Bob Nolan interview January 12, 1972 in its entirety, courtesy of the late Ken Griffis.
Transcribed by Elizabeth Drake McDonald from tapes given to Calin Coburn by the late Ken Griffis.
Most of this interview has been made available to the public by Jim Kleist. The audio interview is available for public purchase.
[NB: Bob was never quite clear on his dates so we have added notes to correct or expand his statements. Also, in this interview, Bob’s mynah bird interjects words occasionally and rattles around in its cage.]
GRIFFIS: So, Bob, if I could begin the interview, I’d like to ask your complete and honest name.
NOLAN: Well, my name is Robert Clarence Nobles. That is an English name. And, I don’t know, after I got out of school, I just automatically changed it to my father’s name. He, in the meantime, had changed his name from Nobles to Nolan so I took that, too.
GRIFFIS: How did you spell it? N-O-B…?
NOLAN: N-O-B-L-E-S Nobles.
GRIFFIS: That’s an English name.
GRIFFIS: Where were you born, Bob?
NOLAN: Now this I can’t tell you for sure, for certain. I’m not certain about the city. I know I was born in either Vancouver or Winnipeg, Canada.
GRIFFIS: And what would have been the date?
NOLAN: 1908. Yes, April 1, 1908. The day. Let’s see, I had figured it out according to a table that someone gave me. I was born on a Thursday. [Editor's note: His actual birthday was on April 13, 1908 - a Monday - in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.]
GRIFFIS: And what was your father’s name?
NOLAN: Harry Byron Nobles. And then he changed it to Nolan. He didn’t like Nobles for some reason or other. I had nothing against it. [Editor's note: Harry changed his name so that neither his creditors nor his estranged wife would find him. He didn't want his wife to have any claim on his two sons.]
GRIFFIS: Where do you think he picked up the name Nolan?
NOLAN: I don’t know. He was very fond of the Irish people. He liked the Irish people. He picked out an Irish name. [Editor's note: Harry's wife was born in Ireland.]
GRIFFIS: Was he an American citizen or did he come from England?
NOLAN: No, he was a Canadian. And up until World War I first broke out - and he was in the United States at the time so he just joined the United States Army instead of going back to Canada and that automatically made him a citizen….
GRIFFIS: What was your mother’s maiden name?
NOLAN: I don’t know for sure. I don’t remember my mother at all. [Editor's note: Bob's mother's name was Flora Elizabeth Hussey Nobles.]
GRIFFIS: What was her first name?
NOLAN: Flo. Flora.
GRIFFIS: Do you recall whether your father had an interest in music……..?
NOLAN: No. But there was four boys and five girls in my father’s family. That is, 5 sisters and 4 brothers, and all the girls were musical and the boys [laughs] couldn’t carry a note in a basket.
GRIFFIS: I might also ask, Bob, whether or not you had any brothers or sisters.
NOLAN: Yes, I had one brother.
GRIFFIS: What was his name?
NOLAN: Earl. And he changed his name later on in life to “Michael” because it went better with the name “Nolan” than “Earl” did.
GRIFFIS: What profession or what did he do when he decided on a career?
NOLAN: Well, he didn’t have much of a career of any thing in those days. He was a firefighter, professional football player and then, in World War II, he was a professional soldier, I think, because he went in the army as a Sergeant and came out as a Lieut. Col. He won this all in the field so he was a pretty fair soldier, I guess.
GRIFFIS: Is he still alive?
NOLAN: Yes. He’s the Assistant Fire Chief at Tucson, Arizona, now. [Editor's note: Michael Earle [Nobles] Nolan died April 6, 1991. He was 80 years old.]
GRIFFIS: What do you recall about your earliest days in Canada, Bob? Do you recall a number of things that made an impression on you as far as the country or the music of the day and so forth?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. I mean, my aunts and uncles who were then living in Boston, Massachusetts…. See, this is when they left the old homestead, so to speak. This is where I was living, incidentally, with my grandparents. My aunts and uncles would come back and visit the old folks, see, and as I said before we started this recording, that all the girls, all my aunts – there was 5 of them - were all musical and they impressed me no end. I mean we had one of those old-fashioned pump organs, you know, away in the backwoods in Canada there….. and we would all gather round that and I think they all played it. I know at least 3 of them were just wonderful. I would just sit in awe when that music was rolling out of that old organ. [Laughs.] They could all sing and really impressed me very much. I liked to sing, too, after I got acquainted with them.
