Robert Clarence Nolan
Clarence Robert Nobles
(April 13, 1908 - June 16, 1980)
THE FINAL YEARS (1950 - 1980)
If you were to ask him if he saw himself as a great man, he would simply say “No.” He saw himself as a man who had loved and lost and made mistakes along the way, as we all have. I doubt if he even saw the gift he truly possessed, that uncanny ability to express the feelings of so many people and put them to word and music. (Calin Coburn)
Bob Nolan's family:
• Bob Nolan
Many sources indicate that Bob dropped out of sight completely when he retired from the Sons of the Pioneers. That was not quite how it was. He recorded with them and appeared as a guest at rodeos and on their shows at various times, including The Lucky U Ranch Show, an offshoot of the Rex Allen Radio Show but sponsored by Planters Peanuts instead of Phillips Petroleum. When Bob retired, Tommy Doss took his place.
On January 14, 1953, Roy Rogers was the subject of Ralph Edwards' television program, This is Your Life. The original Sons of the Pioneers (Tim, Lloyd, Pat and the Farr Brothers) appeared on the show to surprise him and sing Tumbling Tumbleweeds with him. Bob was conspicuous by his absence.
The cabin at Big Bear Lake, California, filled his need to travel to a certain extent and he enjoyed deep sea fishing trips along the coast to Mexico with his half-brother, Mike. Dick Goodman didn't know how Bob kept his virtual anonymity up there at Big Bear Lake for so long:
They had a local radio station on the other side of the lake where the main town of Pine Knot was located. [Bob] said he was listening to the news one day and he thought he heard mention that a relative of his had died or something in the Los Angeles area. Wondering if he’d heard correctly, he decided to drive over to the radio station and try and get a little more information. When he walked in, identified himself, and told them why he was there, the station manager exclaimed, “You’re who? Bob Nolan!” Bob said, “Yes, but forget about that. I’m here to find out if I heard the news correctly, if this concerned a relative of mine.” Obviously the man was more interested in the fact he’d just found out Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers was living there at Big Bear Lake than in helping Bob with any information. Bob finally left in disgust without finding out a thing. However, to his relief, he did later establish it wasn’t a relative of his.
Another time, Rusty Richards and Pat Brady had driven up to Big Bear to visit some old friends of Rusty’s. This was during the ‘60s. The Pioneers were currently appearing that week at the Apple Valley Inn in the desert town of Apple Valley about an hour’s drive or so from Big Bear. During their visit, the subject of Bob Nolan came up and Pat mentioned he and Bob had “known each other since Noah’s Ark”. Rusty’s friends were surprised to hear this and asked where he knew him from.
Pat replied, “Why, Bob and I go ‘way back! We worked together for years when Bob was a member of the Pioneers!” Pat’s friends were flabbergasted. They’d never realized their neighbor, who they’d invited to many a barbeque in the past, was none other than the Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers. They just knew him as a friendly old guy named “Bob.”
Bob mentioned once to Ken Griffis,
When I first came up to Big Bear and after I got settled here, this Women’s Club on the other side of the lake would ask me to come over and give a little talk about once a year. One time my subject was the overpopulation of the world and my concerns about it.” Then he chuckled, “I guess I made a wrong choice of words that day when I referred to mankind as someday ending up like a bunch of maggots moving around in the bottom of a barrel, and you know,” he laughed, “they never asked me back again!” The way he said it, I got the impression their decision probably didn’t bother him that much, anyway. He’d had his say that day.
This is part of that "little talk" to the Women's Club:
…as I was saying, maggots don’t know what they are doing, but we do. That makes us a thousand times worse than maggots. When we finally succeed---oh, you don’t think we could end up eating each other?
Think about it in your darker moments and, while you’re at it, you might want to add these statistics. You see, it took the human race five thousand years to reach one billion; it took more than a hundred years to reach two billion. We went to three billion in less than fifty years; to four billion in less than fifteen years in 1974. It’s my guess that we’ll reach five billion in little more than ten years. And time gets shorter and shorter and the maggots keep multiplying.
Think about this, too—before we reach five billion, another one hundred thousand square miles of precious land will be concreted over and God never created a potato, a tomato or a carrot that can grow out of cement. And then there is the human excretion and waste that we insist on pumping into our oceans, the plastics that so devastate our friends of the sea. And in so short a time this waste will spread another hundred miles out to sea, and where have all the fish gone? Are there statistics on that? And are “they” ever trying to keep it quiet!
And there is that damnable word “they” again. And your insistent question, “Who are ‘they’?” And my insipid answer—“I don’t know.” But they are there, nevertheless. They have been around for a long time. They decide what we shall know and what we shall not know; what we shall hear and see; and what we shall not hear and see.
They even concocted the religions we live by. There are a lot of them, too, and each thinks his is the only one. So it only follows they would create the gods we worship, and there are a lot of them, too. And each thinks his is the only one.
Now, all of this would seem to indicate there is no God; quite the opposite is true. There most definitely is a necessary God, without which there would be nothing, a concept so vast that it usually scares the bejeebers out of anyone who dares to face it.
But there, we’re getting too close to a topic that should be dealt with by the experts. And when I speak of experts, I’m not talking about your Billy Grahams nor your Oral Roberts nor any of the other charlatans around us. I’m speaking of the scientists and the philosophers who know the answers and who long ago have given up on us because they know that we don’t want to hear the truth. We’re satisfied with our long-held childish superstitions and fairy tales.
But enough. I wonder how many of us have ever stopped to think about what our children’s children will be into, say sixty or seventy years from now, or even sooner. Eat each other? It’s a definite possibility. But don’t worry about it. It will go away or, more correctly, I should say, we’ll go away. That’s right, we’ll be the lucky ones. We won’t be here to see it—and that’s good. We won’t hear it when they deride us for all the time we wasted when we said, “Let Charlie do it.” And all the time, Charlie was passing the buck to someone else, and that someone else?
Oh, good heaven, you know our method of operating as well as I do. If there is one wrong way to do a thing, we’ll climb over a dozen rights to get to it. When we finally succeed in exterminating ourselves from the face of this earth, then maybe, just maybe, somewhere someone or something will come up from the bowels of the sleeping past and put it all back together again.
Oh, Lord, will there ever again be a time to talk with the creatures who talk with God, and to swim in a moonlit lake among the stars?
One bright spot in Bob's retirement years was the birth of his only grandchild in the Spring of 1953. His daughter, Bobbie, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy she planned to name Colin Coburn. Just as he wanted his music to be different from everyone else's, Bob wanted his grandson to be different, too, and he suggested she change the spelling but not the pronunciation of the name. "Just to make a difference," he told her. Bobbie spelled the name of her son C-a-l-i-n. His father, Ken, was a handsome and personable young man from a large family in Arkansas.
Roberta (Bobbie) Nolan, Bob's only child.
Bob and his only grandchild, Calin.
Ken Coburn, Bob with Calin on his knee, and Roberta (Bobbie).
Ken Coburn and his son, Calin.
The Cold War and the atom bomb testing in nearby Nevada were constantly on Bob's mind and, concerned about little Calin's future, he wrote a song he calledThat Cloud.
Not so very long ago a small young child I used to know would rise each dawn
And run to meet the morning sun before the sun had quite begun to warm the earth
And there behold the wondrous things of joy and life and flying wings as they were born
Until that cloud of rancid grey came rollin’ in to stay, and stay! to blind the sun!
And on my hill a blossom rare reached up for life that wasn’t there
And cried for we, the sun and me.
And so, I hold it as it dies and lock it in my mem’ries eyes
For it may be the last I’ll ever see.
And when the children run to play on some far distant lonely day,
They’ll go, and never know that they can never be.
