On a fishing trip with the Reinsmen in 1978, Bob Nolan joined the group in Robert Wagoner's art studio, singing "The Tumbleweed Trail". Fortunately, the little jam session was recorded and this is the recording you are listening to on this page. Wagoner opens the song. Listen for Bob Nolan's harmony, as perfect as the last time he'd sung it - about 20 years previous to that evening.
This page opens with Bob Nolan's "Let Me Share Your Name", sung by Dick who also performed all the parts to "Still Water Pool".
• Cowboy Music Roundup aka "Tommy Doss Tribute" (November, 2004)
• Interview by Hugh McLennan (2006)
• Back in the saddle.... (2008)
• On the Road Again (2008)
• WMA Pioneer Trails Award (2011)
Dick: Whenever I’m asked how I came to meet Bob Nolan, I smile and say, “My wife introduced me to him!” This is how it came about:
by Dick Goodman, January – February, 2004
Photos courtesy of Dick Goodman and The Calin Coburn Collections.
I’d always been a big fan of Bob’s from the time I was a teenager but nearly 25 years went by before I finally had the opportunity to meet and get to know him personally. After that we became very close friends, almost a father-son relationship. According to his daughter, Roberta, Bob had made a similar comment to her at some point in time concerning our relationship. I guess I hadn’t realized he felt the same way until then. I had once told Bob that the two men in my lifetime who have had the greatest influence on me were my dad and Bob Nolan. I remember he was very touched by the remark.
Back in 1972 a “Sons of the Pioneers Reunion” was being held at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in honor of the group. A whole lot of people from the entertainment business were in attendance that night. It was quite an affair. However, our friends, Ken Curtis and his wife, Torrie, couldn’t make it because of a prior commitment. Ken knew what dedicated Pioneer fans we were so he gave his four tickets to my wife and me and we invited my in-laws to go with us. It turned out to be a very memorable evening!
Upon arriving at the hotel, I dropped Dixie and her folks off and went to park the car. As they entered the lobby Dixie ran into Buddie Perryman and Bob Nolan and his wife, Clara. Dixie and I had long since become friends of the Perrymans so Buddie asked Dixie if she had ever met Bob. Of course she hadn’t, so Buddie introduced the two of them. About that time, I entered the lobby and the first thing Dixie says to me is, “Dick, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” and she commenced to introduce me to Bob. That’s how come, after all those many years; my own wife was the one who finally ended up introducing me to the great Bob Nolan!
After we met in the lobby, the Nolans sat at a reserved table just a few feet away with Tim and Lloyd and their wives. Unfortunately, I didn’t get another chance to speak with him during the rest of the evening because there was so much going on. Eventually, the Sons of the Pioneers were introduced and they entertained the crowd with a few songs. Then Lloyd Perryman acknowledged each of the many former Pioneers who were in the audience and called them all up on stage to join in a rendition of Tumbling Tumbleweeds. There must have been over twenty past and present members up there, including Bob Nolan. When they called him up, he didn’t act nervous or uncomfortable at all, he just seemed to be having a great time that night visiting with all his old friends. Like I said, it was a night to remember.
Not too long after the Ambassador event, Dixie got another call from Ken Curtis. Since I had just recently celebrated my 40th birthday, Ken told her, “We’re having a dinner party up here at the house and I want to surprise Dick with a little belated birthday present! You two have got to come up and here’s why. Don’t tell Dick, but Bob Nolan is going to be here.” Ken already knew what a big Nolan fan I was.
Dixie simply told me Ken had invited the two of us up for dinner that night and that’s all I knew. Was I ever surprised to see all those other people there, especially Bob Nolan! Of the Pioneer group, Bob, Lloyd, Ken and Shug were the only ones present. We had a great time visiting.
1972 Party at Ken Curtis' House - Ken is taking the picture. Bob and I are sitting down front.
standing from left to right are Chuck Parkison (rodeo announcer and Ken's best friend), Shug Fisher, and Lloyd Perryman.
At one point during the evening, the subject of fishing came up. Shug Fisher was an avid fisherman and he said, “Let’s put together a fishing trip.” He began talking about this great spot in North Carolina. He said, “We could all fly back there.” Bob reacted with, “Well, I don’t fly so you can leave me out of it.” Shug replied, “But, Bob, this is the nearest place to Heaven you’ll ever find….”
Bob interrupted with a chuckle and said, “Let me tell you about a place that’s even nearer than that! I have a favorite spot of mine out in the Mojave Desert. I started going out there years ago when I still had my Jeep. I’d put an inflatable kiddie pool, a 50-gal drum of water, and a beach umbrella in the back and I’d drive out past Barstow and then I’d cut off on to this dirt road and go ‘way out several miles into the desert by myself. When I reached this spot I’d set this kiddie pool up, fill it with water, set up my beach umbrella and then I’d wander off into the desert for a few hours. Later that afternoon, I’d come back to that spot, and by then the water in the kiddie pool would be nice and warm, so I’d take off my clothes and settle down in that pool, lie back, and just relax. And that’s about as close to God as you could get! There was just nobody out there but me and Him!” I guess Shug couldn’t top that!
It turned out to be a real fun evening but Ken apologized afterward to Dixie and me because there had been no singing. “You know, those kinds of things we have to just let happen and it just didn’t happen. I’m really sorry about that.” I told Ken not to feel bad. I was just so grateful to even be included in the evening’s festivities and to finally get a chance to sit down and visit with Bob Nolan. It would have been nice if a songfest had taken place but I sure wasn’t disappointed, considering.
However, after that night at Ken’s, I didn’t get a chance to visit with Bob again until later that summer up at Big Bear Lake.
It was in the summer of ’72 that my family and I started taking short trips up to Big Bear Lake where I had spent so many happy days as a kid. We had just recently purchased a new RV and had been taking the kids on short excursions as often as we could. Big Bear was only a few hours drive from home and I got a big kick out of showing my boys some of the favorite spots I used to visit when I was their age, hiking around through those hills and such.
I’d always park it on the shoreline near Gray’s Landing in hopes maybe we’d bump into Bob again. I knew he spent his summers up there and I knew Gray’s Landing was a favorite fishing spot of his. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to make contact with him on every one of those trips and we all had some very enjoyable times together. Bob was a very warm an open individual once you got to know him. My family and I always enjoyed his company, as he did ours.
It was during that trip in 1972 that I finally got my first glimpse of Bob’s little cabin. My youngest son and I decided to go for a short hike and headed up the road from Gray’s Landing in the direction of where I thought the cabin might be located. By then I had a general idea where that might be. We walked about a half mile and then turned off the road and headed up the hill to where a small group of larger cabins stood. As we approached the nearest one I saw a path that led back along the side to a much smaller cabin several yards to the rear on another piece of property. I remember thinking, “That’s got to be it!” We approached and, sure enough, when I knocked on the door, ol’ Bob answered! He recognized me right off from that evening at Ken’s house. He gave us such a warm welcome and then invited us in to taste some beans he was cooking. He was so friendly and seemed so glad to see us. I’ll never forget that moment and neither will my son, Bobby!
Left: Bob Nolan's cabin at Big Bear Lake, 1979
Right: Bob at his cabin
(Calin Coburn Collections ©2004)
Bob’s cabin had been a little difficult to find at first. Anybody looking for it probably would not have picked that particular area. Like me, they would’ve assumed his place would be much larger. How wrong! If I had not recently heard him comment on its size at Ken’s party that night I probably would have never come across it. Actually, the cabin was so small it didn’t have much more square footage than our motor home! It was literally a one-room structure with a half partition and was fixed up like something out of The Three Bears, a place for everything and everything in its place. Behind the partition there was a quilted bed and a little table and a couple of chairs. In the front section was a small couch under the window and very small kitchen area. It all had such a special charm about it, a really cute little place. One reason you couldn’t see it too well from the road is because it was painted that “forest” green used by the forestry service.
1979 Bob's Cabin view
(Calin Coburn Collections ©2004)
There was a great view of the lake through the trees. I could even see the little island out there on the lake at the west end. You could look out that window at the main road down below but, from the road, you can barely distinguish the cabin, it blended in so well with the surrounding landscape. Bob told me the cabin itself was originally built back in the 1920’s by a young Forest Service employee. I remember it had a little porch/deck that Bob had added at some point in time. According to Bob, he used to spend many a relaxing hour on that deck.
Being it was located on forestry land, the area had its share of wildlife. There was a raccoon Bob used to feed on that porch. He told me one morning he heard scratching on the door, and when he opened it, there was “Mama” raccoon with a brand new family! Another time, he was walking back up the path with a fish he’d caught for dinner when he encountered a bear and her cub. The bear was really eyeballing his catch of the day! Bob said he just tossed her the fish and side tracked the two of them until he reached the cabin door. The bears continued on their way, too…with his dinner!
