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Vernon "Tim" Spencer

(1908 - 1974)

 

 

His song, "Lie Low, Little Dogies", is sung here by Tim himself.

 

 

 

Tim Spencer Songs. (Thanks to Anne & Peter Greb, Bob Costa, John Fullerton and Hal Spencer.)

Podcast tribute. Download a complete program of Tim Spencer music to your computer.

Tim Spencer Top 10 The most popular Tim Spencer songs today.

Sheet Music including "Little Guy Who Looks Like You" and "Out in Pioneertown".

 

 


 

 

        Tim Spencer was born to Edgar and Laura Alice Spencer on July 13, 1908, in Webb City, Missouri. There were eight boys (and two girls) in the Spencer family and Tim used to say, "Father didn't have to build fences, he just had to stake out boys!" The family moved to New Mexico when Tim was about five years old and homesteaded a section of land in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  The girls' names were Eva and Beaunice. The boys were Raymond, Forbes, Leo, Glenn, Osceola, Tim, Kenneth, and Dean.

 

Photo courtesy of Suzette Spencer Marshall

 

Photo courtesy of Suzette Spencer Marshall

 

        The family moved from New Mexico to Oklahoma where his father was hired as a superintendent of the lead and zinc mines in Picher, a boomtown of its day. It was wild, a wide-open town with gambling, killings, robberies and prostitution. When Tim returned to the town once in the 1940s, he took a gun with him because he remembered just how bad it was.

        When he was thirteen, Tim purchased a banjo ukulele on credit. His father wasn't too happy with him because the family needed the money for food. Tim left home and ended up in Texas, waiting on tables in a restaurant. When his father tracked him down, he was ready to go back home.

        He completed his schooling and worked in the mines until an ore car overturned and Tim ended up in hospital with a cracked vertebra. Because he was unable to return to that kind of work, Tim arranged to play and sing at a night club called "The Bucket of Blood" and earned nine dollars in tips the first night. One of his favorite singers was Gene Austin.

        In 1931, Tim took the train to Los Angeles and found a job in the shipping department at Safeway. During evenings and on weekends, he made the rounds of all the country radio shows and dances, getting to know everyone remotely connected with the music. When Bob Nolan quit the Rocky Mountaineers, Tim took his place in the trio with Leonard Sly and Slumber Nichols and stayed with them from August to December of 1932.

 

Benny Nawahi's International Cowboys

Photo courtesy of Suzette Spencer Marshall

 

        The trio joined "Benny Nawahi's International Cowboys" but it wasn't long until they left him to form the "O-Bar-O Cowboys". They decided to go to Del Rio, Texas where there was a big 50,000 watt radio station. But Roy had met Arline and Tim said that the only profitable thing that came from that trip was that he met his future wife, Velma, in Lubbock, Texas. Leonard and Vernon decided to return to California and form a group of their own and go into the western music business in earnest.

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

        But, first and foremost, he had to eat and he returned to his job in Safeway. Leonard Slye was still determined that they could make it if only they could persuade Bob Nolan to return to the trio. And they did. For nearly twenty years thereafter, Tim's life with the Sons of the Pioneers parallels Bob's. (To read about Tim's career years, see Bob Nolan.)

        Velma Blanton was born on June 13th, 1916 in Stephenville, Texas, and the family moved into Lubbock about 1926. She had just completed her junior year in Lubbock High when she met Leonard Slye and Vernon Spencer at the radio station KFWO. Tim was divorced from his first wife and had a five-year-old daughter, Raelene, when he met Velma. Velma  initially urged him to return to his wife but that relationship was dead by then. Their courtship was carried on by letter and telephone.

        After the Pioneer Trio had gained steady employment at KFWB in Los Angeles and Velma had finished her senior year in Lubbock High, she travelled with her mother and younger sister, Frances, to California where she and Vernon were married at the DeKirk of the Heather at Forest Lawn. Hugh Farr played the fiddle and Bob Nolan sang "I Love You Truly". Leonard (Roy Rogers) and his wife, Arline, were also present. (Leonard Slye's father renamed Vernon "Tim" and we will refer to him as "Tim" from here on.)

        They lived in a little apartment just a few blocks from the big boarding house where Roy, Bob and Tim had lived when they started the Pioneer Trio. They weren't in the apartment more than a month when Tim wrote his first song, "Will You Love Me When My Hair Has Turned to Silver?" And, having grown up on a homestead in New Mexico, he said he got a lot of his inspiration from his memories. His wife said, "He loved the mountains and the prairies and plains and he wrote about them."

        A daughter, Loretta, was born the first year and a son, Harold, was born the next. The Pioneers were on staff at KFWB and had a morning show and an afternoon show sponsored by the Farley Clothing Company in Los Angeles. They were known as the Gold Star Rangers for those programs.