GRIFFIS: Do you recall their names?
NOLAN: Yes, there was Aunt Maud, Aunt Mabel, Aunt Matilda, Aunt Fannie [laughs] She was my favorite. Oh, she was a beautiful girl.
GRIFFIS: And they all played some type of instrument.
GRIFFIS: Yeah. [To bird] I was talking to Mr. Nolan, if you don’t mind. [Laughs] At what age would you have left Canada?
NOLAN: Well, let’s see. [Pauses.] Mmmm. I came to Boston first for a couple of trips during the school year to get some schooling, see. They didn’t have schools back there where I lived, see, in Canada. [Editor's note: There was indeed a school at Hatfield Point and one at nearby Kars. Bob has stated at other times that he walked to school there. Perhaps he didn’t think the quality of education was good enough to mention.] We were just miles and miles from everything, way back in the backwoods. I left about when I was 14 and came to Boston with one of my aunts, and lived with her and went to school there for about 3 years. No, maybe it was only about 2. It seemed a long time to me. When you’re very young, you know, time just drags on you. And I stayed there… I would go back after the school period and go back to the old folks in Canada. And, finally, after the World War I was through – my Daddy was gassed in, I think it was the battle of Belleau Woods where they used that mustard gas, the Germans. [Editor's note: Harry, according to his discharge paper, saw no action during the war and spent the year of his enlistment in the United States. He was discharged as a Corporal.] And they sent him to Tucson, Arizona, see, to recuperate and he sent for me. I was the oldest of the two boys, see. I was about 14, I think, when he finally sent for me in 1920. [Editor's note: In 1920, Bob was 12. He was 13 when he was called to Tucson to rejoin his father because his school records state that he started school in the Fall of 1921.]
GRIFFIS: He was living at that time in Tucson.
GRIFFIS: Prior to this time, Bob, had you had any non-professional interest in music, prior to going to Tucson?
NOLAN: Yes. When I was in the backwoods of Canada, I used to look forward to the camp meetings, see. About once or twice a year they would send a minister up the St. John River to where we were and they had these camp meetings and they’d bring a bunch of hymnbooks and the folks would sing. And I just loved that.
GRIFFIS: Would the music that you were interested in at that time been mainly church music?
NOLAN: Yes, well, that’s all I had a chance to hear, you understand. That’s all anybody ever sang up there.
GRIFFIS: I see. Did they have a country or a folk music to any degree in Canada at that time? Were you aware of a….?
NOLAN: No. But as I look back on it now, my Aunts and the family, they would sing songs like… that you recall – you remember the songs the Beverly Hillbillies used to sing like Nita, Juanita, and, well, songs of that type. Those were the songs that they sang. And actually they were considered folk music.
GRIFFIS: Would that have been American songs come from America...?
NOLAN: Yes. Mmm.
GRIFFIS: Did you think at that time did you think that you had a fairly acceptable voice? You know your voice is distinctive and I wonder, at that time, did you figure that you had a voice that you could do well professionally?
NOLAN: No, I never thought in terms of professional music even after I came to California. I was 21 years old when I first came over here to California. I was 21 years old when I first came over here to California. No, I just had affection for music and I never thought of it as a profession. Even when I was going to school – I joined all the glee clubs and studied music in my first two years of college. [laughs] My two and only years. I quit when I was a sophomore. But it was just my affection for music. As all I remember, I never even thought that I would finally pick it up as a profession. [Editor's note: Bob graduated from high school in 1928 and married a month after graduation. The next year he was a lifeguard in California. There was no time to go the university. His brother agreed that Bob had not attended university and there are no records at the University of Arizona to indicate that he had taken any subject at any time, even at night school, yet Bob stood by his college education statement all his life.]
GRIFFIS: Bob, if we could, let’s turn back to the Tucson days and that would have been about 1920?
NOLAN: Yes, just about there.
GRIFFIS: And you would have gone out there to be with your father. What was he doing there at the time?
NOLAN: He was a tailor.
GRIFFIS: And do you recall your first experience going through Arizona?