When I first saw the cabin, he had just added 220 wiring to accommodate a new stove and oven. I don’t know what he used to cook on before that. Maybe a wood stove like my folks did in theirs. However, he still had “outdoor plumbing.”
Bob told us an interesting story of how he acquired the cabin. It seems they were on a movie location in Big Bear several years ago and Bob was so impressed with the lake and its close proximity to Los Angeles that he decided this would be a perfect place to have a small secluded retreat, a place to get away to now and then. As I recall, he said he acquired the cabin around 1940. “This one suited my needs perfectly,” he said, “but I wasn’t looking to purchase one so, being as this is on forestry land, I have a 99 year lease on it.”
After he passed away, the family had the little cabin dismantled and they built a new, larger one on the same spot. Knowing that someday a stranger might acquire the property, I can appreciate the fact that Bobbie probably didn’t want her dad’s little cabin possibly ending up in the hands of someone indifferent to its history. However, it still saddens me that it’s gone. It’s too bad that little cabin, with all its special charm, and where so many wonderful songs were written, couldn’t have been preserved in some way. It was truly “Bob Nolan.”
I had always had the feeling I’d known Bob for most of my life. I became mesmerized by his songs while I was still a young teenager, and I’m sure that helped create the bond. I don’t understand why our trails hadn’t crossed long before. Maybe they had. For one thing, my folks also had a cabin up at Big Bear Lake back in the mid 40s and early ‘50s. I spent most of my summers up there when I was a youngster. Our cabin was located on the north shore of the lake in the little town of Fawnskin. I found out years later that Bob’s cabin was located just outside of town a mile or so down the road. For all I know, we might have crossed paths during those years because the town of Fawnskin is a very small hamlet with just a few businesses, a post office, and one little grocery store. I’m sure Bob must have traded there often during that time.
Years later, Bob told me that Holcomb Valley, just over the hill from Fawnskin, was a. favorite haunt of his. Holcomb Valley is historically a gold mining and ranching area. One ranch and everything else was old mine sites, etc. For years, Bob would take his Jeep back into Holcomb Valley and spend hours enjoying the solitude. By coincidence, during the years my folks had their cabin, especially in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, there was many a time when I would hike back to Holcomb Valley for the same reason. There was a chance that Bob Nolan and Dick Goodman might have crossed trails in Holcomb Valley back then without even knowing it!
In 1948 I organized a group in high school and we called ourselves the Singin’ Sons. Our inspiration, of course, was the Sons of the Pioneers. I had worn out the grooves on my 78s trying to figure out what they did with their voices harmony-wise and I finally figured it out. Even though our voices were all still pretty immature, we were singing the same harmony parts the Pioneers were. We were very serious about what we were doing!
In 1949 the Pioneers were scheduled to appear at the Del Mar fairgrounds in California. One of our parents (this is before any of us had drivers’ licenses) drove us down to Del Mar to see the Sons of the Pioneers perform. Of course, we were dressed in our hats and shirts and boots and all that. We were there waiting in anticipation when it was announced, due to problems with the sound system, that their show was going to have to be canceled. Naturally, we were disappointed. The Pioneers stayed around for a while, talking with their fans and signing autographs. We commenced to introduce ourselves to Tim Spencer and told him who we were and what we did. Tim was very impressed with our dedication to their musical sound even though he’d never heard us sing. Maybe if he had, he might have changed his mind. Who knows?
I was still in awe of Bob Nolan and hesitated to approach him. Of course, I had him up on that unreachable pedestal. I told this to Bob years later and he just laughed and said, “Oh, for goodness sakes, you should have come over and introduced yourself. I would have been happy to talk to you!” Teenage folly, I guess! When Tim realized why we were there, how disappointed we were that they weren’t going to perform, and the fact that we had organized our group because of our interest in the Pioneers, he personally invited us to attend a show in Orange, CA. the following month. There was a new Roy Rogers movie showing there and the Pioneers were to do a live intermission show.
So, a few weeks later, on the strength of Tim’s invitation, we showed up at the Orange Theatre in Orange and told them at the box office why we were there. They notified Tim and he came up and personally escorted us back down to our seats. That was pretty neat!
1949 Singin Sons and Pioneers, Orange, CA
Dick Goodman is centre back; Hugh Farr and Tim Spencer in the foreground.
1949 Singin Sons, Pioneers , Orange, CA
Back left to right: Hugh Farr, Pat Brady, Lloyd Perryman, Ken Curtis, Shug Fisher and Bob Nolan.
Anyway, I’m sitting there in the audience expecting to see the Pioneer group I’d been listening to on records. And I did, but there were also two new faces on stage. Part way through the show, Bob introduced new members Ken Curtis and Shug Fisher. When they introduced Ken, the group sang two songs with him, Riders in the Sky and Room Full Of Roses. (These turned out to be the two songs Ken had just recorded with the Pioneers for RCA). Ken and Shug also did a very funny comedy skit that day.
I remember in the motion picture they were showing [Gay Ranchero], in one scene the Pioneers were removing a tree stump. After the movie, when we were talking to Hugh Farr, he commented on that scene, “I darn near cut my leg off with that rope!” Hugh was on horseback and the rope that was tied to the stump was stretched across his thigh. He said when the horse backed up, the stump failed to budge! I guess it left quite a rope burn on his leg.
I didn’t realize there was a transition going on within the group that day. As it turned out, Tim Spencer was getting ready to retire from the Pioneers and Pat Brady was leaving to become Roy’s sidekick in his new TV series. Bob left shortly after that when Tommy Doss joined to fill the baritone spot.
Even though I’ve been a Pioneer fan for the best part of my life, that was the one and only time I had ever seen the original group perform live on stage! Afterwards, we were able to have our picture taken with the fellows, or at least most of them. Of all the original Pioneers, Karl Farr is the only one not in the photos and the only one of the originals I never ever got to know personally.. He had to leave early that day, right after they were through performing. And I still didn’t take the opportunity to speak with Bob that day, either! Pretty dumb, huh?
A few years later, in 1958, the Wagonmasters (my group at Knott’s Berry Farm during the ‘fifties) had gone up to play a gig at Crestline, a little town in the mountains below Big Bear Lake. After it was over, Eldon Eklund and I drove on up to Big Bear with the intent of maybe meeting with Bob and leaving him a 45 record the Wagonmasters had recorded of Cool Water and Tumbling Tumbleweeds. I also took along a 45 with two songs I had written, Trail of the Murmuring Pines and Song of the River. By this time, I had learned Bob was spending his summers up there. I had still never met or talked to the man personally and so my anticipation was piqued. Also, I had long outgrown my hesitancy to approach Bob. I had just never had the opportunity since that time at the Orange Theater in 1949. I was bound and determined to get it done this time!
We arrived at Gray’s Landing on the north shore of Big Bear Lake, pulled up at the little restaurant and boat shop, went inside and asked if anyone knew how we could contact Bob Nolan. I knew he came down to Gray’s Landing to fish in the late afternoons. This waitress came over and said, “I’m Bob’s wife. He’s not here right now. You just missed him this weekend. He went down to the Valley on business. You wouldn’t recognize him, anyway, because he’s sporting a mustache!” I’ve often tried to picture Bob with a mustache!
That’s when I first met “P-Nuts” Nolan.” Clara was her real name and I liked her right off! P-Nuts had a great sense of humor. We became good friends years later and always kept in touch, even after Bob passed away. P-Nuts gave me and my boy’s each one of Bob’s fishing poles. Mine has his name engraved on the reel, something I will always cherish. Clara had been a waitress when she and Bob first met in the ‘40s and Bob gave her the nickname “P-Nuts” because she was so tiny. Bob once told me her waist size was the same as his hat size when they first met. The two of them spent many summers together up there in Big Bear but, for health reasons, P-Nuts declined to make the trip to that altitude for lengthy stays in later years. Towards the end, Bob would spend most of the summer up there alone.
Anyway, I gave her the two 45 records and never heard another thing about them or about him ever receiving them until years later, after I had become friends with Bob during the mid ‘70s. One day Bob and I were sitting on the dock at Gray’s Landing, talking about one thing and another and I asked him if he remembered those recordings we’d left with P-Nuts back in 1959. To my dismay, he said, “Oh, yes. I certainly do. You know, Dick, that song about the river, I especially liked that one. It was especially well done.” That caught me off guard! I had assumed Bob would comment on our renditions of his two songs and, instead, he compliments me on our rendition of one of mine!
Needless to say, I was very pleased and honored to hear such a comment coming from the “master songwriter” himself.
