Home Page

Awards

Biographies

Discography

Feedback

Filmography

Lyrics

Recollections

Reference

Reflections

Search

Slide Shows

Special Features

 

UNC

Videos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MAGAZINES/BOOK ARTICLES

 

Accounts of the Sons of the Pioneers appeared in a variety of magazines plus their own fan newspapers and fanzines. We have included a sampling here of magazines printed during Bob Nolan's lifetime and up to 1980, the year he died.

 

• 1940-42 Tumbleweed Topics

The Pepper Rangers Gazette

• 1943-47 The Prairie Prattler

1949-52 Sons of the Pioneers Fanclub Newspapers

1946 Screen Stars

1946 Screen Stars - April

1946 Mountain Broadcast

1976 Music City News - August 

• 1978 Country Music - October

1980 Pioneer News

• 1980 Country Music - January / February

N is for Nolan from "The ABC's of Movie Cowboys" by Edgar M. Wyatt

Western Clippings

 

1946 Screen Stars  (Read text only)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Stars April 1946 (text Note: The section on Bob Nolan is a little more accurate than most photoplay magazine articles of the day.)      

 

PRAIRIE TALES...

 

Pluck, practice 'n' talent's reason aplenty for fame. "The Sons of the Pioneers", top-notch western music-makers, have truly earned their well deserved popularity...

 

by Frances Lane

 

        Give them a corral fence, a camp fire on the lone prairie, a spirited buckeroo [sic] or the easy gait of a yellow-tailed cayute [sic] - and plaintive ballads and nostalgic melodies of the western range sing in the hearts of the "Sons of the Pioneers".

        Bob Nolan's "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "Cool Water", Tim Spencer's "Over the Santa Fe Trail", "Old Pioneer Mother of Mine" and his Texas Rangers' song "Ride, Ranger, Ride", are pure western - as fresh and clean as desert sage.

        Or give them an excuse for a good old fashioned square dance and the boys' fiddles and guitars do some right fancy talking.

        This true western flavor hails back from the farms and ranches and the range of Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri, where the boys were born and raised. This was their heritage in the years before they migrated to Hollywood and became famous for the homespun beauty of their brand of music-making.

        Memories and stories of the old west and days and nights on the range with only a cayute to listen, and a guitar for company are deep in their thoughts. Small wonder that they have risen to the prominence that is theirs in westerns both at Republic Studios and on the radio.

        All six boys were lunching together at one big table in a little cafe near Republic Studios out in San Fernando Valley. Their individual stories, collectively told, of how they had come to Hollywood to win fame and fortune, was mighty interesting.

        "'The Sons of the Pioneers' began with Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, Hugh Farr and myself," Tim Spencer began. "That was back in 1933. Later, Hugh's brother Karl, a whiz with a banjo, joined us. There were five of us, until Roy left to go into pictures at Republic. We replaced Roy with Lloyd Perryman, who's in the army in Burma. Then Pat Brady joined us for comedy relief. He was in the Normandy invasion.

        "Roy's heart was always with us. And after he'd been with Republic for two years he went to New York and sold Mr. Yates, the president of Republic, on the idea of our going along with him in his pictures. So we've been at Republic since 1940. We've been on Roy's radio shows and participated in two of his rodeos at Madison Square Garden. We have our own show on the air with 146 stations. And we've just signed to make twelve recordings a year. Our first is with Vaughn Monroe, and Bob Nolan's 'Cool Water'. The other side is 'Columbus Stockade Blues', composed by Jimmy Davis, the Governor of Louisiana.

        "Now it's your turn, boys," Tim suggested. So the interview, with the luncheon of scrambled eggs and sausage, continued along right around the table.

 

        "I was just a farm boy from Oklahoma who came to California with my Mom back in 1929," Ken Carson began. Ken has his own Sunday radio show on the air, and one of the boys vouched: "Ken sings better than Sinatra!" Ken grinned appreciatively, modestly.

        "Mother bought me a guitar one Christmas," Ken continued. "I had fun playing it. Later I organized a harmonica band in Junior High. I enjoyed amateur work, but when we arrived in Hollywood I landed a job on Stuart Hamblen's radio program. I'd join one radio group and if they didn't click I'd join another. I was with "The Beverly Hillbillies,' then 'The Ranch Boys,' then I went back to Chicago for NBC for several sustaining and commercial programs and the Tom Mix show. For publicity and monetary purposes I rode from Los Angeles to Madison Square Garden on horseback. Every Saturday night I'd broadcast a Barn Dance from wherever I was. I had a callous for every town we hit. It took us three and a half months to cross the USA."

        In 1941 Ken joined "The Sons of the Pioneers". He's married to an Iowa girl, a petite brunette - "about five-two. We have a son, Paul Scott, 22 months old, and a daughter, Coy Brooke, four days old." They live in a little cottage out in San Fernando Valley.

 

        Karl Farr borrowed a banjo to while away the time when he was a farm boy in Texas taking care of rabbits. He's been making his own way since he was fourteen and learning to play the banjo was fun. He earned five dollars, his first folding money, at a Chamber of Commerce job, and promptly bought a banjo of his own. Coming to California, the Golden State of Opportunity, Carl [sic] played on radio stations. During the 1933 earthquake, "which scared me plenty," he stuck to his radio job to bolster the morale of the terror-stricken citizens. For this he was rewarded with a gold medal. On the radio Karl played with "Len Nash and his Country Boys". He also played the character of "Snowball", a colored lad, and then became one of "The Hotcha Two", "Continental Boys", "Lucita", and the "Blue Ribbon Group" before joining "The Sons of the Pioneers". Karl met his wife, May, a petite brunette, five feet two, when during a lean period, he picked cotton on her father's 129 acres in Bakersfield. They have one son, Karl Jr., and live in San Fernando Valley.

