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Snuff Garrett

The following is an excerpt from a telephone interview by Elizabeth Drake McDonald on March 3, 2004, with permission.

         Bob was.... “Strange” isn’t the word. He was different. He did it his way and he didn’t really give a damn. There were no consequences to him under any kind of pressure or anything else.
        I’ve been friends of members of the Weyerhauser family, so every year I would take me and eleven presidents of record companies, Clint Eastwood, Roy Rogers, people like that, to Stewart Island in British Columbia once a year for a week. I had the whole island. I’d rent a plane, take steaks. In fact, I talked to Bob about it but it was a little late in life for him. Roy Rogers, Clint Eastwood. John Wayne one time. Really looked forward to it every year so I knew that Bob would enjoy it. Roy and Bob had been close to each other for many, many years.
        I went to Double R, who was like a dad to me. I wanted to meet Bob Nolan. I’d never met him; I’d never even seen him. Nudie had told me where he lived and I was going around just asking guys that I knew who would have known him well – Roy, Gene Autry, and I asked them all about Bob. The consensus pretty much was – Roy put it the best words I knew of - “Snuff, I’ve known you about 15 years. I’ve known Bob Nolan for close to 50 years and I know you a hell of a lot better than I’ll ever know Bob Nolan.”
        I told Roy I thought he [Bob] should get out to record again and Roy said, “That would be great. Getting him to do it is another thing. I know that people have tried for years - RCA, everybody’s tried to get him to record. He will not do it.”
        So I got the address from Nudie and I went over to Bob’s house about 2 blocks from the CBS Center which was Republic Studios, originally. I went over to his house and rang the doorbell. He was watching Wagon Train in the afternoon. I went in and introduced myself, sat down and we watched Wagon Train. He had the volume up pretty good. When it was over, I said, “Well, thanks. Good to meet you, Mr. Nolan. Bye.” And I did that for 9 months. Every time I had a chance I’d go over and ring the bell and I’d watch Wagon Train. I saw more Wagon Train than any TV show I ever saw!
        One day he went over and turned the sound down on the commercial and he said, “You want me to record, don’t you?”
        “What the hell do you think I’ve been coming here for nine months for – the great lunches we’re having?” We’d been eating bread and meat.
        “How do you want to do it?”
        “I’ll pick 12 songs, you pick 12 songs and we’ll argue down on them until we both like them all. Do you have any songs you haven’t recorded?”
        So we went out into the garage and he had stacks of stuff. Stacked against the wall in the garage. I don’t know whether it was all songs or not but he had a ton of sheet music out there. He took me over to the area where I had picked out Relative Man [earlier for Jim Nabors]. I went through and I found 2 songs that I liked, Old Home Town and Wandering. I guess I could have picked out a hundred but I didn’t.
        (There’s one song [on the album] that I take great pride in and he really liked. He really liked the song a lot. It’s called That Old Outlaw – Time. And he picked one [other] song that he wanted to do - Ride Me Down Easy, the one song that he wanted to do. He said, “That typifies all the new songs of the cowboy. Whoever wrote it”, he said, “knew the jargon and the cowboy.”)
        Well, we recorded and one of the guys I used hadn’t seen Bob in years – Thurl Ravenscroft. I’ve done a zillion sessions with him – Walter Brennan, Bobby Vee – all the things I’ve produced, Thurl was on 95% of them, I guess. Thurl got 3 other young professional singers and we were recording Cool Water. I wanted to do some of the effects they [the Sons of the Pioneers] had done. Thurl and I were totally amazed that none of the three had ever heard the song, or heard of the Sons of the Pioneers, or heard of Bob Nolan. Isn’t that frightening?
        I knew Marty Robbins very well. I first met him when I was a disc jockey as a kid in Texas. He used to come do my show in Wichita Falls. Then, when I started making it good, I’d go to Nashville. Marty’d always call the hotel and we’d go have dinner. At that time we had a little Mexican restaurant in Nashville and we’d close that place some. Marty was a great guy. I called him and asked him to come out and sing with Bob. He said, “Snuff, it would be the thrill of my life.” I told him when it was and he came up. Someone took pictures that day, which were in the album, on the sleeve. Marty came out and they just walked up to the mike and did that good. Just like that.

