On January 2, 1972 Ken Griffis interviewed Bob Nolan, Lloyd Perryman at Stuart Hamblen's house. This was Ken's initial interview of Nolan. In fact, this may be Bob Nolan's first interview by anyone.
Transcribed by Elizabeth Drake McDonald from tapes made available to the public by Jim Kleist.
Lloyd, Bob, Ken Griffis, Tim and Stuart assembled for an interview for a radio program on the Sons of the Pioneers
The resultant program aired on KLAC on January 9, 1972.
(photo: Calin Coburn Collection ©2004)
[Interview tape begins in the middle of general reminiscent conversation]
BOB NOLAN: Pies! Lemon pies! Lemon pies were just coming in slowly. [laughter]
KEN GRIFFIS: You sound like Roy telling about over there when they were traveling through New Mexico. They shot the young hawk and ate it and then they started telling about what “Mrs. Brown” had brought in and what a wonderful cook she was and, of course, everybody didn’t want to be outdone. You remember that? Everybody kept bringing in trying to outdo the other family.
[Some talk about adjusting the volume of the tape recorder.]
LLOYD PERRYMAN: I think the Billies, though, they had more stuff brought in – cakes and pies and whatnot. We used to get a lot of stuff, too. They actually believed, you know…
TIM SPENCER: …that’s when they were starving, you know.
STUART HAMBLEN: Yeah. That’s why they did it.
TIM SPENCER: It wasn’t just…. We got out and hustled a little bit
[background and machine noise then quiet]
STUART HAMBLEN: Why all the sudden lull?
KEN GRIFFIS: Do we want to start and just…? What we’re gonna try to do – I don’t know if you read in the paper this morning or not in the “Calendar” section. They mentioned that KLAC has two specials going. One of them is going to be on tonight at 8:05 – The Bob Wills Story - and it’s the story of the life of Bob Wills, Johnny Bond and Bill Ward. A week from today we’re gonna do a special on the Sons of the Pioneers and Stuart’s good enough to get you gentlemen to come in so we could have a little talk and what I want to do is just make an informal talk and then I’ll be able to take excerpts that fit a particular time or record and so forth. So if it’s all right, we’ll all go ahead and take the lead and throw questions at you and then we’ll give you time to answer them. What we’ll try to do is to start back at the beginning. I’ve done about 2 or 3 specials on the Sons of the Pioneers and we had very good reaction.
TIM SPENCER: Did you see the things that Roy had? He’s got a lot of that stuff.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, he has the tape of the old Standard Transcriptions. I sent those to him.
TIM SPENCER: Did you?
KEN GRIFFIS: Yeah, I did them on one 7/8. He’s got 3600 foot rolls and …
TIM SPENCER: There’s more stuff on that stuff.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, I’d like to go back to the beginning and I think perhaps the least amount is known of Bob Nolan than any one of the Pioneers so I’d like to just throw some informal questions at Bob and then we’ll try to take some cuts off of it. In the early days, apparently, you were motivated toward writing Western songs, I guess, because you moved to the western part of the United States. Would this be a bearing on your writing?
BOB NOLAN: That’s right, Ken. After World War I, my Daddy, he got a little of whatever that gas was that they were using in World War I, and they sent him to Tucson, Arizona. And that was my first introduction to the West. And, of course, when I was going to school down there, University of Arizona, I wrote a column called “Tumbleweed Trails” for the Arizona Wildcats. It was all in poetry and a lot of that stuff, I just took it out of the old Arizona Wildcat and put music to it.
KEN GRIFFIS: Did you have a desire to write Western music prior to going to the western part of the United States? I understand you came from Canada. Did you write any music of the west prior to moving to that part of the United States?
BOB NOLAN: No. No, I didn’t. I never dreamed of writing songs when I was very young. And I even studied music when I was going to school and still didn’t think that I would ever write. It came about more or less of an accident after I came over to California. I got a job as a lifeguard down at Venice and I lost that, incidentally, in 1929 when the Stock Market Crash came and I was starving to death. [laughs] I would have done anything at that time and there was a lot of Chautauquas – the old tent shows, you know, going through at that time? And they’d have Amateur Nights, see? So I’d write my own songs and I won quite a few of them, incidentally. I needed it badly. I got awfully hungry about that time after the ’29 Stock Market Crash.
KEN GRIFFIS: Do you recall your first western song?
BOB NOLAN: Yes. I wrote a tune called “Way Out There”. It was more of a hobo tune. Jimmie Rodgers, you remember, he was “America’s Blue Yodeler”, I think. And he sang a lot of railroad songs so I wrote this song called “Way Out There” and it had a train whistle yodel. And I won, oh, I would say at least one of those Chautauqua amateur nights with that song a week and that kept me eating.
[some discussion about the mike and rearranging of position]
KEN GRIFFIS: At the time that you started writing Western songs, did you have any feeling that you were going to pursue this as a career, that you were going to be a musician and did you want to go on the radio?
BOB NOLAN: I think so, Ken, because when I met Roy – I think Roy was about 17 years old when I met him in the latter part of 1929 – I was pretty much taken with the Western music after I’d met Roy when he was a young boy. And I started writing songs for Roy and I to sing as duets. I kinda had an idea I was gonna make a profession of song writing – western song writing.
KEN GRIFFIS: As I recall, going back and trying to put the careers into place, you and Roy and, I guess, Slumber Nichols would have been the 3-part harmony for the Rocky Mountaineers. Is that correct?
