Old Timers Vote for Bands
By Norris Chambers
Good old country music, the kind Old Timers like, is becoming harder and harder to find. You can still hear about anything you want on Youtube and a few places known only to certified old timers. When Clifton and I entered the world of music about all you heard were sentimental ballads about heroes, victims or characters and dancing tunes like Little Brown Jug and Oh Susanna. There were also old fiddle breakdowns like Irish Washer Woman and Gray Eagle/.
The old timers of the twenties liked this country music and complained when it gradually changed to county western swing. Milton Brown and Bob Wills were the culprits responsible for this drastic change. The younger listeners, including Clifton and me, liked the new sound and listened as it gradually replaced the older sounds.
As radios began to appear in homes in the late 20’s music was used to attract listeners who were supposed to listen to the advertising that was offered with it. Often the bands that provided the music were named for the product they advertised. One example was the Lightcrust Doughboys, representing Lightcrust flour. The manager of this band was W. Lee O’Daniel who recognized the value of radio advertising and organized the Lightcrust Doughboys, directing the band personally in daily radio broadcasts. Just about everyone in the country who had access to a radio tuned in the noon program and enjoyed the good music and the interesting talking of O’Daniel. Before long W. Lee O’Daniel was the most popular man in the state.
In the mid thirties he left Burrus Mills and organized his own company and country band. He began advertising and selling his own product, Hillbilly Flour. The lead singers, Leon Huff and Ramon DeArmon who had become popular on the Lightcrust program joined O’Daniel in the new company and performed in the new band, The Hillbilly Boys.
Clifton and I graduated from high school in 1935. Clifton began working in the oil fields and I went to Fort Worth to further my practical education. I learned shorthand and related office procedures as well as radio and electronics servicing. Since I was working for my sustenance I also got a liberal education in dishwashing, bussing tables and related tasks. I found time to listen to the radio bands at the various studios and a few of the other places they performed. I had a speaking acquaintance with O’Daniel and he offered me a job with his new company at $12.50 a week. He was planning a big advertising campaign over a Mexican station, XEPN, and would be moving his office to Eagle Pass. I have told about my Mexican experiences in other tales.
We received hundreds of letters daily and all of these had to be read. A few listeners asked why he didn’t run for governor, since an election was coming up. He read a few of the letters on one of the dozen programs he was using to advertise Hillbilly Flour. This started an avalanche of letters begging him to run. Some even contained small donations for the campaign. He began asking if he should get involved since he was not a professional politician. The mail calling for him to enter the race was overwhelming and he decided to do it. Even if he didn’t win the election the campaign would provide good advertising.
He toured the state with the band and offered programs and political speeches in many small towns. He asked the people to get rid of the professional politicians and let them take the depression with them. He was for old age pensions!
W. Lee O’Daniel was elected Governor by a landslide. He served two terms and was elected several times to the U.S. Senate. Of course he was not able to do all he wanted to, but he tried!
The country music band did so well in Texas that Jimmie Davis tried it in Louisiana and was elected. A few years later Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff ran for governor of Tennessee. He won the Republican primary but was defeated in the general election.
Years later, when our band was busy selling Farm Boy peanut butter and presenting a weekly musical program on the Dublin station a close relative was running for a position on the school board. Another relative suggested that maybe he needed a country band to boost his campaign. Elbert, Sam and Bill thought it was a good idea. We made arrangements for the school gym and did our best to play what the crowd wanted to hear. They seemed to like it. My candidate, Cousin Less, when called to speak, thanked everyone for coming and sat down.
On election day Cousin Less received every vote – the music had done the trick! Of course the fact that he didn’t have an opponent might have helped some!