NOLAN: Yes, I first came across – I lived in the province of New Brunswick in Canada. I came across to Boston, Massachusetts and stayed a few years with my aunt - off and on for about 2 or 3 years. And then, from there, my Daddy got back from the war and was in the hospital for his lungs, and he sent for me about 2 years after he went to Tucson, Arizona. He had recuperated fine. His lungs were…. In fact, he’d had no repercussions of his lungs at all after about 2 years, see. They pronounced him well and he sent for me at that time. I had to make the trip all by myself and that was a long trip. I had the note stuck to my coat, you know, [laughs] which told the porters and everybody concerned where I was going, what to do when I changed trains. I was just in the hands of the railroad people. I didn’t know where I was going to end up. They got me to my destination. I was never so surprised in all my life when I got off the train - my dad was right there waiting at the door that I got out of the train. He wasn’t ten feet away from me when I got off the train.
GRIFFIS: You were glad to see him….
NOLAN: Merciful heavens, I should say!
GRIFFIS: What were your first impressions of Arizona country?
NOLAN: Well, this is awfully hard to say because I was so impressed coming from the backwoods of Canada out to this – what looked to me – nothing. This flat desert land. It was very big and, actually, after I’d been there about 6 months I fell in love with the place because of the beauty I couldn’t see when I first came. It was just wonderful. I mean I spent so many hours out there on the desert all by myself. I mean, I’d walk right out into it and just stay there all day if I didn’t have to come home, when I was a kid, you know.
GRIFFIS: I guess that was an indication of the great impact it had on you….
NOLAN: Yes, I do believe so. I’m glad I’m came while I was real young because it left an indelible impression that has lasted me all my life and will probably last until I kick the old bucket.
GRIFFIS: You know, if you go to the desert I would guess you see something or you see nothing.
NOLAN: That’s right. You have to look. And when you start seeing things on the desert, there’s so much to see. At first glance you see nothing. You’re right in that respect, but, oh boy, you start to looking closer and there’s things there you’ll never see any place else.
GRIFFIS: At this point, you start your schooling shortly after your arrival there?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. I’d already had - in Boston I’d started my schooling - and I think I picked up the equivalent of our 7th grade now. I was 14 or 15 years old.
GRIFFIS: At this time, your father was working in Tucson and you were living basically in the city?
NOLAN: Yes. We were out on the outskirts. The city was only 25,000 people so you could imagine it wasn’t much of a town as compared to what it is today. It’s a metropolis.
GRIFFIS: Yeah, you lose track of the fact that it’s grown so greatly in the past few years. What do you think occasioned you to start to write songs of the west and songs of the soil? Did you ever analyze what it is that caused you to start writing, other than the location – do you think it was the impact of the country on you alone that did this or could you have gone to New York City and wrote songs of New York City?
NOLAN: No, I don’t think so, Ken. I think it was the impact of the country that made me…. You see, during my schooling I had been very impressed by a few of our most prominent poets - I guess you would call the 19th C poets - modern poets - namely Keats and Shelley and Byron, Burns and those fellows. I even tried my hand at it – writing poetry – and, as I say and I believe, they were…. [pauses] I would try to write like Keats, say, but I would write about the desert and try to use his cadence and his rhyming. I copied. Let’s say it right out, I copied their style and wrote…. Although I was writing about a different topic, naturally – the desert – I think I was copying their styles.
GRIFFIS: Was Keats the one who made the greatest impact…?
NOLAN: Keats and Shelley. I liked both of them.
GRIFFIS: Would you have written your poetry before you started writing songs?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. Sure. M-hmm. Even up until and during the time I was going to college.
GRIFFIS: What was the name of it?
NOLAN: The University of Arizona in Tucson. I had a column in the school paper – the Arizona Wildcat – called “Tumbleweed Trails”. And I wrote poems of the desert. Nothing but the desert. In later years, a lot of those poems ended up in some of my songs. [Editor's note: Tucson Senior High had (and still has) a school newspaper called “The Cactus Chronicle” and perhaps this is where we’ll find Bob’s early poetry.]
GRIFFIS: Do you have any copies of any of those things, those newspapers?
NOLAN: The Arizona Wildcat? No. I wished to the devil…I don’t know why I never saved any of those things. I think I, well, I know why I didn’t because every time I left town it was on a freight train and [laughs] you can’t carry much on a freight train.