BOB NOLAN: Yes. See, Slumber worked down at Venice on the pier there. There was a big amusement park in Venice and it was the amusement park, I guess, at that time – 1929. And that’s how I met Slumber. He was working on the pier and I was working on the pier at night and lifeguarding in the day time.
KEN GRIFFIS: How’d you come about writing a song like “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy”?
BOB NOLAN: Well, it’s hard to tell, Ken. I just….
KEN GRIFFIS: “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy”, I think, is one of your rollicking types.
BOB NOLAN: Yes. M-hmm. I just don’t know whether I heard it or had any…. There was no…. I just can’t put my finger on whether I thought it up or somebody gave it to me. But, as I say, I was always on the look out for a topic or a title. And it just became second nature to me to be…. I was a songwriter all of the time. Every minute of the day, see.
TIM SPENCER: Sitting out on a rock.
BOB NOLAN: Yeah.
KEN GRIFFIS: Listening to what Ray Whitley was telling me about Fred Rose – Fred Rose liked people to bring ideas to him and from the ideas, suggestions for a song, he’d sit down and put it together.
BOB NOLAN: Oh, yes.
KEN GRIFFIS: And I guess about the time that you and Roy and Slumber broke up and there was a need for a replacement for you, I think. You left the group, if I recall the story correctly. You had left the group and it left Roy and Slumber in the need of a replacement. And I think that’s the time that Mr. Tim Spencer came into the picture. Is that not right, Tim?
TIM SPENCER: Yeah.
BOB NOLAN: Well, let’s see. Were we with the Rocky Mountaineers then, Tim?
TIM SPENCER: Yeah. I come in on the Rocky Mountaineers. I come in then.
BOB NOLAN: That’s right. I think Roy knew of the Spencer boys at that time and he …. The Spencer boys had a quartet, see, and Tim was their tenor and that was what they needed at that time was a tenor. So they went and they broke up the Spencer Brothers and got Tim here.
TIM SPENCER: Yeah.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, I believe that Tim at that time was really so impressed with the sound of the Rocky Mountaineers, too. I think he wanted to join a group that was established and I think at that time that they had a fairly good reputation around Los Angeles, didn’t they, Tim?
TIM SPENCER: Bob says, “Oh, hell with it” on the air.
BOB NOLAN: Yeah. I thought that was the end of our career. It was an accident that happened. Roy’s guitar – this big E string started slipping right in the middle of one of our songs and I turned to Roy and I said, “Roy, what the hell happened?” Now, in those days, you couldn’t say that on the air. You were through! And I could see all our careers just going down the drain.
KEN GRIFFIS: I believe, for awhile then, the Rocky Mountaineers were made up of Roy (or Leonard Slye) and Slumber and Tim. And this continued for a period of time and then I believe that group dissolved. As I recall Roy telling me, he put an ad in the paper…. I guess this was before. That was at the very beginning of the Rocky Mountaineers.
BOB NOLAN: That was at the very beginning.
KEN GRIFFIS: This was at the beginning of the Rocky Mountaineers. He tells the story about you coming looking for a job. You recall meeting Roy?
BOB NOLAN: Yeah, yeah, sure. I hadn’t had a pair of shoes on for.…
TIM SPENCER: Walking up the street with his shoes off. I’m telling you!
KEN GRIFFIS: This was your first introduction to Roy Rogers.
BOB NOLAN: Yes. They’d advertised in the paper – the Los Angeles Examiner, I think it was – for a tenor singer and I answered the ad and I never got to the house with my shoes on. I took ‘em off and come traipsing in in my bare feet. My feet were bleeding, see, from these new shoes. I’d never had a pair of shoes on for a year or two.
KEN GRIFFIS: You had been down to the beach with Slumber Nichols prior to this time?
BOB NOLAN: That’s right. I was a lifeguard then.
KEN GRIFFIS: So after the breakup of that group, then …. Actually the formation of, say, the family tree of the Pioneers really started with Roy Rogers and then you were added, then Tim. But before this happened, there was the re-forming of the group again, as I believe. You had left the group and then Roy came looking for you.
BOB NOLAN: Yes. I had left the group when the trio consisted of Royand Slumber Nichols and myself. And then when I decided that we wasn’t gonna get any place with the act we had at that time, I just more or less drifted off and turned it over to the other boys.
TIM SPENCER: What was the guy that had the…was playing the…. Or…Go ahead, go ahead.
STUART HAMBLEN: You’re thinking about Lefty, aren’t you? The fiddler?
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Or Benny Nawahi. Benny Nawahi played the steel guitar with the Mountaineers, remember?
STUART HAMBLEN: Who was that little bitty fiddler? Oh, that was the guy that whipped Tim at the…
TIM SPENCER: Yeah. Beat the sap out of me.
BOB NOLAN: “Half Pint”, wasn’t it?
LLOYD PERRYMAN: “Little Dip”.
TIM SPENCER: Yeah, boy. I was out on the ground. I was out most of the time.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: What they’re getting at happened a little bit later. We had a big whoop-de-do down at Long Beach and we were trying to figure out anything you could o do to make a nickel at that time or have some interest generated in the show. So they decided to have a boxing match and this fiddle player for a group that was working down at Long Beach, why, he had fought a little before and he’d whipped right into training and got a boxing instructor and everything and old Tim said, “Sure, I’ll fight him.” So they stick him in the ring and this kid knew what he was doing and Tim was just trying to [the rest drowned out by general laughter.] This kid worked him over pretty good.
