Batter up

In the midst of a silver age, the Light Crust Doughboys are swinging for the bleachers

"It was the hardest gig I ever played," Dawson recalls with obvious fondness. "It wasn't until 10 or 15 years ago, when I started studying the music of the '30s and '40s, that I understood the way it all came together in Texas music and Western swing, and I realized what I'd been a part of."

By the '60s the changing face of pop left the Doughboys all but forgotten, still relegated to playing stores that bought enough flour from Burrus to rate a visit. It was a trend that continued through the '80s, but things changed in 1993 when Art Greenhaw joined the band as bassist.

"I'm lucky I play so many instruments because bass was the only opening they had," says Greenhaw, a music lover whose Mesquite hardware store is perhaps the only place you can buy a pickaxe and a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar. Greenhaw appreciated the historical significance of the Doughboys, and his enthusiasm for the band has ushered in a "silver age" of renewed appreciation.

"People are paying more attention to us now than they have in years," Montgomery says. The band has released four albums since '93 and is the subject of an hour-long video documentary by Oklahoma documentarian Gary Don Rhodes. The significance of the group appealed to Rhodes, who directed and wrote Texas Swing: A Memoir of Music, Politics & the Light Crust Doughboys.

Rhodes grew up listening to Western swing, and even as a kid he understood the appeal of importance of the Doughboys. He recalls listening to the band on the radio with his grandfather, and his dad took him to see the band in the early 1980s. "They're literally the living roots of the music I love," he says, "and nobody has ever really explored them historically, even though the guys are still on the road, still available for interviews."

Well-made and informative, the video seeks to set things right by affording a deep peek into the band, guided by interviews and some teasingly--perhaps even maddeningly--fuzzy film footage. The way in which the history of the Doughboys reflects broader cultural currents is sometimes startling: Who else can you name who's played with Gene Autry and for LBJ?

Recently the band released a three-CD box set of the "silver age" material put out since 1993, and the compilation reflects a band that has once again changed. Horns and reeds have been added, and now there is even a Doughgirl, vocalist Jamie Shipman. Greenhaw has devoted a corner of his hardware store to his Texas Western Swing and Light Crust Doughboys Hall of Fame and Museum, a collection of photos and memorabilia documenting Western swing and the Doughboys.

Things are indeed looking up, but the work of preserving the Doughboy's history is by no means through. Although the Greenhaw-era releases have put the Doughboys before a younger and newer audience, the songs are all contemporary versions of old standards and favorites, done as "tributes" to the milestones in the band's career. Although none would dispute the Doughboys' right to do any song they please, such misguided covers as "Yesterday" and "Jailhouse Rock" don't work as well as the old stuff.

The band's original 78s and acetate recordings--more than 200 albums and singles' worth in all--still haven't been collected or even studied like those of Bob Wills and Milton Brown. Until that has been done, the memory of the Lightcrust Doughboys--and that hard-scrabble, Dust Bowl part of ourselves driving a Model T into town to hear some music--will be imperfectly preserved.

Scene, heard
The second-annual BarleyPalooza goes down this Sunday from noon until 2 p.m. in the rear parking lots of the Barley House at 2916 N. Henderson. The 14-hour music fest was a hit last year, and this year's lineup--featuring Slobberbone, Cowboys and Indians, the Buena Vistas, the Nitrons, Homer Henderson, the Sutcliffes, the Calways, and Slinky--looks even better. Buddy Hickerson, creator of the "Quigmans" comic strip, and Q102 (KTXQ-FM) mainstay Redbeard will MC the event, but come anyway...

Break out the olives: Reverend Horton Heat's second Interscope album, It's Martini Time, will be released July 2...

The ashes of Funland aren't yet cool, but drummer Will Johnson's one-man project the Centromatic Band will be playing an in-store set at 7 p.m. on May 30 at Last Beat's record store on Elm Street. It's an "official" record-release party for the seven-inch The Transistor EP, which is being released by the Granbury-based way-indie label Automatic Records.

Street Beat welcomes e-mail tips and comments at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.

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