Late in 1952 and then again in July 1953, Bob went back to the RCA studio to record without the Sons of the Pioneers. On November 18, 1952, he recorded I Can't Lie to Myself, An Angel in the Choir, The Mystery of His Way and The House of Broken Dreams. He may have had a cold that first session because his voice was strained. In July of 1953 he recorded Cool Water and Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Manhunt. Marilyn Tuttle, Lou Dinning of the Dinning Sisters and Rose Lee Maphis sang backup for him. "He sang very softly, " Marilyn recalls. "The thing that was interesting to me is that we were standing right next to him, about 10 feet away, and I could hardly hear him. He was very soft. And I always thought he had this robust voice and I think he did use a more robust voice with the Pioneers but in this particular session, his voice was very soft. He was very subdued."
And so Bob settled down into the new pattern of life, one he would keep for nearly 30 years. Interrupted briefly by the final RCA recording sessions and occasional appearances on the Sons of the Pioneers' new show, The Lucky U Ranch, he was able to live life in the way he preferred – quietly. Naturally, his acquaintances in the entertainment world considered this to be reclusive behaviour and shook their heads.
The following photos from the Calin Coburn Collections contain unidentified people. They were taken somewhere from 1950 - 1953.
Nearly six years after Bob retired, the Sons of the Pioneers returned to record for RCA Victor. To the current group's disappointment, there was a stipulation – RCA insisted that the original trio of Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer and Lloyd Perryman were to record. Both Bob and Tim agreed and several sides were recorded, including some pop and rock'n'roll tunes like Tennessee Rock & Roll and Epidemic. Tim's voice did not hold up, even after the long rest, and Ken Curtis was brought in to replace him. Pat Brady was brought back to replace Deuce Spriggens and this group recorded from 1955-57. Some of the best recordings of the Sons of the Pioneers were made with this trio – Lloyd and Ken Curtis with their soaring tenor voices, Bob with his unique baritone and the unequalled Farr Brothers. It was superb, classic Sons of the Pioneers sound and these recordings have since been reissued by Bear Family on a 4-CD set.
Concerning one of the seldom heard recordings from this last session, Laurence Zwisohn states, "It’s hard to imagine the Sons of the Pioneers having a record run into censorship trouble but Old Man Atom, which they recorded on July 17, 1950, was such a record. World War II had ended when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The joy at the ending of this horrifying conflict eventually gave way to concerns over the terror that had been unleashed by the creation of nuclear weapons. Old Man Atom, performed by Hugh Farr in a talking blues style, tells of the terrible dangers the world would have to live with. While the facts in the song were accurate the message was too strong for some people. RCA Victor withdrew the Pioneer record and replaced this side with Where are You which they had recorded on October 16, 1947."
An RCA recording that should have been but never was issued was Little Spaceman by Bob Nolan. It is a catchy little tune filled with "space travel" phrases that little boys love. The only recording we have is a very worn and scratched demo.
The following 3 photos are from the Calin Coburn Collections and many of the people in them we have been unable to identify. Perhaps you may be able to help us. Karl E. Farr suggested that they may be RCA Victor people.
The wives, on the same occasion.
Claudina, Fayetta Brady, P-Nuts Nolan, unidentified man, Velma Spencer and Buddie Perryman
(NB: Claudina was Fayetta's twin sister and was included in many of these gatherings although she wasn't married to any of the Sons of the Pioneers.)
Watching "flash" being removed from a long play recording when they visited the Camden factory of RCA Victor.
(Karl E. Farr Collection)
Slim Whitman's biographer, Loren Knapp, said that while Slim Whitman was with the Louisiana Hayride, he and his steel guitar player, Hoot Rains, created what would become part of the Slim Whitman signature sound, the “singing guitar.” The soaring notes of the steel guitar can be heard in many of Slim’s early songs. It all started by accident in the classic Love Song of the Waterfall by Bob Nolan. One night while performing the song, Hoot overshot a note and sent it soaring skyward. Slim liked what he heard and worked the unusual sound into his songs. They called this technique “shooting arrows”. Love Song of the Waterfall was released in 1951 and shot up the charts to the number two position.
The same song was Jimmy Wakely's favorite of all Bob's compositions and, when he interviewed Bob Nolan twenty-five years later, after the Walk of Fame ceremony in 1976, he told Bob,
My first acquaintance with the Sons of the Pioneers was when you were with Charlie Starrett at Columbia Pictures and your transcriptions come out on Standard Transcriptions and the little radio station that Johnny Bond and I were working for in Oklahoma City – we weren’t together then, we were working on our own separate shows on KTOK there - we started digging the Sons of the Pioneers and your songs. Then we went out and bought a songbook of yours which was published by a company in Portland Oregon by a company called Cross and Winge and in the book and on your transcriptions was a song that was to draw me to the Sons of the Pioneers and specifically to Bob Nolan, the songwriter, because you had done such a great job writing a song called Love Song of the Waterfall.
Bob replied, "I was quite proud of that at that time. You see, the song was given to me by two fellows that started to write it and couldn’t get beyond the first line, see? So they decided to give it to me and let me finish the song. With the start of that first line that these two boys had written, this just rolled out and I was through with it in 20 minutes."
In a national survey conducted in 1951, Cool Water was found to be the best-known song of the American West. As well as the Sons of the Pioneers, artists included The Alshire Singer, Moe Bandy, The Boston Pops Orchestra with Arthur Fiedler conducting, Bing Crosby, Jim Hendricks, Burl Ives, Sleepy la Beef, Frankie Laine, Joni Mitchell, Vaughn Monroe, Odetta, The Replacements, Marty Robbins, Jack Scott, to name a few. Today, the song is still being recorded by new artists.
Tommy Doss sounded so much like Bob that few people who listened to the Lucky U program on radio realized that Bob was not in the trio. Aware of this, Lloyd Perryman arranged a program to illustrate the differences in Tommy's and Bob's voices. Bob was invited as a guest and the following recording was made on December 14, 1951.Hillbilly Wedding in June.
In 1955, according to his daughter, Bob tried out for a series of his own, a Warner Brothers television program called Cheyenne. The hero, Cheyenne Bodie, was a big, powerful loner, righting wrongs in the old West. The non-musical role may have appealed to Bob and it seems he considered returning to the movies. (When he was with the Sons of the Pioneers, it was not acting he disliked, but the touring that was so necessary.) However, he did not get the part which was filled by Clint Walker, shown here beside a young Bob who may well have been chosen had he been still that age.
Young Bob Nolan (left) and Clint Walker.
Bob Nolan and Tex Williams
Contrary to popular belief, Bob was not a hermit or a recluse. Although his desire for privacy was unusual in the entertainment field, it was quite natural for the average citizen. Bob did have his friends and they were good friends. However, his cabin was off-limits to everyone but his wife. It was his refuge and his escape to the solitude he needed in which to write and replenish his soul. The small amount of royalty payments he received from his songs allowed Bob and P-Nuts a modest lifestyle and they lived simply. (To read more details about his later life, read Dick Goodman's memories in the Recollections section.)
Bob with Lloyd Perryman
(Courtesy of Wayne Perryman)
My mother's father had a little cabin in Pioneertown and when I was a kid we
would go up there sometimes. Lloyd and Bob would hang out together some times
when Bob and Peanuts would come up to visit. Clearly, Bob and my dad were pals.
Bob continued to write songs for the rest of his life. He would write the words first and go over and over them until he was satisfied with them. (Compare his lyrics to the lyrics of popular songs and it is obvious that Bob's stand alone as poetry. Polished poetry. Next he would work out the melody. Occasionally, the melody would come first but usually it was the words, he said. He might write the words out in longhand and print in the chord names.
None of the Sons of the Pioneers but Ken Carson could read or write music in the beginning but over the years they did learn the rudiments. By this time, Bob had learned a little about writing music himself and could make a simple lead sheet.
For at least twenty years he would call the Bob Ross Music Service in Hollywood and they would send over someone to put the music to paper as Bob sang and played his little Martin guitar. This worked in theory but was not perfect because, inevitably, mistakes were made. When Bob later heard his songs played, he could pinpoint an error immediately. When Laurence Zwisohn brought Bob's original Sunset version of Tumbling Tumbleweeds to him, Bob spotted an error in the first few bars so, by this time, Bob could evidently read music to a certain extent.