GRIFFIS: Well, it’s possible we might find record of those someplace.
NOLAN: Someone may have them, yes.
GRIFFIS: So, you would say, then, that the music of Bob Nolan had its basis in a love of the poets and their words and then you tried….
NOLAN: M-hmm. And applying their style to my styles, or to what I liked best which was the desert. [pause] It’s a funny thing. Most of my poems had nothing to do with cowboys. It was just the desert itself. It was years later before I started writing with the cowboy flavour.
GRIFFIS: Whenever you started with your writing of what you might call poems, what was the earliest time you thought in terms of turning those into a song?
NOLAN: Oh, not until 1928. I was here in California… no, it was 1929 because it was directly after the Stock Market crash. And everything just went haywire, see. I lost my job – I was a lifeguard at the time – and I lost my job and it was awfully hard to get a job at that time and the Chautauqua players were going round all over the country, I found out later, not only here in California, actors out of work, you know, so they just got tents and made their own work.
GRIFFIS: What had you done prior to, say, 1921 or ‘22 – there was a period of 6 or 7 years there? Did you spend all this time in Arizona, did you leave to go anywhere?
NOLAN: No, I… you mean before 1920?
GRIFFIS: Before you came to California.
NOLAN: Before I came to California. Well, I got all my schooling in Tucson, Arizona, see. I graduated from high school and went up to the U of A for about 2 years and then I decided things were moving too slow for me so I just quit and just took off myself.
GRIFFIS: You would have hopped a freight and come to California?
NOLAN: No, not right away. I just went wherever I…. I think the first train I caught I ended up in Maryland someplace. I just traveled back and forth. If I was tired of going west, I’d go east.
GRIFFIS: Do you feel that was a part of the Bob Nolan need to learn of people and places and so forth?
NOLAN: Yes, I really do, Ken. There was something just within me that I just couldn’t stay still or stay in one spot when I was real young. I had to go and find out things my own way.
GRIFFIS: So you would have ended up in California about what year?
NOLAN: I had been to California while I was going to school. My dad used to come over to California during school vacation time, see, and he brought me and by this time my younger brother was living with us in Tucson, Arizona, and he brought us over to California and I liked California real well because of the ocean. This is where they were…they did more swimming in the ocean than anyplace else that I’d ever seen. I used to go out to Revere Beach in Boston and people… they were sitting on the beach but they weren’t swimming like they did here in California.
GRIFFIS: So you had made trips over here before but you had not engaged in any kind of musical activity while you were here?
NOLAN: No, I didn’t until 1929 and that was purely by accident. Like I say, I couldn’t find a job and these people that were running these tent shows, you know, during intermission they’d have amateur shows and most of them sang so I just got myself a guitar and learned a couple of chords and started writing a few tunes of my own so I’d have something fresh and I started going in for these amateur contests and I won a few.
GRIFFIS: Now where were they held?
NOLAN: I was in Venice at the time and that was like an entertainment capitol, you know, out there - amusements of all kinds. This was the right place to throw your tent up and have a show. You could always get an audience.
GRIFFIS: You would end up there about 1929?
NOLAN: Yeah. M-hmm.
GRIFFIS: This would have been about the time that you would have taken up a temporary profession of lifeguard and would have met Slumber Nichols. Do you recall those days?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. Slumber was working in – he sold this ice milk, I think it was, that was very popular in those days. They would pour it out of a spigot, you know, and you could watch it being made. Slumber was working that concession. As fast as he would dish it out, boy, they were buying it. I’m telling you.
GRIFFIS: You remember meeting Slumber for the first time?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. The way I became acquainted with him…. er, he got acquainted with me because after dark I was moonlighting on the pier, see. You’ve seen this concession where the guy takes a great big wooden sledgehammer and he hits this doggone thing and he knocks it all the way up…. I was running that concession for a Japanese fellow on the pier and it was right across from the concession where Slumber was operating this ice cream stand. And, I don’t know, he was a beach bum during the daytime, see, because I could see him walking up and down in front of my guard stand. He came over one evening after work and he just introduced himself and we got acquainted.
GRIFFIS: Were either one of you doing anything musically at that time?