STUART HAMBLEN: I fought Stepladder.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Yeah, Stuart has a copper in the whole thing.
STUART HAMBLEN: I was the one who started because Stepladder had a program and he was kidding me and I said I can beat his socks off. And so then we started it and we’re gonna give the proceeds to the Boy Scouts. And I didn’t whip Stepladder because there was a guy between rounds kept showing me a .45. And Tim’s brother was timekeeper and we fought one round for ten minutes. Truth! [General laughter.]
TIM SPENCER: They was trying to keep me up, you know.
KEN GRIFFIS: To go back to the time where Roy came to get you. If I recall correctly, he said you were caddying at that time.
BOB NOLAN: Yeah. That’s true.
KEN GRIFFIS: What was the encouragement for you to get back with the group?
BOB NOLAN: Well, in the meantime, they had left all the old dead weight guys behind and there was just the two of them that came and approached me, Tim and Roy. All they wanted at that time was a trio and I knew that Tim, from what he had done with the boys while I was away, that he more or less was an ambitious young man. And I knew Roy was ambitious. He was the only one who had any ambition of the old group, see? It didn’t take much talking for these two guys to convince me that I should start over again with them and I’m glad I did.
KEN GRIFFIS: Tim, what was your reaction to the formation of the group? Did you even envision that you could build a group that would be known worldwide? I mean, was your vision that large at the time or were you thinking in terms of making good on a little spot on the radio? Did you have any idea that you could build a group that was respected worldwide?
TIM SPENCER: I did after I met Bob. When Bob come in I just got into it.
BOB NOLAN: He was more or less the straw boss of the gang at that time and he had us rehearsing at least 12 hours a day.
TIM SPENCER: Every day!
STUART HAMBLEN: Tell him about your recording outfit you had, too.
KEN GRIFFIS: What was that?
STUART HAMBLEN: We’d do a song on our radio program and then they’d take it down on tape…
BOB NOLAN: [laughs] We had to get there first!
STUART HAMBLEN: …and they would rehearse. We did it in the raw! And then the next day we’d hear the Sons of the Pioneers do our number but do it up beautifully.
KEN GRIFFIS: I remember Roy and Tim saying that they used to pick on you that way. They used to take your song….
STUART HAMBLEN: They didn’t pick on me, they beat me!
BOB NOLAN: We did the same thing with the Beverly Hill Billies, too. I asked Lem Giles. I said, “Lem, how about trading songs back and forward. I’ll give you some of ours that we write and you give us some of yours.” He said, “No, you don’t.” And I said, “Well, we’ll take ‘em off the air.” And we did! [laughter]
KEN GRIFFIS: After you joined together, did you adopt the name Pioneer Trio immediately? The three of you?
BOB NOLAN: Yes, I believe so.
KEN GRIFFIS: That was the first name? Wasn’t it, Tim?
TIM SPENCER: M-hmm.
BOB NOLAN: M-hmm. The Pioneer Trio.
KEN GRIFFIS: All right, then. How long a period of time would you people have rehearsed prior to joining…? Did you join the Jack and the Texas Outlaws? Was that your first group that you performed with?
BOB NOLAN: Yeah.
TIM SPENCER: Jack what’s his name?
BOB NOLAN: LeFever.
STUART HAMBLEN: M-hmm. Sawdust Jim.
BOB NOLAN: Is that what they called him, Stuart?
STUART HAMBLEN: No, I named him Sawdust Jim because they had so much sawdust on the dance floor.
KEN GRIFFIS: At the time you had been rehearsing, did you mainly use your compositions as a basis for your singing?
TIM SPENCER: Yeah, myself and Glenn, my brother.
KEN GRIFFIS: So you had both the Nolan compositions and the Spencer compositions.
BOB NOLAN: That’s right. We did an awful lot of research at that time in getting the old authentic western tunes, you know, the Public Domain songs because, I think, we had about two hours a day at that time and that takes an awful lot of music on the radio. Two hours every day.
KEN GRIFFIS: At the time you decided to add another member to the group, what made you think of…? As a historical sequence, Bob, is it correct that you had Hugh for a few months before you had Karl?
BOB NOLAN: Yes, we got one of them first. I forget now why it was that Karl didn’t come with Hugh at the time we got Hugh. But it wasn’t too long before we convinced Karl that he should come in with us. Or else it was Hugh himself that talked him into coming with us.
TIM SPENCER: Yeah. Hugh did.
KEN GRIFFIS: Would you think it’s safe to say that Hugh Farr is probably one of the greatest natural fiddlers of all times?
BOB NOLAN: Oh, at that time, I don’t think there was anybody that could touch him.
TIM SPENCER: No.
KEN GRIFFIS: And Karl on the guitar?
BOB NOLAN: And Karl was just about the same on guitar. They were really great musicians.
KEN GRIFFIS: And, listening to Hugh play the fiddle, you think it’s part of him. You never think of it being an instrument, it just seems to be part of him. And I guess in about 1936, you added another young fellow to your group by the name of Lloyd Perryman.
BOB NOLAN: Yeah. Well, that was when Roy was …. Herbert Yates was the owner of Republic Pictures. He fell in love with Roy and he thought that he could make a big star out of him which proved to be right. And Lloyd - golly whiz, that was you, Tim. You knew Lloyd, didn’t you, better than any of us in the group at that time when Roy went out to Republic?
