Sons of the Pioneers
|Labels||Decca, RCA Victor, Vocalion|
|Associated acts||Roy Rogers|
The Sons of the Pioneers are one of the United States' earliest Western singing groups. Known for their vocal performances, their musicianship, and their songwriting, they produced innovative recordings that have inspired many Western music performers and remained popular through the years. Since 1933, through many changes in membership, the Sons of the Pioneers have remained one of the longest-surviving country music vocal groups.
In the spring of 1931, Ohio-born Leonard Slye, the cowboy singer who would later change his name to Roy Rogers, arrived in California and found work as a truck driver, and later as a fruit picker for the Del Monte company in California's Central Valley. He entered an amateur singing contest on a Los Angeles radio show called Midnight Frolics and a few days later got an invitation to join a group called the Rocky Mountaineers.
In September 1931, Canadian-born Bob Nolan answered a classified ad in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that read, "Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred." The band was The Rocky Mountaineers, by then led by Leonard Slye. After listening to the tall, slender, tanned Nolan sing and yodel, Slye hired Nolan on the spot. Although Nolan stayed with the group only a short time, he stayed in touch with Slye. Nolan was replaced by Tim Spencer, who had been working in a Safeway Stores warehouse.
In the spring of 1932, Slye, Spencer, and another singer, Slumber Nichols, left the Rocky Mountaineers to form a trio, which soon failed. Throughout most of 1932, Slye and Spencer moved through a series of short-lived groups like the International Cowboys and the O-Bar-O Cowboys. Spencer left the O-Bar-O Cowboys and quit music for a while. Slye joined Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who were a popular act on a local Los Angeles radio station.
In early 1933, Slye, Nolan, and Spencer formed a group called the Pioneer Trio. The three young singers rehearsed for weeks honing their singing. While Slye continued to work with his radio singing group, Spencer and Nolan began writing songs for the group.
By early 1934, the group consisted of Leonard Slye, Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer on vocals, with Nolan playing string bass and Slye playing rhythm guitar. During that time, fiddle player Hugh Farr joined the group, adding a bass voice to the group's vocal arrangements. He also sang lead on some songs. Later that year, the "Pioneers Trio" became the "Sons of the Pioneers" through a radio station announcer's chance remark. Asked why he'd changed their name, the announcer said they were too young to have been pioneers, but that they could be sons of pioneers. The name was received well and fit the group, who were no longer a trio.
By the summer of 1934, the Sons of the Pioneers' popularity and fame extended beyond the Los Angeles area and quickly spread across the United States through short syndicated radio segments that were rebroadcast all over the country. They signed a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label, and on August 8, 1934, the Sons of the Pioneers made their first commercial recording. That same day, the immensely popular crooner Bing Crosby also made his first Decca session.
One of the first songs recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers during that first August session was written by Bob Nolan, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", that would soon become a staple in their repertoire. The original title "Tumbling Leaves" was changed to give the song a western character. Over the next two years the group would record 32 songs for Decca. Their output includes a 1937 recording of "The Blue Juniata," by Marion Dix Sullivan.
Film and television career
Between 1935 and 1984, the Sons of the Pioneers appeared in 87 films, several movie shorts, and a television series. In 1935 they signed with Columbia Pictures to supply the music for the studio's Charles Starrett westerns. In 1937, Leonard Slye was offered a contract as an actor with rival Republic Pictures. Part of that deal required him to leave the singing group. Leonard Slye was rechristened Roy Rogers, and went on to achieve major success as a singing cowboy in the movies. Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers remained close throughout the coming years. When the Starrett unit disbanded at the end of the 1941 season, the Pioneers rejoined Rogers at Republic and were soon appearing as highly popular supporting players in the Rogers westerns.
By this time the group was billed as "Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers." Nolan was reluctant to be the "leader" of the group, which had been formed as a co-operative outfit with no formal leader, but he bowed to the demands of show business; agents, music publishers, and recording companies insisted that co-operative bands needed a name to promote them (as in Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra). Because Bob Nolan's featured appearances with Starrett had made him the most recognizable of the Pioneers, Nolan reluctantly became the "front" for the group.
In addition to their appearances and filmed performances, their music was used in numerous other films and television shows. and for John Ford movies Wagon Master in 1949 and Rio Grande in 1950, and performed the theme song for the John Ford classic The Searchers in 1956. The Sons of the Pioneers made an appearance along with Roy Rogers in the 1983, season 2, episode 11 of the TV show "The Fall Guy", titled "Happy Trails" "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" was used in the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski in 1998.