 

        "I hail from Oklahoma," Shug Fisher said, taking his turn at this Round-Robin interview. "Lived six miles from a small town and traded a saddle blanket for a mandolin. When Dad told me he could teach me to play the fiddle I traded the mandolin for a fiddle. Mother was quarter Choctaw Indian - and musical, too. We had square dances in our farm homes. I got to playing. Came to California to work in the oil field and two months later I walked all the way back home. No hitch-hikin' but straight walking with a bowie knife and canteen. Took me 39 days and I slept out in the open."

        Shug came back to California and joined up with various hill-billy and musical radio groups knows as "The Tom Murrays Hollywood Hillbillies", "Beverly Hill-billies". Then he treked [sic] east for radio work and returned to take over Pat Brady's spot with "The Sons of Pioneers". He's married to Peggy, a farm girl from Missouri - "pretty, brunette, five feet two!"

 

        Bob Nolan was born in Canada. His "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "Cool Water" are top western hits. "I came to the United States with my Dad who'd fought in the US Army in World War One. He was sent to Tucson, Arizona, to regain his health," Bob said. "I worked for a big ranch owner and then came to California. I got a job as a life guard at Venice. Andy Devine (then slimmer, but a husky lad) was also a life guard buddy. A boy who had bought a guitar and couldn't play it gave it to me. I started playing and began singing and playing with Bob Mackenzie's band. He's Fay's father.

        "In 1930 I saw an ad in a los Angeles paper for a tenor singer and a guitar player. It was Roy Rogers' ad. I joined him and we called ourselves "The Rocky Mountaineers.' Then during the depression of '32 I quit and took a caddying job at Bel Air. A year later the boys showed up and Roy asked me to rejoin them. Then we formed 'The Sons of Pioneers;"

        Bob's hobby is a sail boat which he takes along for location jaunts to Big Bear. His wife Clara is "pretty, brunette, five feet two." He has one daughter, Roberta.

 

        Tim Spencer shined shoes to earn the money to buy his first guitar. "I was born in Missouri, but left to homestead 320 acres in New Mexico with Dad. I had eight brothers and we formed a double quartet. Our first professional engagement was a theatre opening. Finally, father sold the ranch and opened a grocery store in Oklahoma.

        "Four of my brothers joined me and we became a singing act known as the  Spencer Brothers. Later I ran into Roy and Bob and joined them as 'The Rocky Mountaineers' which later became 'The Sons of the Pioneers'."

        Tim married a Texas girl, Velma - "pretty, brunette, five feet two" whom he met on a barnstorming tour. He's the only one of the boys who has a swimming pool. But they all make good use of it.

 

        Hugh Farr concluded the interview on the set of "Don't Fence Me In" at Republic. Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes and the boys were playing a scene wherein Gabby was dying. Hugh became so interested in this interview he forgot to get into the scene. Luckily it was filmed over.

        "I started playing the fiddle when I was nine," Hugh said. "Never took a lesson. The violin was given to me by a man in Texas, my home state. He'd studied to be a great fiddler but proved to be a better teacher. He gave me the violin with the provision that I should never hock it or sell it. He kept the bill of sale, too, so I couldn't.

        "My fits job in Hollywood was construction carpentry on the Hollywood High School. When the carpenters were laid off I stopped by 'Mammy's Shack', a little eating place and night club in the Valley and asked for a job. I played there for three years when the place burned down. Then I began joining up with other musical groups on the radio. During that Long Beach earthquake I stayed on playing. The fellow whose place I took was so scared that he stayed in the mountains for six weeks but came back in time to claim a medal which should have come to me." Hugh related this incident without the least tinge of irony. It was just a fact.

        "I always had a hunch that Roy would bet a big break," he observed as we watched Roy before the camera. "He was such a nice clean cut straight shooting chap. That was my opinion when I first joined up with him in 'The Sons of Pioneers'. It has never changed. He's a nice boy. Honest and good and talented."

        Hugh lives in Hidden Valley. His wife is Rosita, a Brazilian, "brunette, five feet two". "We're all Valleyites," Hugh concluded. "We get together at each others' houses and what do we do? Well, we get out our guitars and fiddles and our voices start singing and have a little square dancing."

 

        The boys really go to town on their instruments and vocal chords. It's not work to them. They love music. They also love their pretty brunette wives - five-feet-two. And they all live happily in San Fernando Valley.

 

 

1946 Mountain Broadcast (text)

 

 

 

 

 

 

1946 Mountain Broadcast (text) Note: This article is typical of the Hollywood hype and half-truth of the day. There is very little truth in the Bob Nolan section and this legend carried on until his death.)

 

THE ARISTOCRATS OF THE RANGE by Dick C. Land

 

    You can't have a cowboy picture without Western Music, and some of the best music of this type is written by Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, who, along with Hugh and Karl Farr, Pat Brady and Lloyd Perryman, make up that outstanding aggregation of Western talent called "The Sons of the Pioneers". This is the illustrious string sextette that is often affectionately referred to as "The Aristocrats of the Range".

    The boys have composed and played the musical scores for dozens and dozens of Western films, and the number of their successful songs probably runs into the hundreds.

    But music is not all that this talented group have to offer the world of the Silver Screen. No hero can fight his way through the dangers that beset him in a "Republic" Western Picture without the staunch help of these brave and daring cowboys. And they really do some riding and roping that's wroth watching, for, as Tim Spencer says, "Remember, w were raised in the cattle country, and we don't need any doubles to do our rough and tumble stuff."

    The history of "the Sons of the Pioneers" goes back almost twenty years when two young cowboy entertainers, Tim Spencer and Len Slye were members of a five-man Western Musical group called "The International Cowboys". The gang found it hard sledding and finally broke up. All went their separate ways except Tim and Len, who formed a new group called "The Rocky Mountaineers" and advertised for some new talent. One guy who answered the ad was named Bob Nolan, and things went along fine for a while, until the Big Depression hit them.

