James “Jim” Boyd was a singer and multi-instrumentalist who contributed to the creation of the genre of western swing music. The son of Lemuel and Molly (Jared) Boyd, Jim was born on September 28, 1914, in Fannin County, Texas, four years after his brother Bill Boyd, the noted bandleader. They grew up on a cotton farm. Both brothers found their interest in music encouraged by their mother, who helped Jim Boyd find work on an early morning local radio show while still in his teens. Boyd recalled walking four miles to the station in the pre-dawn hours to earn $2.75 per week. Jim and Bill Boyd performed on KFPM radio in Greenville as early as 1926.
Jim Boyd, still a teenager, formed a band with three other musicians and began playing informal dances. Called the Rhythm Aces, the band would seek engagements near Cedar Hill and other small towns around Dallas. The Boyd brothers had moved to Dallas in 1929. One weekly Saturday night gig was an open-air dance, probably on a dance platform, where they brought a camping lantern to warm their hands during chilly winter performances.
In addition to the Rhythm Aces, Boyd was hired by a local bandleader who had an eight-piece outfit that performed on Dallas radio station WRR. He continued to play guitar and sing with that group until 1932 when his brother Bill landed his own show and formed the first incarnation of his seminal group, the Cowboy Ramblers. Jim Boyd was a charter member of the group, who went on to record for RCA Victor in San Antonio in 1934. The younger Boyd claimed to have been involved in every recording made by the Cowboy Ramblers and to have played bass on 90 percent of the recordings.
His success and skills prompted WRR to hire him as a staff musician, where he was called upon to play guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, or whatever instrument might be needed. It was in this capacity that Boyd accompanied a young female singer who, although billed as Kathryn Starling at the time, would go on to national stardom as pop and jazz vocalist Kay Starr. In demand as a sideman, he also began playing with Roy Newman’s band on WRR and at live engagements.
In 1938 Boyd was approached by Parker Willson with the Light Crust Doughboys, who at the time were enjoying enormous popularity on the western swing band circuit and had appeared in two Hollywood films. In need of a bass player who could solo and sing tenor, Willson invited Boyd to audition, probably at the urging of Smokey Montgomery with whom Boyd was acquainted. Boyd auditioned and was immediately hired.
The Light Crust Doughboys offered Boyd a steady salary of thirty-five dollars per week, not an insignificant amount during the Great Depression. Boyd was able to propose to his sweetheart, and they married shortly after he joined the band.
After two years with the Doughboys, Boyd received a call from recently-elected Texas Gov. W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel. As general manager of Burrus Mills, O’Daniel had hired the first incarnation of the Light Crust Doughboys and provided radio sponsorship. He went on to form his own flour company, Hillbilly Flour, and created a musical group, the Hillbilly Boys, to go along with it. After losing his singer, O’Daniel offered a band position to Boyd, who had helped his campaign greatly and who continued to help him sell flour. Boyd agreed to meet the famous and powerful politician at the Governor’s Mansion but told O’Daniel that he was not interested in leaving the Doughboys. O’Daniel made him an offer he couldn’t refuse—two hundred and fifty dollars a month with lodging and utilities paid.
Boyd gave his notice to the Doughboys and joined the Hillbilly Boys, helping O’Daniel get elected as governor again in 1940 and as United States senator in 1941. During this time, in order to be on the state payroll, Boyd worked and lived at Camp Mabry in Austin as part of the deal O’Daniel had secured in his hiring. O’Daniel moved to Washington to assume his senate seat, but Boyd chose to remain in Texas, where he was still in great demand as a sideman. Subsequently, O’Daniel cut Boyd’s pay in half, kicked him out of the paid housing at Camp Mabry, and Boyd moved back to Dallas in 1942. He again found work performing, broadcasting, and recording with his brother’s Cowboy Ramblers for RCA Victor and with side projects, including the Crazy Water Gang.
Beginning in 1942, Boyd stepped into the role of bandleader, fronting a group he first called the Texas Mockingbirds before eventually settling on the name Jim Boyd and His Men of the West. With this group, Boyd secured a recording contract with RCA. He recorded numerous sides for RCA from 1949 to 1951, and by 1952 they had their own regular Saturday night radio program, broadcasting over WFAA. They also were featured on the program Saturday Night Shindig on WFAA’s television affiliate, where they played music and performed comedic skits. Boyd also worked as a disc jockey and advertising sales representative.
Boyd and WFAA entered into a bitter dispute over Boyd’s refusal to move WFAA’s Saturday-night program to Fair Park Music Hall. After being fired by WFAA, Boyd rejoined the Light Crust Doughboys in 1953, reuniting with Marvin Smokey Montgomery with whom he had been bandmates years earlier. Boyd and Montgomery worked together in the Light Crust Doughboys and sometimes as the Wagon Masters. Boyd also frequently played on Big D Jamboree. In the late 1960s through the 1980s, he worked in the house construction business but continued to perform music. He was inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame in 1990. Boyd, featured on guitar, vocals, and bass, remained with the Doughboys until his death on March 11, 1993.