The rough lead sheet was taken back to Bob Ross Music Service and tidied up a little.
If a print agreement had been signed, it would go to the publisher and be printed into sheet music which would be sold in book stores, music stores, etc. Bob's daughter said that he continued to have someone come in to transcribe for him until the end of his life. Ken Carson liked to tell of the time Bob called him over to transcribe Half Way 'Round the World for him in the middle of one night. Someone took the lyrics down in shorthand for him. Perhaps it was Ken.
Lloyd Perryman, Tommy Doss and Dale Warren, the current trio in the 1966 Sons of the Pioneers, put together a beautiful long play album of what they considered the best of Bob's songs plus some that had seldom, if ever, been heard: A Sandman Lullaby, A Summer Night's Rain, You are My Eyes, Half Way 'Round the World and more. It is a real tribute to Bob, backed in stereo by the rich instrumentation of Lanham, Botkin, Jolly, Pohlman, Coleman and Frost.
This 1966 album of Bob's songs was also produced in stereo.
Enlargement of album photo.
Meanwhile, his daughter had remarried (to Milo Mileusnich) and lived in Las Vegas. She visited Bob regularly, bringing his small grandson with her at times. Sadly, because of those lost fifteen years when her mother refused to let Bob see her, they did not have the close father-daughter relationship they both craved. They did become good friends but they both regretted those lost years.
Bob's grandson, Calin Coburn, graduated from high school in 1971 and went on to further education at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara where he obtained a BSci with Commercial Photography degree. During a visit with Ansel Adams in his home, the great photographer critiqued a portfolio of Calin's photos and then showed around his darkroom and his own famous photographs.
Left: High School graduation. Right: Photography project.
Photos of Calin taken by members of his photography class.
One week in 1975, on his way home to Las Vegas from Santa Barbara, Calin spent a few days with Bob and P-Nuts in their Studio City home. He took pictures of his grandfather and sent him prints. Those few prints are all that remain because Calin's entire early photographic work, including the negatives, was destroyed by a flash flood in 1987. But during that 1975 visit, Calin and Bob met as adults and a bond was forged. Calin will never share those conversations he had with his grandfather; they are too precious. "When Bob talked to me it was to me. For me. Nobody else. I can't say I got to know him - nobody knew him - but if he'd lived longer...."
Calin Coburn, photographer
He seems to have been a mystery to everybody. Everybody would try to get to him to find out what he was thinking about but it was seldom.... He would never make small talk. He wouldn't talk about personalities but if you started to talk philosophical "ideas" to him, then you had him. He studied a lot of philosophers and he'd sit there and read those books and read one line and then sit there and think for half an hour. Took him forever to go through those philosophers. (Roberta Nolan Mileusnich)
Reluctantly in the spotlight again
By 1971, the awards for his work started coming in and Bob was forced to make public appearances again in order to accept them. (SeeAwards page to view the trophies and honors.) During the next ten years he made more public appearances and attended more parties than he had since he'd retired. But he was given many more invitations than he accepted and continued to do so for the rest of his life. Everyone would invite Bob, no one expected him to come and all were pleased and astonished if he did show up.
On January 2, 1972, Stuart Hamblen gathered together three members of the Classic Sons of the Pioneers - Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer and Lloyd Perryman. With the dual purpose of the meeting was to interview the Pioneers for an upcoming KLAC program and Bob Nolan for the first time. It had been difficult to arrange an interview with Bob at all so Lloyd and Stuart thought a gathering of friends would do the trick. It did. It opened the way for further interviews for Ken Griffis' book, "Hear My Song - the Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers". This interview was the basis for a KLAC program on January 9, 1972.
Lloyd Perryman, Bob Nolan, Ken Griffis, Tim Spencer and Stuart Hamblen
Calin Coburn Collections ©2004
Patsy Montana delivered one of Bob's awards to him in person.
This appears to be The Pioneer Award which was awarded to him on March 13, 1972. Patsy took the photo herself.
(Courtesy of Michelle Sundin)
The John Edwards Memorial Foundation sponsored a 40th Anniversary Reunion tribute to the Sons of the Pioneers at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Nolan and Spencer received awards from Richard Kirk of BMI for their musical compositions. Friends and fellow entertainers and composers attended with their families and performed: the current Sons of the Pioneers, previous members of the group, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Marty Robbins, Rex Allen, Jimmy Wakely, Stuart Hamblen, Pedro Gonzales Gonzales, Art Satherly, Slumber Nichols, Cal Worthington, Johnny Bond, Smokey Rogers. Music was provided by the Hershel Witt Band which included Harold Hensley and Noel Boggs. The active members of the Pioneers, Lloyd Perryman, Dale Warren, Luther Nallie, Billy Armstrong and Roy Lanham, performed along with Roy Rogers, Tommy Doss, Ken Carson, Hugh Farr, Rusty Richards and Bill Nichols.
The Mayor’s personal representative read a proclamation setting aside April 21, 1972 as Sons of the Pioneers Day in the City of Los Angeles and the City Council presented a resolution commending the Sons of the Pioneers “for forty years of outstanding entertainment.” Marty Robbins presented the fellows with a plaque. After dinner, George Putnam, friend and associate from the Lucky U Ranch program, expressed his appreciation for their help and friendship. Rex Allen declared extravagantly, "Empires may dissolve, and races of people may disappear; but a song will live through eternity. The songs written and performed by The Sons of the Pioneers will be sung a thousand years from now; perhaps on other planets. What a great heritage to have left the world." The evening concluded with past and present members on stage singing Tumbling Tumbleweeds.
Left to right front: Roy Lanham, Tim Spencer, Bob Nolan, Hugh Farr, Roy Rogers and Lloyd Perryman.
Courtesy of Michelle Sundin
(Courtesy of Fred Sopher)
In 1974, the late Ken Griffis published his first edition of Hear My Song - the Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers (JEMF Special Series No. 5, 1974) based on hours of taped interviews with each of the men. The two unpublished interviews he had with Bob were in Bob's home in Studio City on January 12, 1972 and August 22, 1973. This book, now in its fifth revision (1998) is still available from Ken himself or the current Sons of the Pioneers.
The John Edwards Memorial Foundation (JEMF) is an archive and research center located originally in the Folklore and Mythology Center of the University of California at Los Angeles. It was chartered as an educational non-profit corporation, supported by gifts and contributions. The purpose of the JEMF was to further the serious study and public recognition of those forms of American folk music disseminated by commercial media such as print, sound recordings, films, radio, and television. These forms include the music referred to as cowboy, western, country & western, old time, hillbilly, bluegrass, mountain, country, Cajun, sacred, gospel, race, blues, rhythm and blues, soul, and folk rock. It was later moved to the University of North Carolina, into The Southern Folklife Collection. The Friends of the JEMF was organized as a voluntary non-profit association to enable persons to support the Foundation's work. Ken Griffis was an officer and a major contributor.
Because Bob was so discouraged by the lack of interest the public had in his later compositions, he was completely uninterested in cooperating in any kind of a biography. He saw no point in it. Those days were gone. Done. Over. It took Ken a good deal of time to break through Bob's reticence but he patiently persevered and persuaded him that a history of the group was necessary. Ken was always respectful of Bob's need of privacy and eventually Bob spoke freely with him. (See Ken's memories in the Recollections section.) The result was a book that is still the definitive history of the Sons of the Pioneers and their work.
The first edition of Hear My Song by Ken Griffis, 1974.
Bob continued to write songs and poetry. In 1974 he told Ken Griffis that, waking at 5:00 in the morning, he'd prop himself up in bed and write for two or three hours. He might be working on several tunes at once and none of them were cowboy songs. When the songs were finished, he said, he filed them away "to await the time when conditions are right for them to be released." He sang only for his own enjoyment.