1973 letter to Dick Goodman
Bob mentioned that, when “Timmy” (Tim Spencer) left the Pioneers, he lost all real interest in performing and that’s when he made his final decision to also retire from the group. Bob felt Tim was the driving force within the act prior to that point in time. Without him, Bob’s motivation to continue was quickly waning. In fact, he once remarked to me that he never did really like performing and would have been perfectly happy to “just stand in the wings and write songs for the group.” He hated the traveling during those final years. He said his “happiest” moments on stage during his whole career were back in the early ‘30s when the Pioneers were doing local “supermarket openings.” What came later (traveling, movie, recording sessions, etc.) was by no means the high point of his career in his eyes. Too “stressful,” as he put it and also, in many cases, very unrewarding. At some point, Bob’s personal agent embezzled a very large sum of money from him and fled the country, never to return. Bob told me he was willing to forget the whole thing if his agent would have just returned the money. Of course, that never happened. As far as Bob knew, his agent never reentered the U.S. so Bob was stuck with the situation. It caused him some grief with the IRS, too. According to Bob, they were even digging up his backyard looking for the cash! He said he should have heeded “Timmy’s” advice years earlier and switched agents but said “I was too trusting at the time and wouldn’t listen.” Tim sure must have suspected the guy was a crook at some point, to suggest Bob get rid of him.
Another burr under Bob’s saddle during the late ‘40s was the way he and the Pioneers were treated by Republic Studios when it came time to negotiate a new contract. They soon found out that asking for more money was a “no-no” with studio boss, Herbert Yates. He literally fired them and, from that point on, Bob was actually barred from the lot by Yates. He never ever set foot on the premises again, even though he lived just a few short blocks from the studio. According to a discussion Snuff Garrett had with Bob in the late ‘70s, Snuff said he was up at Bob’s home and suggested the two of them walk over to the studio location a couple of blocks away and visit some of the old Roy Rogers movie sets for nostalgic reasons. Snuff had heard they were going to be eventually dismantled. Bob Nolan declined and explained the reason why. Of course Snuff was astonished by his remarks because, even though Republic name and Herbert Yates were long gone, Bob was still abiding by the ban imposed by Yates 30 years prior! Bob must have been pretty bitter about it.
Yes, Bob certainly had few regrets about deciding to leave the Pioneers by the time the year 1949 was over. Can’t say I blame him.
Bob Nolan had a tremendous sense of humor. We were sitting in his pickup at Gray’s Landing one time and he was looking out across the lake at the distant shoreline. He said, “Dick, you know, I’ve always been a very good swimmer but let me tell you about a little prank we use to pull on the general public when I first moved up here after I left the Pioneers. At that time there was a tour boat that took off from the east end of the lake and it would come all the way up the shoreline to the dam and then circle back down the other side of the lake. The captain would give a little narration along the way. Well, I became friends with him and we cooked up this little stunt.
“The tour boat would come by on the north side of the lake past Gray’s Landing and I’d be standing down there at the water’s edge in my trunks with my dog, Tumbleweed. Now you have to remember this was right after I retired from the Pioneers so my name and face were still fairly prominent and my songs were still well known and all that. So the general public still knew who I was. Well, the tour boat captain would say something like, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, if you look over on the north side of the lake, you’ll see the famous Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers and his dog, Tumbleweed, getting ready to take their daily swim across to the other side of the lake and back!’
“Then I’d jump in, the dog would jump in, and we’d start swimming out. As the tour boat proceeded around the bend out of sight, we had a fellow with a little outboard who would help me and my dog into his boat. Then he’d take us over to the other side of the lake and let us off where we’d do the same thing all over again when the boat came down the far shoreline on its return trip!
“Dick, good swimmer or not, there was no way in the world that I could ever swim across that lake and back! For one thing, people don’t realize how cold it is. No matter how good a swimmer you are, that lake is pretty deep and the water is ice cold at this altitude. A lot of people have died of hypothermia in that water. There’s no way that the best swimmer in the world could make it across the lake and back unless he was wearing some kind of wet suit or something! But we sure had those tourists fooled!”
In 1946 the Sons of the Pioneers, along with various other Western movie and business people, invested in a project down on the Mojave Desert east of Big Bear Lake at the base of the San Bernardino Mts. The project was named Pioneertown after the Sons and it was meant to be a permanent movie set available to the motion picture industry for a rental fee. Unfortunately, the whole thing was ill-timed because Hollywood would soon start producing Westerns in epic form at much grander locations like the Monument Valley in Utah. However, Pioneertown was utilized for a few years in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s by Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and other stars that were still making B-Westerns and/or television series.
After the Western movie and television heyday began to fade, Pioneertown gradually went into a state of disrepair. In recent years the town has been “reborn”, due primarily to increased tourism which has helped finance the restoration and maintenance.
Bob was driving a new Ford pickup when we visited with him that first time up at Big Bear but his favorite mode of transportation both in the mountains and on his trips to the Mojave Desert down below was his Jeep. Bob told me there used to be a group of horse people up in Big Bear that would have an annual trail ride and picnic during late spring and he and P-Nuts were always involved in it. The ride would start up at the east end of Big Bear Lake and follow a winding dirt road down the mountainside to Pioneertown, where they’d have their picnic. Bob said he and P-Nuts would tag along in their Jeep loaded down with all the food and “refreshments!” After the picnic in Pioneertown, they’d all head back up the mountain to Big Bear Lake. Bob said it was always a real fun outing. I don’t know if it still takes place or not.
After he retired, Bob would head up to Big Bear each year around the middle of May and spend the whole summer there. From his cabin you could look across (see photo of Dixie and Bob) to the peak, San Jacinto, about 11,000 foot high. Big Bear was about 7000 feet. He could see the peak from his cabin and he said, “When I see snow on the peak of San Jacinto, I’d pack it up and head down the hill.” That’d be about mid to late October.
Bob Nolan and Dixie Goodman, 1976
He said, “Only one time in all the years I’ve been coming up here has Mother Nature ever pulled a fast one on me! My attire up here is basically summer clothing. One morning in October it seemed awful bright out when I woke up. I looked out the window and here was a good foot-and-a-half of snow on the ground and I had nothing to wear on my feet but tennis shoes!” Since his vehicle was parked farther down the hill, this meant making several trips on foot through the snow while he was loading up to head home.
On one trip to Big Bear in the mid ‘70s, my oldest son, Bill, who was 17 at the time, had just acquired a Toyota Landcruiser 4WD. The boys and I decided to drive it back into Holcomb Valley. My son had been dabbling in oil and watercolors and wanted to do some sketches of the area. During the ride, Bill spotted this tree that had been hit by lightning at some point in time. The top ten feet or so were charred but there was a lot of green growth below. He made a mental picture of it and when we got back to the motor home he got out his watercolors and began doing a small sketch of that tree. That night Bob Nolan came down to have dinner with us and Bill presented his finished painting to him.
When Bob looked at it he said, “Bill you’ve been able to capture something in this painting that I have never been able to do in any of my songs. You’ve been able to capture both life and death. I will treasure this. I’m going to keep this in my cabin.” Bill was thrilled to death at Bob’s reaction. Bob had it framed and the painting hung in his cabin until after he passed away in 1980. A few years later, Roberta felt my son would appreciate having it back as a keepsake. She returned it to us and we told her later we wrapped it as a surprise for Bill and gave it to him as a “Christmas gift from Santa” even though he was now in his forties! Was he ever thrilled! It’s now hanging in my son’s home in the High Sierra.
1975 Bill Goodman Painting (Dick's Son)
There was a painting in Bob’s home in Studio City, hanging over his mantle, a rather nice seascape. We were sitting there talking one evening and Bob pointed to it and said, “See that painting? “Back in the 40s I was in a hock shop and I spotted this painting and the reason it caught my eye - you’ll notice that there’s no actual life in it – no seabirds, nothing – but I felt life in it. So I asked the proprietor how much he was asking for it and he said two-fifty. I started to shell out $250.00 and he said, ‘No, no, two dollars and fifty cents.’ So that painting up there cost me two and a half dollars and I’ve had it all these many years.”
The reason he had brought it up was because he had recently commissioned Robert Wagoner to do a similar type painting for him, only this one would have a High Sierra theme, no ocean. There was a Wagoner painting that the Leanin’ Tree had used on a greeting card that had caught Bob’s eye. This prompted Bob to commission Wagoner to do one for him. Not having met Wagoner, Bob Nolan had phoned me and asked, “Is it possible I could buy that painting on the greeting card?” I told him that those paintings were usually sold and the greeting card company has permission to make prints and then they go back to the owner. So Bob said he’d like to have Wagoner do a similar painting. However, there was some wildlife in the foreground of that card but Nolan didn’t want them in his painting. I gave Bob the phone number and he said he would call Wagoner personally.
I guess he caught Bob Wagoner off-stride when he told him, “I want you to do a painting for me similar to the one you did on that greeting card. However, I don’t want to see any life form in it but I want to know that they’re there.” Well, poor Bob Wagoner was so intimidated that, despite his tremendous talent, he never did feel he could quite do justice to Nolan’s unusual request. Time went by and Bob Nolan told me, “I’m afraid I frightened poor Robert to death. I would be happy with anything he’d paint for me.” Unfortunately, Bob Wagoner was still working on the painting at the time of Nolan’s untimely death. It’s a great piece of work. Bob would have loved it.