    They split up again but the urge to make good with a Western singing group was too strong for them to abandon and Bob joined forces, added Hugh Farr to the group, and chose the name the band carries to this day - "The Sons of the Pioneers". About a year later Karl Farr joined the bunch, and they landed a job working in a picture for the Columbia Studios, with Charles Starrett as star.

    Somebody over at Republic Pictures saw them, and decided they were a "find" so he grabbed them for his own studio. They worked a picture or two with El Brendel, and then were signed up for a series with the great Western Star, Gene Autry.

    Sometime later, Gene and the Republic people had a "falling out" and the studio was looking for a new star. Len got himself into an audition, sang the group's theme song "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" for Mr. M. J. Siegel, president of the company, and was immediately cast for the lead in a picture titles "Under Western Stars".

    The studio wanted a new name for Len, and after much discussion they came up with "Roy Rogers", and that's the name by which he is now known.

    Roy's promotion left a hole in the ranks of the Sons of the Pioneers and in filling it they decided to get hold of a fellow who was a comedy expert as well as a singer. Pat Brady was the answer and so he took his place in the group.

    Then along came a young fellow who wanted to join up and would not take "no" for an answer. He had plenty of talent, so the boys made room for the kid of the outfit, Lloyd Perryman.

    When World War II came along, Pat and Lloyd swapped their Western togs for GI brown, so Ken Carson and Shug Fisher came in as temporary replacements, but both Pat and Lloyd are back in the old corral now, and The Sons of the Pioneers have once more assumed their pre-war line-up.

 

    And now, perhaps it would be in order to give you a little personal information on each of the members of this grand bunch of fellows. Let's start it off with the leader of the band, BOB NOLAN.

    Bob was born in the wild timber country of Canada, 250 miles north of St. Johns [sic], NB. His dad was an American citizen, and in 1914 when we were having trouble with Pancho Villa down on the Mexican Border, he headed south to join the forces of General "Black Jack" Pershing. He left the lad with friends in Tucson, Arizona, and the boy grew to young manhood there, and got a job night-herding to pay his way to the University of Arizona. bob is a six footer with black hair and brown eyes, and in his school days he was quite an athlete. And you can see for yourself, when you watch is expert trick riding, that he retains all the strength, grace and agility that won him trophies on the athletic field a few years back.

    After leaving school Bob took a spell of wandering that led him through the ranches and silver mines of Old Mexico and the Southwest, when the Hollywood bug bit him and he lit out for the West Coast.

    The streets, as he had been led to believe, were not paved with gold, nor did any movie magnates waylay him from behind fences and force big rolls of large, coarse bills on him, to sign on the dotted line. In fact, eating became a problem, so Bob became a life-guard, a golf caddy, or any other odd job that would bring in a buck. But he had come there to get into the entertainment field, so when he saw an ad for a cowboy with a guitar and a pair of musical tonsils, he answered it. That was when he met Len and Tim, and they formed the nucleus of the present group. Bob has written many, many popular Western songs, and just to mention two of the, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "Cool Water" will convince you of his ability as a creator of authentic Western music. He's often been referred to as "The Stephen Foster of our times", and that doesn't sound very far wrong.

 

    Another "old settler" of the Sons of the Pioneers is TIM SPENCER. to, was christened Vernon back in Webb city, Mo. where he first saw the light of day in 1908, although he grew up in the state of Colorado. And he is a son of a pioneer by birth, for his father  when a child, travelled overland from Illinois in a covered wagon. Tim was raised on the ranches of the great Southwest and took up the business of professional entertaining in a small joint called "The Bucket of Blood". He finally gravitated to Los Angeles, where he met up with Len Slye and started their long association. Tim is also a songwriter of merit, some of his songs being "Westward Ho", "Over the Santa Fe Trail", and "That pioneer Mother of Mine".

    Now let's see what dope we can dig up on the Farrs. HUGH and KARL FARR are a couple of boys from the Lone Star State. Hugh was born in Llano, Texas. He weighs 185 pounds and is just a hair short of six feet tall. They call him The Man with the Flying Fiddle, and although his playing has been widely imitated, no one has ever managed to duplicate it. The famous conductor, Leopold Stokowski, (husband of Gloria Vanderbilt) said of Hugh, "He's the greatest natural fiddler I ever heard." Hugh has been playing that fiddle at barn dances and entertainments since he was 12 years old and he never will stop. Brother Karl was born in Rochelle, Texas, and he's rightly known as The Man with the Galloping Guitar". You're really hearing something when both boys "Take off" together on their instruments. The history of the Farr family in Texas goes way back to pre-republic days and their ancestry is one-fourth Cherokee Indian, the rest being the Scotch and Irish of the early American Pioneer stock. Both boys spent their youth punching cattle in San Saba County, Texas.

    The funny man of the group is next in line of service, so let's have a few words about him. PAT BRADY, whose Ma and Pa called him Robert Ellsworth Brady, was born at 12 minutes to 1914 in Toledo, Ohio. Does that date confuse you? Well, then figure it out for yourself. He let out his first squawk at exactly 11.:48 PM, December 31, 1913. As theatrical people say, he was practically "raised in a trunk", for his parents were both stage folks and Pat made his debut behind the footlights at the tender age of six months when the show script called for his mother to carry a baby on-stage in the play they were then acting.

    Pat's hair is carrot red and his eyes are a bright blue. He weighs 165 pounds and stands six feet tall.

    Pat joined the Sons of the Pioneers when Roy Rogers became a star and he left the gang to answer the call of his country in World War II. He served in Europe, was wounded and decorated there but says that is all past history and he'd rather not talk about it. Pat says his favorite hobby is FOOD!