(Calin Coburn Collection photo)
On December 8th, 1974, Bob and Stuart Hamblen were guests on KLAC's Radio-Thon at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood. The 9-hour show featured various KLAC personalities taking turns at the emcee role. The program was conceived by KLAC manager Bill Ward and was broadcast from noon until 9pm with no break for commercials. The radio-thon raised about $6400 for the John Edwards Memorial Foundation. Performers and celebrities mentioned to take part were Pat Boone, Stuart Hamblen, Hal Southern, Brian Collins, Conny Van Dyke, Bunny Easterday, Uncle Art Satherly, Cliffie Stone, Mac Curtis, Merle Travis, Dorsey Burnett, Jimmy Wakely, Johnny Bond, Mayf Nutter, Nudie Cohen (billed simply as ‘Nudie’), Smokey Rogers, Eddie Dean, Bob Nolan, Tex Williams, Claire Courtney, Clay Hart, Jon Walmsley, Guy and Ralna. [Source – “Turning It On: AM/FM article by Scott Manchester in the Van Nuys Valley News, Thursday December 5, 1974](research courtesy of Jason Odd)
The next three pictures from Bob's photo album are described by Jimmy's daughter, Lindalee Wakely:
The party was to celebrate Mom and Dad's 40th wedding anniversary. It was held on their anniversary date, December 13 1975 at our home in Toluca Lake, California. I had planned this party for three years and my two sisters, Deanna and Carol, worked with me to make it a reality. It was a complete surprise.
Wayne Burson trained his own racehorses in Washington State and was racing one in San Francisco the weekend of the party but made it to the party, anyway. Ted French was in hundreds of westerns. He was a lovely man and we grew up with Ted and his family. One of his sons was Victor French whom we knew from childhood as "Eddie". Victor played "Mr. Edwards" on "Little House on the Prairie and he came to the party with Ted. It really was like Old Home Week. Oliver Drake was a screenwriter. He wrote 26 Men for TV and literally hundreds of westerns. He also was a director and directed most of Daddy's movies.
I love that photograph. To me, it represents the entire western movie. The star, the stunt double, the "bad" guy, the director, the sidekick and the very gifted writer of the most wonderful western songs in the world, Bob Nolan.
Left to right: Jimmy Wakely, Wayne Burson, Ted French, Oliver Drake, Johnny Bond and Bob Nolan.
Inez and Jimmy Wakely, P-Nuts (seated) and Bob Nolan, Dorothy and Johnny Bond.
The Singing Cowboys, left to right: Johnny Bond, Jimmy Wakely, Stuart Hamblen and Bob Nolan
Wesley Tuttle who was also there with his wife, Marilyn, recalls, "Johnny Bond, Jimmy Wakely and myself sang Tumbling Tumbleweeds to the mike up on the camera."
On April 28 1976, Ken Griffis sat in on an interview by Betty Cox Larimer, the publisher of Music City News and Lee Rector, the editor. The interview took place in Bob Nolan's home in Studio City. Bob’s mynah bird was there, too, constantly interrupting the interview with comments like, “Hello, P-Nuts”, “Good Morning”, and “I like gambling!” (When the mynah spoke, everyone but Bob stopped speaking.) As a result of this interview, an article was published in the Music City News, August, 1976, page 18.
During the interview, Bob got out his old guitar and sang one of his new songs, In This Room, for them. This song exemplified the type of music he was currently writing. Although the song was never recorded commercially by anyone, it is powerfully evocative and as relevant today as it was the day he wrote it.
In This Room
This small hotel overlooking the sea
Now crumbling, condemned and alone;
I come not to watch it die but to walk inside of
And talk with, and listen to, just one very special room ~
This empty, bare, forlorn and alone room.
Where the sun calls each day but there’s no one at home room
Well, the years have been dragging their weary feet along
Every wall down, at last, to end
In the sunbleached path on the floor
From the broken window across the room and out the open door.
But I still can feel the warmth and glow
Where all the love this room could hold
Now falls into dust with the long ago
And so I listen.
But all I can hear is the muted sound of a lonely heartbeat crying
Somewhere in the shadows where you left it
In this room.
And the memories come tumbling through my mind
Like the fallen leaves in the autumn wind
And I open my arms to welcome them as they gather here
In this room.
In this room.
And I’m trying to remember how long it has been
And where did it start and how did it end.
I can’t seem to recall a tear or even an angry word
Or a broken vow, for none were made.
Or did someone just forget to come home to
This now is the start and the end of forever room,
Where tomorrow may come and again it may never room.
So, I walk to the window, look out to the sea
And the sea is the same as it used to be ~
So blue! So very blue!
And I let this tired body of mine fill the very space that once was you
And I feel you breathe inside of me,
And my mind is a tangle of hopeless dreams
And this longing within me has nowhere to go.
And so I listen.
But all I can hear is the muted sound of a lonely heartbeat crying
Somewhere in the shadows where you left it ~
In this room.
And the memories come tumbling through my mind
Like the fallen leaves in the autumn wind
And I open my arms to welcome them as they gather here
In this room, in this room.
On September 24, 1976, the Sons of the Pioneers saw their star placed in the Walk of Fame 6845 Hollywood Boulevard between Sycamore and Le Brea. The dedication was live on KLAC and the day was very hot. The following photographs were taken at that time.
Bob with Roy Rogers
The photo was taken the day the Pioneers got their star on Hollywood Boulevard. In addition to the then current lineup headed by Lloyd, Roy and Bob were there along with a gaunt looking Hugh Farr. Roy was being interviewed when he saw Bob arrive and he quickly (but politely) ended the interview and went over to Bob. From the smiles on their faces you can see how glad they were to see each other. (Laurence Zwisohn)
Bob Nolan with Roy Rogers (left) and the mayor's representative for the City of Los Angeles and Lloyd Perryman
Bob with Rex Allen
Hugh Farr and Bob with Bobbie looking on.
That same evening, a musical tribute was paid to the group at the Hollywood Palladium and was broadcast on KLAC. Many guest stars performed and the audience contained fans, friends and families of the guests and the past and present Sons of the Pioneers. (Backstage, during the actual performance, Jimmy Wakely taped an interview with Bob Nolan. Unfortunately, only the first cassette with just a few minutes of the interview has been found.) The evening ended with past and present members of the group on stage singing Tumbling Tumbleweeds.
Hugh, if I recall, was living in Wyoming and drove down with two of his
neighbors. As gaunt as he was he was clearly recognizable.
Bob Nolan, Hugh Farr, Ray Whitley, Roy Rogers, Lloyd Perryman, Billie Liebert, Dale Warren, Roy Lanham and Shug Fisher.
Gene Autry, also there that night though not singing, presented the Sons of the Pioneers with The Gene Autry Award.
Left to right: Dale Warren, Rusty Richards, Lloyd Perryman, Gene Autry, Billy Liebert and Roy Lanham.
Followingthe festivities at the Palladium, some of Bob's friends gathered at Stuart Hamblen's place. Bob, Lloyd and Marty sang together, of course. Laurence Zwisohn adds further details:
Marty Robbins was appearing at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood so he was the last to arrive. Lloyd Perryman drove Bob over to Stuart's. Bob always held Stuart high in his regard and this was one of the very few times when Bob would socialize, even though there would be some people he didn't know.
Back: Gene Bear, Stuart Hamblen, Bob Nolan, Marty Robbins, Hugh Cherry, Harold Hensley and Bill Ward.
Front: Laurence Zwisohn, Ken Griffis, Lloyd Perryman and Claude Hall.
p. 13, Pioneer Historical Journal, Fall 1989 Vol. 3 No. 3 Issue 10, mistakenly dated 1972.
6845 Hollywood Blvd. between Sycamore and Le Brea.)
Pat and Karl Farr standing on the Sons of the Pioneers' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Replica of the Sons of the Pioneers' Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame from the Internet.