Ken Curtis related a story that Lloyd Perryman told him about Bob. From what I understand, they were on a movie location along the Kern River in the High Sierra. There was a break and the Pioneers weren’t needed at that particular time so Lloyd and Bob took their fishing poles and walked upstream. Back at the movie location one of the stuntmen was discussing the scene with the director who wanted him to fall off into the water from this high rock. The Kern River can get pretty treacherous at some points so the stuntman was negotiating a higher price for this one stunt and just about had the director convinced. However, by this time Bob and Lloyd had finished their fishing and were walking back. Along the way, Bob decided he would use the river for transportation. Being a good swimmer, he’d removed most of his clothes, stacked them neatly on his chest, and commenced to float downstream on his back. Just about the time the stuntman had the director convinced he should get more money, here comes Bob blissfully floating by! The director took one look, turned to the stuntman, and said something like, “Why should we pay you more money when we just saw a musician floating by the same spot!
There’s a little follow-up story on this. Years later, Dixie and I were up at Upper Twin Lakes near Bridgeport, CA in 1988. While I was talking to a friend who worked up there, he said, “You’re a big fan of the Sons of the Pioneers. See that old boy getting ready to leave in his motor home? Why don’t you go out and introduce yourself? That guy is a former stuntman and I know he’s worked in some of the old Roy Rogers movies.” So I went up and introduced myself – he looked to be up in his early 80s – and we talked a few minutes and I brought up the Sons of the Pioneers, especially Bob Nolan, and the fact I knew Bob personally. He laughed and said, good naturedly, “That damn Bob Nolan! Let me tell you what he did to me one time.” And he commenced to tell me the same story…only this time I was hearing it from the stuntman, himself!
Ken Curtis always had some interesting tales to tell from his Pioneer days. When they were on tour, the Sons of the Pioneers would travel in two cars and the trio would ride in one car, the instrumentalists in the other. Ken remembers the first time they drove out to pick up Bob Nolan. This was in 1949. There he was, standing on the curb outside his house, a bottle in one hand and a big raw onion in the other. Ken said Bob climbed into the back seat, settled back, took a bite out of the onion, a swig out of the bottle, and away they went! That was Ken’s first encounter touring with Bob Nolan!
1940 West of Abilene
Ken also said that Bob didn’t like to drive while the group was touring. One time (Ken wasn’t in the group yet but he heard this from Lloyd) they played at some location in Arizona. Afterwards, Bob and Tim were in a hurry to get back to California so they left together, “sharing” the driving time. Lloyd said Bob started out driving and it was already after dark. Tim fell asleep right away. Bob drove on for another few minutes and then pulled over and stopped the car, woke Tim up and said, “OK, it’s your turn to drive.” He hadn’t gone but a few miles! Not realizing this, Tim took over and drove the rest of the way! It wasn’t until they got home that he fully realized Bob had pulled a fast one on him!
Bob was always conjuring up music and lyrics. Lloyd said that one time they had just left this town Bob told them to stop the car and let him out. He said he’d catch up with them later. Bob got out and walked back to town, holed up in a hotel for a day or two and came out with a couple of the most beautiful songs he’d ever written. As I recall, Lloyd said that one of the songs was The Touch of God’s Hand. They were traveling across the desert at the time.
I remember one time up at his cabin I was gazing out the window at the tranquil scene of below of the water and shoreline and I couldn’t help but ask Bob if this was where he wrote the song Ne Ha Neé, one of my favorite Nolan tunes. He replied, “Yes, Dick, in fact, many of the songs I’ve written over the years originated right here in this little cabin.” Bob related how, after he retired and started spending his summers there, he would try and limit his songwriting to just the first couple of hours upon rising in the morning, which was usually around 5 A.M. He said that was when any new lyrics and/or melodies were “ still fresh in my mind.”
Hi Busse and I were talking about Bob Nolan one time and Hi said, “You know, once he started thinking about song lyrics or a melody, he was gone. He said, “I was sitting talking to Bob one day, carrying on a conversation, and all of a sudden his eyes got that kind of distant look about them and I knew I’d lost him to some melody or lyrics that were going through his mind.” From what I’ve heard, other people experienced this phenomenon with Bob, too, as I did on several occasions. You just had to learn to respect that silence and not interrupt his thoughts.
Bob’s composition, Wind, is generally thought of as a “Western song.” Actually, Bob meant it to be a love song. Bob commented on this one night while he was visiting at our motor home at Big Bear Lake. He didn’t go into a lot of detail but he told us a little of how and why the song came about. He mentioned the fact that, many years ago, there was a little romance going on between him and Christine Stafford of the Stafford Sisters at the time and it was on a night he and Christine spent on an Oregon beach that was the inspiration for the song. He almost regretted that encounter afterwards because of the detrimental effect the evening’s exposure to the elements had on Christine’s health. I believe he said she actually came down with pneumonia as a result and was quite ill for a time. He always blamed himself for that happening.
There was a fire in Bob’s garage at one time. I remember him mentioning that, among other things, he’d lost a lot of items pertaining to his music, unpublished material and recordings, primarily. He said years ago he and his publisher once tried to tally up the number of songs he had written and gave up at around 1200.
When his song Cool Water was first published back in the 1930’s, the publisher had taken it upon himself to change a lyric line. This infuriated Bob at the time! He’d originally written it as a poem and had set it to music years later. Bob said, “You know, I made the publisher pull all the remaining copies off the market until he fixed the problem”. He explained, “The lyrics go:
Dan, can you see that big green tree
Where the water’s running free and it’s waiting there for me And you.”
Bob continued, “And you is just a little addition. It’s not supposed to rhyme with anything. The publisher took it upon himself to change it from me and you to you and me and I was very upset about it. Unfortunately, before we could pull the sheet music off the market, a lot of it had been sold and, as the years went by, people like Rex Allen and Marty Robbins and a few others recorded it with those lyrics reversed.” Then he smiled, “However, as the royalties came rolling in, I became more tolerant.”
Bob was certainly a master with lyrics. From the time I was a teenager, the strong lyrics and melodies of Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer were what bonded me most with these two men, the lyrics especially. Bob once said to me up in Big Bear, “I could write songs today that would sell commercially if I wanted to but, today, if I write a song and it moves just one person, I’m happy!”
It’s obvious, in his later years, Bob was writing from the heart and soul and for his own personal enjoyment.
Concerning Bob’s health, the only time the word cancer came up in any conversations with him was when he mentioned he had to have some cosmetic surgery done on his ears because of too much longtime exposure to the sun. In 1973 he also mentioned to Dixie and me that he was suffering a little from angina. I guess this was something he had kept secret from his wife and family, only we didn’t know it at the time. We mentioned his condition to P-Nuts and Roberta during the memorial gathering for Bob held at Rex Allen’s ranch and they were both shocked. He had told us, “The doctor suggested I shouldn’t be coming up here to Big Bear but I’m not going to follow that advice.” Knowing Bob, he probably didn’t want to hear that from family members, either.
I was aware of his condition when I invited him to go up to Bishop in 1978. I told him it was four thousand feet in elevation and I asked him if he thought he might have a problem with that. He assured me there was no need for concern so we went ahead with our plans. Then, when we got up to Bishop, the subject was, should we go any further up into the high country on a sight seeing trip?. His answer was always the same. We got up to as high as 9000 ft one time and he showed absolutely no signs of distress and he seemed to be having a great time. We have photos to prove it. Some were taken in Bob Wagoner’s back yard and some taken about the nine thousand foot level where he and Jerry Compton and Bob Wagoner are gazing up at a 200-foot waterfall. The expression on Bob Nolan’s face says it all.
Ironically, Bob was traveling at sea level when he had his fatal heart attack a couple of years later.
Bob Nolan’s desire to meet my longtime friend, Western artist and singer/musician Robert Wagoner, was finally culminated back in the late ‘70s. The meeting took place at the San Dimas Art Show in San Dimas, California, just east of Los Angeles. Bob Nolan was already familiar with Wagoner’s vocal talent and artistic ability because, back in 1972, I had sent him our first Reinsmen album on which Wagoner had done the cover painting. This precipitated the letter Bob Nolan had sent to me shortly afterwards, regarding the album with his reference as to whether we “have another giant on our hands to stand with Remington and Russell.” Obviously, he was very impressed with Robert Wagoner’s talents as an artist to make such a remark and Wagoner who, like me, had always been a big fan of Bob Nolan’s, was overwhelmed by Bob’s response.
Robert Wagoner’s name had come up during one of my earlier visits with Bob Nolan up in Big Bear Lake and Nolan mentioned how he had once met another Western artist who had since become a giant in his field, much like Remington and Russell. He related the situation how one time, when the Pioneers were playing Madison Square Garden back in the 40s, he noticed this young fellow doing sketches near the bullpen where the cowboys were and he got to talking with him. The fellow was a mounted policeman in New York at the time and was just getting started in Western art.