    We'll wind up these thumb0nail biographies with LLOYD PERRYMAN. Lloyd, the youngest of the group, is a native of the Sooner state, Oklahoma. He was born in Melbourne, down in Izzard County but he got tired of having strangers ask him if he was a cousin of Bob Burns, so he rode the rods on the Santa Fe to Sunny California. Here he worked on ranches and in his spare time developed his musical abilities. His favorite Western group was always the Sons of the Pioneers and he finally made up his mind to try to hook up with them. He thumbed his way to Hollywood and practically forced himself into an audition with Bob Nolan. His luck, (or we should really say, his talent) was good, so he was invited to "join up". Then came the war and like Pat, Lloyd marched off to battle but in a different direction for he finally wound up in Burma. But he's back with the bunch now and the Sons of the Pioneers are reunited again.

    The Sons of the Pioneers refuse to compromise their type of authentic Western Music by adding any trimmings that would not fit into the true picture as they conceive it. The band, consisting entirely of strings, has never allowed either wind or percussion instruments within its ranks. As Bob Nolan says, "Only strings and voices are authentic mediums of expression for Western folk music. Swing and boogie-woogie are all right for those who like them but they don't blend with Western. It's the boogie-woogie musicians who like Western so well that they try to do the blending, rather than vice-versa. But that's understandable since all musicians recognize the permanent value of folk music like ours."

       


 

1976 Music City News - August Page 18

 

Read the entire interview

 

SONS OF THE PIONEERS

By Lee RECTOR

MCN Managing Editor

 

HOLLYWOOD -- The Sons of the Pioneers without dispute is the greatest of all the western vocal groups during the era of the “B” western films.

 

        At his home in Hollywood, Bob Nolan, one of the original members of The Sons of the Pioneers and writer of such classic western songs as “Cool Water,” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” sat healthy and ruddy looking despite his “pushing 70” age, and talked about the early days of the group.

        “It was quite by accident that we got together,” Nolan said, “Most of us belonged to different groups.

        “Roy Rogers (at that time known as Leonard Slye) and I belonged to a group called The Rocky Mountaineers and that time, Tim Spencer belonged to the Spencer Brothers Quartet.

        “We joined the Texas Outlaws as a singing trip [sic] and took the name of The Pioneer Trio and were with them about six months when the station, KFWB, took us on as a staff group giving us a very exclusive 15-minute spot just after dinner.”

        “We were very happy being on KFWB because at the time, they had the two top vocal groups in the country on their staff.

        “As the work load got heavier for us, we decided we wanted to add some musicians and we took on Hugh and Carl [sic] Farr. And, in 1936 Roy Rogers got his break in the motion pictures and we hired Pat Brady and then Lloyd Perryman who actually replaced Roy. Later, Roy had us put into his pictures,” stated Nolan.

 


 

        Denver – Over a thousand miles away, and a few weeks later, Lloyd Perryman and the presently active Sons of the Pioneers group continued the story to MCN.

 


 

        “At the time the group was formed there were probably 50 different groups around the Los Angeles area playing anything from bluegrass, to hillbilly, to country/western – whatever you want to classify it – and they were all starving to death,” Lloyd said.

        “Nolan, Spencer and Slye (Rogers), decided they wanted to work a little harder and see if they couldn’t do a little better job than all the groups. When they were on staff at KFWB they would rehearse and work eight to 10 hours a day, and they established a name for themselves. I joined the group in 1936.

“We went to Columbia studios and were in pictures with Charles Starret [sic] for about three years and then we went to Chicago and were on the Uncle Ezra program for something over a year. When we returned to Los Angeles again, we did a lot of road work playing theaters and open air parks. Then we signed with Republic Pictures and started doing films with Roy Rogers, which we did for almost 10 years. During this time, we continued to record and make albums.

“Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan retired in 1949 or 1950 – they were semi-retired for a couple or three years until we found replacements. Dale Warren joined us in 1952. Ken Curtis (a. k. a. Festus from “Gunsmoke”) was with us part of this time for several years.

“Some people thought we quit the business,” Lloyd said, “Because we weren’t recording, but we didn’t have what we thought was exactly the right time or the right company to record.

“Cliffie Stone called me about four months ago, to record a new album and I think now we’re ready and can really do a job for a recording company.

“The prime reason that we have waited to this particular time to record is it seems that the trend in music has finally moved back toward the western theme, and that’s what we had been waiting for.

“Trends definitely do happen, and you’ve got to hope that you can record in this business at the time that the trend is on the upswing.

“Not having recorded in so many years, you would think that we would go out and the club owners and rodeo owners wouldn’t hire us. But, in the past two years, I’ve noticed that the crowds are increasing and increasing for us. So, it’s a definite thing that our particular kind of music is enjoying a come-back and is on the rise.”

The present group, The Sons of the Pioneers, which remains the oldest performing group in country/western music, consists of Lloyd Perryman, who has been with the group 40 years, Dale Warren, Roy Lanham, who replaced Carl [sic] Farr upon his death in 1961, Rusty Richards, a prolific songwriter singing tenor and Billy Liebert, the newest member and musical arranger.

Original member, Tim Spencer died in 1974. Roy Rogers, besides touring with Dale Evans and often The Sons of the Pioneers, has just completed a new movie.

Bob Nolan has been quietly living in North Hollywood spending four months out of the year in a secluded mountainside cabin working on songs. By 1958, Nolan had written 1,400 songs, and another 200 since, all of which are unpublished and unheard. We had the opportunity to hear him sing one of his unpublished songs in his L. A. Home, and can testify that Nolan is still one of the finest songwriters in the world today.