Los Angeles Times
Sunday August 21, 1977
On May 31, 1977, Bob lost his closest friend. Lloyd Perryman died after complications following heart surgery. Bob was so upset that, instead of going to the funeral, he stayed home and wrote a poem he later gave to Buddie and Wayne -
Leaves are fallin'
Wild geese are callin'
The skies are red each dawn.
The autumn breeze the waters tease
So they've put their white caps on.
All nature's asleep 'neath a blanket snowflakes bring
Till softly kissed upon the cheek by the warm gentle breath of Spring.
Now, should I follow the geese and the swallow
Or through the long nite yearn
And stay with the leaves from the barren trees
And wait for your return?
Johnny Bond, Ken Griffis, Bob Nolan and Eddie Brandt.
(Calin Coburn Collections)
On October 21, 1977, Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers were honored by the Old West Trail Foundation at Rapid City, South Dakota. Bob "couldn't get away" to accept the award so long-time friend and associate of the Pioneers, Pete Logan, was chosen to do the job. At the same ceremony, Bob was chosen for the William F. Cody Award for Music. In his acceptance speech on Bob's behalf, Pete Logan said, "Bob Nolan had, and still has, a way of putting words together unlike anybody I have ever heard. Had he never put a note of music to his songs, the poetry alone would have guaranteed him a place in history. I remember in the mid-50s that Bob Nolan and his publisher sat down and counted some twelve hundred songs that he has written, knowing full well that there were a few hundred others. And Nolan is still writing, even today. He doesn't try to publish them, just writes them and says, 'Someday the world will be ready for them.'"
October 29, 1978. Casey Tibbs and Bob Nolan, photo by William G Bowen
(Calin Coburn Collections)
1978 brought a change of lifestyle for Bob - more socializing than he'd done since he retired. Excerpt from a letter to Bill Bowen from Casey Tibbs dates this photo -
I appreciate you sending me the 8 x 10 of Bob Nolan and me taken at the KLAC Ranch Party part at the Montie Montana Rodeo Ranch. Nolan was always a hero of mine as were all the Pioneers.
Casey Tibbs, twice the World Champion All-Around Cowboy and six times the World Saddle Bronc Champ was a good friend and buddy of Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers for years. The Pioneers entertained at the same rodeos right from the beginning of Casey's career. When Casey married Sandra Clark in 1979, the Pioneers provided the music and Tumbling Tumbleweeds was one of the songs that preceded the nuptials. There were 500 guests at the ceremony and, if not actually present, Bob and P-Nuts Nolan would have been invited.
Snuff Garrett, Bob Nolan and Olaf Wieghorst, 1979
This photo was taken in Snuff Garrett's home at a party he gave for Olaf Wieghorst who had not seen Bob since Bob bought sketches from him during the rodeo at Madison Square Garden in the early 1940s. Bob had not realized the value of those sketches. He is holding an etching Olaf gave Snuff. Today Olaf Wieghorst's world famous western paintings are exhibited at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, the Olaf Wieghorst Museum in El Cajon, CA, etc. His "Navajo Madonna" is possibly his best known work.
Bob Nolan and Jim Nabors who is holding Dawn Garrett, Snuff's daughter.
"This photo was taken at my home in Bel-Air, CA (345 St. Pierre Rd.) at a party I
gave for Brenda Lee." (Snuff Garrett)
One June 15, 1978, Bob attended the funeral for Johnny Bond, a good friend and fellow entertainer for years. The funeral was held in the Hollywood Hills Church at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles.
So many of John's friends were there to pay their tribute - Jimmy Wakely, Eddie Dean, Ray Whitley, Wesley Tuttle, Rex Allen and Uncle Art Satherley among others. It was a very moving experience. As bob Nolan walked in, the organist was playing "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". Bob was obviously moved. At the conclusion of the service, Bob commented, "John would have been pleased to know he played before a capacity crowd." (Ken Griffis, The Pioneer, August 15, 1978)
The Reinsmen, a popular western group famous for their loyalty to the Pioneer sound, were introduced to Bob by Dick Goodman. Their obvious admiration and respect won Bob and he agreed to go on a fishing trip with them in the Sierras. They fished and explored during the days and in the evenings they sang in Robert Wagoner's sound studio. Everyone had such a fine time together that another trip was planned for the following year. The Reinsmen did much to restore Bob's confidence in his work and paved the way for his consenting to record one last album. The pictures of this trip are from Dick Goodman's private collection.(Read the full story in Recollections.)
Inside the motorhome: Bob, Doc Denning, Dick Goodman and Robert Wagoner.
Inside the motorhome: Robert Wagoner, Dick Goodman, Doc Denning, Bob Nolan and Jerry Compton.
Inside the motorhome: Dog Denning, Dick Goodman, Bob Nolan, Jerry Compton and Robert Wagoner.
Bob pointing to tiny fish.
Looking up at the falls.
Looking down at the falls.
Robert Wagoner, Doc Denning and Bob
Robert Wagoner, Bob and Dick Goodman
Bob recording the sound of Robert Wagoner's stream at Bishop, California. He used this tape to relax with. Doc Denning remembers him listening carefully to the stream and calling it a "two-toned waterfall." Audio clip courtesy of Michelle Sundin.
Bob and Doc Denning
Doc Denning noted, "He was quiet, modest, polite and unassuming. I really don’t think Bob knew how much he was loved by so many for his work and personality. The Reinsmen and I spent a couple of weekends with him at Bob Wagoner’s and, in addition to singing with him, we went on a couple of fishing trips into the Sierras and sat around visiting. P-Nuts Nolan said that was the first time Bob had really been out with a bunch of guys in years. We went out there and left him alone. If he wanted to talk, we talked; if he didn't, we just stared at the mountains. We respected his privacy. That was back in 1978. We went again the following year and planned a third trip for the next year but Bob had died early that year."
A larger fish.
In Robert Wagoner's recording studio. Bob, Doc and Robert.
Bob Nolan and Robert Wagoner in the recording studio. Sound clip courtesy of Michelle Sundin.
Doc Denning, Bob and Jerry Compton
Bob's younger half-brother, Mike, would take him fishing along the coast of California and Mexico. Not much is known about Michael Nolan but he was often with Bob and P-Nuts and was a good friend of his niece, Bobbie.
Michael Foster Nolan, Bob's half brother.
Mike Nolan, Bob's half brother
Producer Tommy "Snuff" Garrett, of 50 Guitars fame, always loved the old western movies and songs. He and Rex Allen together wrote Rex's autobiography, he knew Gene Autry and he was a close friend of Roy Rogers – but he still didn't know Bob Nolan. One day he took the bull by the horns, got Bob's address from Nudie, the Hollywood tailor famous for the Singing Cowboys' extravagantly spectacular costumes, and drove over to the Nolan's home in Studio City. He knocked on the door and introduced himself. Bob asked him in and they sat down and watched TV until Snuff decided he'd go. Nothing else was said. Snuff patiently continued his visits and TV-watching with Bob until one day Bob turned to him and said, "You want to record, don't you?" Snuff replied yes, that's what he wanted. See Snuff Garrett's Recollections for the full story of Bob's last recording. This is how Bob remembers it:
A very dear friend of mine asked me to do it and I turned him down at first but he kept at me with good labels and everything. And I finally gave in about six months later and we made a record. I’ve known Snuff for so damn long. When he came to me with it, I didn’t like the idea at the beginning because I had been out of the business for over twenty years but Snuff, he wouldn’t quit, dammit! And it was one of my stipulations that this would be the last one. I mean, I’m not going to follow up on it at all.