NOLAN: No. Heck, no. It was later on in the year… I forget what season of the year the Stock Market crashed in 1929….
GRIFFIS: I think it was in the Fall….
NOLAN: In the Fall? Yeah. I think so, too. It was after a full summer and things immediately got hard and I mean everybody lost their jobs and that was about the time that I, oh, it couldn’t have been over 2 or 3 months after I lost my job as lifeguard that – and, incidentally, Slumber lost his job, too, on the pier – that I saw this little advertisement in the paper, you know, that wanted a tenor singer. I’d already had about 2 or 3 Chautauqua dates [laughs] under my belt and I was a pro, as far as I was concerned, so I answered the ad and, as you know, the boy that was responsible for the ad in the paper was Roy Rogers. [Editor's note: The ad was placed in the September 30, 1931 edition of the Los Angeles Examiner newspaper.]
GRIFFIS: Now, prior to this time, you and Slumber – had you gotten together and done any informal singing, serenading…?
NOLAN: No, I happened to know that his mother – I’d gone to their home and his mother said that she had tried to get him to play the violin when he was a youngster and that he had taken lessons on it. So he got the fiddle out one time while I was at his house and, although he didn’t think he played real good, I thought he did, see? So I remembered that so probably one year later, when we had cause to have a new violin player, I… if I had guts enough to get into the business he did, too, I thought. So I called him up and he joined our group at that time, The Rocky Mountaineers.
GRIFFIS: So we can have it for this tape, would you like to recount your experience of going to see Roy Rogers? I think it is extremely interesting….
NOLAN: I think everybody has told this story about me having been a lifeguard and not wearing shoes, see. I hadn’t had a pair of shoes on, I don’t think, for 2 years when I was working on the beach. I was literally a beach bum. When I wasn’t working, I was on the beach. After I lost the job, I decided I’d better myself get a pair of shoes if I was going up into the big city of Los Angeles and hunt for a job, see, so I bought this pair of cheap shoes and I put them on but I never got to Roy’s with the shoes on. They were hurting too bad. Even my feet were bleeding. So, I just took them off and, after I got off the streetcar, I walked in my bare feet to Roy’s place or to the place where they were holding the auditions at that time. It was at….. I walked up on the porch and there was about eight guys there sitting out on the porch waiting to audition. On the inside, I could hear the music going on inside the house. When it come my turn….There was guys coming in all the time, see, waiting. So it come my turn and there was still some guys out on the porch. I did a few songs and I yodeled. This was the thing that put me over, I think. When Roy heard me yodel, he just stopped everything and he said, “Let’s go no further,” [laugh] because Roy yodeled, too, see.
GRIFFIS: Now where did this take place? Where was the location?
NOLAN: It was out in the 70s. 73rd Street or someplace along there.
GRIFFIS: In Los Angeles?
NOLAN: Los Angeles, yes. Oh, I had one heck of a time finding the place because I’d never been up in the middle of Los Angles. Every time I came to California I headed straight for the beach. [chuckles]
GRIFFIS: Were you impressed with Roy’s singing?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. I hadn’t heard Roy sing until later on that evening because I stayed with them and started rehearsing with them that very day, after they got rid of all the other fellows.
GRIFFIS: Now do you recall who was there at the time you made your first entrance into the Rocky Mountaineers? Now they were officially known then as…?
NOLAN: This was the original Rocky Mountaineers, yes. After I got in the personnel begin to change. They were all very old, it seemed like. They were all old men. The guitar player – Shorty Schwartz was his name – and he was…. Now you’ve got to remember, Roy, I don’t think was 20 yet. I think he was about 17 years old. [Editor's note: Roy was born in 1911. In 1931, he was 20 years old.] I was just gotten into my 21st or 22nd year. I forget. I’d have to go back and figure out how old I was. [Editor's note: In 1931 Bob was 23.] And these fellows were all in their 60s, see. Old grey-haired men. There was a fellow played the 5-string banjo and his hair was snow white - Ebenezer Bowen. [laughs] He was the leader of the group. He was the youngest one outside of Roy. He was in his 40s. [Pause] Now you’re going to have to ask me another question. I’ve lost the train of what I….
