The Old Radio Shows
(By the late Wallace Smith )
I got interested while listening to their radio show on KFWB (the Warner Brothers station in Hollywood) as a schoolboy in high school (Alhambra) and college (Pasadena). I had bought a Gibson guitar for 50 bucks when I was 18 and learned ALL of their broadcast songs, taking down the words over the air & remembering the tunes.
I won a contest sponsored by KFWB (a Nolan songbook) which they were kind enough to autograph. In the a.m. on KFWB they were the Gold Star Rangers, in the afternoons they were the Sons of the Pioneers & in the evenings they were the Pioneer Trio. Just 4 of them at first (trio & Hugh).
I can still recall the highlights of the 1935 radio broadcast my parents and I enjoyed at the Hollywood theater. The Pioneers were on stage accompanied by announcer Harry Hall of KFWB, grouped in western attire around a single mike (Hall had his own mike). They were a far remove from the Pioneers I saw on stage in Oxnard in 1977, dressed in powder blue suits with white trim, standing in line each with his own mike - probably the way they're dressed in their own theater in Branson, Missouri.
The 1935 Pioneers included, of course, Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers) and his yodeling, both solo and in harmony, something Len invented, I think.
Also on stage was Peter Potter who hosted the HOLLYWOOD BARN DANCE every Saturday night. My folks wouldn’t let me go out late on school nights. Jo Stafford and her 2 sisters, Pauline and Christine Stafford were on stage also. When they debuted with Potter, they sang in a heavy nasal twang, hillbilly style! But this didn't go over so well and by the time we saw them, they'd adopted the mellow style of the later solo Jo Stafford, a style she maintained until she retired except for a couple of "cut up" recordings she and Red Ingle released. On these she sang first as "Cinderella Stump" and then as "Buttermilk Tussie"! I have one or both of them in my Stafford files. They were inspired by an off-key singer who made quite a hit (short-lived) on her discs. Can't recall her name.
Peter Potter faded away after a few years and I don't remember what happened to him. Pauline and Christine, of course, retired in favor of Jo as one of American's favorite singers. The only time I ever heard the trio on a record as THE STAFFORD SISTERS was in 1938 when they recorded OPEN SPACES with the Pioneers, a failed pilot. Jo does a great job on Nolan's Tumbling Tumbleweeds on a disc I own.
At the time the SOP and Stafford Sisters recorded the unsold demo, they aired it once on KFWB or KECA, forget which. I heard it and copied their version of Tumbling Tumbleweeds for use by the Wagon Wheel Gang which my wife, Mildred, and I belonged at the time.
Nolan was always my favorite in the group. I love his songs and I could identify with his openly sentimental approach to the Old West. On many occasions he wept on those KFWB broadcasts as he remembered some poignant episode of his days of riding the rods in Canada and the Southwest. Those early shows, of course, were quite spontaneous and unrehearsed – no scripts – and the give and take among the singers was as pleasing to me as the songs themselves.
Among their steadfast fans was Carrie Jacobs Bond (who often wrote to them from her home in the Hollywood Hills) and her beautiful melodies were often featured on the air – and later on their Decca recordings. She wrote, on one occasion as I recall, that the group probably was unaware of the quality of its harmonies. Unexpected praise, perhaps, of a bunch of self-trained singers from a lady of her superb training and talent.
Sons of the Pioneers Historical Society Newsletter 1987 03 10
Sons of the Pioneers Historical Journal Vol 3 No 1 Issue 8 Spring 1989 p 15
Sons of the Pioneers Historical Journal Vol 3 No 1 Issue 8 Spring 1989 p 16
Sons of the Pioneers Historical Journal Vol 3 No 1 Issue 8 Spring 1989 p 17
The late Wallace Smith listened to the Sons of the Pioneers when they were still the Pioneer Trio on KFWB. We can thank his efforts for keeping the early transcriptions circulating among the Sons of the Pioneers fans years before they were re-recorded on CDs. For a small fee to cover postage and cassettes, Wally would tape a program (or all he had) for you. In this way we were able to collect all the transcriptions available plus all the commercially recorded songs before they became as widely available as they are now. (He gave Bob Nolan's daughter, Roberta Mileusnich, a complete set of the Teleways Transcriptions.) Wally was always disappointed that the Sunshine Ranch programs weren't available for him to share.
Cheerfully, he added a message to each order and it wasn't long until you felt you knew him very well. He lost an eye in a failed cataract operation in 1979 but he didn't let that stop him pecking out cheerful letters on his old Royal typewriter. In 1995 it was discovered he had cancer and he was given 5 years to live. Instead, he lived 13.
Wally was an active member of the Sons of the Pioneers Historical Society and nearly every newsletter contained valuable information from him about the group.
As well as a journalist, Wally was an enthusiastic amateur actor and a volunteer museum docent. He also wrote songs and a mystery novel. Wally appeared in a many movies, commercials and TV episodes during the 1980s. Between 1984 and 1994, Wally played bit parts in the TV series, "Murder She Wrote" with Angela Lansbury, "Pontiac Moon" with Ted Danson and "Dying Young" with Julia Roberts. He appeared in "The Haunting of Seacliff Inn", a film for USA network made in Mendocino in 1994.
He loved reading history and contributed by writing a book about California's early settlement with focus on the Del Valle family and Camulos Ranch. He also wrote "Water Towers and Windmills of Mendocino" published by the Kelley House and "Birth of Petticoat Government", a book about women mayors of the West. In fact, he started writing when he was eleven years old - the adventures of two children in trouble in China.
Retiring in Southern California in 1979, Wally and Mildred, his wife of nearly 70 years, loved to travel and spent as much time as they could in Hawaii. He died on October 6, 2008. We are grateful to Wally for all he contributed to keeping western music alive. We will miss him greatly.
This Thirsty Land
This thirsty land is home, sweet home to me.
It's where I'll always be, where I belong.
Each grain of sand a golden memory
That keeps on haunting me when things go wrong.
Each bloom of Spring, each mournful turtledove
Cause me to sing this lonely song of love.
This thirsty land will never set me free.
It's where I'll always be, this thirsty land.
Somewhere Out West
(by Wally Smith)
Somewhere out in the West
The skies are blue.
Somewhere out in the West
I'll be with you.
Somewhere a gentle breeze
Steals softly through the trees
And stirs my memories of you.
Sometimes I wonder why we had to part
And why I rode away and broke your heart.
Just say you miss me, too,
And I'll come back to you
And make your broken dreams come true.