        According to Tim's new wife, "...they got up in the morning and it was just like going to a job in an office or a store. They rehearsed for eight hours a day. They worked out their own melodies and their own arrangements. They just had a unique sound they worked out and I don't believe that any other group of people have ever been able to capture exactly the sound that they had."

 

After their first appearance at the Madison Square Garden Rodeo in 1942 and their prolonged visit to New York City, Tim wrote this:

 

It Seems to Me
(Tim Spencer, 1942)

I stood there on Broadway and gazed
At towers and temples, jumbled maze
Of steel and stone and masonry
I could but think, it seems to me,
With all the boundless lands we own
We're fools to live in cliffs of stone
When there are breezes wild and free
I could but think it, seems to me,
That folks in subways, jammed to death
Just breathin' of each other's breath
Should chuck it all and go and see
The open range – it seems to me.
When there's so much of space and room
Where kids could play, where flowers bloom
On shady carpets 'neath a tree
We've missed the boat, it seems to me.
I stood down where the "forties" roar
And wondered what they're roarin' for
The magic city's symphony
Of clan and bang – it seems to me.
Oh, you New Yorkers with your speed
Your Forty-Second Street stampede
Too much for me – I'd never be
A city guy – it seems to me.

 

        MOVIES: see Filmography and Bob Nolan's biography.

 

        After the Sons of the Pioneers stopped doing  movies, Velma remembered, they would go on tour for three or four months each summer. Often the Pioneer women would get together while their men were away and party a bit.

        The Sons of the Pioneers (and other artists) appeared on a series of programs sponsored by the government to inform returning veterans of their rights under the GI Bill - "Here's to Veterans". The group did not appear; one of them would talk about GI rights and then play one of their recordings. These programs continued into, possibly, 1952.

 

The 11.9MB mp3 file of this 15-minute "Here's to Veterans" program is here courtesy of Anne and Peter Greb.

 

        Ken Carson remembered that he and Tim were roommates whenever they were out of town or on tour. "I got to know Tim pretty well. He was not a very talkative guy but was a very sincere, very nice man. It was always a good pleasure being with him and I enjoyed his company. I think he was more outgoing than Nolan was. Nolan kind of stayed within himself a lot. Hugh and Karl were constantly at each other's throats all the time. They argued 18 hours a day. Tim was very nice to me - I was kind of the kid of the family. I helped him write a few bars of "Room Full of Roses" - just suggestions, things like that, but nothing I could claim any part of." (“Song of the West”, Fall 1990, p. 15 “Ken Carson Remembers Tim Spencer” by William Jacobson.)

        Tim's son, Harold, recalls the Pioneers as being one big happy family, a close-knit group with the families, wives and kids. "There were always barbecues, dinners and outdoor things at one or the other's house. There were a lot of fishing trips at Lake Henshaw in San Diego where all the Pioneers and the kids would go fishing. There didn't seem to be a lot of differences of opinion or conflict in the group. That came later. I remember just a lot of harmony in the group. Closeness. But they could be really rough. Dad, Roy, Hugh and the others were brawlers. The weren't drugstore cowboys; they were real guys. They had a couple of hangouts in the Studio City area near Republic Pictures. There was a lot of drinking. You could always find some of the Pioneers at the Little Bohemia or Herbert's Drive In. The closeness broke up after my Dad and Bob left. "

 

 

        Tim's contributions to the Sons of the Pioneers were manifold. He was the group's manager for years and, according to his wife, he was the one who negotiated and brought about peaceful settlements. She considered him a sort of mother hen to the group. His songs had catchy, singable melodies and were featured in most of the films in which the Sons of the Pioneers appeared. The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma became a State song.  Roomful of Roses made the charts and is still well-known.

 

    Room Full of Roses was a major pop hit for Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra with the vocal by Don Cornell (who went on to a very successful career of his own). Dick Haymes also had a successful version of the song. In those days a good song was recorded by a number of artists and there were often multiple hit versions of the same song.
    Top Ten versions of Room Full of Roses were by: Sammy Kaye, Eddy Howard and Dick Haymes. George Morgan had a top ten version on the country charts. Years later Mickey Gilley (Jerry Lee Lewis’ cousin) had his first national hit with his #1 country version of Room Full of Roses. (Lawrence Zwisohn)

 

 

Courtesy of John Fullerton

 

Courtesy of John Fullerton

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

     

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

Courtesy of Lois Spencer

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

Right to left: Buddie (Mrs Lloyd) Perryman, seated, Velma (Mrs. Tim) Spencer, Mae (Mrs. Karl) Farr,

P-Nuts (Mrs. Bob) Nolan, Rosita (Mrs. Hugh) Farr, Fayetta (Mrs. Pat) Brady, Claudina (Fayetta's twin sister),

Fern (Mrs. Sam) Allen, Peggy (Mrs. Shug) Fisher, Margo (friend of Fern's).