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Well, actually, Bob, not to interrupt, but when you fellas were down at Dallas at the Centennial in 1936 and Tim decided to go his own way for a little while, then you called me up and that’s when I went to work steady with the group.
BOB NOLAN: Oh, yeah.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: And then Tim came back in a short while…
TIM SPENCER: On account of my brother. He dropped me out in the tulies.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: You and Leo.
BOB NOLAN: Got you a little dislocated for awhile.
TIM SPENCER: He sure did.
KEN GRIFFIS: Before we talk to Lloyd, let’s get a comment from each of you about Lloyd Perryman, being as abstract as possible. Were you greatly impressed with the voice of Lloyd Perryman?
BOB NOLAN: Oh, yes! Of course, at that time, Lloyd was much younger than he is now. He had one of the sweetest, angelic tenor voices I ever heard in my life. It was distinctive. The women is what impressed me most, the way…. When he sang, you could hear a…. The women wouldn’t even breathe! Honest to God! It was the funniest thing. His affect on all those….
TIM SPENCER: He could sing almost like a girl.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Now, wait just a minute! [General laughter.]
KEN GRIFFIS: Would you think it was fair to say that you and Ezra Paulette had voices that were really distinctive and were made a great impression on people in their time?
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Ken, I couldn’t in any way ever possibly compare myself to Ezra because Ezra was the greatest all-around singer that I have ever known in all my whole history of music and fooling around with singing because he was just one of a kind. And there will never be another like Ezra Paulette.
BOB NOLAN: He had a quality in his voice, Ken, that could transfer you from the present to ages back. As far as you could go. He had that Old Time sound that….
TIM SPENCER: And he had the songs, too.
BOB NOLAN: Oh, yes. Sure.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Ezra knew music very well, too, and the surprising thing to me was his complete range. He could sing real high and then he could sing clear down in the bass range and have the same quality all the way through, it must have been at least 2 ½ octaves. I’d try to sing low and I’d gargle a little bit where Ezra would sing a low note and it had the same quality as his real high notes. He was outstanding.
BOB NOLAN: Effortless.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, let’s talk about Lloyd Perryman because I happen to be a great fan of Lloyd Perryman so I’m a little bit prejudiced about Lloyd Perryman. What was the great attraction for you for the Pioneers? Were they an established group at the time? In other words, would you say that they were really headliners at the time that you were …? Did you feel at that time that they were far superior as far as quality, working toward putting on a good sound to anybody that you had ever heard or worked with?
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Oh, by far! Now, I’d heard the Beverly Hill Billies and the Beverly Hill Billies were excellent in their field. They were kind of the Grandaddies of them all along with Stuart and, of course, the Sons of the Pioneers. But the boys had a quality that I especially liked. It had an outdoors sound to it – it sounded Western. It sounded like what it was supposed to represent and that’s the reason that I was so impressed with it.
STUART HAMBLEN: Could I put in my two bits?
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Sure. You betcha.
STUART HAMBLEN: The thing of it is, that really made it an unusual sound, was Bob Nolan’s singing.
[Bob laughs incredulously.]
TIM SPENCER: Yes. Yes, that’s right.
STUART HAMBLEN: You can get basses and Karl Farr was not a true bass singer. He was good but Bob Nolan’s voice had such a distinct resonant quality to it that when you blended him with the other guys – like Lloyd and all these guys – why they were great. Really! There never will be another singing group like that because they don’t have a lead singer like Bob Nolan.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Bob did have that quality that I’d know that added so much, as Stuart says, and it gave it that special quality, I guess that I was so impressed with before I joined the group.
KEN GRIFFIS: I think Tim Spencer – I guess about three years ago I had a real long interview with Tim down at his place in Hollywood – and I think Tim described it very well. He said Bob’s voice seemed to lock the other voices. [others all agree] And I thought that was very well put…lock the sound together.
BOB NOLAN: I’ve heard that quite a few times. Sort of a catalystic affect of blending.
TIM SPENCER: With the prairie yodel, the yodeling thing is what really got everybody.
BOB NOLAN: That was when we first started out.
KEN GRIFFIS: I believe that…Tim, you’ll recall… if you’ll make some comment on this, that at the time that you were to join the Rocky Mountaineers – I think you were the replacement for Bob – they had asked you if you could yodel and you said, certainly, you could yodel. And you had never had! [laughter]
TIM SPENCER: I never had in my life. I needed a job!
KEN GRIFFIS: I’d like to take a little excerpt off this tape so I’d like for you to get a comment to the fact that you first joined the Rocky Mountaineers and they asked you if you could yodel so, if you’d be good enough to put that on tape now. I’d like to take that excerpt off and use it as a lead-in to one of the songs that I’d like to feature on the program. So, do you remember answering the ad that was put in the newspaper that the Rocky Mountaineers were looking for a baritone, was it?
TIM SPENCER: Baritone?
KEN GRIFFIS: Yes. Would you like to make a comment on that?
TIM SPENCER: Yes, the comment I have on it: Number one, I was looking for a job to make a few dollars and, let me see, give me a few….
KEN GRIFFIS: Roy Rogers went and placed an ad in the paper.
TIM SPENCER: Yeah? No. It wasn’t Roy, was it?
BOB NOLAN: No.
STUART HAMBLEN: Was it Paulie?
KEN GRIFFIS: Who was it that was in charge of the Rocky Mountaineers at the time that you joined them? Who was the spark plug?
