Bob Nolan – there’s a man I have idolized since I was a kid. I don’t know, there was just something about that guy that was so manly. I just lived for the first time that I could meet him and I finally did. The first time was in 1944 when I met him on the sound stage at Republic Studios. He left an impression on me even then.
I always wanted to do western harmony. When I was around fourteen or fifteen, I realized that I could sing after a fashion so it was only natural that I had to play the guitar. I taught myself to play.
I just knew that I had to meet Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers in person. So, unable to think of any reason why not, I simply called up Republic Studios and asked to speak with Roy Rogers. Some person on the phone indicated that Roy wasn’t there. “OK,” I responded, “Let me speak with one of the Sons of the Pioneers.” I was told they weren’t there, either. “Well, then let me talk to Gabby Hayes.” In a few moments, Gabby came on the line. At first, I wasn’t sure it was him as he didn’t sound like he did in Roy’s pictures. But it was Gabby and he was nice enough to talk with me for a bit and suggested that I call back next week to talk with Roy.
The following week, I called Republic again, asking to speak with Roy. A few minutes later he came on the phone, and I started off the conversation by introducing myself, and telling him how great I thought he and the Pioneers were. I told him I’d like to come up and watch a picture being made. He said, “Well, come on up and when you get to the gate just have the guard call me and I’ll come and get you.
I made the long trek on the Pacific Electric Red Car from Long Beach to the San Fernando Valley, and when I arrived at the studio, I informed the guard that he was to call Roy Rogers. I could tell he really wasn’t sure I was telling the truth. However, he did call and in a couple of minutes I could see Roy walking toward the gate. What thrill a thrill it was to find myself walking alongside my hero with his arm around me, yet!
When we reached the sound stage, Roy told me to stand back, remain quiet and enjoy myself. I retreated into the darkness of the set, standing there with several other guys. After a few moments, I suddenly realized I was in the midst of the Sons of the Pioneers. You can’t imagine what a shock and a thrill that was.
After watching awhile, I walked outside and was utterly delighted to find Trigger standing there. I patted him for a few minutes and, after checking to be sure no one was watching, I ‘borrowed’ several strands from his tail which I promptly stuffed in my pocket. Yes, I had reached the promised land. No doubt in my mind about that.
I met Bob again when Dick Goodman brought him down to an art show in San Dimas . In 1978 or ’79 he came to Bishop and spent a couple of days with us. We have a stream running through our property with a small waterfall. Nolan took my recorder out near the falls and let it run for some period of time. I asked what that was all about and he replied that he just wanted to place the recorder under his pillow at night so he could listen to the sound. Among my most cherished possessions is a letter from Bob commenting on my paintings.
It really was a labor of love for me to write music to Bob’s magnificent words [The Wonder of it All ]. I tried to imagine what kind of a melody line and chords he would have used. I’m sure I fell short but just to have my name next to his as co-writer made it all so very important to me. I found Bob to be a very deep thinking and considerate person and always in tune with nature, all forms of wildlife, the environment, and his fellow man. He talked of Canada in our conversations; how he always loved the north country and of his love for the deserts of the west. He thought Marty Robbins was the best singer, songwriter in the business.
He was a very complex and wonderfully talented man and yes, eccentric but to those who could gain his trust and not invade this privacy that he valued so very much he proved to be a most treasured friend. In his presence I felt in awe of the depth of his thinking, his approach to life as well as his ability to put down in words his feeling about wildlife, nature and of course our environment. He had a lot of love in his heart but gave it sparingly. It seemed to me that, to know him was to love him and then you could be on receiving end of his love. Not easy to come by.
In the late summer of 2006, Robert Wagoner was interviewed by Spirit of the West radio host, Hugh McLennan for a Bob Nolan tribute. Click here to listen to excerpts from these programs.
Robert Wagoner wrote the music to The Wonder of It All after Bob Nolan's daughter, Roberta Mileusnich, gave him a copy of the typed lyrics. At that time, she was unaware that Bob Nolan had made a demo of the song with his own melody. Shortly after Robert Wagoner wrote his own melody, Bob Nolan's original demo turned up. His daughter said she preferred Wagoner's tune! Click to hear the original demo by Bob Nolan.
Mr. Wagoner was host to Bob Nolan, Dick Goodman, Jerry Compton and Doc Denning at his ranch near Bishop in 1978 and 1979. They all sang together and Bob fished. See the pictures from that time. More such visits were planned but Bob was taken suddenly in 1980. Those visits with Bob Nolan were a highlight in the lives of those men.
Robert Wagoner also recorded Bob Nolan's "The Wind is Warm Again", re-titling it "Warm Again". Renowned as a painter and for his musicianship, Robert Wagoner has kept western music alive in a most beautiful way. He was a personal friend of Bob Nolan, a member of The Reinsmen for many years and now records dozens of western songs in his own studio. A friend of the late Ken Curtis, he is instrumental in archiving his recordings.
Mr. Wagoner was honored by the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage awards in Oklahoma City, Ok. in April 1998. He was also inducted into the Western Music Association Hall of Fame in November of the same year. The following are some of his albums and they may be purchased by contacting Mr. Wagoner at the following address:
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 art studio to a tape recorder. 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 these visits are from Dick Goodman's private collection.
Bob Nolan, Doc Denning, Dick Goodman and Robert Wagoner
Robert Wagoner, Dick Goodman, Doc Denning, Jerry Compton and Bob Nolan
Doc Denning, Dick Goodman, Bob Nolan, Jerry Compton and Robert Wagoner
Bob Nolan and his favorite past time - fishing.
Jerry Compton, Doc Denning, Robert Wagoner and Bob Nolan.
Bob Nolan in the high Sierras
Bob Nolan in the high Sierras
Bob Nolan in a game of horseshoes with Doc Denning
Bob Nolan making his infamous water tape.
Bob Nolan in the Robert Wagoner's art studio. Listen to a recording from that session. (Robert Wagoner is singing the verse.)
Doc Denning, Bob Nolan and Jerry Compton in the Robert Wagoner's original recording studio.