William Lemuel Boyd, western swing bandleader, was born near Ladonia, Fannin County, Texas, on September 29, 1910. He was one of thirteen children of Lemuel and Molly (Jared) Boyd. The Boyd family moved to Texas from Tennessee around 1902. The children were exposed to music through their parents, both of whom sang, as well as by the singing and playing of the ranchhands. After purchasing a guitar through a mail-order catalog, Bill and his younger brother Jim, born in 1914, were performing country music on radio station KFPM in Greenville as early as 1926. The Boyd family moved in 1929 to Dallas, where Bill worked a number of odd jobs such as laborer and salesman while pursuing his musical career. He quickly became active as a local musician and played on Jimmie Rodgers's Dallas recording session in 1932.
In that same year Bill organized the Cowboy Ramblers. The original lineup of his band included Jim Boyd on bass, Art Davis on fiddle, and Walter Kirkes on tenor banjo. They soon found regular radio work on station WRR and in 1934 were signed to Victor's budget label, Bluebird. The band continued to record for them until 1951, during which time they recorded more than 229 singles. Though they moved toward the performance of jazz and swing music, the Cowboy Ramblers basically remained a string band, not using brass instruments like many bands of that era. While their recorded output includes blues, cowboy songs, and novelty tunes, waltzes and fiddle tunes were their staples. The Cowboy Ramblers were influential recording musicians, with songs that remained country standards long after being recorded. "Under the Double Eagle" (1935) and "Lone Star Rag" (1949), for instance, were among the most popular instrumentals in all of country music.
Unlike many bands, the Cowboy Ramblers didn't spend much time touring. With most of their performances coming in the recording studio and on radio stations, they were basically a recording band. Their members, however, often played with other groups. Although Bill and Jim Boyd were the mainstays, the Cowboy Ramblers had a number of important sidemen pass through their ranks, such as Art Davis, Jesse Ashlock, Cecil Brower, and Knocky Parker. A younger Boyd brother, John, also played steel guitar on later recordings as well as forming his own band, the Southerners, in the late 1930s. John continued to perform until his death in 1942. Jim Boyd, as well as playing with the Cowboy Ramblers and several other bands, also formed his own group, the Men of the West, and continued to work part-time during his later years.
Bill Boyd and his Ramblers also appeared in six Western films in the 1940s, including Raiders of the West (1942) and Texas Man Hunt (1942), and is often mistakenly confused with the actor William Boyd, who was also known as Hopalong Cassidy. In the 1950s, as live music broadcasts on the radio were edged out by the playing of records, Bill Boyd switched to working as an announcer and disc jockey, continuing his longtime association with station WRR. He retired after suffering a stroke in 1973. He died in Dallas on December 7, 1977, and was survived by his wife, Mildred, and two daughters. Bill Boyd has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame in 1997.