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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

The Light Crust Doughboys
are on the air!

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
Truett Kinsey’s voice came out of Philcos and Zeniths and other radios all over East Texas, and eventually much of the South, each day at noon to announce the beginning of a performance of the most popular fiddle band ever assembled.

Listeners awaited Kinsey’s daily alert that “The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air!”

The broadcasts were sponsored by Burris Mills as advertisement for its Light Crust Flour, and the little band was organized by Bob Wills, a west Texan who had moved to Fort Worth. Wills played fiddle, and he founded the “band” with just himself and Herman Arnspiger, who played guitar. Soon they added Milton Brown as vocalist for what was known as the Wills Fiddle Band.

Wills persuaded W. Lee O’Daniel, president of Burris Mills, to sponsor the band on a fifteen-minute daily radio show in Fort Worth in 1931, and the group changed its name to The Light Crust Doughboys. The relationship between Wills and O’Daniel was rocky from the first. For one thing, O’Daniel did not like the “hillbilly” music the Doughboys played, and he disapproved of Wills’ habit of alcohol use. He fired Wills after the second week of the show, but had to permit his return because of audience demand.

When Wills and other band members returned to the air, part of the bargain include their agreement to work in the flourmill as well as perform. The band’s growing popularity led in O’Daniel developing the first radio network in Texas and in sales of Light Crust Flour, which continued to increase even as the composition of the band changed.
Bob Wills  - King of Western Swing - Texas Monument
Bob Wills Monument in Turkey, Texas
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, July 2009
Wills was among the first to go, after O’Daniel fired him a second time. Wills organized the Texas Playboys and went on to a career that spanned several decades. He pioneered the musical genre known as “Western swing,” appeared in several motion pictures, and toured the nation’s night clubs, dance halls, and concert stages with the Playboys.

Since Burris Mills owned rights to the Light Crust Doughboys, they continued to sponsor the group on the radio until 1942, when most of the band members joined the military service or accepted jobs in defense plants. Such noted musicians as Dick Reinhart, Martin (Smoky) Montgomery, Ramon DeArman, John Parker, Muryel Campbell, and Cecil Brower played in the band.

O’Daniel left Burris Mills to form the Hillbilly Flour Company, and continued to sponsor another group, the Hillbilly Boys. They helped him win election as governor of Texas in 1938, but they never achieved the same prominence as when the Light Crust Doughboys were on the air.

© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
October 24, 2005 column
(This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas)


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