TIM SPENCER: Well, I come in from – remember when we went into – oh, my goodness. There are so many things.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, at the time you hadn’t been working with any particular group prior to the Rocky Mountaineers, had you?
BOB NOLAN: Yes, they had …
TIM SPENCER: The Spencer Brothers.
BOB NOLAN: You had a quartet going.
TIM SPENCER: See, we had a quartet.
KEN GRIFFIS: Was this on the air?
TIM SPENCER: Oh, yeah.
KEN GRIFFIS: You were on the air as a group?
TIM SPENCER: Well, yes and no.
BOB NOLAN: They were opening up markets. [laughter]
TIM SPENCER: That’s the way you make a few bucks, you know.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, how came you to come and join the Rocky Mountaineers? I’d like you to make a comment on that.
BOB NOLAN: Who contacted you, Tim?
TIM SPENCER: Oh, contacted….
BOB NOLAN: Was it Roy?
TIM SPENCER: It was Roy and Hugh?
BOB NOLAN: No. You were my replacement.
TIM SPENCER: That’s right. That’s right. And I started singing with a guy that had – Benny somebody.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Benny Nawahi.
TIM SPENCER: Yeah, that’s the guy.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, you hadn’t been with him prior to joining the Rocky Mountaineers.
TIM SPENCER: No.
KEN GRIFFIS: As I recall you remarking that Roy Rogers had put an ad in the paper and you said the Rocky Mountaineers were looking for a baritone who could yodel.
TIM SPENCER: Well, that was me and I didn’t know a thing about yodeling.
BOB NOLAN: They wanted a baritone…
TIM SPENCER: …and I got her.
BOB NOLAN: … and Tim is strictly a tenor. He says “Yes”!
TIM SPENCER: And I said “Yes”.
STUART HAMBLEN: He’d have sung bass.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, OK. As you progressed as a group, did you use the older type songs as the basis for your programs? Or did you try to blend in more the newer things? Did you try staying with the older things?
BOB NOLAN: Yeah, we tried to stick strictly to the old ones and, of course, I had an idea or I felt that my songs – the ones that I was writing at the time – were authentic. I tried to keep them authentic. Western.
STUART HAMBLEN: His had the freshness to it. I mean, I was his opponent in radio and I ought to know what I’m talking about. He was the guy that worried me.
KEN GRIFFIS: He was the competition.
STUART HAMBLEN: I was writing them, too. I….
TIM SPENCER: [tries to interject but forgets what he wanted to say]
KEN GRIFFIS: Bob, about what time did you write “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”? About 1931? ’32? ’34?
BOB NOLAN: Just about … yes, it would be just around about ’32, wasn’t it, Tim?
STUART HAMBLEN: It was about ’34 because when I was in Washington, I looked up some of the expirations of some of your songs and you didn’t even know when they expired.
BOB NOLAN: That’s when it was copyrighted. But I had written poetry for the lyrics of that song many years before.
KEN GRIFFIS: Could you tell us about that? Because, as I understand, I think it was Lloyd that remarked that this really wasn’t the original name of this song.
BOB NOLAN: No, the song itself, the melody had different lyrics altogether and then, I don’t know… it was quite by an accident that we – somebody – thought of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”. I didn’t. At the time they give it out…
LLOYD PERRYMAN: The announcer at KFWB. Harry Hall.
BOB NOLAN: Yeah. And he said, ‘Why don’t you..? They keep requesting this “Tumbling Weeds” song.’ The song at the time was “Tumbling Leaves” and I’d say about 7 out of 10 requests for the song came in “Tumbling Weeds”, see, so Harry Hall said, ‘Why don’t you change the lyrics and make it “Tumbling Weeds”?’
TIM SPENCER: “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”.
BOB NOLAN: “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”.
KEN GRIFFIS: Now, what did the “Tumbling Leaves” sound like?
BOB NOLAN: It was the same melody except that it didn’t have that tilted note in the latter part. It went ta da da da da da da da da dum. And once I used the “tumbleweed” at the end of the phrase, I had to put in that tilt – ta-dum – where it hits the snag. Ta da da da da da da da da dum ta dum. Have you ever seen a tumbleweed go racing across the desert and hit a fence? It hits it with just that sound. If you close your eyes, that’s what you see - what you hear with that one note is what you see when you see a tumbleweed hit a fence. It goes tumbling along ta da da da da da da da da bump ta da and it gets on the other side, see?
KEN GRIFFIS: I see. That’s remarkable.
TIM SPENCER: Yeah.
KEN GRIFFIS: That’s the first time I’ve ever heard
STUART HAMBLEN: No wonder the guy can write!
KEN GRIFFIS: Yeah. How about “Cool Water”, Bob? What was the inspiration for “Cool Water”? About when would you have written that?
BOB NOLAN: I think that came about 3 years after “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”. Golly, that’s been so long ago I can’t remember what I felt or ….
LLOYD PERRYMAN: You told me that you’d written that as a poem before when you were in Tucson High.
BOB NOLAN: No, that was never as a poem. “Tumbleweed Trails”. No, I don’t believe that ever was, Lloyd.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Oh. Excuse me.
KEN GRIFFIS: It’s a real descriptive feeling of a person really out there, really on their last legs going for water and I was wondering if there was any particular thing you’d ever heard or saw that might have been the inspiration for that.
BOB NOLAN: Just the desert itself, I guess….