 


 

1978 Country Music - October  (text)

 

 

 

 

 

1978 Country Music - October (text)

 

SONS OF THE PIONEERS by Douglas B. Green

    Country music has taken a surprising number of twists and turns as it meandered through history, shaped and strengthened by the influx of numerous tributaries. Though long neglected, at one time western harmony singing was one of the most vital. At its source lay one of the most creative and inspiring groups in country music's convoluted history: The Sons of the Pioneers.

    Their long and complex history began in October, 1933, when three young men, all veterans of several local southern California cowboy bands, decided to reform a trio which had been a fixture of a larger outfit called the Rocky Mountaineers. At the urging and insistence of lead singer Len Slye - later known to the world as Roy Rogers - Tim Spencer and bob Nolan reorganized, calling themselves the Pioneer Trio.

    It was a name that was not to last long, for they were joined early in 1934 by fiddler Hugh Farr and not long after by his guitar-laying brother, Karl, who was named by left-leaning relatives, Karl Marx Farr. In deference to the Farr Brothers part Indian ancestry and mostly because it was a lot catchier, they changed their name to the Sons of the Pioneers in 1934.

    There had been western groups before but it was this band that established the sound and style and wrote most of the repertoire for the country music offshoot called western. Western swing had Bob Wills, bluegrass had Bill Monroe, men who forged entire musical styles and now western music had the Sons of the Pioneers.

    by 1935, they had landed their first film work, sold the first of many hundreds of songs to movies and recorded a good many songs for the brand new Decca Record Company. The following year they added the final ingredient to their sound - tenor Lloyd Perryman.

    These were palmy days, but they didn't last long, for in this early stage of their career this nucleus of a band was sundered when Gene Autry, country music's top singer of the time and one of Hollywood's top cowboy stars went on strike at Republic. Rather than accede to Autry's demands, Republic went out and hired their own competition, developing another singing cowboy. The young man chosen from hundreds of applicants was 25-year-old Len Slye, who was first renamed Dick Weston, then Roy Rogers.

    Following Len's [Roy's] departure, the trio became Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer, Lloyd Perryman and Pat Brady - who became well known later as Roy Rogers' TV sidekick - was added to play bass and do comedy. Still, it signaled the end of an era of building and the beginning of one of replacements as new members came and went as dictated by personal ambition, personality clashes and of course, by war.

    The years before World War II were among the Pioneers' most productive, as they appeared in some 24 films, recorded for Decca and ARC, and spent a year working out of Chicago, where among other things they made some 200 sides for Orthacoustic Transcriptions. They returned to California in September of 1941 and soon after began filming Red River Valley, the first of nearly two dozen films with ex-Pioneer Roy Rogers.

    In 1945 they signed with RCA Victor and it was the wartime group of Ken Carson and Shug Fisher who replaced servicemen Perryman and Brady along with Nolan and Spencer that recorded their biggest hit record, Cool Water, in their first session.

    although the postwar era was probably their most successful, in 1949 veteran Pioneer, Tim Spencer retired. The grind of the road and a turn to religion had wearied him of the life of a touring musician. It came as no surprise to many when other veteran, Bob Nolan left the band within three months, also weary of the road and embittered by dishonesty he had encountered within the music business. It was somehow never the same after their parting.

    Spencer was replaced by a handsome ex-singing cowboy named Ken Curtis, a veteran of Tommy Dorsey's and Shep Field's bands who possessed a smooth pop voice. It was he who sang lead on their hit recording of Room Full of Roses in 1949. He later donned a thick hillbilly accent and a few day's growth of beard to enjoy a long run as Festus on Gunsmoke.

    Nolan's replacement was Tommy Doss who had sung with Bob Wills, Luke Wills and Ole Rasmussen's western swing bands and whose voice was a remarkable facsimile of Nolan's. He was to remain with the Sons of the Pioneers some 14 years. Curtis didn't stay as long and when he left in 1953 he was replaced by Dale Warren, a former member of Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage.

    The fifties were harder years for the Sons of the Pioneers. The reasons were varied, but they added up to a decline in the fortunes of the outfit. For one thing, film making was off as the popularity of the singing western had waned rapidly after World War II. And though their sound and songs (especially Cool Water  and Tumbling Tumbleweeds) were known in virtually every American home, their records had never been really big sellers and the result was that they were forced into constant touring to earn a living.

    It all came to a head in 1958 when Hugh Farr, apparently unhappy with strained intraband relationships and his increasingly minor role on records, quit. To compound matters, Farr, figuring that he was now the senior active member of the group in length of service, decided to take the name with him. Charges, countercharges and lawsuits were flung about; ill feelings filled the air; and for a while two groups, both called the Sons of the Pioneers, toured and played shows though eventually Perryman secured the rights to the band name. The explosion of rock & roll was no help either as all tradition-oriented music suffered, as did anybody with a cowboy, i. e., old fashioned, image. A music as complex and intricate as that of the sons of the Pioneers was doubly suspect in an era where raw energy and emotion took precedence.

    Yet somehow, they survived the lean years and the death of Karl Farr (who was stricken on stage by a heart attack in 1961, at the age of 52) replacing him with current guitarist Roy Lanham, and they survived an increasing shuffle of personnel that saw some members coming and going two or three times.

    Lloyd Perryman was a determined man and he hung in there with grim tenacity, keeping the band together, painstakingly teaching each new member his complex harmony part, keeping them working. It began to pay off with their burgeoning "rediscovery." They appeared on Hee Haw, cut a fine new album for Granite Records, and began playing some college dates as a whole new generation began to discover their music. But 40 years on the road caught up with Lloyd Perryman in August of 1977 and he died following open heart surgery, leaving Dale Warren - former fresh-faced rookie, now himself a twenty-five year veteran - in charge.