Passing of an era
In 1971, Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer were both elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1972, most of the surviving members of the Sons of the Pioneers, including the original Pioneer Trio of Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer, gathered at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles for one last performance. In 1980, the Sons of the Pioneers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In 1979, Bob Nolan returned to the studio for the final time and recorded a successful solo album of classics and newer compositions titled Bob Nolan – The Sound of a Pioneer.
The late 1970s saw the passing of an era, as many of the founding members of the group died. Tim Spencer died on April 26, 1976. Lloyd Perryman, who had been with the group since 1936, died on May 31, 1977. Hugh Farr, who had retired from the group in 1958, died on April 17, 1980. Bob Nolan died on June 16, 1980.
Sons of the Pioneers today
Following the death of Lloyd Perryman in 1977, Dale Warren, who had joined the group in 1952 and continued on until his death on August 8, 2008, took over the leadership of the Sons of the Pioneers, guiding them into the 2000s. They continued to perform in concert and recorded as well with a lineup that featured, amongst many others, Luther Nallie (guitar, vocals), Rusty Richards (vocals), Doye O'Dell (guitar, vocals), Billy Armstrong (fiddle), Billy Liebert (accordion), Gary LeMaster (lead guitar) and Rome Johnson (vocals).
The current "Trail Boss" of the Sons of the Pioneers is Tommy Nallie (vocals, bass), who joined the group in 1983. Other current band members are Ken Lattimore (vocals, fiddle), Roy ("Dusty") Rogers Jr. (vocals, MC), John Fullerton (vocals, guitar), Paul Elliott (fiddle), and Chuck Ervin (bass, vocals). In 2001, a book about the group was published, titled The Sons of the Pioneers by Bill O'Neal and Fred Goodwin. Another book about the group, first published in 1974, is called Hear My Song, The Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers by Ken Griffis, and is available on The Pioneers' website.
In 1977, the Smithsonian Institution, which designates certain artists and performers who have made a noteworthy contribution to the arts and culture of America, named the Sons of the Pioneers as "National Treasures".
The Sons of the Pioneers were the first Country and Western group to sing at Carnegie Hall, and the first to perform at the lavish nightclubs in Las Vegas. The group has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6845 Hollywood Blvd. for recording.
Since 1934, 42 singers and musicians have been official members of the Sons of the Pioneers.
- Roy Rogers (as Leonard Slye) (1934–37) lead vocals, rhythm guitar
- Bob Nolan (1934–49) baritone vocals, string bass
- Tim Spencer (1934–36, 1938–49, 1955-58 recordings) tenor and lead vocals, rhythm guitar
- Hugh Farr (1934–59) bass and lead vocals, fiddle
- Karl Farr (1935–61) lead/rhythm guitar, harmony
- Lloyd Perryman (1936–43, 1946–77) tenor and lead vocals, rhythm guitar, 1st Trail Boss
- Pat Brady (1937–43, 1946–49, 1959–69) string bass, comedy
- Ken Carson (1943–47) tenor vocals, guitar
- Deuce Spriggens (1943, 1953–55) string bass, harmony vocals
- Shug Fisher (1944–46, 1949–53, 1956–59) string bass, harmony vocals, comedy
- Ken Curtis (1949–53, 1955-57 recordings) lead vocals
- Tommy Doss (1949–67, 1972) baritone vocals
- Dale Warren (1952–2008) lead and baritone vocals, string bass/electric bass, 2nd Trail Boss
- George Bamby (1959–60) accordion
- Roy Lanham (1961–86) lead guitar, harmony vocals, comedy
- Wade Ray (1961–62) fiddle, harmony vocals
- Rusty Richards (1963–66, 1974–84) tenor vocals, rhythm guitar
