LaVida Dallugge Brickner
June 17, 2005
(The photos are from LaVida and the artwork is her own. "Ridin' Down the Canyon", is one of her earliest recordings.)
When I first heard Tumbling Tumbleweeds I thought, oh, how beautiful. What a beautiful song. Then I heard Wind and that to me was even more beautiful - mystical - and I thought, "Gee, who wrote those?" There was something in Bob Nolan's songs that did something to the inside of me and I could never get away from it. I never overcame it even to this day. It was always Bob Nolan for me, for over 50 years.
When I first heard the Pioneers on radio at our ranch in Santa Monica Canyon, I was only 16 or 17. I could get them very faintly on our radio. They would come on with Tumbleweeds and I loved it. I remember hearing the Montana Cowgirls in trio harmony about the same time. I didn't know someday I would be singing with them, as much later I joined them when Patsy Montana left her group to solo.
I had my first glimpse of Bob one day at the Pantages in Hollywood. I was 19. I just got there and I was sitting on the wall when he came out the back door to have a smoke. I asked him if he wrote Wind and he smiled and said yes. I said I sure liked it and he went on to smoke.
My sisters and I got this picture of the Gold Star Rangers and I didn't know their names but I hoped that "Bob" was the back left, the one I had chosen. Awhile later, us four sisters went to KFWB station and had them sign it. I would watch him when he'd write his name and he'd write very slowly. I'd think, "He hasn't written much or he doesn't like to write."
I heard the Pioneer's program every day and I knew them all so well. And then Bob would go to Mexico and talk about it and I thought, "Gee, I'd like to go to Mexico!" We were sort of growing up in the country, too, in Santa Monica. We had horses until the Depression. I told Bob that one day I would have a horse called "Wind". I could have invited the boys over to our place but I was too shy to ask them. And they would have come, too, because in those days they did play at parties if you asked them.
On the radio they'd talk about Tumbling Tumbleweeds and everybody was raving about it and they'd made sheet music of it and all the groups wanted it and what's his name Gene Autry had a motion picture made and he sang it in it. And then Tim started writing a lot of songs and he'd get sort of jealous. Well, Tim had talent and so did his brother. At first Bob would help Tim and Bob wanted Tim to feel good about the song so they'd put both their names on it whereas it was mostly Bob's initiative that made the song. Blue Prairie, mainly. Tim got a bit jealous of Bob's popularity and that made trouble in the group, sort of. Whenever I requested a song that I wanted Bob to sing and play like Wind, and I requested that one a lot, Tim would come along and not play it. I think he knew that Bob was actually a more talented and original songwriter. Tim was a good writer, too. He wrote some good songs and so did Glenn. But they were never like Bob's. Bob's were so original that he was different from any songwriter anywhere.
LaVida's rendition of Bob Nolan's song, "Wind".
There were 7 in our family, 3 boys and 4 girls. My three sisters Margarita, Dulcita and Arlita and I formed a group and sang. We moved from Santa Monica to Los Angeles so I was closer to Hollywood. We were called different things: Hollywood Rangerettes, Singing Spurs, Cactus Cuties, The Dallugge Boogie Tribe and Patsy Prescott and The Lariettes. I was in the Montana Cowgirls and then we became the Hollywood Rangerettes and we sang Bob's songs and yodeled. We even went to Las Vegas. They loved us there and they gave us 9 encores. I played the bass fiddle. I was called "Sally Montana". In our Montana Cowgirls, Ruth Curtis knew Bob Nolan. She said whenever she'd see him at a party, he'd be far away sitting on the beach all alone with a bottle because he liked to drink, you know. And she never could get to know him because he was kind of a loner.
The Montana Cowgirls, LaVida ("Sally") on the right.
LaVida lower right
LaVida "Sally Montana" Brickner
I remember the Stafford Sisters. We used to go where they would sing and we'd sit in the audience. But I just liked the Sons of the Pioneers and we followed them everywhere, you know. We went everywhere we could go – rodeos – that we could see them. I saw Bob oodles of time. There'd be big rallies with Stuart Hamblen's Texas Cowboys and we'd scream and clap because we wanted the Pioneers to be the top. Hugh would play his violin with Natchee, the Indian – he had a violin with Stuart Hamblen – and they'd play and the little fella there would yodel. I forget who would win but we lost our voices.
I loved Bob's songs and I was sort of enchanted. I used to write him all the time. He was older than me, like about 13 years older, maybe, but he wasn't married then. When I heard Wind, I felt he was still in love with his wife.
We followed the Pioneers everywhere, everywhere, until they started to travel and get into pictures. I felt so bad because I knew Bob before he went and had a nose operation. Bob Nolan was very good looking - romantical and mystical looking. And then he went and got his nose operated on. I don't know why he wanted to do it. After that I saw him in some picture and I couldn't believe. They did, maybe, a real inexpensive plastic surgery job. They took some of the bone, too. Poor Bob. He must have gone into a nightmare when he saw himself. It was like a mutilation. It was very bad! After that, he must have gone to a better plastic surgeon that cost a lot more, maybe, and they fixed the bone. I don't know what they did to the tip but they made it look a lot better. When they fixed it, it wasn't as good as his original nose but it was a lot better. He could get along with that. I always felt bad about that.
And me, every time I would get to talk to Bob, I couldn't express myself or talk because I was too shy. So that went on and I kept writing him little letters praising his songs and things. I told Bob once in my letters, "You should have been a poet. Your songs just tell me that you are very poetic." Then I wrote a letter and this was one of the last letters that I wrote, "I wish you'd write a song for me like a poem with three rhyming lines at the end and then I would like to have coyotes or a wolf in the background."
KFWB had the Pioneers – or Farley's Gold Star Rangers they were called – get on the phone so people could talk to them, so I called him when I was about 23 and I talked to him and I said, "Did you get my letter?" and he said yes, it was right there in his pocket. I said, "Can you write a song like that?" Then I couldn't talk much more because I got shy and hung up. And he did write the song! He wrote Chant of the Wanderer! Oh, what a beautiful song he wrote and I almost liked it better than Chant of the Plains. I wrote him when I heard Chant of the Plains – he hadn't written Chant of the Wanderer yet – and I said, "What a beautiful song. The wolf going through the desert and his wild heart beats." I thought maybe he'd write me back. I wanted the words and he did have someone type the words out for me and I was so happy to get the words but I did hope he'd write a little note or something but he never wrote back.
I was a commercial artist and I worked for the newspapers. I drew all these little pictures for him. I drew Way Out There. I had him lying there under a cactus tree. Then I drew another one, I think he liked it, "With the ants and the bats and my two gats, I'll rule with an iron hand." I had Bob standing there with two guns and I had a little bat up in the air with a little cowboy hat on. I sent all my little pictures to him. They illustrated his songs. I was too shy but I wanted to go up to him and say, "I want to make a little book for you and I want to have your songs in it and I want to have a picture that I have drawn next to it but I didn't have the initiative. I didn't do the things that I would like to have done and besides I wasn't old enough to talk business or anything like that. He told us on the air that he had a fire in his garage or somewhere and I think my little pictures might have been destroyed then. They were still the Gold Star Rangers when this happened.
I last saw Bob Nolan at the Palladium in Hollywood in 1976. I pushed through the crowd and shook hands with him. My hair was lighter and he didn't know me.