GRIFFIS: Do you recall the other names there….?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. There was the fiddle player. I never knew him. Oh, I must have known his last name but
I’ve forgotten it now. We called him - Lefty. He played the violin on his knee. Left-handed. [pause]
GRIFFIS: Do I understand correctly that the Mountaineers, prior to the time that you and Roy joined the group, they’d been mainly just an instrumental group?
NOLAN: Yes. M-hmm.
GRIFFIS: Wasn’t that just a bit unique? I’d never thought of a group being on the radio, and I assumed they’d appeared on the radio, without a vocal group….
NOLAN: No, they wanted to be on the radio, that’s what. They were hunting for singers, see, and they knew that this would get them on the radio, if they did have singers. They had Roy, of course, and he was more or less…. In those days we had the Toby comedian. This was Len, Leonard Slye or Roy Rogers. He was our Toby. You know, the black-up teeth, come the hair scraggly all down, part it in the middle, you know. They didn’t call him the comedian, they just called him the Toby.
GRIFFIS: Now, you and Roy, now would you have had another person that would have joined immediately…?
NOLAN: No, we went on as a duet for quite a long while before we found out that it was our harmony singing was what was counting. We finally got a job over at KFOX in Long Beach. All our requests that came in by mail were for Roy and I to sing, see, so we decided that we’d better get up another one and make it a trio instead of a duet, see. And that’s when I called Slumber because he played the fiddle, too, so this made him a two-thread man, a double thread man.
GRIFFIS: Did Slumber fit in fairly good? Do you feel the three of you have a good sound?
NOLAN: We didn’t have a good sound. No. Because I had to change from …. My voice was real high in those days. I sang tenor, yes.
GRIFFIS: Is that right?
NOLAN: Yes. And what we needed was a baritone and Slumber couldn’t cut it as a baritone so we just switched and he started singing tenor and I sang the baritone and eventually my voice just settled into a straight baritone voice. You’ll notice that my talking voice is much higher than my singing voice.
GRIFFIS: I never heard that before that you would have been a tenor….
NOLAN: Oh, yes, and high, too. My favorite tenor was Eddie Bush of the Biltmore Trio and he sang in falsetto. I could almost reach his notes without going into falsetto.
GRIFFIS: Now you and Roy had been singing together and then you added Slumber. Do you recall whether or not prior to your joining Roy had you written your first song?
NOLAN: Yes, I’d written my first song shortly after I lost my job as a lifeguard. I didn’t know what to do with my time. I had nothing but time on my hands so it was just natural that I had to occupy myself with doing something while I wasn’t hunting for a job and this is what I did – was try to write songs. Of course, my big inspiration then at that time was Jimmie Rodgers, the original Jimmie Rodgers. America’s Blue Yodeler, I think they called him.
GRIFFIS: What was the first song that you wrote?
NOLAN: It was a Jimmie Rodger’s-style song called Away Out There. It was written about my freight train hoboing around the country, see. Evidently, Jimmie Rodgers was a professional hobo, too, before he finally started making records for, I believe, it was RCA Victor.
GRIFFIS: Now, this song Way Out There, was the basis of this in a poem…?
NOLAN: No, it was just a backdrop to… an excuse to do this train whistle yodel that I had written, see. I wrote about 8 short verses and at the end of which I would yodel like Jimmie Rodgers used to do. Jimmie used to write all his own songs and they were just short verses in order for him to yodel, see?
GRIFFIS: I noticed also the name appearing – MacWilliams or something – with Jimmie Rodgers – his sister-in-law or somebody – I’m trying to think of the name that appears with him in an awful lot of his songs. Rodgers and…. Somebody told me at one time that that was his sister-in-law….
NOLAN: I really don’t know, Ken. I never met the man in my life.
GRIFFIS: So, at the time you had joined the group and you and Roy had then brought in Slumber, you had began to form a trio. At this time were you doing a flavoring of western songs mainly or were they just the general run of the mill…?
NOLAN: No, the Rocky Mountaineers - we was strictly what we called in those days “hillbilly”. We still hadn’t gone for the western tunes yet.
GRIFFIS: Now, how long did this group stay together? The Rocky Mountaineers.
NOLAN: I stayed with them personally for about a year and a half and then I could see that we weren’t going to go anywhere with these elderly men and they just didn’t seem to have any ambition to get any better, see. I just didn’t have the power, I guess you would call it, to fire anybody – none of us had - because they were the original group - the old men, see. So if I couldn’t change the personnel of the act, I just quit myself, see.
