Bill Boyd and the Cowboy Ramblers
For true fans of Western Swing, Bill Boyd rates with his contemporary, Bob Wills even though the two utilized very different styles. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys often used horns and songs from a variety of genres, Boyd remained true to his western roots, using only a string band, ‘The Cowboy Ramblers’.
Boyd was born and raised on a farm near Ladonia in Fannin County, Texas as one of thirteen children. His parents, Lemuel and Molly Jared Boyd, who originally hailed from Tennessee, came to Texas in 1902. During the Great depression, the family moved to Dallas. Bill and his brother Jim tried to survive the hard times by working different odd jobs.
Boyd grew up as a working cowboy, learning the traditional songs from the impromptu campfire jam sessions of the ranch hands. Both he and his younger brother frequently sang with the cowboys, as did their parents. The boys got to be pretty good, and in 1926, made their debut on KFPM in Greenville, Texas.
The family moved to Dallas in 1929, where Boyd played in a band that included fiddler Art Davis. By this time Boyd knew he wanted a career in music, first joining a band on WFAA, and then the first incarnation of ‘The Cowboy Ramblers’ in 1932 on WRR. Included in Boyd's new band was his brother, Jim, on bass; Davis on fiddle; and Walter Kirkes on tenor banjo. When not actually performing, Boyd was out recruiting new sponsors and in this way managed to survive the Depression.
Bill joined the Alexanders Daybreakers trio performing at early-morning radio shows. Together with Jim, he appeared on radio in Greenville, Texas, and at WRR in Dallas. Meanwhile, Jim formed the "Rhythm Aces in February 1932, Bill Boyd recorded with the "Blue yodeler" Jimmie Rodgers. In that same year, he formed the pioneering western swing band "The Cowboy Ramblers". His band consisted of himself on guitar, Jim Boyd on bass, Walter Kirkes on tenor banjo and Art Davis on fiddle. During the band's history, many of the members also worked simultaneously with the ‘Light Crust Doughboys’ and ‘Roy Newman's Boys’.
In 1934, he and the band moved to San Antonio to record for Bluebird, cutting hits including the standard "Under the Double Eagle" and "Going Back to My Texas Home." In the late '30s, their membership increased to ten; among their better-known members were fiddler Carroll Hubard, piano player Knocky Parker, and steel guitar player Wilson "Lefty" Perkins.
During their long association with RCA, Bill Boyd & The Cowboy Ramblers recorded over 229 singles; and in the early '40s, they appeared in six ‘el cheapo’ Hollywood cowboy films, including ‘Raiders of the West’ and ‘Prairie Pals’. Boyd's jaunt through Hollywood was interesting, as it overlapped with the career of cowboy actor William Boyd famous for his portrayal of Hopalong Cassidy.
Boyd effectively retired from the music business in the early '50s, and began a second career as a radio DJ at Dallas' WRR. Upon his posthumous induction into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, a bill was introduced into the Texas legislature to honor Boyd and his contributions to the state's cultural identity.
The Cowboys Ramblers made more than 225 recordings between 1934-1951 The band had their own popular radio show, "The Bill Boyd Ranch House.” They made their recording debut for Bluebird Records on August 7, 1934. In 1935, the Cowboy Ramblers had a huge hit with their recording of "Under the Double Eagle" which later became a western swing standard and remained in print for over twenty five years. Other classics of the 1930s include "I've Got Those Oklahoma Blues", "Fan It", "Wah Hoo", "Beaumont Rag" and "New Steel Guitar Rag". One of his other hits was "If You'll Come Back",
After the outbreak of World War II, Boyd joined "The Western Minute Men" promoting the sale of war bonds. During the 1940s, Jim Boyd often led The Cowboy Ramblers when he's brother was indisposed. Eventually, Jim formed his own band, the "Men of the West." In the 1950s, the brothers terminated their radio show and became DJs. In the early 1970s, Bill Boyd retired from the music business. His brother Jim Boyd died in 1993.
For his contribution to radio, Bill 'Cowboy Rambler' Boyd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6101 Hollywood Blvd.
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