The water cassette from Bob Wagoner’s stream:
        I was hysterical when it happened. I thought, hell, we had a leak in the roof. I didn’t know what was going on. Whoever had been in there before, there was a chorus riser, a 3 or 4 step riser for them to stand on and sing. Bob was out there lying on the riser with that machine on. I didn’t know the tape was on. I was working on one of the tapes, deciding what to do next and thought, “What in the hell is that?” So, finally, I walked out. The studio door was open. There was nobody else there and I realized it was Bob playing that cassette. My God!
        When we went to do the album cover, I took Mr. Nolan over to Uncle Nudie’s. Before we went I said, “I need you to get on one of your shirts. Hold your breath, put one of those shirts you used to wear on. Can you get into one of those shirts?”
        “I can try.”
        “OK, good. If not, we’ll get you a shirt.”
        I took him over to Nudie’s to pick out some black western pants. He had a broke leg at the time. He had busted his leg so he couldn’t put boots on. I wanted to do shots, full-length shots, but he had this real bad ankle so we just got a pair of black western slacks. He had the shirt.
        “Oh, yeah, I have a couple of neckerchiefs around somewhere.”
        I said, “Fine. What about a hat?”
        “Oh, hell’s bells. I got rid of all that stuff 25 years ago, most of it. I don’t even have my hat.”
        “Well, you do now.
        “Nudie,” I said, “I want you to do it just like you always do.” He said, “OK.”
        So Bob took a brand new black hat, stuffed the sides in on it, had Nudie steam it – he did all that himself - and we got down to shoot the pictures – We were there the usual time, about 4 hours or so. Makeup man there and so forth.
        We got ready to leave. He’s in the rest room at the photographer’s and he comes out with the pants all folded up in his hands with the hat on top. He said, “Here, Snuff. Here’s these clothes back.”
        “Mr. Nolan, I don’t really need them. Thank you. You enjoy them.”
        “Oh, hell, I just wear the same few pair of pants and I’m used to them.”
        “Please, Mr. Nolan, take the stuff.”
        “I’ll tell you what. I’ll split it with you. I’ll give you the hat and I’ll take the pants.”
        “You’ve got a damn deal! Here, sign the inside of the hat.”
        “Sure.” And I’m sitting here looking at it right now.
        I have the photo of Bob from the cover. It’s on my wall. Bob autographed it. He said, “Snuff. Thanks. It was easy.” He’d been recording in the 50s and we’re a hell of a lot more advanced since then.

        I got him in the studio to record and the deal that we made was, “I’ll go in and record with you but never ask me to do anything after that. Never ask me to promote it or work it or anything but I’ll go in and do it with you.” And it’s one of the proudest achievements of my life.
        When I told Rex I was doing that he said, “You’re kidding. He said he’d never record again.” I said, “Yeah, but he’s agreed to do it with me.” The second day we’re in the studio, I looked down the hall and here comes Uncle Rex. He said, “I wanted to see it myself because everybody else will say it didn’t happen but, by God, I’m seeing it.” And Bob said, “Yeah. We’re surprising everybody down here.” I have a picture of me and Uncle Rex and Bob.
        I was doing overdubs on Bob’s thing, putting voice on, just cleaning up. While we were there, I was doing another project down the hall. Olaf Wieghorst wanted me to do the music for an hour documentary on his life so I was doing that. There was a place that needed comments from people who were very knowledgeable in art and talk about great artists. So I asked Bob to come down the hall. They had a problem. They didn’t have enough so I had Bob do the voice over on one of the art critics. John Wayne is in it and Bob is doing the voice over.


