He played lead guitar for the legendary Light Crust Doughboys, on the original 1961 Fort Worth hit “Hey! Baby” and for one night, behind Elvis Presley.
But when Bill Hudson died July 13 in Fort Worth at 90, the music world took little note, because backup players labor long for little more than the words, “Let’s hear it for the band.”
As one of the last surviving Doughboys from the 1960s-’70s era when the band still promoted a flour mill in Saginaw, he played parties at President Lyndon Johnson’s Texas ranch and social events for Dallas’ billionaire Hunt family.
“I remember he would bring home Hawaiian leis from rich people’s parties in Dallas and tell me about how Joan Crawford was there, or Patsy Cline,” his daughter, Scottie Hudson Valdez, remembered Friday.
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“It was the most fantastic life. I got to tag along sometimes and see and meet people I would never have dreamed I’d see or meet. He said he was very blessed because he got to make a living doing what he loved.”
Until Hudson’s graveside service last week at Laurel Land Memorial Park, family members thought he was the last survivor of the flour salesman Doughboys, a 1930s Fort Worth band with a daily national radio show that gave rise to the careers of both famed western swing fiddler Bob Wills and eventual Texas Gov. W. Lee “Pass the Biscuits, Pappy” O’Daniel.
Dallas-area fiddler Jim Baker, one of of more than 40 musicians to play regularly with the band across its now-eight decades, met family members at graveside and told them more about the band’s history before and after the 2001 death of 65-year banjo player and bandleader Marvin “Smokey” Montgomery.
“When Bill played, they did the State Fair every year, the LBJ Ranch, TV shows — anywhere people wanted a Texas band,” Baker said.
As a 10-year-old in the Texas town of Knox City, Hudson won guitar contests and gained a following on Abilene radio and Fort Worth’s WBAP/820 AM, appearing with another flour-mill band, the Bewley Mills Chuck Wagon Gang.
Hudson and I drove that station wagon hundreds of miles every week, touring grocery store shows.
Jerry Elliott in ‘The Light Crust Doughboys Are On The Air.’
Later, as a working studio and backup musician in Fort Worth, Hudson also played on best-selling albums behind singer Slim Whitman, on NBC’s “Today” show behind Hall of Fame songwriter Freddy Powers and on studio recordings of Tech High School student Darrell Glenn’s “Crying in the Chapel” (later a Presley hit) and Paul & Paula’s “Hey Paula,” Valdez said.
Valdez said she was in the old Clifford Herring Sound studio, 1705 W. Seventh St., when Grapevine product Bruce Channel recorded the enduring hit “Hey! Baby.”
“I was probably sitting in the drummer’s [Ronnie Dawson’s] corner, because I had a crush on him,” she said.
But for more than a decade, Hudson crisscrossed Texas and the South making supermarket appearances for Saginaw-based Burrus Mill & Elevator Co.’s flour.
“They had us out on the road all the time,” bandmate and Fort Worth music shopkeeper Jerry Elliott told author John Mark Dempsey for the 2002 book “The Light Crust Doughboys Are On the Air.”
Scotty was sick and Elvis needed a guitar player.
Bill Hudson on his night backing up Elvis Presley, as told to daughter Scottie Hudson Valdez
“Billy Hudson and I drove that station wagon hundreds of miles every week, touring grocery store shows. … The best ride was to be propped up in the middle of the back seat, where you could sleep.”
Montgomery told the author the band once played 15 H-E-B supermarkets in a single day, “and then they wanted us to go out and play an insane asylum.” They were paid $30 a day, he said.
The way Hudson told Valdez the story, he was in Fort Worth one day when he was called to rush to Shreveport.
“Somebody named Scotty was sick and Elvis needed a guitar player that night for the Louisiana Hayride,” she said. Scotty Moore backed Presley on “Jailhouse Rock,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and other early hits.
Mourners at the visitation for Hudson saw a collection of guitars, photos and mementos from his career.
But at the center of it all was an old-time, hand-lettered sign from supermarket appearances: “The Light Crust Doughboys are on The Air.”