadcast the Doughboys throughout Texas and most of Oklahoma. The Texas Quality Group Network, formed in 1934, included such radio stations as WBAP, Fort Worth; WFAA, Dallas; WOAI, San Antonio; KPRC, Houston; and KOMA, Oklahoma City. The show became one of the most popular radio programs in the Southwest.
In 1932 the original Doughboys began leaving the band. Brown left the show that year to form the Musical Brownies, and in 1933 O’Daniel had to fire Wills for missing broadcasts, especially because of drinking. In 1933 Wills organized the Playboys in Waco. Of all the early Doughboys, Wills was the most influential. The Light Crust Doughboys never departed from the fiddle–band style that Wills established in the band’s formative years.
In October 1933 O’Daniel took a new and talented group of Doughboys to Chicago for a recording session with Vocalion (later Columbia) Records. O’Daniel, who deserves much credit along with Brown and Wills for the initial success of the Doughboys, continued as manager and announcer until the mid–1930s. In 1935, when Burrus Mill fired him after a series of disputes, O’Daniel formed his own band, the Hillbilly Boys, and his own flour company, Hillbilly Flour. O’Daniel used this band in his successful bid for the governorship in 1938.
The years between 1935 and World War II were the most successful in the long history of the Doughboys. By 1937 some of the best musicians in the history of western swing had joined the band. Kenneth Pitts and Clifford Gross played fiddles. The rhythm section consisted of Dick Reinhart, guitar; Marvin (Smokey) Montgomeryqv, tenor banjo; Ramon DeArman, bass; and John (Knocky) Parker, piano. Muryel Campbell played lead guitar. At various times, Cecil Brower played fiddle. Almost from the beginning, the Light Crust Doughboys enjoyed a successful recording career; their records outsold those of all other fiddle bands in the Fort Worth–Dallas area. Their popularity on radio had much to do with their success in recording. By the 1940s the Light Crust Doughboys broadcast over 170 radio stations in the South and Southwest. There is no way of knowing how many millions of people heard their broadcasts. Though the Doughboys played good, danceable jazz, the band was basically a show band whose purpose was to entertain. Their shows took the listeners’ minds off the economic problems of the 1930s and added joy to their lives.
In the early months of World War II members of the band went into either the armed forces or war–related industries. In 1942 Burrus Mill ended the Doughboys’ radio show. The mill reorganized the band in 1946, but the broadcasts were never as appealing as they had been in the prewar years. The company tried various experiments and even hired Hank Thompson and Slim Whitman in the hope that somehow the radio show could be saved. By 1950 the age of television had begun, however, and the dominance of radio was over.
With its passing went the radio show that Texans had enjoyed since 1931. The Light Crust Doughboys were no longer “on the air.” But the group’s demise was only apparent, for in the 1960s the Doughboys’ music was revived. In 1973 members of the band took part in the last recording session for Bob Wills in Dallas for the album For the Last Time. During the following decades leader Smokey Montgomery continued to keep the band going in some form. In the late 1980s the Light Crust Doughboys were the first inductees into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame. Throughout the 1990s the Doughboys continued to bring their music to new audiences. Art Greenhaw joined the group; as co-producer he added horns to their sound in 1993, thus bringing about a new type of “country jazz,” influenced by the old swing sound. The Texas legislature declared the Doughboys the “official music ambassadors of the Lone Star State” in 1995.
The band received some national recognition when one of their 1930s jukebox classics, “Pussycat, Pussycat, Pussycat,” written by Montgomery, was featured in the movie Striptease in 1996. By the late 1990s the Doughboys were also recording gospel music with James Blackwood on Greenhaw’s independent record label, based in Dallas. Beginning in 1998 the group performed jointly with the Lone Star Ballet in Amarillo, the Fort Worth Symphony, the Dallas Wind Symphony, the Abilene Philharmonic, and other ensembles. They were inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2000 and continued to release material including the CD Doughboy Rock (2000).
After Montgomery’s death in 2001, the Light Crust Doughboys played a fitting tribute at his funeral, held in the Hall of State in Dallas. Art Greenhaw became the band’s leader and producer. The history of the Light Crust Doughboys was chronicled by John Dempsey in his book The Light Crust Doughboys Are on the Air: Celebrating Seventy Years of Texas Music, published in 2002. In 2003 the band won a Grammy for their work on the CD We Called Him Mr. Gospel Music: The James Blackwood Tribute Album.
The Light Crust Doughboys, under the leadership of Art Greenhaw, remained very active in the 2000s. Their collaborative work on Southern Meets Soul: An American Gospel Jubilee (2005) earned a Grammy nomination for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Album. In December 2005 the Light Crust Doughboys Hall of Fame and Museum officially opened in Quitman. The facility displayed exhibits of historic memorabilia of the group as well as hosted live performances. The Light Crust Doughboys were inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2006. The following year their release, Light Crust Doughboys 1936–1941, received enthusiastic reviews from western swing fans. The year 2011 marked eighty years of performances for the Light Crust Doughboys.
John Mark Dempsey, The Light Crust Doughboys are on the Air: Celebrating Seventy Years of Texas Music (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2002). Doughboy Fan (http://www.heroeswest.com/doughboyfan/index.html), accessed October 25, 2011. Art Greenhaw Official International Fan Club (http://www.artgreenhaw.com), accessed October 25, 2011. Bill C. Malone, Country Music U.S.A. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968). Charles R. Townsend, San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976).
Charles R. Townsend
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