First he brought the people with United Artists out here and they liked what they heard and said, “Hell, yes. We’ll do it.” But before they got the record out, why, United Artists was sold and I don’t know who the hell bought it though I know what the price was. Eight million dollars! So, finally, about six months later or maybe a little more, Snuff got Elektra – that’s a Warner Brothers affiliate, I hear – to accept it and so far it’s been doing all right when you consider I’ve been out of the doggone business as long as I have. It’s still on the charts and been on for over ten weeks. I want it to go because Snuff has sunk so damn many dollars in it. The money was just flowing like mad. He got me everything I wanted. I wanted certain voices behind it since I couldn’t get the Pioneers. That was absolutely out of the category because they were under contract to another label. I would have loved to have the Sons.
They’ve given me quite a broad choice of stuff to record by myself, see. They let me choose it. I didn’t like the fact that they specifically ordered Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water which have been sung so much by the Sons and myself. I didn’t want to do them over again, but they convinced me that that’s what the people would expect, you know, so I did them. I loved the background music and the whole thing was very palatable to me. I was a little reticent to choose too many new ones but he said, “Now give me some of your new stuff,” and I give him three and he wanted more. I said, “No.” I said, “The record won’t be versatile enough to please the people, see?” I said, “Let’s get some other writers in there and have a conglomerative deviation of songs.
Snuff allowed him all the leeway he could in choosing songs, orchestra and singers but he insisted he wear western garb and "look like Bob Nolan". Years before, Bob had given his hats away and had no more western-cut clothing with the exception of one of his Nudie wool shirts. Since it was thirty years since he'd last worn it, he was doubtful of being able to get it on. "But," he told his grandson with that inimitable twinkle, "I put on a girdle and cranked it down!" Snuff provided the hat, slacks and belt and some memorable photographs were taken that day. One of them ended up on the album cover and the other is a favorite in his grandson's collection.
Bob particularly wanted to use Man Walks Among Us, a Marty Robbins song that he often told his friends he wished he had written himself. He asked Marty for permission to use it on his album and for further permission to change a line or two to fit his own personal philosophy. Delighted that Bob had selected his song, Marty agreed. Marty’s original words had been “I look close and see, looking right back at me, the eyes of the young cottontail." Bob changed them slightly to "I look close and see God looking at methrough the eyes of a young cottontail. Marty, between performances at The Palomino nightclub in North Hollywood, joined Bob in duet on the piece and added his distinctive guitar runs.
According to Earl Blair, reflecting on the recording of the album, "Bob is letter perfect on each song. It is simply hard to believe that the voice you hear belongs to a seventy-one year old man. It was fascinating to see Bob at work during the recording sessions. Quiet and soft spoken, he rarely blew a take. And between takes, he would lie down in a corner of the studio to rest, his portable tape recorder playing the sounds of a gentle spring rain or the rippling waters of a mountain stream, while some of the most beautiful and poetic music ever written—his music—played back in the studio. This is Bob Nolan…the sound of a pioneer."
The recording sessions were completed in January, 1978, and United Artists was to release it on May 1 in a gatefold album with many photos on the inner liner plus the new one of Bob on the cover. However, it was finally released by Elektra in 1979. The album remained on the charts for 15 weeks and, surprised and encouraged by this public reaction, Bob began toying with the idea of recording again.
Bob Nolan, 1978
Page 42 from the British Country Music People magazine of Dec. 1979 written by Tony Byworth, editor at that time.
Courtesy of Anne Greb
Although Bob had originally stipulated that he would neither travel nor advertise this album or even consider another, he found himself in demand again. Douglas B. Green (Ranger Doug of Riders in the Sky) interviewed him by telephone following the release of the album and the entire conversation is reproduced in Recollections. [Select Douglas B. Green to read the typescript of that conversation.]
During the interview, Bob talked about another song of his, Relative Man, that Jim Nabors had recorded on the album I See God. Bob described it as a long, difficult song to sing. He said Jim, who couldn't read music, had struggled with it because it had so many chord changes. Bob also stated that this song reflected his own belief and philosophy, rather than the religious songs he had previously written.
One night he told a group of his friends who were discussing their favorite places:
I have a favorite spot of mine out in the Mojave Desert. I started going out there years ago when I still had my Jeep. I’d put an inflatable kiddie pool, a 50-gal drum of water, and a beach umbrella in the back and I’d drive out past Barstow and then I’d cut off on to this dirt road and go ‘way out several miles into the desert by myself. When I reached this spot I’d set this kiddie pool up, fill it with water, set up my beach umbrella and then I’d wander off into the desert for a few hours. Later that afternoon, I’d come back to that spot, and by then the water in the kiddie pool would be nice and warm, so I’d take off my clothes and settle down in that pool, lie back, and just relax. And that’s about as close to God as you could get. There was just nobody out there but me and Him. (see Dick Goodman's recollections)
(Calin Coburn, photographer)
In 1979, responding to the public's renewed interest in Bob Nolan, he allowed Judy Finch to photograph him at his Big Bear cabin. There is no record of an interview.
Photos by Judy Finch, 1979
Wayne Perryman photo
I remember we would go up to Big Bear to visit Bob and Peanuts. It was always great fun. Bob had a spot where he liked to sit and meditate, I don't think that he called it that. Anyway, he liked to just sit there peacefully with his eyes shut. I took this shot. (Wayne Perryman)
On February 21, 1979, Ray Whitley died suddenly on a fishing trip to Mexico. He was 77. On the evening of February 28, Bob Nolan joined many of Ray's old friends and associates at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City, California, to honor his memory. The group joined in singing several Ray Whitley and Bob Nolan songs. Wesley and Marilyn Tuttle visited with Bob that evening and Marilyn asked him if he was still writing. He said he was and that he was still putting the songs "into my garage". Wesley remarked that he was such a quiet man that he didn't volunteer anything, just sat and listened as he had always done. "You had to drag any conversation out of him." Wesley had known Bob since 1937 when they both worked in the Starrett films (although not together) and Marilyn sang backup with Bob on some of his later singles. Wesley said Bob was so "within himself" that he would never reminisce or bring up any subject unless it was about something he was really enjoying at the time. John Wright, referring to that evening:
On February 28th, a week after his death, about forty friends gathered for a very private dinner, where each told either of what Ray had meant to him or her, or otherwise recalled some story concerning Ray. At the dinner were people like Bob Nolan who, when rising to pay his tribute was quite incapable of concealing either his great sense of loss, or his tears. Jimmy Wakely was there, Stuart Hamblen, Tex Williams. Ray's dearest friend, Eddie Dean, Wesley Tuttle, Hank Penny, Doye O'Dell, and others. The men stood and sang "Back in The Saddle Again", along with other Western classics such as "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds", and later Stuart Hamblen sang "It Is No Secret". Jimmy and Eddie lent their voices to a few spirituals ... and Bob Nolan, he wept.
On March 25, 1979, The Sons of the Pioneers were honored by the Smithsonian Institution for enriching our national cultural heritage through their contributions to the world of country and western music. Although the Smithsonian, a National Museum, is best recognized for its collection of artifacts and exhibits, the primary vehicle for honoring performers is through a live performance and so the current Sons of the Pioneers traveled to Washington DC. Excerpts from the concert announcement from the Smithsonian's Office of Public Affairs read,
Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family made it 'country' but the Sons of the Pioneers made it 'western'. The distinctive style of the Sons of the Pioneers, combined with the songwriting skill of Bob Nolan (who composed such hits as Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water) explains the great popularity of this Western group. Bob Nolan, who has been called the finest songwriter ever to appear in country music, virtually invented the sound and style of Western harmony singing. The romantic image of the cowboy and his life in the West has become a classic American myth and much of the creation of this ethos can be credited to the Sons of the Pioneers.
Bob attended the Testimonial Dinner for KLAC Country DJ, Dick Haynes, at the Hollywood Palladium on April 26, 1980. Arriving early, he visited with Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers backstage and listened to their rehearsal of "Ride, Concrete Cowboy, Ride," for a future recording session. While Dale Warren, Rusty Richards, Luther Nallie, Roy Lanham, and Billy Liebert worked out the harmonies and arrangement, Roy and Bob sat together, reminiscing. Roy and the Sons were the hits of the show that evening and Bob joined the capacity Palladium audience in two standing ovations for the group he'd helped found. In introducing Bob in the audience, Dale Warren acknowledged from the stage, "Whatever success the Sons of the Pioneers have had in these 47 years, Bob Nolan made it all possible."