The party and the Mynah bird:
        Was it a party for King? I think it was. Olaf Wieghorst was like another father to me – a very, very close friend. I talked to Olaf practically every day. He lived down past San Diego. I told Olaf about Bob and he said he remembered him when Roy was doing Madison Square Garden every other year. Olaf was a New York City mounted policeman from 1924 and retired in 1944.
        One day I was at Roy’s museum and I saw this painting. I knew exactly what it was. I said, “Where in hell did you get that?” He said, “Some fan did it for me.” So I called Olaf and I said, “I just saw a painting you did of Trigger.” He said, “I know. I was a cop in NY and I was down at Madison before the rodeo started and I painted it and gave it to Roy.” So I told Roy who it was and he had already met him with me. They got to know each other around me and we were together a lot on fishing trips and so forth.
        Roy said, “Are you kidding?” I said, “No. It’s worth a ton.” It was hanging in the entrance of the first museum in Apple Valley. He was glad to know who the “fan” was – the finest American western painter. He left it hanging there in front.
        I asked Bob in the middle of all this [recording], “We’re going to have a party two Saturdays from now. Out at the house at Bel Air. Would you come?” He said, “I’d love to come.”
        So a couple of days later, I’m with Nudie. I told him, “Are you and Bobbie going to be at the house Saturday week?”
        “Yeah, we’ll be there.”
        “Guess who’s coming? Bob Nolan!”
        And he started laughing and he said, “Do you know how many parties I’ve been to where Bob Nolan said he was going to be there? And I’ve never seen the son show up yet.”
        “He’ll be there.”
        “No he won’t. He’ll tell you he’ll be there right up to the last minute but he won’t be there.” “Good God, you’re kidding.”
        So I told Double R, “Bob’s going to be at the party.” “No, he’s not.”
        Nudie said, “Do you want to bet? I’ll make some money.” So we bet a hundred dollars.
        I drove by, saw Bob and watched another edition of Wagon Train. Sat there with the sound up. I said,       "You know the party’s next Saturday.”
        “I know. You said you were going to pick me up.”
        “That’s right. You asked me to pick you up. I’m gonna pick you up at 6:00.”
        “I’ll be out in front ready to go.”
        I worried all that week. Nudie laughed, told everybody, “Snuff thinks Bob’s coming to the party.” I was a nervous goddam wreck.
        I drove over to pick him up at 6 o’clock. He was sitting in front of his house, outside the vines. You couldn’t hardly know where the gate opening was; it was completely covered in vines.
        So I get out and open the door. He stops, turns to me and says, “Snuff, listens to me. P-Nuts is gone so I have to be in my house – not on the way to my house – but in my house by 9 o’clock.”
        “OK. Fine. No problem.”
        “See, I’ve got this damn bird and if I don’t feed the bird before nine o’clock he’ll go insane and he’ll make me crazy for the next couple of days because I was late in feeding him.”
        “It’s no problem. I’ll have you back here before 9 o’clock.”
        “All right. So we have to leave your house….”
        “You time it on the way over and then you tell me.”
        So it was about 20 minutes. He lived just over the canyon and you just cut up to Beverly Hills to Bel Air so 20 minutes did it. No traffic Saturday.
        We go to my house and get the final preparations. He’s downstairs talking – I got him and Olaf together and they’re bullin’. When Nudie came in, he never said a word, just gave me a hundred dollar bill.
        So now, the whole damn party, I’m watching my watch every second. I have a guy that worked for me and he’s gonna drive him home because there’s a lot of people at the party and I had to stay there. There were 100-125 people there.
        So I went over to Bob, “Mr. Nolan. It’s eight o’clock, just to make you aware.”
        “Thank you, Snuff.”
        In a little while I go over and, “Excuse me, Mr. Nolan. It’s 8:15.”
        “All right, Snuff. Thank you very much.”
        I was going to have the car leave my house at 8:30. By then I had the car pulled around in front; the door was open. I went over to Bob. He looked at me.
        “Mr. Nolan. It’s 8:30. You have to go.”
        “Snuff, to hell with that goddam bird. I don’t give a goddam if he eats tonight or not.”
        I took him home at 3 or 4 o’clock. We had a wonderful time. Everyone sat around laughing and telling stories.                                                 

 Left: 1979 Garrett, Nolan and Wieghorst. Right: Wieghorst Art

        Jim Nabors is a very good friend of mine. I did a lot of albums with Jim. Bob had a song that he had mentioned to me so I gave it to Jim to do. Relative Man. Jim Nabors looked at me…. He worked his ears off learning that one! He did. He worked his ears off on it. But we got it done. It was a pretty nice record. Jim lived right above me at Bel Air.

Left: Bob Nolan, Jim Nabors and Dawn Garrett

        I had the same secretary for over 20 years and she never made mistakes. Marianne. Bob liked her very much. He’d come up to the office. I remember one time, after the album came out, she started getting letters for autographs and so forth for Bob. She’d send things out to him. One day Sammy Jackson, a disc jockey - he was also on TV – a comedy and then he became a country disc jockey…. Bob liked Sammy very much. Sammy had called and wanted to reach Bob and of course Marianne never gave out numbers or anything unless they wanted it. Bob didn’t want it. So he wrote her a lovely note that I found in the file. It was something like, “Marianne, of course I like Sammy and I love hearing from him but I really am not interested in renewing my career….”
        Bob was one of a kind. They didn’t make no more. They came close to making a voice like his. I’ve never met Tommy Doss but I know he thought the world of Bob. And so did I. When I was a kid, if one of the kids was bigger than me, he’d be Roy Rogers and I’d always be Bob Nolan. I was the littlest one around.

        “I had Bob come up; I had them all come up and sign a
Republic logo – real big.”

1979 Republic Production