    The current Sons of the Pioneers - Dale Warren, Rusty Richards, Perrymans replacement, Rome Johnson, accordionist-arranger Billy Liebert, and Roy Lanham - are still at it, still hitting that road. It has been a long trail, one full of fulfillment, stardom, great music and innovative genius and one also rutted with conflict, endless touring, public indifference and academic neglect.

    Still, they ride on, inheritors of one of country music's most exciting, complex and innovative styles, carriers of a proud tradition.

 

Roy Rogers

    The most interesting thing about the early career of the Sons of the Pioneers is that among the three co-founders it was not Nolan, the musical genius, nor Spencer, who for years was the band's ramrod, who was the real impetus behind the formation of the group, but Len Slye, its lead singer.

    As the group struggled and faltered, dissolved and re-formed in its early years, it was Len who continued to try to get Nolan and Spencer together to practice, rehearse, and perform. He could not have known what it would lead to, for either himself or for the group, he had to have done it simply for the love of and belief in their music.

    On his own, despite his overwhelming success on the screen as "King of the Cowboys," Roy's voice never seemed to have the sparkle it did as a Pioneer (though he remained a spectacular yodeler). Contributing to that feeling was a succession of soggy material which ranged from frothy to downright silly. (Does My Heart Went Thataway give you an idea? How about Hawaiian Cowboy?) Yet when he teamed up with the Pioneers on subsequent occasions - like Blue Shadows on the Trail in 1947, one of the great western records of all time - the old magic was still there.

 

Tim Spencer

    Poor Tim Spencer. As one of the three founders of the Sons of the Pioneers, his personality always seems to have been over-shadowed by Roy Rogers' subsequent success and by Bob Nolan's genius.

    Yet he was the real Pioneer behind the scenes. If it was Roy Rogers' enthusiasm which sparked the creation of the band, it was Tim Spencer's hand which guided their personal and professional interests for over two decades. In addition to his gift for harmony, his importance as a singer was really felt after he left the Pioneers in 1949 and continued to manage the group until 1954.

    He, like Nolan, was a gifted songwriter who wrote many of the all time western classics. His own favorite was The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma.

    Tim spent his final years administering a gospel music song publishing firm, Manna Music (now run by his son Hall) which controls How Great Thou Art and several other standards. He suffered a serious stroke in 1970 and died April 26, 1974.

 

Lloyd Perryman

    Of all the Pioneers deserving the title Mr. Sons of the Pioneers, Lloyd Perryman, whose forty-one years with the group (including twenty-eight as leader) make him by far the longest term member. Hugh and Karl Farr (twenty-four and twenty-six years), Dale Warren (twenty-five years), and even founders' Nolan (sixteen years) and Spencer (fifteen years) don't come close.

    Lloyd joined in 1935 as a replacement for a temporarily disgruntled Tim Spencer who rejoined the Sons within a year.

    He had a glorious tenor voice as a young man which deepened with the years. When Nolan and Spencer both quit the group within months of each other in 1949, it was Lloyd Perryman who took over and guided the group.

    Just as the Sons of the Pioneers' future looked bright again - especially with the release of their fine new Granite album - Lloyd suffered a heart attack. After forty-one years, twenty-eight of them as trail boss, Mr. Sons of the Pioneers had died in the saddle.

 

Bob Nolan

    Fred Rose was surely the most commercial, Hank Williams possibly the most soulful, Willie Nelson one of the most memorable. But of country music's great songwriters, a strong case can be made for Bob Nolan as the finest.

    Bob Nolan became entranced with the romantic poetry of Keats, Shelley and Lord Byron while in high school in Arizona and when he tried his own hand at it he wrote not of the lake country of England, but of the desert. Added to his remarkable poetic gift was a feeling for melody which is both dramatic and unusual and an overall vision of the sound and sight of the west which mated words and music perfectly. Cool Water  and Tumbling Tumbleweeds are universally known but among his uncounted hundreds of songs are innumerable western greats, among which the metaphysical Song of the Bandit and the powerful Song of the Prairie are outstanding.

    Bob is still hale and hearty in his seventies, often spending weeks or months on end in a reclusive hideaway in the California mountains. He has not had a song published in years, although he still writes compulsively. The man who virtually invented modern western songwriting some forty-five years ago, and who may well be country music's greatest songwriter of all time, has lost none of his creative genius.

 


 

1980 Country Music - January / February (text)

 

Read the entire original interview

 

 

 

 

1980 Country Music - January / February pp 88-89.

 

BOB NOLAN

An Interview with a Pioneer

By Douglas B. Green

 

                To put it as simply and directly as possible: Bob Nolan is country music’s greatest songwriter. True, Fred Rose was both prolific and consistent, and Hank Williams’ work was speckled with genius; Willie Nelson has given us great music both earthy and sophisticated; Pee Wee King, Kris Kristofferson and Doc Gibson have each brought a handful of gems. Dozens more have been great at a given moment but none have produced so huge a body of work, and works of such vivid imagination, musical daring, and the masterful blending of words and music as has Bob Nolan.

                Consider the fact that virtually every American over the age of eighteen can hum a snatch or two of Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water, can that be said of any other country song other than Tennessee Waltz and You are My Sunshine? Yet Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water are but the tip – nay, but two sips of ice at the apex of the tip – of the iceberg. Many of the stone classics of western music are Nolan’s – Way Out There, One More Ride, When Payday Rolls Around, I Still Do – as are hundreds of lesser known songs of beauty and nobility and power and vision.

                Bob Nolan was born in New Brunswick on April 1, 1908 and grew up there and in Boston before moving to Arizona at fourteen, where he was immediately stunned by the beauty of the desert and the west. After attending the University of Arizona (where he wrote poetry for the school paper) the restless Nolan headed for California in the late 1920s, where he spent two years as a lifeguard before joining two other occasional performers in a band: lead singer Len Sly (later better known as Roy Rogers) and tenor Tim Spencer, later a great songwriter in his own right, with Room Full of Roses, Timber Trail, Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma and many others to his credit.