As he was relating the story, Bob was trying to remember the gentleman’s last name. He kept saying, “Olaf, Olaf…,” and I said, “Wieghorst?” He said, “Yes, that was his name, Olaf Wieghorst.” Olaf, who was probably in his 30s at the time, had also given Bob one of the pencil sketches he was selling that day for around 50 cents apiece! Of course, today that sketch is priceless! Anyway, I exclaimed “Oh, my gosh, Bob, you won’t believe this but Olaf Wieghorst has been Robert Wagoner’s close friend and mentor for the past several years!” Bob was astounded.
Olaf Wieghorst had been so impressed with Robert Wagoner’s natural talents when they first met that he had offered to help guide Wagoner into the professional art field. By 1969, when Robert Wagoner had finally decided to seriously make a career of Western art, he moved his family to Bishop, CA in the shadow of the majestic High Sierra, and commenced to pursue his dream. From that point on, about every six months or so, Olaf would invite the Wagoners down to his home for the weekend. Wagoner would take along some of his paintings and Wieghorst would critique his work and tell him what level he was on, how much he should now charge for his paintings, and so on. He also introduced Robert to several different art buyers during that period. This continued on for several years as Robert Wagoner’s art career progressed.
Anyway, Wagoner was one of several artists who were exhibiting their artwork at the San Dimas Art Show that day and the Reinsmen were also scheduled to perform after the dinner. I don’t recall if I called Bob Nolan or he called me beforehand, but his immediate reaction was, “Yes. Let’s go to it! It will give me the opportunity to finally meet Robert.” It also turned out that Roy Rogers was in attendance that day along with several other Hollywood personalities who were taking in the show.
We set up the time and date and Dixie and I went by that afternoon to pick up Bob and his wife, P-Nuts. Before we left his house Bob was quick to tell me, “Now, I have this mynah bird that needs to be fed at a certain time so we have to be back no later than 8:30 or 9:00.” I’m pretty sure he said it was a mynah bird. As I recall it was predominantly black in color with maybe a few white feathers. He kept it in a cage in the kitchen. I said, “OK. No problem, Bob The Reinsmen have to play another job at Knott’s Berry Farm after the art show and then we’ll be coming back to Jerry Compton’s house. Jerry lives between San Dimas and your house. If it’s alright with you, the three of you can come by and pick me up and then we’ll take you on home from there.” “That’ll be fine,” he said. So off we went.
On the way, I happened to be playing a Marty Robbins’ tape and up came Marty’s rendition of Bob Nolan’s song “Trail Dreamin’”. I remember Bob frowned and said, “I wonder why in the world he picked that song to record?” I replied, “Probably because it’s one of your prettiest tunes, Bob.” He said, “Oh, no! Those songs I wrote for the movies were mostly contrived! They were, of all the songs I ever wrote, they were my least favorite. More often than not, the director would give Timmy or me a synopsis of a scene and we’d come up with a song to fit it. It was my least rewarding period of songwriting.”
I found that amazing since, like many Bob Nolan fans, I find most of those movie songs are on my list of favorite Nolan tunes, fun to sing and very pleasing to listen to. Just goes to show you, you never know!
When we arrived at the art show, we found Wagoner and I introduced the two of them. Then we all had a great time visiting and taking in the artwork when up walks Roy Rogers! When Bob and Roy caught sight of each other, I don’t know which was the more shocked and surprised! I guess they hadn’t seen each other for some time and this chance meeting turned out to be a real treat for both, just like the old days. I always got the impression, for whatever reason, that Roy and Bob hadn’t mingled very much socially since Bob retired from the Pioneers. I never questioned Bob on that subject but some of the things he had mentioned now and then led me to believe it. However, there was no doubt the bond of sincere friendship between the two was in evidence that day.
1979 - Robert Wagoner, Roy Rogers and Bob Nolan
Calin Coburn Collections©2004
Later, we all congregated around a table in this one big tent where they were serving an early dinner for the special guests. At one point the Reinsmen trio got up and sang a few songs ending with a tribute to Bob and Roy with our rendition of Tumbling Tumbleweeds. Shortly afterwards we fellows excused ourselves and headed out to our gig at Knott’s Berry Farm. As planned, my wife Dixie stayed behind to visit with everyone until it was time for her and the Nolans to leave.
We did the show at Knott’s and arrived back at Jerry Compton’s house a little later than expected, around 9:00, assuming Dixie and the Nolans would be waiting there. They were nowhere in sight! Soon it got to be 10 o’clock and by then I was more than a little concerned. At around 10:30 the phone rang and Jerry answered it. It was Dixie. I heard him voice his concern and she replied, “Oh, you needn’t worry. We’re still here at the art show! Bob has been having such a great time visiting with everybody that I didn’t want to disturb him. Tell Dick we’re getting ready to leave now and we’ll be there shortly.” Needless to say, I was very relieved but also amused at the fact that Bob’s urgency to return home had obviously disintegrated at some point during the evening!
They finally arrived about 45 minutes later. I got in the car and drove the rest of the way while Bob and P-Nuts commenced telling me how much they had enjoyed themselves and who all they had visited with. I finally pulled up at their house just after midnight. I expected the two of them to get out and say their “Goodbyes” but, instead, Bob asked, “Would you two like to come in for awhile?” So we did.
You know, we all sat around visiting ‘til almost two in the morning! I guess Bob forgot all about that darned bird of his! I don’t even remember him ever getting around to feeding it. But I do know he thoroughly enjoyed himself that day and was so thankful to have the opportunity to finally meet Robert Wagoner as well as seeing Roy again.
Later, in 1979, Snuff Garrett related another similar story involving Bob and his bird, but this time it had to do with a party Snuff was having at his house, although pretty much the same scenario.
Bob’s home in Studio City was very modest. I would say it only covered about 1300 square feet and it was built on a double lot. Back in the early ‘40s he’d bought two city lots side by side just a couple of blocks from Republic Studios, when there was nothing much else around that area. He had the house built on one lot and the other served as a huge side yard. He fenced it in for privacy, planted a lawn, and constructed a very nice outdoor barbeque area. He said many a gathering was held there with the Pioneers and families and friends down through the years, a lot of pleasant memories. Prior to that, he and P-Nuts had lived in an apartment. He told me, “As the war progressed I was afraid maybe I might have to go and I wanted a real home to come back to instead of just some little apartment.”
It was very convenient for him, too, because it was in walking distance of the studio. P-Nuts said there were times when he’d come home for lunch with two or three young fans tagging along behind! Bob would come in the house and, most times, he wouldn’t eat any lunch. He’d just go back in the bedroom and take a nap and she’d feed the kids! Pretty soon it would be time for him to return so he and the kids would all traipse back to the studio lot together. I’ll bet there are some grownups around today with some great memories of those moments spent with Bob!
Bob seemed to like kids. I know he bonded with my two boys right off. When they first met him, Bobby was 12 and Bill was 16. My youngest son, Bobby, also loved to fish. Because of this, he has the distinction of having once been called a “dirty skunk” by Bob Nolan! This took place during one of our trips to Big Bear Lake. Bob Nolan had come down to Gray’s Landing to catch his daily “one fish” dinner. He’d managed to hook on to a respectable pan-sized trout and was showing it to me when my youngest son came out of our RV holding up his “catch of the day”…in both hands!” He called out, “Hey, Bob! Take a look at what I caught!” Nolan turned and stared at a trout that outweighed his by several ounces, shook his head and said to Bobby, “Why, you dirty skunk!”…..then followed up with that famous smile and walked over to admire Bobby’s catch.
1978 fishing with Reinsmen at Bishop, California
I got the impression Bob enjoyed cooking. The day my son and I stopped by his little cabin that first time, Bob was busy at the stove. After inviting us in, he said, “Dick, I was just cooking up some Texas beans. Here, try some and tell me what you think,” and he commenced to give Bobby and me a taste. Let me tell you, those beans were some of the best I’ve ever tasted! He had herbs and things mixed in, no meat, and they were just delicious. I wish still I had that recipe today!
On another occasion, we had invited Bob down to join us for dinner in our motor home. Dixie was fixing her special meatloaf and Bob said, ”OK, but I want to make a special Béarnaise sauce recipe of mine to go with it.” Let me tell you, Dixie’s meatloaf topped off with Bob’s sauce was one real treat, I mean exceptional! On another occasion he taught Dixie how to fix smoked trout, a favorite dish of his. I’m sure he probably had a few more recipes up his sleeve.
After dinner that night, we were visiting at the table and Bob got around to doing a little philosophizing. I thought my boys were fast asleep in their bed at the other end but, obviously, my youngest was still awake and listening to Nolan talk. The next morning, Dixie was fixing coffee and we were discussing how much we had enjoyed visiting with Bob that evening when our youngest said, “Mom, it’s almost like he’s lived before.” A pretty profound statement coming from a 12 year old!