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

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.)

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

Unidentified lady, Fern (Mrs. Sam) Allen, Roy Rogers, P-Nuts Nolan and Velma (Mrs. Tim) Spencer

 

Tim and Colleen Chapman Cody, president of the Shug Fisher Fan Club

(Josie Shapira photo)

 

Tim and Phil Kerr

(Josie Shapira photo)

 

            Phil Kerr was a well-known musical evangelist in the 1940's & 1950's through the evangelical Christian community of California. On each Monday night he held a Christian Musical program at the Municipal Auditorium in Pasadena as a showcase for Christian musicians of all sorts. Tim was often on this program, as were Sol Hoppii, Arnie Hartman, the Scoville Sisters, and various quartets, etc. (Helen Mullen)

 

        Tim retired from the Sons of the Pioneers in 1949 although he continued to manage the group until 1952 and recorded with them until 1957 for RCA. After leaving the group, he settled down to organize and manage his own gospel publishing business, Manna [Gaviota] Music. The firm obtained the publishing rights to How Great Thou Art which anchored the business.  He did a lot of work with Billy Graham and travelled out on his own as a singer in religious organizations. He and Stuart Hamblen produced five songs his son, Hal, had written for Decca. The last pop song he wrote was "You are so Precious to Me", a love ballad. After that, he gradually switched to writing gospel music.

        About that time he decided it wasn't good to dwell on the past so he dumped and burned about three quarters of the things he had collected - memorabilia, scrapbooks, etc. According to his son, he was a very goal-oriented person. He wanted his children to achieve - go to collect, etc. He wasn't overtly affectionate toward his children; more like a business partner.

 

The first Bob Nolan interview by Ken Griffis took place in Stuart Hamblen's home on January 2, 1972.

Lloyd Perryman, Bob Nolan, Ken Griffis, Tim Spencer and Stuart Hamblen

(Calin Coburn Collections ©2004)

 

        Tim became ill in about 1968 and his son, Harold, resigned from his ten year teaching position in Apple Valley and took over the management of Manna Music.  He died on April 26, 1974. His Service of Memory was held on April 29, 1974, at the Church of the Hills, conducted by Rev. O. William Hansen, Apple Valley, CA. The eulogy was given by his son, Hal Spencer and was followed by remarks by friends. The organist was J. Wesley Johnson, soloist Tony Fontaine. The room was filled with roses. A musical tribute was given by the Sons of the Pioneers followed by interment in the Enduring Faith Section of Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, LA, CA.

        Tim's 1949 hit song, "Room Full of Roses" was revived by Mickey Gilley who had a nightclub near Houston, Texas. Gilley recorded the song on his own equipment then sold it to Playboy Records, launching him into the recording business. The Sons of the Pioneers didn't record the song until after Tim had retired.

        Without his shrewd business sense and his songwriting skills, there could have been no Sons of the Pioneers.

 

Sources:

Hear My Song by Ken Griffis

Song of the West: the Tim Spencer Issue, Fall 1990

 


Tim's wife, Velma, passed away on April 27, 2008.


 

 

SHEET MUSIC

 

Bob wrote a song for Lloyd Perryman who was in the Pacific theatre for the duration of the war - Half Way Round the World. He had written the song for Lloyd before he left, understanding how he would feel to be separated from his wife and new son. Lloyd didn't record the song himself until 1966. He couldn't, he said, because his throat would tighten at the memory of those long, lonely days he spent so far from his little family. And Tim wrote a song for him, too ----

 

Courtesy of Kathy Kirchner

 

Courtesy of Kathy Kirchner

 

Courtesy of Kathy Kirchner

 

Courtesy of Kathy Kirchner

 

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 

 

 

 

 

Calin Coburn Collections ©2004

 


 

Videos of some of Tim's songs from the movies:

 

1. Silent Trails from "The Old Corral" (14.5MB)

2. Cowboy Ham and Eggs from "Home in Oklahoma" (7.76MB)

 


 

A Selection of Tim Spencer's Songs:

At the Old Barn Dance

Bunkhouse Bugle Boy

By a Campfire on the Trail

Careless Kisses (sung by Red Foley)

Cherro, Cherro, Cherokee

Christ is a Wonderful Savior (sung by Tim Spencer's Family)

Church Goin’ People (sung by Tim Spencer's Family)

Cigareetes, Whusky and Wild Women

Cigareetes, Whusky and Wild Women (French version)

