For true fans of Western swing music, Bill Boyd rates with his contemporary, Bob Wills, even though the two utilized very different styles; whereas Wills & His Playboys often used horns and recorded songs from a variety of genres, Boyd remained true to his western roots, using only a string band, the Cowboy Ramblers.
Born on a ranch near Ladonia, TX, 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. 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.
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, Boyd & the Ramblers recorded over 229 singles; 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. ~ Johnny Loftus