When Bob and I drove up to Bishop on that first fishing trip to the High Sierra in 1978, Bob took along a little portable tape recorder. We were staying at Robert Wagoner’s place in Bishop and one afternoon Wagoner happened to see Bob out in the backyard crouched down by a small stream. Wagoner had a large pond fed by a little tributary of the Bishop Creek. The stream flowed into the pond at one end and out the other and through the corner of the corral so Wagoner’s horse had access to the water. Bob had set this tape recorder down on the ground just a short distance from the corral fence and right next to this little stream. When Wagoner asked him what was going on, Bob answered, “Well, I want to record the sound of this rippling water so I can have something to relax and listen to when I get home.” Then he left the machine and came back into the art studio to visit with the rest of us. The recorder continued to run until the whole tape was filled with the sound of that rippling water.
The day after we returned home from that trip I got a phone call from Bob Nolan. He’s chuckling as he tells me, “Dick, you know that recording I made of Robert’s stream? Well, I’m setting here in my easy chair listening to it and I have my eyes closed and I’m listening to the sound of that water and all of a sudden I hear this loud ‘Snort!’ It jerked me right up in the chair and I thought, ‘What in the world was that?’ Then I figured it out. It had to be Robert’s horse! The darn horse must have stuck his head down through the corral fence to check out the tape recorder and then let out that big snort!” We both got a big laugh out of that one.
Later that same year, Bob was in the recording studio doing his new album, “Sound of a Pioneer,” for Snuff Garrett. Snuff told me later, “We took a break and Bob decides to lie down on the studio couch and relax a while. The engineer and I were up in the sound booth talking when all of a sudden we hear what sounds like some kind of static coming though the speakers. The engineer starts twisting knobs and flipping switches, trying to figure out where the noise was coming from when it finally dawned on him!....The microphone in the studio area had been left on. When Bob lay down on the couch to relax, he’d turned on his little tape recorder to listen to that rippling water sound and it was being picked up by the “live” mike and carried up into the booth!”
It was also during that first trip to Bishop that we took Bob up to a very scenic spot we had been telling him about earlier. It was higher up in the Sierras near the town of Mammoth Lakes. A 200-foot waterfall flows out of Upper Twin Lake and cascades down to Lower Twin Lake, about 200 feet below. It’s awe-inspiring! We have photos of Bob gazing up at it with that smile on his face.
Later, Bob insisted we drive up to the crest of the waterfall so he could admire the view from that angle. I have another photo where we’re standing and looking down over that spot to Lower Twin Lake and the Sierra range beyond. The scenery is magnificent. We didn’t have to hike it because it was accessible by a paved road. The amazing thing is, if Bob’s angina bothered him at all during that trip, he didn’t let on because, at that point, we were up to over 9,000 feet and he was loving every minute of it!
We had a few impromptu evening sing-a-longs in Wagoner’s studio during those fishing trips in 1978 and ’79, just Bob and the Reinsmen. Nolan liked to retire early so when it got to be about 8 or 8.30, he’d just excuse himself and go on to bed. The rest of us would continue to jam for another hour or so before we called it a night.
1978 - Doc Denning, Bob Nolan and Jerry Compton
Well, Jerry Compton is a tremendous musician and a great guitarist and he also knows where the notes are on a fiddle. But that’s where his relationship with that instrument ends! What comes out of a fiddle when Jerry’s playing would curdle milk! Usually, whenever we’d take a break and Jerry decided to pick up Doc’s fiddle and commence to “serenade” us, I’d join in by singing some sad song like Room Full of Roses or Old Shep with a straight face and here would be this horrible fiddle sound in the background. It got to be a standing joke at our rehearsals. Well, this one evening, Jerry picked up the fiddle and we still had the tape recorder running so he played a solo of Old Kentucky Home. It was absolutely horrible! We all got a pretty good laugh listening to the playback.
Next morning after breakfast we were back in the art studio again and Bob walks in. We told him we’d like him to hear something Jerry had recorded the night before. So we commenced to play Jerry’s “rendering” of Old Kentucky Home. Nolan just sat there with a very intent look on his face, listening closely until the last sour note ended. Then he turned to Jerry and, very seriously, said to him, “Jerry, I would love to have a copy of that.” We all looked at each other like “what’s going on here?” Without missing a beat, Bob continued, “You see, I have this little cabin up in Big Bear ….and it’s full of mice!” Then he let loose that grin of his and we all had a good laugh.
Yes, Bob sure had a great sense of humor. He was also a very humble person. That was one of the reasons you just couldn’t help but like the guy. As successful as he was as a poet/songwriter, he never once showed any sign of self, just couldn’t understand why anybody would ever consider him a genius. A gentleman the Reinsmen worked with for many years, the late Rex Allen, a very outspoken person, had nothing but deep admiration for this man, as did many others in the entertainment world. You know, there are some people on this earth that – we all have our faults; I’m sure old Bob did, too – but there are some people on this earth that, when you’re in their presence for a very short time, all of a sudden you just feel at peace with them. You don’t find yourself looking for faults and you don’t want to demand anything of them. That’s the way it was when you were around Bob. During all the years I knew Bob Nolan I never once heard of him ever putting any kind of a demand on his friends. I’m sure that was the way he was all his life. Everybody respected him. He was just that type of person.
He told me once, “Some people refer to me as a genius. I don’t feel I’m a genius. Don’t know where they get that idea but ….” and then he kind of trailed off and shook his head…. He was a very humble and a very gentle person. However, he did have very definite opinions about certain things and about life in general.
He mentioned once, “When I first came up to Big Bear and after I got settled here, this Women’s Club on the other side of the lake would ask me to come over and give a little talk about once a year. One time my subject was the overpopulation of the world and my concerns about it.” Then he chuckled, “I guess I made a wrong choice of words that day when I referred to mankind as someday ending up like a bunch of maggots moving around in the bottom of a barrel, and you know,” he laughed, “they never asked me back again!” The way he said it, I got the impression their decision probably didn’t bother him that much, anyway. He’d had his say that day.
And I don’t know how Bob kept his virtual anonymity up there in Big Bear for so long. They had a local radio station on the other side of the lake where the main town of Pine Knot was located. He said he was listening to the news one day and he thought he heard mention that a relative of his had died or something in the Los Angeles area. Wondering if he’d heard correctly, he decided to drive over to the radio station and try and get a little more information. When he walked in, identified himself, and told them why he was there, the station manager exclaimed, “You’re who? Bob Nolan!” Bob said, “Yes, but forget about that! I’m here to find out if I heard the news correctly, if this concerned a relative of mine.” Obviously the man was more interested in the fact he’d just found out Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers was living there at Big Bear Lake than in helping Bob with any information. Bob finally left in disgust without finding out a thing! However, to his relief, he did later establish it wasn’t a relative of his.
Another time, some friends of Pat Brady’s had invited Pat and Rusty Richards up to their cabin in Big Bear for a barbeque. This was during the ‘60s. The Pioneers were currently appearing that week at the Apple Valley Inn in the desert town of Apple Valley about an hour’s drive or so from Big Bear. When Pat and Rusty arrived, Pat’s friends mentioned there would be one other person attending, a neighbor who lived by himself nearby. Within a few minutes, Bob Nolan shows up! According to Rusty, “Pat and Bob embraced and were ecstatic to see each other!” Surprised, Pat’s friends asked where they’d met before. Pat exclaimed, “Why, Bob and I go ‘way back! We worked together for years!” Pat’s friends were flabbergasted to find out their “neighbor” was the “Bob Nolan” of the Sons of the Pioneers! They just knew him as a friendly old guy named “Bob.”
It was up in Big Bear one summer that he related the story of the trip he took to Hawaii following his retirement.
“As soon as I retired, we started planning the trip. I’d always wanted to go to Hawaii and I don’t like to fly so we took the boat. It started out to be just a 2-week vacation. You have to remember I’d just retired and my name and my face was still pretty prominent with the general public. Well, on this boat so many people recognized me who were Island residents that, by the time we got into port, I had several invitations to come and stay a few days at different people’s homes. I didn’t want to offend anyone by turning them down so I accepted everybody’s invitation! By the time we headed home, those two weeks had stretched into a couple of months! We had a wonderful time and I made it a point to not over-stay our welcome at any one place. We’d stay at one house and visit for three or four days and then move on to the next until I’d satisfied all the invitations. One home we stayed at even had a nice little guest house out beside a pool and I’d spend hours relaxing by that pool. It was also during this trip that I was inspired to write those Hawaiian songs.” It was easy to see Bob’s trip to Hawaii was one of the major highlights of his life.
During the mid ‘70s, Bill Ward, station manager for radio station KLAC in Los Angeles, was hosting this big shindig out at Monte Montana’s ranch one weekend. They were giving it a lot of advertisement over the radio station and it was going to be open to the general public. Some of the top Country and Western music performers from the Los Angeles area were scheduled to perform along with our group, the Reinsmen. There would also be a lot of familiar faces from the old B-Westerns in attendance, folks like Roy and Dale, Rex Allen, Monte Hale, and others as well as many character actors and stuntmen.