                Originally known as the pioneer Trio, they became the Sons of the Pioneers with the addition of Hugh and Karl Farr in 1934. Nolan remained with the Pioneers through their heyday, handing over the reins to Lloyd Perryman in 1949, leaving but a few months after Spencer’s retirement. Bob recorded with the Pioneers for several years thereafter and even cut a couple of singles for RCA before making his retirement complete in the mid-1950s. Always a loner, his retirement made him even more a recluse, and he frequently spent months at a time in his cabin in the California mountains. Still, he has continued to write songs – over 2,000 by his current estimation – and recently, to the great surprise of many, went back into the recording studio to record The Sounds [sic] of a Pioneer (Elektra 6E-212). Despite heavy-handed production, Nolan comes across well: at 72 his distinct and forceful baritone is still powerful, and judging by the two new songs on the album – Old Home Town and Wandering – the power and vision of his songwriting is undiminished.

                Bob Nolan is a shy and reclusive man, with no particular need or desire to grant interviews, and consequently such interviews over the years have been rare. He granted this interview last November more as a favor than anything else, and though he was reserved and dignified, he was also remarkably candid, quick with a laugh, and in every way the gracious western gentleman he has always appeared to be on film, on stage, and on record.

 

*   *   *  

 

Country Music: first and most obvious: Why, after so long away from the studio, did you choose to record again?

 

Bob Nolan: Well, it was a thing where a very dear friend of mine, Snuff Garret [sic], asked me to do it. I turned him down at first, but he kept at me. I didn’t like the idea at the beginning, because I had been out of the business for over twenty years, but Snuff (laughter) he wouldn’t quit, dammit! Finally I agreed to do it, and its been doing all right so far when you consider I’ve been out of the doggone business for as long as I have, it’s been on the charts for over ten weeks.

 

Country Music: Were you happy with the sound and the song selection?

 

Bob Nolan: Well, yes and no. I loved the background music and the whole thing was very palatable to me. They gave me quite a broad choice of stuff to record, let me choose it, but, well, 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 by myself. I didn’t want to do them over again, but they convinced me that that’s what the people would expect, see, so I did them.

                Then, too, I wanted certain voices behind it, but I couldn’t get the Pioneers. That was absolutely out of the question because they were under contract to another label. Oh, I would have loved to have had the Sons!

 

Country Music: Though you left performing and recording many years ago, I know you've continued writing – I was a little surprised to find the only two new tunes of the hundreds you've written in the intervening years.

 

Bob Nolan:  Well, I was a little reticent to choose too many new ones because first they wanted the old favorites, the things that are, shall we say, supposed to be my top tunes like Tumbling Tumbleweeds  and Cool Water and this type of stuff. Then he said, "Now give me your new stuff," and I gave him three and he wanted more. I said, "No." I said "The record won't be versatile enough to please the people, see? Let's get some other writers in there and have a variety of songs."

 

Country Music: In studying the history of western music it is impossible to fail to notice how extraordinarily different your songs were from the cowboy music which preceded them, that is, the sentimental ballads like When the Work's all Done Next Fall or the few pleasant and simple yodeling cowboy tunes Jimmie Rodgers recorded. Yours were entirely new, entirely different.

 

Bob Nolan:  Yes, I broke all the rules. I didn't stick strictly to 32 bars in the songs, I went my own way. In other respects, I went for chromatic scales and stuff like that which was unheard of in the country music of the time. I studied harmony construction when I was going to University of Arizona and I just wanted to use my knowledge. It was a little different to start with and even my own boys sometimes thought....well, this is not good, you know! (laughter) It took a little while to get our sound but I had to go along with my own feelings in music.

 

Country Music:  Was this new sound, this harmony sound, based on barbershop quartet singing or gospel singing?

 

Bob Nolan:  Oh, no! It was built around the things I had studied in college, the construction of harmony.

 

 Country Music:  So from the start you determined both your style and your sound would be original.

 

Bob Nolan:  Yes. Tim (Spencer) and I wrote everything that we did and we weren't going to do anything that anybody else did at all.

 

Country Music:  I guess everybody has their own favorite among your songs – I'm particularly attracted by the rather metaphysical Song of the Bandit which is inventive in melody and imaginative in lyric. Can you tell me about the inspiration for it?

 

Bob Nolan: Oh, yeah. You know, Marty Robbins said that is his favorite, too, and that it inspired him to write El Paso. I had read an old English poem called The Highwayman; maybe you have, too, if you've studied English literature. It was very impressive to me so I turned it into a western atmosphere. As for the melody, what I always tried to do was to wed both music and lyrics to each other.

 

Country Music: To touch briefly on your film career, in the many pictures in which the Sons of the Pioneers appeared, both with Charles Starrett and Roy Rogers, you were virtually the second lead. Many film historians claimed that the studios missed a bit in not starring you in a series of film; other say – they're extremely contradictory – that you desperately wanted a starring feature. What's the real story?

 

Bob Nolan: Yea! It's just like going into the Old Testament – I swear to God you've never seen so many conflicting stories in your whole life! (laughter) The truth is, I never wanted that responsibility. In fact, at the time when Harry Cohn, when we were working at Columbia, was going out to lunch and we were just coming aback in, he stopped his whole entourage and pointed a finger at me and said, "There's my 'Golden Boy'. (Golden Boy was the 1939 Clifford Odets prizefighting classic that was William Holden's first big break.) My God, it scared the bejeezus out of me! I didn't want that kind of responsibility! So went out and got drunk and stayed drunk for a week until he gave up on me! (laughter)

 

Country Music: I am often amazed that a great many of your great songs – among them Sky Ball Pain, I Grab My Saddle Horn and Blow, Coyote Serenade, Redwoods, On the Rhythm Range – were never recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers at all except on old radio transcriptions and that several others of the very greatest – Song of the Bandit, Song of the Prairie, Chant of the Plains  - only came out on albums years after you'd left the group. Why weren't more of your original songs recorded?