- Billy Armstrong (1966–72) lead vocals, fiddle
- Bob Minser (1967–68) tenor vocals, string bass/electric bass
- Luther Nallie (1969–74, 1980–2004, 2007–2015) tenor, lead, and baritone vocals, lead/rhythm guitar, electric bass, saxophone, clarinet, 3rd Trail Boss
- Billy Liebert (1974–80) accordion, arranger
- Rome Johnson (1977-80) lead vocals, rhythm guitar
- Doc Denning (1981) fiddle, harmony vocals
- Dale Morris (1981–83) fiddle, harmony vocals
- Tommy Nallie (1983–88, 2010-present) lead and harmony vocals, lead guitar, string bass, drums, 4th Trail Boss
- Sunny Spencer (1984–2005) lead vocals, multi-instrumentalist, comedy
- Jack Nallie (1984–86) electric bass
- Gary LeMaster (1986–2006, 2008–12) tenor and lead vocals, lead guitar, trombone, trumpet, comedy
- Daryl Wainscott (1987–93) keyboards, harmony vocals
- David Bradley (1989–94) harmony vocals, rhythm guitar
- John Nallie (1993–2001) lead vocals, keyboards, drums, electric bass
- Roy Warhurst (1994–97) fiddle, rhythm guitar, mandolin, comedy
- Ken Lattimore (1998–present) tenor vocals, fiddle
- Randy Rudd (2001–2017) lead vocals, rhythm guitar
- Preston Eldridge (2001–06) harmony vocals, string bass, fiddle
- Ricky Boen (2006–2014) harmony vocals, fiddle
- Mark Abbott (2006–2017) baritone vocals, string bass, fiddle, comedy
- Justin Branum (2016-2017) fiddle, harmony vocals
- Roy "Dusty" Rogers Jr (2018-present) lead and baritone vocals
- John Fullerton (2018-present) lead and baritone vocals, rhythm guitar
- Paul Elliott (2018-present) fiddle, harmony vocals
- Chuck Ervin (2019-present) bass, harmony vocals
Honors and awards
- 1971 Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame
- 1976 Gene Autry Award
- 1976 Hollywood Walk of Fame Award
- 1977 Smithsonian Institution's "National Treasure" Designation
- 1978 Pioneer Award from Academy of Country Music
- 1980 Country Music Hall of Fame as the Original Sons of the Pioneers (Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer, Hugh Farr, Karl Farr, Lloyd Perryman)
- 1984 New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame Award
- 1986 Grammy Award for "Cool Water"
- 1988 Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame
- 1994 Western Music Association Hall of Fame Award
- 2002 Grammy Award for "Tumbling Tumbleweeds"
- 2003 Golden Boot Award by Motion Picture and Television Fund
- Cowboy Classics (1952)
- Cowboy Hymns and Spirituals (1952)
- Western Classics (1953)
- 25 Favorite Cowboy Songs (1955)
- How Great Thou Art (1957)
- One Man's Songs (1957)
- This Was the West (Disneyland, 1958) - Stan Jones and the Sons of the Pioneers as The Ranger Chorus
- Wagons West (RCA Camden, 1958)
- Cool Water (RCA Victor, 1960)
- Room Full of Roses (RCA Camden, 1960)
- Westward Ho! (1961)
- Lure of the West (1961)
- Tumbleweed Trail (RCA Victor, 1962)
- Good Old Country Music (RCA Camden, 1962)
- Our Men Out West (1963)
- The Sons of the Pioneers Sing Hymns of the Cowboy (1963)
- Trail Dust (1963)
- Country Fare (1964)
- Tumbleweed Trails (Vocalion, 1964)
- Sons of the Pioneers Best (1964)
- Down Memory Trail (1964)
- Legends of the West (1965)
- The Best of the Sons of the Pioneers (1966)
- The Songs of Bob Nolan (1966)
- Campfire Favorites (1967)
- South of the Border (1968)
- San Antonio Rose (RCA Camden, 1968)
- San Antonio Rose (Delta Records, 1968)
- The Sons of the Pioneers Visit the South Seas (1969)
- Riders in the Sky (RCA Camden, 1973)
- Western Country (Granite, Attic, Telefunken, 1976)
- A Country-Western Songbook (RCA, 1977)
- The Sons of the Pioneers (RCA Special Products, 1977)
- Tumbleweed Trails (MCA, 1980)
- Let's Go West Again (1981)
- Celebration Vol. 1 (Silver Spur, 1982)
- Columbia Historic Edition (Columbia, 1982)
- Twenty of the Best (1985)