I had extended an invitation to Bob and P-Nuts to attend the event with us. At first, Bob was sort of cool to the idea of going until I started mentioning some of the other folks who would be there, a lot of them from his movie days. I told him he was probably going to see a lot of people he’d worked with so, after thinking on it, he finally agreed. Bob’s half-brother Mike and his lady friend wanted to go, too, and my folks and family were also included so, this being an outdoor affair lasting the best part of a day, I opted to take the motor home for comfort and convenience. That morning we swung by Bob’s house, loaded everybody on board and then headed out to Montie’s ranch, all 10 of us!
P-Nuts was seated in the rear of the motor home with some of the others. No sooner were we underway when I heard her yell from the back, “Dick, we found your bar!” I had braked at an intersection and a cabinet door had popped open down around their legs revealing my “on board” supply of mixes and spirits! After yelling back, “Sorry, folks, the bar’s closed!” I headed on down the road. The incident got a few chuckles out of the bunch, anyway.
As we pulled onto the ranch, the first person Bob saw was Iron Eyes Cody. When Iron Eyes spotted Bob in the passenger seat beside me, he let out a “Whoop!” and then they both greeted each other like long lost brothers. Well, from that point on, we hardly saw ol’ Bob again for the best part of the afternoon! Another fellow he bumped into right away from his movie days was Don “Red Barry” and then some of the stuntmen he’d worked with. He simply had a ball that day, just as he had at the San Dimas Art Show. He visited with so many old friends and acquaintances that afternoon and most of them he hadn’t seen for several years.
I remember there were two women, probably in their 60s and obviously old Roy Rogers / Sons of the Pioneers fans, who went absolutely nuts when they saw Bob. They converged on him, squealing and calling out his name, and grabbed on. I remember watching the situation a couple of minutes to see if he was going to get untangled. If he didn’t, I figured on helping him some way. But he managed to turn on the charm and politely excused himself. But, boy, they were on him like flies on honey!
Anyway, Bob had a wonderful time that day and I’m glad I was so persistent about getting him to go with us. He would have missed a wonderful outing.
I remember Bob’s half-brother, Mike, as being a small man with a beard, very personable. I first met him on that day we all went out to Monte’s ranch. The next time was at the memorial gathering for Bob in 1980 out at Rex Allen’s ranch. I only got to talk to him on those two occasions. I’m sorry to hear he’s gone. I would have liked to have known him better.
Dixie and I met Bob’s daughter, Roberta, at the Nolan’s home shortly after her dad passed away. We had driven up to personally offer our condolences to P-Nuts and Bobbie just happened to be there at the time. P-Nuts introduced us and that’s when I remember Bobbie saying, “I’ve heard so much about you from my dad. He thought a lot of you and considered you almost like a son.” I was deeply moved. I had never quite realized Bob felt that way until then but, coming from his only daughter, the words had a powerful impact on me. Our friendship continued to grow over time. Her name was Roberta but she insisted her friends call her “Bobbie.”
At the Western Music Festival In 1996, when I presented a seminar with Rusty Richards, Bob Wagoner, and Snuff Garrett, honoring her dad, Bobbie was so deeply moved that, shortly afterward, she and her husband came by our house one day and dropped off one of her dad’s guitars, the one shown in the photograph with Rusty Richards taken in Bob’s backyard. He liked the little Martin he had used for so many years prior. Dixie and I remember seeing it at her house on the one occasion when we stopped to visit with her and Milo a few years ago. She said the grandkids loved to play with it.
That, and the fishing pole P-nut’s had given me with Bob’s name engraved on it, will always be two of my most treasured possessions. P-Nuts had also given each one of my boys one of Bob’s fishing poles.
1979 Bob and Rusty
Bob and Rusty Richards. Bob is singing Three Friends Have I
Calin Coburn Collections©2004
Bobbie was only a couple of years older than me. She was such a nice lady and so talented. Dixie and I hadn’t realized she was also an artist until we visited their home in Las Vegas one time. We knew she was into pottery but we didn’t know that she also did oil painting and quilting. Her house was a virtual showcase of her work. She had these quilts and paintings hanging all over the place, just beautiful! Also, through the use of her computer, she ended up completely designing the house they lived in. She was an amazing woman and we miss her.
Bob always felt close to his old friend, Tim Spencer. He referred to him as “Timmy” and didn’t hesitate to give Tim credit for getting him into the business. He told me, “If it hadn’t been for my involvement with Tim and Pioneers in those early years, I’d have probably ended up being the oldest beach bum in the world.” It looks like it really took the enthusiasm and ingenuity of Tim Spencer to keep the group going back then. And thank God it happened.
Bob told me he always considered himself “a poet first and a songwriter second.” But when he did write songs, at least after the Pioneers were formed, he said, “I always tried to write them with harmony in mind.” This was a subject I wish I’d had more time to discuss with him. I’ve always wondered just who or what influenced the Pioneers to develop their unique style.
I first picked up on the Sons of the Pioneers style of harmony when I was a teenager back in the late forties. Without a doubt, that style probably set the precedent for most of us who tried our hand at it later.
First of all, unlike Gospel or Barbershop harmony, the Pioneers have always attempted to keep the voices moving parallel with each other, with very few exceptions. We call this stacking. In essence, what they were doing was simply singing major and minor chords with their voices, a practice that has long been identified with Western music since the Pioneers first introduced that style years ago.
Secondly, the Pioneers were probably the first group to begin passing the melody around among the different voices within the trio, depending upon whose range the melody happened to be in at that particular time. One reason for this was to acquire a better vocal blend. Most melodies can accommodate a tenor part above and a baritone part below without causing any undo strain on any particular voice. However, there are many tunes where the melody fluctuates from a baritone range to a tenor range within the same song. Rather than stack the voices above and below the melody throughout the entire piece and risk losing that vocal blend, the Pioneers started doing something a little differently by passing the melody around while still keeping the voices stacked in the same order throughout the song. This definitely resulted in a better blend and made their sound a “cut above” the others.
To my knowledge, they were the first Western group to use this method but not necessarily during their early years. Some of the early arrangements (pre-Perryman) were traditional tenor-lead-baritone with one voice carrying the melody all through the song, regardless of how high the melody was pitched. After Lloyd joined, it became apparent to the listener that a smoother sound was achieved due to the fact the interval between voices was narrowed to major thirds as often as possible.
This was most apparent in their theme song, Tumbling Tumbleweeds. Originally, Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers} took the melody at the beginning and kept it until the last line when Bob took over the lead and the other two voices were stacked above him. This caused an interval of four notes between Leonard and Tim for the first two lines of the song. After Lloyd Perryman joined the group, they gave those two melody lines to Lloyd and stacked the other two parts in thirds below him so all three voices were singing in triads to each other. The blend was much better and the voices were less strained. It also gave room for a very dramatic "rise" near the end of the song just as they came out of the bridge the last time, where they lift their voices and sing the next two lines in the traditional tenor-lead-baritone style.
The vocal arrangement of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” on their “Cowboy Classics” album is a classic example of this stacking method. On the first two lines, the tenor has the melody and the harmony is stacked in thirds below him. On the third line the melody is given to the middle voice with the parts stacked in the traditional manner, above and below the melody. On the last line, “Drifting along with the…,” the melody is in the baritone range and so the baritone (Bob Nolan) takes over, with the other two voices stacked in thirds above. By doing this, everyone in the trio is singing the song in a comfortable range and the triad effect results in a much better vocal blend. Tumbling Tumbleweeds is a great example of this harmony style. It was most prevalent after Lloyd Perryman joined the group and in the years that followed. I suspect Lloyd had something to do with this shift in their style of harmony at the time because of his overall impact on the vocal styling of the group in subsequent years. Although the Pioneer vocal sound was primarily built around three voices, Hugh Farr would often add a bass part by simply singing the root notes of the chord as the trio continued to sing their traditional style of stacked parallel harmony. This was done with few exceptions. Another trademark of the Sons of the Pioneers was to sometimes use five or even all six voices in a song. This made for some pretty interesting vocal arrangements involving counter melodies and double trios as well as Hugh’s bass voice which also set them apart from many other groups.
Lloyd Perryman had a tremendous ear for harmony and knew all the parts. He was able to teach these parts to new members as the years went by. This was obviously a big factor in the perpetuation of the organization after the loss of Tim and Bob. I wish I’d had the opportunity to cover this subject more in depth with Bob. What was the impact Lloyd made on the group? From a fan’s standpoint I could tell right away but sometimes you’d like to know just how it came about. Did the fellows suddenly realize that this guy, even though he was young and the new man in the group, did they realize he had that natural feel for harmony? Did they start listening to his ideas right away? Or were there other outside influences that caused them to develop that unique that style? I’d give anything to know the background on all that.
