(Fred wearing Bob Nolan's vest - Lawrence Hopper photo)
When I was a little boy I was always fascinated with Bob Nolan and when I was going to the movie theaters, I was going to see Roy Rogers but I was thrilled seeing the likes of the Sons of the Pioneers, especially Bob with his unique voice. He looked good and everything. I thought this guy’ll be a star! This was in the early 50s. I was seeing all the re-releases of the Sons of the Pioneers in the theatres and then they were on television and, actually, that’s how they got their recording contract back.
They renegotiated about 1955 because Republic Studios had released those movies to the television stations throughout the United States and that’s the reason RCA wanted them back. RCA said, “Mmm, they got a whole new bunch of people on television [who] don’t know who the Sons of the Pioneers are. A new generation!” That was my generation, more or less. And so they came back and they renegotiated a new contract with the Sons of the Pioneers, or Tim Spencer did. Tim at that time was not singing with the group because had some voice problems so he was more or less just negotiating the contract for the Sons of the Pioneers.
During 1955 he and the Sons of the Pioneers were on a tour up in Canada somewhere. Well, Lloyd Perryman took leave of the tour and quit for awhile. Dale Warren and Tommy Doss didn’t know what was going on until Lloyd got back. Tim had renegotiated this contract with RCA and it had excluded Tommy Doss and it excluded Shug Fisher and it excluded Dale Warren . They wanted the original lineup of the Sons of the Pioneers; therefore this is the contract as it was - the Farr Brothers , Lloyd Perryman , Pat Brady , and Bob Nolan. That still leaves out one, correct? They brought Ken Curtis in. Ken had already left the group in 1952 but Tim brought in Ken and that was the group on record during ’55, ’56 and ’57. That was the lineup and that’s the only way they could renegotiate a contract.
Well, Bob just did not want to tour at all. He just refused to tour so therefore, during that time period, you had a traveling group of the Sons of the Pioneers and you had a recording group. There was actually no resentment as far as Nolan and them was concerned but a lot of resentment by Tommy Doss and Dale Warren. And Tommy was…well, they almost quit. They needed the money and they were traveling and they stayed with it. That was probably the only time they got a little po’d at Lloyd but it wasn’t Lloyd’s fault. Lloyd was supposedly running the group but he wasn’t. Tim Spencer was actually still the brainchild behind the group. They renegotiated the contract in 1958.
Bob Nolan was a very complex person, probably, back then. He was self-educated. And all the stuff about him going to the University of Arizona, there’s never been any proof about all that stuff.
You have to know the inner goings of the Pioneers to know Bob, too. Hugh was always trying to cause trouble I think mainly because Hugh's wife put him up to all this. “You should be the head of the Sons of the Pioneers, not Lloyd Perryman. You’re the one everybody recognizes on stage,” and all kind of stuff. She’d feed him all this stuff.
But one day, they were out on tour someplace and here was Bob resting on a bed in the hotel room, just laid back. So Hugh and Karl knock on the door and they come in and they got all over Bob about something, just bitching to him. Bob gets up, gets both their heads in a headlock, both of them – one in one arm, one in the other – bumped their heads together. “You leave me alone” or something like that. “I’m tired of you damn Farrs” or something, “Leave me alone.” “Shut up”, or whatever. Bob told me that story.
He called me one time. He said, “Fred, would you contact Hank Snow and tell him I can’t possibly come to Nashville to perform. I don’t do that any more.” And I called Hank and that’s how I got to be friends with Hank Snow, by my association with the Pioneers and Bob.
I always asked Bob questions. You never knew what kind of mood he was gonna be in. I mean, he was always in a good mood, don’t get me wrong. He was always in a good mood, but was he in a talking mood? Because if he wasn’t in a talking mood, he was in a thinking mood and you had to catch him. I’d call him and he’d say, “Fred, I’m cookin’”, you know, “I’ve got something on the stove,” and you don’t talk to him then. And then, there’s a certain time at night…I think he would go to sleep early. You don’t call him late at night. You had to catch him at a certain time and he would just talk-talk-talk-talk. And his chuckle! He had the nicest chuckle.
I took a bunch of lobby cards over and we were looking at them and he signed them. You know, he autographed several things for me. Bob didn’t write letters, either. He just didn’t write but I have a personal letter from him.
The first album I ever did, a 2 record set called Riders in the Sky, I got out of college and I produced that one for RCA. I was real proud of the liner notes and I sent a copy to Bob. Why, I never heard a thing about it so I wrote him and I said, “Bob. My feelings are sort of hurt because you never said anything.” He wrote back the nicest letter. He said, “Hemingway couldn’t have done better.” He loved Ernest Hemingway.