 

Bob Nolan: Well, things like that, you see...people in the recording companies, the people who were footing the bill, didn't understand...there were certain things I was writing about they knew nothing about. They knew nothing about the desert and plains that were a part of the cowboy's life.

 

Country Music: What a great shame – so many great tunes unrecorded.

 

Bob Nolan: Hundreds. And I think a lot of them are lost. So many different music companies have bought my library and I don't know if I've ever had a full account of my material – it's well over 2,000. But I don't dwell on that. It's all water under the bridge as far as I'm concerned. I don't go back into the past too damn muc. I sometimes go back to find out what happened at what time but I don't live in the past at all. It repulses me to no end to start to live the past; I find it very repulsive.

 

Country Music: Obviously you don't live much in the past if you're still creating new songs.

 

Bob Nolan: But they're different. Those songs on the record – Old Home Town and Wandering, that's more or less the style I'm writing now. I've taken the cowhide out of it because I've written too much about that.

 


 

The Music City News, January / February, 1980

 

SONS OF THE PIONEERS

By Lee RECTOR

MCN Managing Editor

 

Hollywood -- The Sons of the Pioneers without dispute is the greatest of all the western vocal groups during the era of the “B” western films.

 

                At his home in Hollywood, Bob Nolan, one of the original members of The Sons of the Pioneers and writer of such classic western songs as “Cool Water,” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” sat healthy and ruddy looking despite his “pushing 70” age, and talked about the early days of the group.

                “It was quite by accident that we got together,” Nolan said, “Most of us belonged to different groups.

                “Roy Rogers (at that time known as Leonard Slye) and I belonged to a group called The Rocky Mountaineers and that time, Tim Spencer belonged to the Spencer Brothers Quartet.

                “We joined the Texas Outlaws as a singing trip [sic] and took the name of The Pioneer Trio and were with them about six months when the station, KFWB, took us on as a staff group giving us a very exclusive 15-minute spot just after dinner.”

                “We were very happy being on KFWB because at the time, they had the two top vocal groups in the country on their staff.

                “As the work load got heavier for us, we decided we wanted to add some musicians and we took on Hugh and Carl [sic] Farr. And, in 1936 Roy Rogers got his break in the motion pictures and we hired Pat Brady and then Lloyd Perryman who actually replaced Roy. Later, Roy had us put into his pictures,” stated Nolan.

                Denver – Over a thousand miles away, and a few weeks later, Lloyd Perryman and the presently active Sons of the Pioneers group continued the story to MCN.

                “At the time the group was formed there were probably 50 different groups around the Los Angeles area playing anything from bluegrass, to hillbilly, to country/western – whatever you want to classify it – and they were all starving to death,” Lloyd said.

                “Nolan, Spencer and Slye (Rogers), decided they wanted to work a little harder and see if they couldn’t do a little better job than all the groups. When they were on staff at KFWB they would rehearse and work eight to 10 hours a day, and they established a name for themselves. I joined the group in 1936.

“We went to Columbia studios and were in pictures with Charles Starret [sic] for about three years and then we went to Chicago and were on the Uncle Ezra program for something over a year. When we returned to Los Angeles again, we did a lot of road work playing theaters and open air parks. Then we signed with Republic Pictures and started doing films with Roy Rogers, which we did for almost 10 years. During this time, we continued to record and make albums.

“Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan retired in 1949 or 1950 – they were semi-retired for a couple or three years until we found replacements. Dale Warren joined us in 1952. Ken Curtis (a. k. a. Festus from “Gunsmoke”) was with us part of this time for several years.

“Some people thought we quit the business,” Lloyd said, “Because we weren’t recording, but we didn’t have what we thought was exactly the right time or the right company to record.

“Cliffie Stone called me about four months ago, to record a new album and I think now we’re ready and can really do a job for a recording company.

“The prime reason that we have waited to this particular time to record is it seems that the trend in music has finally moved back toward the western theme, and that’s what we had been waiting for.

“Trends definitely do happen, and you’ve got to hope that you can record in this business at the time that the trend is on the upswing.

“Not having recorded in so many years, you would think that we would go out and the club owners and rodeo owners wouldn’t hire us. But, in the past two years, I’ve noticed that the crowds are increasing and increasing for us. So, it’s a definite thing that our particular kind of music is enjoying a come-back and is on the rise.”

The present group, The Sons of the Pioneers, which remains the oldest performing group in country/western music, consists of Lloyd Perryman, who has been with the group 40 years, Dale Warren, Roy Lanham, who replaced Carl [sic] Farr upon his death in 1961, Rusty Richards, a prolific songwriter singing tenor and Billy Liebert, the newest member and musical arranger.

Original member, Tim Spencer died in 1974. Roy Rogers, besides touring with Dale Evans and often The Sons of the Pioneers, has just completed a new movie.

Bob Nolan has been quietly living in North Hollywood spending four months out of the year in a secluded mountainside cabin working on songs. By 1958, Nolan had written 1,400 songs, and another 200 since, all of which are unpublished and unheard. We had the opportunity to hear him sing one of his unpublished songs in his L. A. Home, and can testify that Nolan is still one of the finest songwriters in the world today.

 


 

N is for Nolan from "The ABC's of Movie Cowboys" by Edgar M. Wyatt

 

Courtesy of Kathy Kirchner

 


 

1980 Western Clippings

 

 

Back to Top