STUART HAMBLEN: I’d like for you to ask him a question that I’d like to know. Was he ever a real cowboy?
BOB NOLAN: No, not as such.
STUART HAMBLEN: Or his imaginative powers are beyond comprehension because you’d think that song would come from a guy who’d really been there. Many times.
TIM SPENCER: Yeah.
KEN GRIFFIS: Bob, just for the sake of clarification, what is your feeling – the difference between a western song and a country song? In other words, you hear the terminology “country western” and it’s used very interchangeably and so forth but is there not a distinctive difference between a western song and a country song?
BOB NOLAN: No, except that one has a pair of chaps on it and the other doesn’t.
STUART HAMBLEN: One has a girl in it and the other doesn’t.
BOB NOLAN: No, if you come to real country music, Stuart, you’re gonna – the only difference between the two is one wears a pair of bib overalls and the other one has a pair of chaps on. They’re songs of the soil. Both of them.
KEN GRIFFIS: What would you call …?
BOB NOLAN: The country music that you call Country today is not true country music. It’s honky tonk.
STUART HAMBLEN: It’s unrequited love.
TIM SPENCER: Yeah!
BOB NOLAN: It’s little darling and all that but that’s not true country music.
TIM SPENCER: No.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, you take a song like “My Mary” and “Texas Plains” – now they would be my idea of a Country song and a Western song. But they’re entirely different themes and I guess one is a song of the soil and so forth. If you were to look back on your career – certainly it’s been a fantastic career in Country Western music – is there anything that stands out in your mind, as a highlight of your time with the Sons of the Pioneers, Bob?
BOB NOLAN: With the Sons of the Pioneers or…?
KEN GRIFFIS: During the time you were with them and then we can get into the other phases. But during the time you were with them was there something happened that you said, “This is the epitome. This is the greatest thing that could have happened to me as a performer.”
BOB NOLAN: Well, I couldn’t strike any particular chord through the career, it was just the lucky happenstance of meeting Roy as I did. Answering that little advertisement in the Los Angeles Examiner. I keep going back to that. The question you asked I’ve asked myself many times, “What was the turning point? What was the thing that headed you in the direction that brought you to the point where you are now?” and it was that little 4-line advertisement in that paper that I just keep thinking of.
TIM SPENCER: With the suit, walking along with no shoes!
BOB NOLAN: No shoes, yeah!
KEN GRIFFIS: How do you recall your appearance…? I don’t know whether you had left the group or not when Carnegie Hall…. You’d left the group at that time?
BOB NOLAN: Yeah.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Bob was gone then.
KEN GRIFFIS: That was about 1950, I think.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Yes.
KEN GRIFFIS: About a year after you had left.
BOB NOLAN: M-hmm.
KEN GRIFFIS: Lloyd, I’d like to get back to you for just a second. Did you find it difficult at all to fit into the blending of voices? A person could have a beautiful voice and still not fit into a group…
LLOYD PERRYMAN: …and try to get to get some of his quality in my voice to try to blend with the fellows as well as he had.
KEN GRIFFIS: Does any particular song stand out in your mind, Lloyd, that you thought “This sounds like as good a thing as I’ll ever do” on a particular song?
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Well, I think the best recording we ever made was on one of Tim’s songs called “The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma”. I think that we did a better job vocally on that than any song that we’ve ever done, or ever recorded.
BOB NOLAN: Yeah. That song seemed to lend itself to our blend of harmony.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: We sang it well, I thought, when we did the recording. I thought we did a good job on it and it was a beautiful song to begin with. But any of Bob’s or Tim’s songs, why, I’d always enjoy learning each one of them and we’d get together in our vocal arrangements, as you know, and we just – it was a kind of hit or miss situation and we’d work on one phrase for an hour, maybe, until we got the right harmony placement on it. Then it was always a thrill to me when one of the fellows would say, “Well, I’ve got a song. Let’s see if we can do it.” And we’d start to rehearse it. It was always a thrill for me.
KEN GRIFFIS: That brings up an interesting point. I believe this recording session in which you did “The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Cool Water”, perhaps, this would have been done right after the Second World War”?
LLOYD PERRYMAN: M-hmm. Yes, I’d just come back and joined the group. In fact, Ken Carson, who had taken my place with the group while I was in the Army, he sang on a lot of those things. And Tim was the man who sat in the booth and he sat out a lot of them and Ken Carson was singing instead of Tim and Tim would help the man with the controls in there. They say “I think this voice is too loud or I think you should do this, that or the other.” And Ken sang, actually, quite a number of those songs after the war.
KEN GRIFFIS: Bob, did this make any difference in your feeling or ability to put forth an effort – having a big orchestra…? Was this about the first time you had the orchestra sound behind you on a recording?
BOB NOLAN: Yes. And, to tell you the truth, it didn’t hit me too well. I was undecided whether I liked it or not because I was so fond of the thing that we had been trying for years to get and had tried to perfect and I thought we had perfected. And then along comes this change in sound and I wasn’t too fond of it at first. I grew to where I could take it. But I’d rather have had just our own instrumentation that had that feeling that I tried to get into my songs when I wrote them and when the boys rehearsed them, you could just... I mean, they knew what I wanted and I knew what they wanted. And the orchestra just didn’t fit that ….
LLOYD PERRYMAN: You know, I think, Bob – excuse me – had it not been for a fellow by the name of Country Washburn, who made most all of the arrangements on those things, I think he would have disliked it even more.