- Tumbling Tumbleweeds (MCA, 1986)
- Good Old Country Music (RCA Camden, 1986)
- Cool Water - Edition 1 1945-46 (Bear Family, 1987)
- Teardrops in My Heart - Edition 2 1946-47 (Bear Family, 1987)
- A Hundred and Sixty Acres - Edition 3 1947 (Bear Family, 1987)
- Riders in the Sky - Edition 4 1947-49 (Bear Family, 1987)
- Land Beyond the Sun - Edition 5 1949-50 (Bear Family, 1987)
- And Friends - Edition 6 1950-51 (Bear Family, 1987)
- There's a Goldmine in the Sky - Edition 7 1951-52 (Bear Family, 1987)
- Tumbling Tumbleweeds (Universal Special Products, 1987)
- Collection, Vol. 1 (Bear Family, 1987)
- Collection, Vol. 2 (Bear Family, 1987)
- Collection, Vol. 3 (Bear Family, 1987)
- Collection, Vol. 4 (Bear Family, 1987)
- Tumbling Tumbleweeds (RCA, 1989)
- Sunset on the Range (Pair, 1990)
- Empty Saddles (1990)
- Country & Western Memories (Pair, 1991)
- Country Music Hall of Fame (MCA, 1991)
- Songs of the Trail (Pair, 1991)
- San Antonio Rose and Other Country Favorites (RCA/Camden, 1996)
- Our Best to You (1999)
- Tumbling Tumbleweeds (Country Stars, 1999)
- Teleways Transcriptions (Soundies, 1999)
- Symphonies of the Sage (Bloodshot, 2001)
- The Essential Collection (South Side Phunk, 2002)
- Memories of the Lucky U Ranch (Jasmine, 2002)
- Cigareets, Whusky...And Cool, Cool Water (ASV, 2002)
- The Sons of the Pioneers: Ultimate Collection (Hip-O, 2002)
- The Essential Collection (Varèse Sarabande, 2003)
- RCA Country Legends (Sony Music Entertainment, 2004)
- Classic Western Harmony, Vol. 2 (2005)
- Under Western Skies (Varèse Sarabande, 2005)
- My Saddle Pals and I (Proper, 2005)
- Classic Cowboy Songs (Varèse Sarabande, 2006)
- The Republic Years (Varèse Sarabande, 2006)
- Western Hymns and Spirituals (Varèse Sarabande, 2008)
- Way Out There: The Complete Recordings 1934-1943 (Bear Family, 2009)
- Cigareets, Whusky...And Cool, Cool Water (USD, 2010)
- Sing the Stephen Foster Songbook (Varèse Sarabande, 2010)
|US Country||US||CAN Country|
|1945||"Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima"||4||—||—|
|1946||"No One to Cry To"||6||—||—|
|"Cigareetes, Whusky, and Wild, Wild Women"||5||—||—|
|"Teardrops in My Heart"||4||—||—|
|1948||"Blue Shadows on the Trail" (with Roy Rogers)||6||—||—|
|"(There'll Never Be Another) Pecos Bill" (with Roy Rogers)||13||—||—|
|1949||"My Best to You"||12||—||—|
|"Room Full of Roses"||10||26||—|
|1955||"The Ballad Of Davy Crocket"||—||—||—|
|1957||"High Ridin' Woman"||—||—||—|
|1980||"Ride Concrete Cowboy, Ride" (with Roy Rogers)||80||—||—|
- Slightly Static (1935), short
- Way Up Thar (1935), short
- Gallant Defender (1935)
- The Mysterious Avenger (1936)
- Song of the Saddle (1936)
- Rhythm on the Range (1936)
- California Mail (1936)
- The Big Show (1936)
- The Old Corral (1936)
- The Old Wyoming Trail (1937)
- Outlaws of the Prairie (1937)
- Cattle Raiders (1938)
- Call of the Rockies (1938)
- Law of the Plains (1938)
- West of Cheyenne (1938)
- South of Arizona (1938)
- The Colorado Trail (1938)
- West of the Santa Fe (1938)
- Rio Grande (1938)
- Songs of the West (1939), short
- Texas Stampede (1939)
- North of the Yukon (1939)
- Spoilers of the Range (1939)
- Western Caravans (1939)
- The Man from Sundown (1939)
- Riders of Black River (1939)
- Outpost of the Mounties (1939)
- The Stranger from Texas (1939)
- Two-Fisted Rangers (1939)
- Bullets for Rustlers (1940)
- Blazing Six Shooters (1940)
- Texas Stagecoach (1940)
- The Durango Kid (1940)
- West of Abilene (1940)
- Thundering Frontier (1940)
- The Pinto Kid (1941)
- Outlaws of the Panhandle (1941)
- Red River Valley (1941)
- Man from Cheyenne (1942)
- South of Santa Fe (1942)
- Sunset on the Desert (1942)
- Romance on the Range (1942)
- Sons of the Pioneers (1942)
- Call of the Canyon (1942)
