Art Greenhaw (center) now holds the vision for the legendary Light Crust Doughboys. The Mesquite native keeps the band true to its roots while making sure it continues playing for another 80 years. The Doughboys perform this Sunday at the Cailloux Theater.
Light Crust Doughboys rise again
by Phil Houseal
The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air!
The world first heard that introduction more than 80 years ago, when the iconic western swing band took to the air on a local radio program in Fort Worth, Texas.
I first heard it in the 1980s, under the tent where the Light Crust Doughboys were playing at the Texas State Arts & Crafts Fair in Kerrville. I was sitting in with Bill Smallwood’s band, and for two days we swapped sets with the legendary group. Even as a Midwest farm boy not steeped in Texas music lore, I quickly figured out why this group was a pioneer in creating the concept of radio advertising, helped elect a governor of Texas, and launched some of the greatest Texas musicians, including Bob Wills.
We’re the Light Crust Doughboys, from Burrus Mill.
The group returns to Kerrville this Sunday. How have they endured? They keep going with a challenging combination of staying true to their roots while branching out into unexpected genres and personnel.
I learned that from the man whose hand currently guides the band while also providing the bass beat–Art Greenhaw.
“This is the longest running country band in the country,” he said. “We all feel a real calling to continue it. The baton passed to me from Smokey Montgomery, so I feel a personal responsibility to do everything I can to continue the Light Crust Doughboys.”
The legend of the Light Crust Doughboys begins in 1931, when they were organized by W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, president of Burrus Mill and Elevator Company in Saginaw, Texas. He put them on a Fort Worth radio program to promote his company’s Light Crust Flour. It didn’t take too many times hearing "The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air!" for O’Daniel to recognize their popularity. He began traveling with the band, making appearances across the state. His visibility and the band’s popularity helped send him to Austin as the Governor of Texas.
The band continued to perform live and on radio, appearing in the 1936 Gene Autry film, Oh, Susanna! and earning recognition in the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame as well as the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
From those heady days, the band went through many incarnations as old musicians left and new ones were added. In 1983, musician Art Greenhaw rediscovered the Doughboys and began promoting the group.
In 1993 longtime bass player Jim Boyd passed away. While a sad event, it created an opportunity for Greenhaw, who stepped in on bass guitar.
“You don’t become a fulltime Doughboy unless somebody in the group passes on and joins the ‘Heavenly Doughboy Choir,’” Greenhaw told me. Greenhaw, who was most proficient on guitar and piano, “got real good on bass real fast” in order to be a Doughboy.
Greenhaw has some bold ideas to keep the Doughboys picking into the next generation. In fact, during our interview, he broke some news.
“My dream would be to form a junior Light Crust Doughboys band of people under 25,” he revealed. “It would be a mirror of the Doughboys. I’d like to form that band after a big national search, and have them tour with us. It would be a fantastic thing and that way we would ensure the continuation of the Light Crust Doughboys.”
You can see Greenhaw is not afraid to make some changes to keep the musical standards high and keep audiences coming. He has added two famous names to the current lineup: Dion Pride–son of Charlie Pride; and Randy Wills–cousin of Bob Wills. The Doughboys have also gone back to their signature twin fiddle sound, with the addition of Marek Eneti, a young Polish musician who plays electric, lighted violin.
“Eneti is a fabulous show violinist,” Greenhaw said. “When we douse the house lights and he plays that lighted violin, the kids really love it.”
Electric lighted violin is just part of what guests can expect. The Doughboys will sprinkle the show with gospel tunes, along with traditional country and country blues. Greenhaw will share some more history, but not too much.
“Sure, I like to talk to the audience,” he said. “But I try to be real careful at a concert. People want to hear music, not a lot of preaching.”
Greenhaw couldn’t provide a specific set list, because the Doughboys never use one.
“The Doughboys always created on the spot the shows depending on the vibrations of audience,” he said. “We’ll take requests. Every show is completely different.”
But there is one thing that audiences can count on.
“We always begin and end every show with the famous Light Crust Doughboys theme song– We’re the Light Crust Doughboys, from Burrus Mill. That never varies, and hasn’t in 80 years!”