BOB NOLAN: Yes, I know.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: But Country Washburn had a feel for a western sound and it wasn’t as…. Well, it was, as Bob said, completely different to what we had been doing because we’d just been using two guitars and a fiddle and a bass. And then to have all these instruments, why, it was a completely different feel for all of us but, as I say, Country Washburn having made the arrangements, it didn’t set as hard on our ears as it would have had it not been for Country.
BOB NOLAN: You mentioned something just a minute ago, Lloyd, about mixing the voices when we started – like Ken Carson come in to take over for you and Tim had to go in the control booth to mix the blend. We never had to do that before, see? With the three voices, the three original voices and when Lloyd came in, we listened and made our own blend as we sang. We needed no technician to do it. As we sang, we listened to each other sing and purposely worked on that blend to make it, see? No mixer had to mix it. We did it while we sang.
KEN GRIFFIS: Was it somewhat difficult to blend the voice of Ken Carson in?
BOB NOLAN: Yes, he had a sharper voice. His voice, although it was a beautiful voice, I guess it was the sharpness – it cut like a knife. You couldn’t blend with it like Lloyd or when Roy was with us and Tim’s voice. There was a mellowness that was missing and it was one of those voices that it was just impossible for us to hold our same tone quality and get a blend with. His voice would stand out and that’s what we’d tried to eliminate was any one voice standing out.
KEN GRIFFIS: I could say that’s true and I think, perhaps a good example of that is Thurl Ravenscroft made some recordings in the 60s – a couple of albums with the Pioneers and, while Hugh Farr was not noted as being a voice …
BOB NOLAN: …a true bass. No, he wasn’t.
KEN GRIFFIS: … of the Pioneers, but in his day, when he did sing, he was a beautiful soft background.
BOB NOLAN: Yes, yes. And, although Raven had what we call “a pedal bass”, it didn’t have the blending quality that Hugh’s voice, as a bass, had. I don’t think.
KEN GRIFFIS: No. He has a sort of vibration to his voice. I don’t know how you describe it but you can hear it rasping, where Hugh Farr’s voice…
BOB NOLAN: …was soft and smooth. Yeah.
KEN GRIFFIS: I was impressed with Hugh’s ability to blend in.
BOB NOLAN: That’s right.
KEN GRIFFIS: And, of course, you had Karl Farr and I don’t know that Karl was ever noted as a singer with your group.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: No, not really. Karl sang on very rare occasions like when we’d do what we call “double trio” stuff. Or if we had a trio and a couple of voices that would do background things, why, Karl would occasionally sing but Karl’s voice was not outstanding as a voice like Hugh’s was. Karl could sing as low as Hugh but …
BOB NOLAN: …but you couldn’t blend with it.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: …it wasn’t a blending voice, as Bob said.
KEN GRIFFIS: Bob, I don’t know. You’ve probably been asked this silly question many times so I’ll ask it again, do you have a favourite song? A Bob Nolan song?
BOB NOLAN: No, I don’t think so. It’s just like, when I was writing songs, it was more or less like – I think it was Jack London that said it – you ask him which was his favourite story and he’d say, “The last one I wrote.” It was always the song that I was working on at the time.
KEN GRIFFIS: There’s one song that I’d like you to clarify the title of. It’s called “Chant of the Plains”. I always thought that if you had an example of Bob Nolan writing, Bob Nolan feeling, I always thought that that little phrase “the small things into shadows hide”, I thought that was such a poetic, picturesque statement.
BOB NOLAN: M-hmm. I think that most of my poetry came from my school days when I studied poetry, you know. The boys that impressed me most were Keats and Shelley and Byron and those guys like that.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: You know, I’ve got to correct one thing right here, Ken, if I may. That particular line that you mentioned is in the verse of a song that I had the privilege of writing music for and it was not “Chant of the Plains”, it was a tune called “Night Falls on the Prairie”.
BOB NOLAN: Oh, yes.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: It’s the verse from “Night Falls on the Prairie” that you’re speaking of. [sings the verse]
KEN GRIFFIS: You’re right. You’re entirely correct. I had those two mixed up.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: I’m not going to let you get away with that because that’s one of the few songs that I ever wrote! [laughs]
KEN GRIFFIS: I did pick out a good song.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Yes, you did!
BOB NOLAN: I’ll tell you one thing, Lloyd, when you get a melody that sweet, it’s no work at all to write lyrics for it.
KEN GRIFFIS: I want to ask one question, too. I believe one of the nicest songs you ever did – and I guess it must have been a difficult song – was “Half Way ‘Round the World”. Would you like to tell us about that?
LLOYD PERRYMAN: O-ho boy! Well, that was written – where I was at the time it was written was just exactly half way around the world from Los Angeles to Michenau, Burma. And Bob wrote this tune for me and my missus. I finally, as I said, got it recorded but I’d tried to sing it a number of times and it just didn’t quite come off. I couldn’t quite make it through. But it was a great song to me and I used to sing it to the guys over in Burma ‘cause Bob had sent me a record or a piece of sheet music or something on it….
BOB NOLAN: We’d put it on transcription.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: That’s right. It was on transcription and, boy, it hit home, believe me. I’ll never forget it. And Tim wrote a song, too. It had to do with my son. My son was born when I was away and I didn’t see him until he was fourteen months old. But Tim wrote a song about him, us, my family. It was about “The Little Guy Who Looks Like You” and, boy, it really did something for me, believe me, when I heard these two songs and knew who they were for and what the guys, that they thought enough of me to write a song regarding me and my family. It was quite a thrill.