Although Dixie and I were good friends with Lloyd and his wife, Buddie, I never did get a chance to really sit down and pick his mind about this. Because we lived so far apart, our paths didn’t cross that often except at public events the Pioneers were involved in. Then I’d get a chance to visit with Lloyd a little. But personal appearances aren’t the time and place to do it. The time to do this kind of talking is to meet somewhere and pass the time of day like I was able to do with Bob. I just never had that opportunity with Lloyd even though we did talk on the phone from time to time prior to his untimely death. Lloyd Perryman was such a fine person and we miss him.
Having been born in the wilds of Canada, Bob Nolan could always identify with mountains and trees, but years later, while in his early teens, he found another love when he was exposed to the serene beauty of the Sonoran Desert around Tucson, AZ. Still later, when he moved to California, and especially after he acquired his cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains, the Mojave Desert became a favorite haunt of his. So much so, that he requested his ashes be spread across that general area. The Mojave Desert stretches out just north and east of the San Bernardino Mountains towards Nevada and Arizona. I don’t know the exact area he had in mind but he did have some particularly favorite spots he would visit quite often. They were all in close proximity to both Los Angeles and his cabin in Big Bear and, therefore, easy to reach. “I’d head out toward Barstow and there was a road that would cut off….”
The fact that his ashes were eventually scattered over the Nevada desert rather than the Mojave Desert north of the San Bernardino Mountains wouldn’t have made much difference to him, I’m sure. Bob’s infatuation with desert landscape, as described in his poem “My Mistress, The Desert” surely encompassed all such areas and I feel he would be at peace, wherever.
Some of my most treasured moments with Bob were during the long drives back and forth to Bishop. There were times when Nolan and I would be discussing everything in general, and all of a sudden….
I’ll never forget the one time we were coming back from Bishop and this freight train came by. All of a sudden Nolan got very quiet, looking out the window at the train. He commented, “You know, I used to ride those things when I was a young man” Then he just grew very quiet and I had learned to respect that quiet. We drove on for at least half an hour, maybe longer, and there wasn’t a word spoken between us. All of a sudden he turned and looked over at me and said, “Dick, how ‘bout a glass of iced tea?” I nodded, so he poured me a glass and he was back in my world again.
I really had to do some fast talking to get him to agree to go on that first fishing trip up to Bishop back in 1978. He liked the idea but was worried he’d be imposing on Robert Wagoner’s hospitality. That’s the way Bob was. The fellows and I were planning on sleeping in our RVs on Wagoner’s property but Bob had been invited to stay in the main house. I finally convinced him how thrilled the Wagoners were to have Bob Nolan actually staying in their home. He thought it over some more and eventually gave in and ended up enjoying himself so much that it wasn’t any problem at all to get him to go with us again in May of the following year. At the end of that trip, we all (including Bob) unanimously decided to make it an annual event! When 1980 rolled around, we were looking forward to out third excursion when we got the terrible news…we had lost a very dear friend. Bob was gone.
My wife and I had just attended the funeral of another friend that day, actor Milburn Stone. We were returning home and had stopped by the family business. As I walked in, one of our employees commented, “That’s too bad about your friend.” I replied, “Yes, we’ve known Mil and Janie for a long time.” “No. I don’t mean Milburn Stone” he said. “I’m talking about Bob Nolan.” I guess the news has just come over the radio. I was stunned! What I didn’t know at the time was, as we were returning home, Bob was also driving back up the coast to his home in Studio City after an outing with his half brother, Mike, on Mike’s boat. He evidently had pulled into a service station earlier that afternoon when he apparently had a heart attack. His wife, P-Nuts, later told me it took several hours for the authorities to notify her because they couldn’t make an immediate identification. Bob’s wallet had been stolen at the scene!
The news of Bob’s death triggered mixed emotions. I was terribly saddened but I also felt anger, anger because of the wonderful friendship that had been so abruptly terminated. Even though our bond of friendship had matured over the past several years, in a way I felt it was just the beginning and there were so many, many things I wanted to talk to him about and discuss in depth. This was probably a little selfish on my part but it was the way I felt at the time. Now, all of a sudden he was gone and all that would never take place. Yes, I felt both sadness and anger, but I will always treasure the friendship and the good times I was so fortunate and privileged to share with Bob during those years.
Not too long ago I came across a framed photograph in a store of a very idyllic setting showing a waterfall and stream flowing through a shady glen, a beautiful scene, and the caption on it read; “If you can’t understand my silence, you will never understand my words.” I couldn’t help but think of ol’ Bob when I read that. What a fitting eulogy it would have made for a man who was so “in tune” with Nature.
Yes, Bob Nolan was an exceptional human being and a very dear friend and I’ll miss him.
Robert Wagoner, Doc Denning, Dick Goodman, Jerry Compton (seated right) and Don Richardson
Listen to The Reinsmen - Blue Prairie (Spencer / Nolan) - Rex Allen Jr. and The Reinsmen
A 2-CD set, Reinsmen: Painters of the West in Song, is now available from www.deepdiscount.com and contains 35 renditions of their out-of-print songs such as the following: Saddle Up (Stan Jones) - The Reinsmen
The Wagonmasters was the group I had out
at the California tourist attraction, "Knott's Berry Farm," back in the
'Fifties. We performed six nights a week in the Wagon Camp around a huge
open campfire. We were in our early 20s. In fact, our baritone soloist,
Vern Jackson, was only 18 at the time. Vern went on to become a popular
recording artist in the gospel music field and can still be seen
performing on most Thursday nights on TBN.
The Vocal Trio in the Wagonmasters, 1959
Eldon Eklund (23), Vern Jackson (19) and Dick Goodman (27)
The WMA Pioneer 2011 Trails Award presented to the Wagonmaster trio of Knott's Berry Farm (1955-1968)
Eldon Eklund, Vern Jackson and Dick Goodman
Back in the '80s, Telmax Films out of Frankfurt sent a crew over here to do a 13-week documentary on the American West based upon the popular Time/Life Editions. This was shown on German TV only.
Several acts were hired to appear on camera singing various songs pertaining to various episodes. The Reinsmen received the most exposure because we sang an average of two songs per episode. It was probably the first real exposure the Germans had to Western harmony singing since World War II. Right after the war, songs like "Don't Fence Me In" were being played over the Armed Forces Radio pretty regularly and became quite popular with the German public. It was one of the songs we were required to do on this series. Here are a couple of pics from that TV special.
In 1992, we represented the United States with "Music of the Wild, Wild West" at the 6th Annual Country Music Festival held in Vienna. We were the only act from the North American Continent and the fans loved the music and songs. It was quite an experience.
The following weekend we did a similar 4-day appearance in the courtyard of the ruins of a 900-year-old castle near the town of St. Poelten, Austria, only this time there was also a bluegrass act from California, a Country act from Texas, and a Country-Western act from Canada. Like, Vienna, all the remaining acts were represented by various countries in Europe and featured only Bluegrass, Country, or Western Swing. However, they were excellent. You'd swear they were right out of Nashville or Fort Worth.
Once again, the Austrians were very receptive to our harmony singing style and we made a lot of new Western Music fans during our stay. Our tour lasted ten days and will always be remembered as one of the highlights of our career.
Tommy [Doss] was the hit of the Cowboy Music Round-up down in Tucson this past weekend! Wish y'all could have been there. He received three "standing ovations" during his stint on stage Saturday night with the "New Pioneers" from. That's him on this end standing alongside fiddler, Paul Denton. They sang Tumbleweeds, Cool Water, Timber Trail, Let's Pretend, Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma and then Tommy came back for a second encore and sang a solo rendition of My Best To You. 84 years young and loving every minute of it! What a warm and personable gentleman he is! Everybody just loved him and I don't think that grin of his ever disappeared the whole time he was there. (Dick Goodman to EM Nov. 16, 2004)
Dick Goodman and Tommy Doss
Dick Goodman, Tommy Doss and Jerry Compton
(Courtesy of Michelle Sundin)
For some time now I have been a member of a 90
voice mixed chorus here in Sun City West. We put on two paid concerts a year
at a small theatre over at the Rec Center, one at Christmastime and the
other during the Spring. They are always a "sell out." This year's Spring
Concert was themed "On The Road Again...A trip across America."
We did everything from Broadway show tunes to Western. When we hit the
Southwest, one of the songs featured was "Cool
Water." I don't have to tell you who did the solo verses. The old man
hasn't lost it, yet! This was the first time in my life I've ever sang a
song with background harmony coming from 90 voices! It was
awesome! And it happened to be my arrangement. That was cool!
I think Bob would have been proud.
March 08, 2009
I was "back in the saddle again" for one night with one song ("Ridin' Down The Canyon") when Ranger Doug called me up to sing with them at the Del Webb Center for the Performing Arts in Wickenburg last night. Great show and great fun! I'd do it again in a heartbeat!