Circuit Ridin’ Preacher (sung by The Browns)

Cowboy Camp Meetin’

Cowboy Country

Cowboy Ham and Eggs

Cowpoke Polka, The

Down at the Old Hoedown

Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma, The

Get Along, Pinto Pony

Golden Wedding Waltz

Gold Star Mother with Silvery Hair

Go West, Young Man, Go West

Graveyard Filler of the West

He’s Gone up the Trail

Happy Go Lucky Cowboy

Home Again in Old Wyomin'

Hot Lead

I Knew it all the Time

I’ll be Around Somewhere

I’m a Happy Guy in My Levi Britches

It's Your Life (sung by Skeets McDonald)

Jumpin' Bean

Lazy Days

Lie Low, Little Doggies [Dogies]

The Lonesome Cowboy Blues

Michael O'Leary O'Brien O'Toole

New Frontier, The

Ooh, Wonderful World

Old Pioneer

Old Rover

One Thousand Eight Hundred and Forty-Nine Years

Out in Pioneertown

Over Nevada

Over the Santa Fe Trail

Padre of Old San Antone (sung by Jim Reeves)

Praise God, Halleleujah (sung by Tim Spencer's Family)

Read the Bible every Day

Ride, Ranger, Ride (sung by Gene Autry)

Ridin’ Down the Rio Valley

Ridin' on the Rocky Range

Ridin’ on the Sunshine Trail

Ridin’ the Range With You

Roll Along, Jordan

Room Full of Roses (sung by Jim Reeves)

Sea Walker

Sentimental, Worried and Blue

She’s the Lily of Hillbilly Valley (sung by Slim Pickens)

Silent Trails

Sing, Cowboy, Sing

Slow Movin’ Cattle

Song of the Pioneers

Song of the Prodigal

Springtime on the Range Today

Stars of the West

Sunset on the Trail

Texas USA

That Pioneer Mother of Mine (sung by Hank Snow)

There's a Rainbow over the Range

These Old Bones (sung by Tim Spencer's Family)

They Drew My Number

The Three of Us

Timber Trail, The

Timmy’s Tune

Too High, Too Wide, Too Low

Trigger Hasn’t Got a Purty Figger

Twenty-one Years is a Mighty Long Time

A Two Seated Saddle and a One Gaited Horse (sung by Dale Evans)

Wagons Westward Ho

Wedding Dolls (on Your Wedding Cake) (sung by Dinah Shore with George Morgan)

Westward Ho

When a Cowboy Starts to Courtin’

Where are You?

Where the Rio Rolls Along

Whis’prin’ Wind

Wild and Wooly Gals From Out Chicago Way

Will You Love Me (When My Hair Has Turned to Silver)

Yodel Your Troubles Away (sung by Rod Erickson)

You Broke My Heart, Little Darlin’

 

Tim and Glenn Spencer

Baby, I Ain't Gonna Cry No More

Cherokee Strip

Come and Get It

Daddy's Little Cowboy

Don Juan

Down the Trail

Long About Sundown

Love at the County Fair

Roll On with the Texas Express

Roses (sung by George Morgan)

Waltz of the Roses

We're Headin' for the Home Corral

When the Prairie Sun Climbs out of the Hay

Yippi Yi Your Troubles Away

 

Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan

Blue Prairie

Saddle the Sun

Glory of the Lamb

 

Tim Spencer and Roy Rogers

A Cowboy's Prayer

Cowboys and Indians

Curly Joe from Idaho

I Ain't a-Worryin'

I'm a Cowboy Rockefeller

Mavourneen O'Shea

Ride 'em, Cowboy

Song of the San Joaquin

When the Moon Comes Over Sun Valley

 

 

Current Top 10 (international)

1. The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma

2. Timber Trail

3. Blue Prairie (with Bob Nolan)

4. Room Full of Roses

5. Cowboy Camp Meetin'

6. He's Gone Up the Trail

7. Ridin' the Range with You

8. Silent Trails

9. There's a Rainbow over the Range

10. Too High, Too Wide, Too Low (You Must Come in at the Door)

 

Honorable Mentions

Cowboy Country

Cigareetes and Whusky and Wild, Wild Women

Golden Wedding Waltz

Graveyard Filler of the West

Lazy Days

Lie Low, Little Dogies

Love at the County Fair (with Glenn Spencer)

Moonlight on the Trail

Old Pioneer

Out in Pioneertown

Daddy's Little Cowboy (with Glenn Spencer)

Ride Ranger Ride

Sea Walker

Song of the San Joaquin (with Roy Rogers)

Sunset on the Trail

That Pioneer Mother of Mine

Where are You?

 

Thanks to everyone who responded with their favorites!