Texans of every age still belt out “Beautiful Texas,” the ’30s-vintage song written by the Light Crust Doughboys’ colorful sponsor, former Governor W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel. And “San Antonio Rose,” penned by the first Doughboy, the renowned Bob Wills, remains in many a shower tenor’s repertoire. But, to the longest playing Western Swing band anywhere, these two classics are simply two brushstrokes on the Doughboys’ seven-decade mural of Texas music.
In 1931, W. Lee O’Daniel, manager of the Fort Worth-based Burrus Mill, hired Bob Wills and two other musicians to advertise Burrus’ Light Crust Flour on the radio. Though Wills’ tenure lasted only three years, and O’Daniel’s five, the Light Crust Doughboys themselves have set a record as the most enduring Western Swing band. In 1995, in fact, the Texas Legislature honored the group’s part in Texas history by naming them the Official Music Ambassadors of the state.
The band still makes albums and performs across Texas under the direction of veteran banjo player and bandleader Smokey Montgomery, whose career spans 65 years of Doughboys history. At 86, with a vigor that rarely wanes, he now uses a computer to compose and arrange music. His own memory bank holds thousands of songs and musical scores, most of which he arranged, and at least 40 of which he composed.
One of a handful of musicians known for his chops on the four-string tenor banjo (a Texas Swing workhorse), Smokey’s enthusiasm for the banjo is hard to miss. “The banjo is an important part of the cultural heritage of African-American music,” he says. “It developed in this country from a primitive African instrument shaped like a long-necked cigar box. People called it a banger, because it was slapped for rhythm more than strummed for tone. The first strings weren’t even tuned. Later, the strings produced tones and chords as well as a beat.”
In the last few years, the Light Crust Doughboys have collaborated with one of Smokey’s longtime friends, gospel luminary James Blackwood. The recordings, Keep Lookin’ Up: The Texas Swing Sessions (1998) and They Gave the World a Smile: The Stamps Quartet Tribute Album (1999), both won Grammy nominations for Best Southern, Country, or Bluegrass Gospel Album of the year. A third release, Red River Valley Memories (1999), has just hit the stores.
If you're interested in seeing the legendary Light Crust Doughboys perform, you'll have plenty of opportunities in 2000. In Dallas, the band will perform at The Pocket Sandwich Theatre on Feb. 7, Apr. 17, June 19, Aug. 21, Oct. 16, and Dec. 4 and 5 (214/821-1860). You can also see the Doughboys in Quitman at the Carroll Green Civic Center on Feb. 12 (903/763-4191 or 763-4411), in Greenville at the Greenville Municipal Auditorium on Mar. 6 (903/ 455-3183), and in Amarillo at the Amarillo Civic Center on Sep. 30 (806/372-2463 or 378-3096).
Doughboys fans and nostalgia buffs alike will enjoy a visit to the Light Crust Doughboys Hall of Fame and Museum, at 105 Broad St. in Mesquite. Operated by Doughboy Art Greenhaw, the museum features such memorabilia as vintage guitars and banjos, costumes, concert programs, awards, posters, and photos galore.
Smokey Montgomery, who visits the museum frequently, remembers all of it. Looking at a cap on display, he muses, "That's what I was wearing the day the Clyde Barrow gang thought I was a policeman and wouldn't serve me at Clyde's West Dallas gas station." The museum carries the band's full line of tapes, CDs, videos, and songbooks. The museum also sells, by special order, the Light Crust Doughboys Model Rowen Custom Electric guitars. For more information or a catalog, write to the Light Crust Doughboys Hall of Fame and Museum, 105 Broad St., Mesquite 75149; 972/285-5441 or 329-7688. Web sites: www.lightcrustdoughboys.com and www.artgreenhaw.com.