On May 27, 1979, Bob was given the 1979 National Western Film Award for contributing to the heritage of the American motion picture. See Awards for pictures of the award itself. The newspaper clipping Bob kept reads:
“Hailed for a career that began with Douglas Fairbanks Sr.’s silent ‘Robin Hood’ and ended last year with ‘Heaven Can Wait,’ stuntman David Sharpe was presented with the Yakima Canutt Award at a National Film Society-sponsored luncheon, Saturday at the Universal City Studios' commissary.
The award, created specifically to honor stuntmen, originated last year, when it went to its namesake, Canutt, who is best known for having been John Wayne’s double. Canutt was among the 350 actors, directors, stuntmen and film buffs who filled the banquet room on Saturday.
David Sharpe, now 72 and partially paralyzed by ALS (‘Lou Gehrig’s disease’), sat in a wheelchair at the end of the dais and smiled broadly as fellow stuntman and actor Jock Mahoney read a list of Sharpe’s varied expertises [sic]. They included juggling, wrestling, boxing, gymnastics, swimming, concert-level piano playing, acting, horsemanship and combat aviation (during WW II).
Sharpe’s heyday spanned the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, when he stunted and acted in numerous serials and grade-B features for Republic Studios. His acrobatic leaps and vaults helped convey the illusion of human flight in the “Captain Marvel” and “Commander Cody’ serials, while in another serial, ‘The Perils of Nyoka,’ he is said to have doubled for every member of the cast, including the women.
During this period, Mahoney said, ‘Producers were afraid to cast actors in action films unless they could be doubled by David Sharpe.’
Sharpe’s brief, emotional acceptance speech was the conclusion of the event, at which award plaques went to actor Don (Red) Barry, who hosted the luncheon, toastmaster Pat Buttram, songwriter-actor Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers, actors Bob Steele and Bob Livingston, actress Peggy Stewart, and director George Sherman. Also in attendance were more western heroes, Sunset Carson, Lash LaRue and Eddie Dean. – Stan Berkowitz.”
Bob Nolan with Clinton Brown, western film buff and friend of writer, David Rothel.
Bob Nolan, Lash LaRue and Snuff Garrett
1979 with Robert Wagoner and Roy Rogers at one of Wagoner's art shows in San Dimas, California.
Bob Nolan commissioned Robert Wagoner to paint a picture for him that, unfortunately, was never completed. Bob wanted Wagoner to paint a unique landscape for him. "I don't want to see any life form in it," he instructed, "but I want to know they're there." Wagoner was still working on the painting when Nolan died and Dick Goodman describes it as a great piece of work.
Bob Nolan, Bill Bowen and Rusty Richards with a painting by Robert Wagoner titled "Following the Stream" from a song by Bob Nolan, "I Follow the Stream". The following photo is Bob singing "Three Friends Have I" to Rusty.
Both photos are from The Calin Coburn Collections
Courtesy of Fred Sopher
The late Ken Griffis spent a lot of time with Bob Nolan, finally penetrating Bob's reluctance to speak of the past. Many of his memories give us a closer look at his personality.
"Went over last Saturday and spent a couple of hours
with Bob Nolan. Any visit with Bob is an experience. He has a very active mind
and is in apparent excellent health. Bob enjoys talking about the present more
than the past. While he fully appreciates his years with the Pioneers, he spends
very little time reliving those years. As he says, "Let it lie."
In 1980, Bob wrote in the liner notes to Three on the Trail, Riders in the Sky's first album:
I think that most of you already know that I retired from music performing over 30 years ago. But I have kept my ear to the ground ever since, listening for that spark that could ignite sound into sound, life into life, music into music and the love and joy of giving into giving - for these are the components of greatness.
Rough copy of Bob's letter to Douglas B. Green
And so, near the end of his life, Bob's career showed signs of renewal. His album was doing well, he was considering recording another, he was giving interviews, attending awards ceremonies honoring the Sons of the Pioneers or fellow actors and singers. All this activity and excitement after so many years of peace and quiet. He was not refusing all social invitations now and he was seen at selected parties, obviously enjoying himself with old friends. Although he looked "like he could wrassle a bear", as Maryy Robbins put it, his health was not good. His doctor told him his heart was not what it should be and that he should give up cigarettes and alcohol. Bob obeyed to a point, exchanging hard liquor for wine and he did stop smoking but Time was already running out. Prophetically, on his last album, he sang That Old Outlaw, Time. Bob Nolan died one short year after the album was released.
That Old Outlaw, Time
There’s a solitary rider trailing me.
I know he’s out to bring me down like he did to so many of my old friends.
But somewhere up ahead, just a silhouette on the sky,
With my back to the setting sun, I’ll make a stand.
Now this shadow I just can’t seem to shake is not flesh and blood.
This is a stranger each man faces in his own mind, filling him with fear and doubt
And behind it all is that old outlaw, Time.
I’ll make a stand, go against any man, and I’ll beat his hand or he’ll beat mine.
But there’s no way to win, no way to win ‘gainst that old outlaw, Time.
Bob had planned to record a book of poetry and had composed and memorized several long poems, or "soliloquies", as he called them. On one of his regular visits to Bob, Bill Bowen brought along his tape recorder and had Bob recite one of these soliloquies for him - My Mistress the Desert. They agreed that Bill was to come again and record all the poems Bob had never put down on paper but Time was gone. Bob died eight days later, on June 16 1980, after a fishing trip in Newport Harbor with his daughter and his half brother, Mike. On his way home, Bob pulled up at a filling station in Costa Mesa to get gas and, by the time the attendant reached his car, he was gone. His body was cremated a week later and his daughter scattered his ashes on the desert near Red Rock Canyon in Nevada.
(Courtesy of Fred Sopher)
Wednesday June 18, 1980 (courtesy of Laurence Zwisohn)
Monday June 16, 1980 (courtesy of Laurence Zwisohn)
The following is from an interview of Marty Robbins by Larry Hopper at WFDU-FM on June 24, 1980, eight days after Bob's passing. In reply to Larry's question about what he felt he had in common with Bob Nolan, Marty replied:
I feel the same way about Nature as Bob Nolan but I had never written songs about Nature except the one song, Man Walks Among Us. And what I liked about Bob was a lot of his songs was about Nature and a lot of his songs was just the cowboy songs, campfire-type songs. Well, that’s different from what I wrote because mine was about gunfighters and killings, you know, and things like that.
The last time I saw him we exchanged a few songs. I sang to Bob on the way back from the recording session. I had my guitar and we were in the back seat of the car and I sang a song that I recorded in an album called All Around Cowboy called The Dreamer. He loved that song so much. He cried. It really made me feel, you know…. It put goosebumps on my arms to see the tears coming to his eyes while I was singing it because it’s kind of like a song like he would write. Because it had no fighting in it. It was just a story about a young man that left home and came back seventeen years later to find his mother and father had passed away and he was just a dreamer and a drifter.
And I really believe that’s what Bob was—a dreamer and a drifter. Although he, you know, didn’t do a lot of drifting he certainly had to be a dreamer to do the songs that he did.
When I was a young man beginnin' my teens
(Words included with permission from Ronny Robbins. The recording belongs to Sony / BMG.)
On July 27, 1980, a little over a month after Bob's death, his friends, knowing that Bob would not want a traditional funeral ceremony, decided to honor him musically with a gathering at Rex Allen's Diamond X ranch in Calabasas, California. Rex, the current Sons of the Pioneers, The Reinsmen, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Jimmy Wakely, Stuart Hamblen, Jane Frazee and many other actors, composers, business associates in music and filming, joined Bob's daughter and half-brother to remember Bob Nolan.
