Because of a hobby he picked up well into his middle age, Harold Poole has had a lot of opportunities come his way. He’s made new friends, developed new talents and been to places he never would have gone before. He has even been nominated for a Grammy.

Poole’s hobby is banjo pickin’ and, since 2001, he has been director of the Dallas Banjo Band. Before directing the band, he was concert-master, president and vice president. In fact, since joining the Dallas Banjo Band 13 years ago, playing the banjo has become more of a part-time job than a hobby for Lake Highlands resident Poole, but one he’s happy to have. He averages about two days a week just handling the business affairs of the band and arranging songs.

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If Poole is good at his job, he credits his predecessor, Smokey Montgomery, as a fine mentor. Montgomery, an original member of the Light Crust Doughboys and legendary in the world of Texas music, died in 2001 at the age of 88.

The DBB was founded in 1989 after Bobby Albright approached Montgomery.

“He called Smokey Montgomery and said: I want to start a banjo band,” Poole says. “And Smokey said: OK, I’ll give you six weeks; that’s all I can spare. And he was with us until year before last [when he died].”

Though he’d had some musical roots – including his high school days as a guitarist with a rock-and-roll cover band he formed called The Auroras – Poole, who grew up in the Lake Highlands area, hadn’t done much musically in 25 years. A self-employed homebuilder and real estate broker, he was building a home for flugelhorn player Bud Dresser in 1990 when Dresser told him about the DBB.

Poole scouted out his first banjo session that spring.

“I came down and was amazed it was so structured. It’s all arrangements…it was no jam session,” he says.

Montgomery sent him home with a loaner instrument and instructions. He purchased his own banjo the next day, and “I’ve missed two rehearsals since,” he says.

When the band formed a year before Poole joined up, 11 people came to the first rehearsal. It now has about 45 members, including a 10-year-old boy, two women and a “couple sets of three generations,” Poole says. There’s also a tuba player who provides bass. The oldest member is 74, and the average age of the band’s members is 65.

The banjo, known as America’s only native instrument, was the “electric guitar of the 1920s,” Poole says, explaining why so many men in their 60s and 70s are fond of it.

“It was loud and brash, and one of the few stringed instruments that could compete with the horn sections,” he says.

Loud and brash, but also a heckuva good time to play, Poole says. “It’s fun. That’s the whole thing. Everybody will tell you it’s just the happiest sound.”

Not surprisingly, when you’re peddling happiness through music, you have a lot of fans. The band rehearses regularly, and once a month on Saturday mornings they gather at Back Country Bar-B-Q on Greenville. People come early to get a seat, and standing-room-only crowds gather around when things get humming.

“Our audience is getting bigger,” Poole says. “If you hear the words ‘banjo band,’ you think: How can 35 banjos sound like anything? But it’s very disciplined, and it’s really an orchestra.”

The DBB knows more than 300 arrangements already, and Poole and another member are always coming up with more songs for the band’s repertoire. They play everything from “Sesame Street” for their young fans, to the “Rocky” theme to “Redneck Mother,” a Ray Wylie Hubbard beer joint classic from the ’70s. Genre-wise, they do Big Band, bluegrass, Broadway classics, Dixieland, Pennsylvania polka and much more.

“It’s really a variety show,” Poole says of the 50-plus gigs they play a year, some of them at out-of-state festivals. Their audiences are equally diverse. In our area, they’ve played the White Rock Marathon, churches, retirement homes, malls and country clubs. They’ve played at the Arboretum, and served as the entertainment for Wal-Mart and Central Market grand openings.

“With a 74-year age span in our band, we have a lot of diversity in our music.” Lately, he says, they’ve been doing more Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller tunes.

One of the band’s high points came when they were nominated for a Grammy in 1998 for best movie soundtrack. They’d provided two songs – “Swan Lake” and “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” – to the score of a documentary based on the legendary horror film star Bela Lugosi. Though they didn’t win, Poole says the excitement was enough to make him do something he normally wouldn’t.

“When we heard we might be going to Hollywood, I went on a diet,” he says. “Two weeks later, we found out we weren’t going, and I went right off of it.”

The band, however, he’s more committed to. It’s an element of his life he can’t imagine being without.

“I was never in a fraternity, but to me, that seems like what this is,” he says. “It’s a very important part of all our lives that’s stayed with us.”

The Dallas Banjo Band welcomes new members, with or without experience. For information about shows, CDs and tapes or joining, visit The band plays at Back Country Bar-B-Q, 6940 Greenville on the first Saturday of each month from 11 a.m.-noon.