- Sunset Serenade (1942)
- Heart of the Golden West (1942)
- Ridin' Down the Canyon (1942)
- Idaho (1943)
- Song of Texas (1943)
- Silver Spurs (1943)
- The Man from Music Mountain (1943)
- Hands Across the Border (1944)
- Cowboy and the Senorita (1944)
- The Yellow Rose of Texas (1944)
- Song of Nevada (1944)
- San Fernando Valley (1944)
- Lights of Old Santa Fe (1944)
- Hollywood Canteen (1944)
- Utah (1945)
- Bells of Rosarita (1945)
- Man from Oklahoma (1945)
- Along the Navajo Trail (1945)
- Sunset in El Dorado (1945)
- Don't Fence Me In (1945)
- Song of Arizona (1946)
- Ding Dong Williams (1946)
- Home on the Range (1946)
- Rainbow Over Texas (1946)
- My Pal Trigger (1946)
- Under Nevada Skies (1946)
- Roll on Texas Moon (1946)
- Home in Oklahoma (1946)
- Heldorado (1946)
- Apache Rose (1947)
- Hit Parade of 1947 (1947)
- Bells of San Angelo (1947)
- Springtime in the Sierras (1947)
- On the Old Spanish Trail (1947)
- The Gay Ranchero (1948)
- Unusual Occupations (1948), short
- Under California Stars (1948)
- Melody Time (1948)
- Eyes of Texas (1948)
- Night Time in Nevada (1948)
- My Pal Trigger (1949)
- Everybody's Dancin (1950)
- Rio Grande (film) (1950)
- Fighting Coast Guard (1951)
- "Sons of the Pioneers". Country Music Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on September 3, 2011. Retrieved August 24, 2011.
- Green, Douglas B. (2002). Singing in the Saddle: The History of the Singing Cowboy. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-826-51412-7.
- "Sons of the Pioneers". AllMusic. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
- "About the Sons of the Pioneers". Country Music Television. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
- Green 2002, p. 74.
- Green 2002, p. 75.
- Tumbling Leaves
- "Sons of the Pioneers". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved August 27, 2011.
- "Sons of the Pioneers". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved August 24, 2011.
- "Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers". Roy Rogers World. Archived from the original on October 3, 2011. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
- Douglas B. Green - Singing in the Saddle: The History of the Singing Cowboy 2005 - Page 79 "The Sons of the Pioneers' association with Charles Starrett and Columbia Pictures led to the most productive period of their long career. In a typical film of this era (Rio Grande, 1938), the Pioneers - left, Pat Brady, Bob Nolan, Karl Farr, Hugh Farr, and Lloyd Perryman — serenade Starrett, his costar Ann Doran, and assorted cast members."
- "Members". Sons of the Pioneers. Retrieved August 22, 2011.
- "Sons of the Pioneers". Grand Ole Opry. Retrieved August 26, 2011.
- Forsythe, Wayne. "The Sons of the Pioneers" in Country Music, April 1975.
- Hundley, Jessica (10 April 2003). "The town that was a movie set" – via LA Times.
- "Sons of the Pioneers Transcription Discs Collection, 1940-1959 (bulk 1951-1953)". finding-aids.lib.unc.edu. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
- "Sons of the Pioneers Awards". Sons of the Pioneers. Retrieved August 24, 2011.
- Griffis, Ken, Hear My Song: The Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers, JEMF Special Series, No. 5, John Edwards Memorial Foundation at the University of California, Los Angeles, Revised Edition 1974, 1977, page 107
- "Sons of the Pioneers Albums". Country Music Television. Retrieved August 24, 2011.
- Sons of the Pioneers Official Website
- Country Music Hall of Fame
- Western Music Association Hall of Fame
- Sons of the Pioneers at AllMusic
- Sons of the Pioneers at IMDb
- Bob Nolan Website
- Sons of the Pioneers Transcription Discs Collection, Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill