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The Ken Griffis Memorial Edition 

(Ken Curtis & His Ranch Hands)


· Audio CD (2011)

· Number of Discs: 1

· Label: Pioneer Music Productions


Liner notes by O. J. Sikes

        Ken Griffis did more than anyone else to record the history of the Sons of the Pioneers with his landmark book, HEAR MY SONG: The Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers, first published in 1974. For the project, he interviewed dozens of celebrities and people who worked behind-the-scenes during western music’s Golden Era. The interviewees included all members of the Sons of the Pioneers through the 1970s, and Ken re-interviewed some of them again, and others, for later editions of his book. In the process, he became close to luminaries like Roy Rogers, who often asked Ken to receive awards in his name when Roy couldn’t get to an awards ceremony, and Bob Nolan, western music’s most widely recognized composer. His research, and that of his wife Nora, contributed immensely to documenting the broader history of western music as well.

        Not only did Ken and Nora keep notes, they kept recordings, both interviews and music, the latter including radio transcriptions and, in some cases, TV broadcasts that otherwise might have been lost. This CD, featuring Ken Curtis, draws from that collection. In 1951, the Sons of the Pioneers hosted a radio show called The Lucky-U Ranch. The group featured a vocal trio of Lloyd Perryman (the group’s leader), Tommy Doss (who had replaced Bob Nolan when Nolan left the touring group in 1949) and Ken Curtis. Curtis was the lead singer and had replaced Tim Spencer in 1949. Previously, he had been a singing cowboy star in the movies. Years later, he was to become “Festus” on the TV series, Gunsmoke.

        In February 1953, the Pioneers decided to leave the show but Curtis preferred to stay behind and host a new show called simply The Lucky-U, dropping the word, Ranch. Some of the old Ranch crew stayed with Ken and the new show, e.g. Shug Fisher played bass and sang novelty songs, Frankie Messina played accordion and Betty Taylor sang. The new trio, “The Ranch Hands,” consisted of Curtis with Rex Dennis and Buddy Dooley. While Ken Curtis sings all of the solos on the songs presented here, Dooley and Dennis accompany him on most selections, e.g. “Chant of the Wanderer” & “A Cowboy Has to Sing.” You’ll also hear Frankie’s accordion and some fine fiddle work by Chuck Huerta on many songs, e.g. “Happy Cowboy.”

        Between 1953 and 1955, the Lucky-U trio filmed a series of programs for TV titled Song Stories of the West. Unfortunately, the series never aired and the video images have deteriorated to the point that copies have not been made. But Ken and Nora managed to lift the soundtracks from those old TV tapes and you’ll hear some of that music on this CD. Better still, Tommy Doss and Lloyd Perryman were invited back to appear on some of those TV shows, and many listeners will agree that the selections featuring these three gentlemen, while focusing on Curtis, are the real gems here. You’ll hear them clearly on “Grand Canyon” and “The Old High Lonesome,” but they appear on others as well.

        The educated ear might be able to detect a fuller sound in Ken’s voice on some selections than what you have become used to, listening to the RCA Victor recordings. This is due to a process they called “Sweetening” which involved having the singer overdub his own voice, singing his lines exactly the way he sang them the first time (as opposed to singing harmony with himself as some artists do today). Whether you can detect it or not you’ll surely appreciate the talent and the music – all of it! You are holding a rare treasure in your hands, one that was almost lost. So enjoy it! (O.J. Sikes)


Track List:

01. Chant of the Wanderer (Bob Nolan)

02. Old Pioneer (Tim Spencer)

03. A Cowboy has to Sing (Bob Nolan)

04. Cowpoke (Stan Jones)

05. Rollin' Dust (Stan Jones)

06. Open Range Ahead (Bob Nolan)

07. The Old High Lonesome (Stan Jones)

08. Old Forgotten Trails  (Bob Nolan)

09. Echoes from the Hills (Bob Nolan)

10. The Chisholm Trail (traditional)

11. Move Along, Lazy Cattle (Bob Nolan)

12. Serenade of the Cowboy

13. The Touch of God's Hand (Bob Nolan)

14. This ain't the Same Old Range (Bob Nolan)

15. Bound for the Rio Grande (Bob Nolan)

16. At the Rainbow's End (Bob Nolan)

17. A Summer Night's Rain (Bob Nolan)

18. Happy (Roving) Cowboy (Bob Nolan)

19. Grand Canyon (Stan Jones)

20. Song of the Trail (Stan Jones)

21. The Mystery of His Way (Bob Nolan)

22. Stars of the West

23. When the Prairie Sun says Good Morning (Bob Nolan)