I’ve done all the major projects in the States for the Pioneers and Roy. I did The Best of Roy Rogers on RCA Camden back in 1974. I’m responsible for that. I did the Reader’s Digest series, too. They don’t give me any credit on that. They don’t give anybody credit.
Bob was really into philosophy but we didn't talk about that stuff that much. He told me of all the songs he had heard, there was only one song he’d wished he’d written and that was Man Walks Among Us. Everybody thought that was Nolan’s song. He just loved that song. And he used to tell me about that.
Bob wanted the Pioneers to retire the name after Tommy Doss quit. He wanted them to cease because it wasn’t there any more. But Lloyd kept the group going because, you know, these people needed the work. They needed a job.
I’ve seen some of the Starrett movies but not all of them and, I’ll tell you a little story Bob told me. I was asking him about Republic's Yates. And I said, “Bob, you know, Herbert Yates, he was a tough guy to work for.” And he does this chuckle and he says, “Oh, he wasn’t anything like Harry Cohn at Columbia.” He said, “Man, that guy was a bastard.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said well they were looking for somebody for Golden Boy. They were on the set and Harry Cohn walked on the set of the Pioneers and he looked at Nolan and said, “There’s my Golden Boy.” Nolan did not want to get in the movies. He did not want a starring role or any of that type of stuff. He just did not and he went off and hid from Cohn for a long time.
P-Nuts was working in a drug store there real close to Columbia Studios, Gower Gulch or whatever they called it. She came out to California because she was going to be an actress. She was trying to get into movies, too. She was a soda jerk or whatever. And Bob … him and the boys would come in there and get coffee and she got to know ‘em. Her name was Clara and someone started calling her P-Nuts. She was just a little gal.
About then the Pioneers went out and they got this gig in Chicago for RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company who were sponsoring Camel’s cigarettes and they moved to Chicago. This was around 1940, I think. Roy was already at Republic Studios and he summoned them back to Hollywood to "star in the movies with me now” at Republic. So that’s when they moved back to California.
During the time that they were away, Bob and P-Nuts had corresponded and then when they got back, they got married. I wish I could remember more things she said. They were a great couple and I have some really great pictures of them together. I have lots of photos of Bob in his latter days.
Ken Carson said they’d go to New York and back East and they never knew how big they were till they went out to see the fans. And everybody knew who they were. They were equivalent to the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, whatever, back then. They were, I mean, Big Time. Women knocking on their doors all the time and all that type of stuff. They could have had any woman they wanted. Ken told me that and Ken was not the type of person to lie. He said, “Fred, you can’t imagine the women that would chase us.”
But the Sons of the Pioneers protected the name, the imagery. They were very proud of what they had accomplished, what they stood for. They were very proud people. They were professionals and they were good to their fans, great to the media. They were real easy to deal with. All the Pioneers were into their enunciation of words. You listen to the Pioneers’ songs and the enunciation was so clearly defined. Lloyd Perryman kept that intact within the group.
Roy Rogers, Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan started the Sons of the Pioneers and, if you want to get technical about it, Roy Rogers is the father of cowboy western music as we know it today and he’s never been given the credit.
Bob sent me his last album and the cover says, “To Fred. The road is a little longer than I’d expected – it is also a little nicer with friends like you along the way – Bob Nolan”. Boy! You know, when they called me, probably about an hour or so after he died, I cried. I just really loved him.
Head of Concept Productions in Murfreesboro, TN, Fred Goodwin is a fan, collector and expert on the Sons of the Pioneers. He has also produced 10 albums with the group, receiving a Grammy nomination in 1981 for "Sons of the Pioneers, Columbia Historic Edition". A research specialist in his own right, Fred has recently co-authored the book, "The Sons of the Pioneers", with Bill O'Neal. Fred Goodwin knew Bob Nolan personally. One day, when Fred was visiting the Nolans, he asked Bob if he might have his hat for a souvenir. Bob replied that his hat was in the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Wyoming but he had something Fred might like. He asked Fred to wait while he went into another room and came out with a treasure – the easily-recognized vest Bob wore regularly in the Republic films. At the top of the page, in a whimsically retouched image, Larry Hopper has placed Fred among the Sons of the Pioneers in a production still from the Gene Autry film, "The Call of the Canyon". Bob is wearing that vest – and so is Fred. Fred sells photographs and posters from the B-Western movies.
P. O. Box 3151
Murfreesboro, TN 37133-3151
Phone: (615) 890-3047
Fax: (615) 896-9697
(Left to right: Ruth Terry, Bob Nolan (seated), Hugh Farr, Gene Autry, Fred Goodwin and Tim Spencer.)
Artwork and colorizing by Larry Hopper
The Sons of the Pioneers by Fred Goodwin with Bill O'Neal