GRIFFIS: This would have been about what time?
NOLAN: That would be about the middle of 1930.
GRIFFIS: So you would have joined the group about 1929 and stayed until about the middle of 1930. And at the time you left, Roy and Slumber were still there?
NOLAN: Yeah, they were still there.
GRIFFIS: Now did you do most of your performing in the immediate Los Angeles area?
GRIFFIS: You didn’t go outside the Los Angeles area?
NOLAN: No. While I was with the Rocky Mountaineers? No. That’s what I meant. We were so limited with what we did that I just got disgusted with it.
GRIFFIS: Do you remember any other radio other than KFOX that you appeared on?
NOLAN: Oh, yes, we were on quite a few different stations but I can’t remember all the call letters. I think most of them are defunct by now.
GRIFFIS: So, at the time you left the group, this is the time that Tim Spencer would have come in?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. M-hmm
GRIFFIS: So did you go back to the beach?
NOLAN: I went to caddying then. See, I’d known a few of the caddies. They used to hang around my place, my guard stand down at the beach when they weren’t working. I finally got in out of Bel Air. It was a very exclusive country club. It was the tops. I started at the top instead of the bottom. [laughs}
GRIFFIS: About how long was it after you had left the Rocky Mountaineers, Bob, that Roy Rogers would have come looking for you?
NOLAN: Well, it wasn’t too long because Tim was the boy that they got to take my place and where I was disenchanted with the boys not having any ambition, this boy was all ambition, see, so he saw to it that Roy got out from under the load of carrying these old fellas, see? So they broke away, the two of them. Now, wait a minute. How long was it before they finally got rid of Bill Nichols? He didn’t suit them at all, I mean, after Tim come in. Like I say, everybody had to carry their weight or there was no go. So they let Bill Nichols go, too.
GRIFFIS: He and Lloyd teamed up for a little bit, I understand?
NOLAN: Bill Nichols?
NOLAN: Yeah. Slumber.
GRIFFIS: So you had left the group probably in the middle of 1930, would this be about right?
NOLAN: That would be. Somewhere between 1930 and 1931. Yeah.
GRIFFIS: So Roy would have come looking for you. Could we peg that fairly close to a date?
NOLAN: I would say it was sometime in 1931 when they finally got around to – this was Roy and Tim – came out to see me out in West Los Angeles where I was living. [Editor's note: Nolan, Spencer and Slye joined The Texas Outlaws in December of 1933.] They put this proposition to me. They didn’t paint a pretty picture at all. We were gonna have to just go by luck but they wanted me to come with them. They had a few dollars saved up and I had a few. We pooled everything we had. I should say that I went for it. Tim was a good salesman. He could sell you on anything. I went with them. I quit my job at caddying and I was making good money on it, too, out at Bel Air. I still wanted to get back in the business if I could possibly see that we was going to improve our positions. So I went with the boys and we got a place in Hollywood at a boarding house. I think it cost us $7 a week apiece and all our meals. Get this! [laughs] $7 a week, board and room! We rehearsed and we started finagling around going to the studios, trying to get auditions.
GRIFFIS: Now, at this time had you added any other of your songs to this? When the three of you were rehearsing, what were you rehearsing?
NOLAN: We was rehearsing mostly my tunes. Yes. We still had the song Way Out There which we had developed now into 3-part harmony yodel, see, and it was a sensational thing to listen to because we really pepped it up and the rhythm was just frantic, it was so fast. We had developed our yodeling breaks to where we could break real fast, you know, just like trip hammers. It was strictly a gimmick tune but it was so impressive to hear that every time we sang the doggone thing, we just knocked people off their stools.
GRIFFIS: At this point we have only mentioned the one song, Way Out There. Now what other songs…?
NOLAN: We had Tumbling Tumbleweeds. No, it wasn’t Tumbling Tumbleweeds at that time. It was still Tumbling Leaves. I had written the song out in West Los Angeles and also had also finished Cool Water and, oh, what were the songs we had in our audition repertoire? We’d go from fast to slow and then right back into one of these tearing tempo tunes. We had an audition repertoire of about 8 songs that lasted for about 20 minutes, see, and this was our audition. And we never did – at the time that we was accepted – we’d never get through the doggone thing. We’d get to this one song Way Out There and when we finished that, they’d say, “Well, you’re hired!”
