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Blue Prairie

(Tim Spencer / Bob Nolan)

 

Blue Prairie, blue echoes ring, blue as I sing

Of a longing blue as you.

 

Weary day and lonely night

Seem to say that nothin’s right.

Everything is feelin’ blue.

Here in my very soul I feel it, too.

Far in the distant hills I hear a cry

Then a silent hush but no reply.

Prairie, won’t you tell me true

Why have they spread this gloomy blanket of blue over you?

 

Refrain:

Blue prairie, blue are the skies,

Blue are the sighs of the night wind, fallin’.

Blue prairie, blue are the hills,

Blue are the trills of a night bird, callin’.

 

Every beating heart beats a rhythm that is blue

And the moon has cast a blue reflection in the dew

So the wind, while on its way

Seems to cry and sigh and say, “Blue!”

 

Blue prairie, blue echoes ring,

Blue, as I sing of a longing blue as you.

 

 

        Bob Nolan told Ken Griffis in a taped interview for his book (Hear My Song), "Unless I did the major portion of the song, such as Blue Prairie, I wouldn't put my name on it. Over the years I did help Timmy on several tunes."

        Blue Prairie was initially Tim's song but, unsatisfied with it as it was, he approached Bob Nolan for help. With it's heartbeat rhythm and its progression up the chromatic scale, the song definitely has the Nolan stamp on it. Because Tim thought of it, Bob always insisted it was "Timmy's song" but he couldn't erase that Nolan sound.

        The Sons of the San Joaquin stated that they "never ceased to marvel at how the repetition of the word ‘blue’ twenty times throughout the song fails to monotonize it, but rather becomes the catalyst upon which this song’s unspeakably beautiful musical imagery is built."

        The song was so unusual and so lyrically beautiful that it has been recorded many times by the Sons of the Pioneers and other groups. It is still a favorite. The recording you are listening to as you read this was made by Rex Allen Jr. and the Reinsmen. It was used in at least two movies: "Outlaws of the Prairie" (1937 12 31) and "Ridin' Down the Canyon" (1942 12 30).

        The song was registered for copyright on May 8, 1936 and the sheet music was first published in "Sons of the Pioneers Original Songs of the Prairie" No. 3 by CROSSE & WINGE INC, 1937.

 

TRANSCRIPTIONS for "Blue Prairie"

 

"Sons of the Pioneers Original Songs of the Prairie" No. 3 by CROSSE & WINGE INC, 1937.

            

Recordings:

1935 09 Standard Radio Transcription

1936 07 03 Decca

1937 from the soundtrack of "Outlaws of the Prairie"

1938 Sons of the Pioneers & the Stafford Sisters

1940 Orthacoustic Radio Transcription

1942 from the soundtrack of "Ridin' Down the Canyon"

1946 RCA Victor

1951-53 Lucky U Radio Show

1951-53 Lucky U Radio Show

1950s Smokey the Bear Radio Show

1954 US Treasury Dept. "Guest Star"

1959 RCA Victor

 

1970s Rex Allen Jr & The Reinsmen

Robert Wagoner

1948-9 Tommy Doss with Hi Busse and The Frontiersmen

Ken Curtis

 

Tommy Doss and Blue Prairie

by Larry Hopper

 

        The final recording of Blue Prairie was a demo made to introduce Tommy Doss to Roy Rogers and the active members of the Sons of the Pioneers. Various contributing factors; the coming end of both the RCA-Victor recording contract and that with Republic films, plus Bob Nolan’s increasing dislike of road tours, all played a part in Bob’s coming split with the Pioneers. He was not alone in his desire to step out. Tim Spencer had also voiced a desire for personal change but was not as vocal or erratically behaved.
            Knowing of this growing disharmony Hi Busse, of the Frontiersmen, listened with intense interest to the band singer at Henry’s 97th Street Corral Club and the “Nolanesque” qualities about his voice. The band singer was Tommy Doss, known as “Spike.” The band he was probably with was Ole Rasmussen’s Nebraska Cornhuskers and was no stranger to Western Swing.
            Tommy’s earliest recordings were on the Tiffany Transcriptions in May of 1947 with Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys while Tommy Duncan was still with the group. Two months later he recorded with Bob’s brother Luke and his Rhythm Busters for Victor but the four sides produced did not find favor with the execs “because he sounded too much like someone else we had.” August 18, 1947 found Tommy on one more Tiffany with Bob but nothing was to come of it immediately.
            A year later, August 1948, a growing situation within the Playboys came to a head, driven by Bob’s drinking. Tommy Duncan made a remark. Bob fired him and hired Tommy Doss. Tommy worked a few weeks with Bob until he turned Tommy over to Luke’s band where he worked with them until November of 1948 when Luke’s band went on tour and Tommy didn’t. He remained at the 97th St. Corral and worked with Ole Rasmussen and his Cornhuskers (a Wills’ clone group if ever there was one).
            Once again Tommy recorded, this time with Ole Rasmussen on the obscure local Crystal label. They boasted artists like Tex Terry’s Sons of the Purple Sage, Brad King and his Dude Ranch Gang, Casey Simmons and his Night Riders, and Carolina Cotton. Success as a recording artist eluded Tommy.
            Then Hi Busse walked in one evening.
            After spending some time listening he approached Tommy, telling him the Frontiersmen were scheduled for a record session the next day and asked if he would be interested in cutting a demo to “pitch to the Pioneers.” The next morning, fighting a cold, Tommy joined the Frontiersmen; Hi Busse, Don Poole, Eddie Martin, Shorty Scott and George Morris who provided the Pioneers style harmony backing, and recorded “Blue Prairie”.
            When Hi played the disc for Roy Rogers, co-founder and voting member of the Pioneers, he played it eight times with Roy exclaiming, “I can’t believe it… I just can’t believe it!!”
            In the meantime Bob Nolan had given his notice and Tim Spencer called Tommy asking if he would be interested in joining the Sons of the Pioneers. Following this call Hugh Farr dropped by the club to listen and then get Tommy’s answer directly. This would have been in June of 1949. With that response Lloyd Perryman stepped in with the solid offer and the contract. Tommy replaced Bob Nolan in Helena, Montana July 15, 1949.
            Despite his newfound position with the Sons of the Pioneers his recording career with them was truncated by the Victor execs that wanted Nolan on their recordings. A contract was made for Bob to make the studio recordings and Tommy made the personal appearances.
            Though there are many commercial recordings and transcriptions of both Bob Nolan and Tommy Doss, including one where they perform together on “A Hillbilly Wedding in June” this is the rarity not made for distribution; the Tommy Doss’ demo of “
Blue Prairie” that put his feet in the Pioneer’s boots. Enjoy

~~~~~~~~~~~
SOURCES:
Huff, Rick – Liner notes to Hi Busse CD “Hi Pardner”
Griffis, Ken – “Hear My Song, the Story of the Sons of the Pioneers”
Townsend, Charles – “San Antonio Rose: Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys”
Discographies: Luke Wills & His Rhythm Busters – Bear Family
Bob Wills & Texas Playboys – Tiffany Transcriptions

 


Above: Blue Prairie had its film debut in the Columbia / Charles Starrett film, Outlaws of the Prairie in late 1937.

 

"Blue Prairie" was also featured five years later in a 1942 Republic / Roy Rogers film, Ridin' Down the Canyon.

Left to right: Hugh Farr, Tim Spencer, Bob Nolan, Roy Rogers, Lloyd Perryman, Karl Farr and Pat Brady.

(Photo courtesy of Fred Sopher)

 

 

TRANSCRIPTIONS

Standard Radio Transcription #3061

Orthacoustic "Symphonies of the Sage" (064076)

Teleways Transcriptions #20-51-84-128-189-225-246

Lucky U Programs courtesy of Larry Hopper:

26 November 1951. Transcription Disc TR-115, 116
26 December 1951. Transcription Disc TR-164, 165
13 February 1952. Transcription Disc TR-238, 239
17 June 1952. Transcription Disc TR-415, 416
23 June 1952. Transcription Disc TR-423, 424
22 October 1952. Transcription Disc TR-529, 530
 

Smokey the Bear 1956: Show #6