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Hillbilly Flour

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"Please pass the biscuits Pappy!" was a familiar call heard on Texas depression era radio emanating from Ft. Worth. Led by Burrus flour mill sales manager, Wilbert Lee O'Daniel, the Hillbilly Boy's daily (noon?) fifteen minutes of hot licks and happy patter roused citizenry to the point of electing the colorful W. Lee O'Daniel to a term as Governor! In 1941 he successfully beat out Lyndon Johnson for a seat in the Senate. [1]

Fans of the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" might be interested to know that the "Governor Menelaus 'Pappy' O'Daniel" character played by Charles Durning is in fact based upon the real life character W. Lee O'Daniel. Coincidence doesn't stop there. The young blues guitar player's character (Tommy Johnson) is loosely based on famed blues legend Robert Johnson, whose skill with the guitar after journeying a spell in the Mississippi delta area, was so improved that folks said he sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads meeting to get it. Not only that, the only recordings we have from the short life of Robert Johnson were the result of a single recording session on November 23, 1936, "unceremoniously squeezed between W.Lee O'Daniel & His Hillbilly Boys the day before, and Hermanas Baraza con guitarras the day after." [2] Unfortunately, neither Hillbilly Boys nor Robert Johnson recordings are to be found anywhere in the "O Brother, Where Art Thou" soundtrack.

In 1931, Bob Wills pursuaded Burrus Mill and Elevator Company under the presidentship of W. Lee O'Daniel to sponsor his band in a radio program to advertise the Burrus lightcrust flour. In 1935, after a series of disputes, Wills was fired. O'Daniel then formed his own band "The Hillbilly Boys" and his own flour "Hillbilly Flour". With this band he stomped and successfully won the 1938 gubernatorial race. [3] [4]



A half-hour show with W. Lee O'Daniel, backed by his band can be downloaded using the link which follows. This is a rare clip in that the Governor speaks, unlike many quarter hour music shows where he is not present.

Someone generously uploaded many shows to the internet archive where you can download them for free. High Falutin' Newton is responsible for the encodes there becoming available in the first place, first by his postings on usenet. Thanks HFN! To download, go to:

These are presumably from circa 1939. The radio shows they are introduced as "Pat O'Daniel and His Hillbilly Boys", but have the same line-up as W. Lee's musicians on recording sessions.) Exact dates and session numbers are unknown. The whereabouts of the original transcription discs is also unknown. It is rumored these recordings come from a Canadian collector who died after the tape transfers were made so the transcription discs may have been lost for all time. W. Lee does not appear in any of these shows to my knowledge although his son Pat does lead the band. Presumably W. Lee was busy carrying out his duties as governor at this time. A Christmas card from 1936 lists the following personel, some of which are mentioned during these shows: Caesar (fiddle), Patty Boy (Banjo), Horace (Guitar), Klondike (Bass), Happy (Do-Bro), Mickey (Fiddle) Leon (Guitar-Singer).

More in-depth reading material may be found at the following sites:

1. Handbook of Texas on-line, W. Lee O'Daniel

2. The Robert Johnson Notebooks

3. Handbook of Texas on-line, LIGHTCRUST DOUGHBOYS


5. "Beautiful Texas" - sheet music of song written by W. Lee O'Daniel

    "Beautiful Texas" midi music file: Right click link and "save as": Beautiful_Texas.mid

*Three tunes by W. Lee O'Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys may currently be found on a new set of western swing CDs entitled "Doughboys, Playboys, and Cowboys: The Golden Years of Western Swing." These are often offered for sale on ebay.

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