TIM SPENCER: Those days were really rugged at that time. Two guys out from Burma and you respect their kids.
STUART HAMBLEN: One reason the guys were so successful is they loved one another.
BOB NOLAN: M-hmm.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, Stuart, we’ve got time here. I’d like for you to make a comment that I can take an excerpt off the tape for regarding the times – we touched on it briefly before but maybe we could go into it – telling about your reaction to the Pioneers. I believe they followed you on the air. Is that correct?
STUART HAMBLEN: Well, yes, they did. In fact, we had two sponsors. I was with the Star Outfitting Company and the Sons of the Pioneers were with the Farley Company outfit. And they were right across the street from one another and we used to have these big fiddler’s contests. We’d have these popularity contests for the best yodeler, the best guitarist, the best singer, the best you name it. And these people would come in and half of them would be for our gang and they’d cheer for us and the others would be for the Sons of the Pioneers. You talk about competition – we were ready to kill one another! I knew we couldn’t out-sing them but there wasn’t a one of the Sons of the Pioneers that could get up and MC a program like I could. See, that’s the only where I could beat ‘em was showmanship. And they could out-sing old Stuart, but they couldn’t out-talk him. And we’d have these yodeling contests and I will never forget one time I was ready to kill the whole bunch. We had this big contest at the Shrine Auditorium. It was gonna be an old-fashioned fiddlers’ contest and everything. And Farley, who was their sponsor, was giving away tickets to jam the house with Sons of the Pioneers’ fans. Do you remember that, Bob?
BOB NOLAN: Yessir.
STUART HAMBLEN: Well, I didn’t know it but when I got up to speak, I got about ten thousand lusty boos! And I thought, “Where are our fans?” They couldn’t get in. Farley had jammed the joint!
TIM SPENCER: We bought all the tickets.
STUART HAMBLEN: Well, that was the day we lost everything. We didn’t even win a yodeling contest. Now you talk about Tim Spencer. No wonder the Sons of the Pioneers used to overshadow us at times because how can you cope with something like that? That was just vicious. [Laughter] I’ll tell you, when you have a competitor cut down a fence and turn you out into a peach orchard on a wild stallion, I mean, that’s just not fair.
KEN GRIFFIS: I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to talk Stuart into it but I’d like to do a special on Stuart. I’ll mention it to you and catch you by surprise. I wonder if I might get you gentlemen to make some serious comment – you can lie a little if you want to – about Stuart Hamblen. I’d like to take some excerpts….
STUART HAMBLEN: Ah, let’s don’t do this today.
KEN GRIFFIS: Well, we’ve got the tail end of this here.
STUART HAMBLEN: Well, this is getting cold in this room and I don’t want Tim in here and I …
KEN GRIFFIS: I would like to have them make some comment about Stuart Hamblen’s music….
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Well, I can tell you what. We used to listen. At the time when we were on our program down there, why, in our off times, naturally, why we’d get a chance listen to Stuart and his group. And it was a daily thing. It was just friendly animosity, it wasn’t real strong or anything.
STUART HAMBLEN: Well, it was real on my part, all right!
LLOYD PERRYMAN: But Stuart did come up with a lot of great songs that we would sing also because Western music was hard to come by those days. Especially tunes like “Texas Plains” and “Golden River”. And a whole bunch of the other beautiful songs that Stuart has written, why, we naturally incorporated into our program and they were a help to us and Stuart was good enough to sing some of our tunes on occasion.
STUART HAMBLEN: Oh, yeah. You bet I did.
KEN GRIFFIS: How about you, Bob, do you recall some of the Stuart songs of those days?
BOB NOLAN: Oh, yes. We used to listen to his program religiously because we had to check on him - he was checking on us, you know – not to give him the jump on us. And, like I say, I don’t think we asked Stuart whether we could use his songs or not, we just hooked them off of the air and sang them on our program.
STUART HAMBLEN: Well, I would come out. I’d say, “Ladies and gentlemen, today we’re gonna do you a new song. I’d sing “Ridin’ Old Paint and Leadin’ Old Bald” and maybe my act rehearsed it 15 minutes. And the next day, we’d tune in on the Sons of the Pioneers and hear the most beautiful rendition of that song. They must have stayed up all night.
BOB NOLAN: We did, too. I’m telling you, we were the rehearsingest bunch you ever saw.
STUART HAMBLEN: But that’s the difference in the acts today – as they are today, as they were then – ‘cause you guys did it with all your heart and soul and these kids today are doing it for dollars. You did it, Bob, because you were born for it and the Sons of the Pioneers – well, it was just an act of God that you got together an act like you did.
BOB NOLAN: I think so, too. It was very lucky. The group was composed of the boys that ….
TIM SPENCER: No, there’ll never be another outfit like that.
STUART HAMBLEN: No, there never will be another group like the Sons of the Pioneers.
BOB NOLAN: I know I was, I was so proud of the group…
TIM SPENCER: Yeah.
BOB NOLAN: …and I have an idea that each one of the individual members felt the same way as I did.
TIM SPENCER: Sure. We did.
LLOYD PERRYMAN: Well, boy, we had a yak session, didn’t we? No kidding.
STUART HAMBLEN: Well, I’ll tell you, I’m glad to see you….
[End of tape though not end of conversation.]