Bob Nolan has been awarded posthumously down through the years. Although he had been inducted into the first (1989) Western Music Hall of Fame as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers, in 1994 he and Tim Spencer were honored once again as individual western songwriters. Bob's daughter, Roberta Mileusnich accepted the award on his behalf.
Ken Griffis, Velma Spencer and Roberta Nolan Mileusnich.
Stan Corliss photo
Ken Griffis, Velma Spencer and Roberta Nolan Mileusnich.
Stan Corliss photo
Ken Griffis, Velma Spencer and Roberta Nolan Mileusnich.
Stan Corliss photo
Ken Griffis, Velma Spencer (accepting on behalf of her late husband, Tim), and Roberta Nolan Mileusnich.
Stan Corliss photo
"Fellow songwriter and singer Marty Robbins said, 'Nolan was a true songwriting genius. He had the ability to say simply and powerfully what he felt. I'd like to see a tribute to his music and to him as a man. He was a gentleman and a friend of mine.' Perhaps, as Marty has indicated, there should be a way to ensure that future generations can share this legacy. Many would like to see the publication of a complete folio of the works of Bob Nolan, accompanied by a comprehensive biography." (William G. Bowen)
Twenty years after they were written, Elizabeth Drake McDonald read these words by the editor/publisher of The Pioneer News. She had learned to love the songs of Bob Nolan from his two song folios when she was a child in rural British Columbia but had put them aside while she and her husband raised their four daughters. When her family grew up and left home, she cast about for some project that would help preserve the work of a Canadian artist and she remembered Bob Nolan. Finding information in Canada about Nolan in the 1980s proved difficult; nearly impossible. Eventually, she found Ken Griffis and with his help she made contact with Bob's daughter, Roberta "Bobbie" Mileusnich. Bobbie shared some of her own memories and sent her copies of some of her father's unpublished lyrics.
Her search for more lyrics led Elizabeth to read everything she could about the music scene in which Bob Nolan was involved and, inevitably, to The Pioneer News article written shortly after his death. Marty's comment and Bill's suggestion made her stop and think, "Could I do this myself? Well, I know I can't do it justice but I can make a start and perhaps someone else will take up the torch and finish it."
Through OJ Sikes, she made contact with Larry Hopper of New Jersey, an expert on American music history. He took an interest in the project and helped her sort out what she had collected and then compile it into a useful tool for researchers. Elizabeth donated her work to the University of North Carolina's Southern Folklife Collection which already contained the JEMF material. Larry immediately wrote and copyrighted a book of his own on the collection, "Bob Nolan: A Biographical Guide and Annotations to the Lyric Archive in the University of North Carolina". This desktop-published book is still for sale from the author.
The week following Bobbie's death in January 2000, her son, Calin Coburn, contacted Elizabeth. He liked the idea of archiving what was left of Bob Nolan's music and they agreed to work together. Calin scanned everything his grandfather had left him. Elizabeth provided the annotations and put the books together. They called them The Calin Coburn Collections and donated them to The Southern Folklife Collection at UNC. Now, the planning for the tribute began in earnest, searching and recording, scanning and writing for seven years, culminating in this website - a gift to you, Bob Nolan's friends and fans. The site is being constantly updated with new material as it is verified. Calin and Elizabeth welcome criticism and correction, suggestions and recollections.
Unfortunately, perhaps ninety per cent of Bob Nolan's song lyrics were destroyed in a garage fire. For years, Bob had kept letters, photos, scraps of paper on which he had written lyrics and mementos of his career, etc, in what he called his "treasure chest". He told his friends, "I'm keeping everything for my grandson." After both Bob and his wife died, his daughter confessed to Elizabeth that she had "cleaned house" and threw out much of what her father had collected. "If I'd known that anybody at all would have been interested, I'd have saved it. Western music was a thing of the past and I had no idea that anyone would remember him." Well, they do, Bobbie. They do.
In 2005, Canada inducted Bob Nolan into her 2nd Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Calin, unable to attend the ceremony himself, sent Elizabeth to Toronto to accept the award on behalf of his family.
Elizabeth Drake McDonald in Toronto, Ontario, February 8, 2005,
Receiving the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Award for Bob Nolan on behalf of his family.
Following the awards ceremony, the white tie gala event was broadcast nationally. Ian Tyson and Quartette sang Cool Water and Tumbling Tumbleweeds as the country of Bob Nolan's birth finally recognized their Son.
Ian Tyson and Quartette singing Cool Water and Tumbling Tumbleweeds at the John Bassett Theatre, Toronto.
The next day, Elizabeth flew to the American southwest to present the award, a beautiful limited edition sculpture, to Bob Nolan's family - Calin Coburn and his sons, Miles and Connor.
Bob Nolan's grandson and great grandsons, Calin, Miles and Connor Coburn, with the trophy.
Close-up of the trophy from the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2005
The original sculpture, Northern Island, was completed in 1927 by Elizabeth Wyn Wood of polished metal on a base of black glass or marble. The wind-blown trees would have pleased nature-loving Bob Nolan. The photograph does not do the sculpture justice.
There is renewed interest in Western music today, but this time a large part of the interest comes from music historians who are researching the roots of American music. Bob Nolan, with his romantic and lonely heart, his songs of the desert and the West so different from the Cowboy music that preceded them or the Country music that followed, was a founder of a new genre - Western music. Without Roy Rogers' vision, Tim Spencer's business acumen and the Great Depression-induced hunger to give him encouragement and a shove in the right direction, Bob Nolan may never have published a song. He was in the right place at the right time with the right partners and his own love of the West - a love demanding to be recorded in poetry. Without that impetus, he may have remained an unknown labourer with a penchant for writing poems. The cowboy song would have followed a different trail and Tumbling Tumbleweeds, that icon as American as the cowboy hat, would have never been born.
In alphabetical order, our sincere thanks to the following people for much help along the way: Les Adams, Jon Alquist, Chuck Anderson, Wayne Austin, Billy Beeman, George and Doris Bensmiller, Kenneth J. Bindas, Dave Bourne, the late Elsie Boyd, William Bowen, Eddie Brandt, LaVida Brickner, the late Polly Mills Burson, Dick Cassidy, Jeff Conroy, Stan Corliss, James D’Arc, Mario de Marco, Max “Doc” Denning, Gene Davenport, the late Roy Drachman, Mario de Marco, Karl E. Farr, David Folster, John Fullerton, Tommy "Snuff" Garrett, Dick Goodman, Fred Goodwin, Douglas B. Green, Ken Griffis, Tommy and Kathy Hildreth, Lawrence Hopper, Rick Huff, Claire Johnston, Ray Kersaint, Kathy Kirchner, Jean Nolan Krygelski, Joe Konnyu, Frederick J. Lenczycki, Librarians & Government Archivists (TNRD Kamloops BC, St. John NB, Winnipeg, MB, Vancouver BC, Portland OR, Los Angeles CA, Tucson AZ and Military Personnel Records Center St. Louis, MO), Boyd Magers, Suzette Spencer Marshall, Jim Martin, Ron McFadden, the late Roberta Nolan Mileusnich, Marsha Boyd Mitchell, Farley Mowat, Jim Nabors, Tom Owen, Wayne Perryman, Ed Phillips, Tim Pyatt, Martha Retsch, Jo Ann Reed, Rusty Richards, Don Richardson, Ronny Robbins, Jill Rossiter, David Rothel, Richard Schrader, Theresa Sevigny Scott, Joan Shapira, O J Sikes, Wallace Smith, Fred Sopher, Hal Spencer, Jo Stafford, Michelle Sundin, the late Jim Bob Tinsley, Jon Tuska, Marilyn and the late Wesley Tuttle, Eric van Hamersveld, Robert Wagoner, Steve Weiss, Jimmie Willhelm, and Laurence Zwisohn.
* Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are from The Calin Coburn Collections.