GRIFFIS: Had you added Happy Rovin’ Cowboy perhaps?
NOLAN: That was in there, too. That was one of our fast tunes, yeah. I think they were all…yeah…they were all my songs. Every one of them.
GRIFFIS: Now can you reconstruct as best you can – were all of these songs written after you’d come to California?
GRIFFIS: For instance, Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water ….
NOLAN: Yes, they were written…. Tumbling Tumbleweeds was written while I wasn’t with the Rocky Mountaineers. Also, Cool Water - that would be after I was with the…. I wrote an awful lot of stuff while I was caddying, too. Yes.
GRIFFIS: At the time that you had written this Tumbling Tumbleweeds, I understand it was not the original intended song.
NOLAN: No, no. I got the idea from looking out my window one stormy day when there was nobody could play golf, you know. The leaves were all falling off the trees and just hightailing it down the street, you know, so I just thought it would make a good topic for a tune and started working on it. The title of the song was Tumbling Leaves at that time.
GRIFFIS: Was there a reason later on that….?
NOLAN: Oh, yes, it was after the Sons of the Pioneers were – as a group – which is, I guess it wasn’t too long but it seemed like a long time because we worked so long and it seemed so much work went into it before the Sons of the Pioneers were completely formed and we knew that this was the group that we wanted.
GRIFFIS: You think that you could nearly peg that these standards of yours were composed prior to the time that you fellows really formed your first trio, you and Tim and Roy…?
NOLAN: A lot of them were. During this whole period, I would say that I was almost as prolific as what’s this boy that….Rudolph Freml. This man was astounding. He wrote in his lifetime something like thousands of compositions. This meant that he had to write 2-3 songs a day, you know. And I was practically as prolific as that. I don’t think a day ever went by that I either completed a song or had one mostly completed.
GRIFFIS: So you would just sit down there, for instance, in the morning you’d get up and these things seemed to come to you….
NOLAN: Yes. It was not like work at all. Before I sat down I would have an idea for maybe 3 or 4 songs in the back of my head.
GRIFFIS: I think the one phrase you use, pledging their love to the ground….
NOLAN: Yes, this was the line that the professional singers never understood. Even Bing Crosby. When he first recorded it, he could not sing that line because he just didn’t know what it meant because he’d never saw a tumbleweed. He didn’t know what the line meant, see?
GRIFFIS: I’m not sure whether I’ve ever seen one in action….
NOLAN: [eagerly] Let me explain, let me explain….
GRIFFIS: But that’s the most impressive…this is really the key to the song.
NOLAN: Yes it is, because this weed is a diabolical sowing machine. I mean harvest - for sowing seeds. It is built, and its whole cycle of life is built, for spreading its seeds after it forms its seeds. The pods - a mechanic couldn’t develop a seed sower as diabolically perfect as this doggoned machine if you get down with a magnifying glass and look at the thing. See, it’s built in this ball and it’s just like spring wire and as the wind breaks that one stem that it grows on, when the wind breaks it after it gets so dry and all these pods are out on the ends of these curled-up limbs, see, and there’s just one little hole open at the end, to let one seed out at a time, you see, and the stem breaks and the wind takes it off across the desert, bouncing every time it hits the ground, these little pods drop out, one seed at a time, as it goes.
GRIFFIS: Fantastic. I’d never thought of how it worked but I can see what you were trying to say with that phrase….
NOLAN: This is their reproduction dance, so to speak - pledging their love to the ground – as they go rolling off there. This is the way I saw it. The only way I could explain what they were doing.
GRIFFIS: It would have to be someone that has a knowledge of the time and the desert and so forth. I know Bill Ward who is younger than both of us at KLAC, I always bug him to play Sons of the Pioneers songs on the radio station… and they never did – they’re all young guys and they didn’t understand what the Pioneers were singing about. [Fades out until I can’t hear it.] I have to admit, the first time I… driving across Arizona…. Shadows on the Trail, Tumbling Tumbleweeds….. You really had to experience this to really comprehend what the songs are saying.
NOLAN: You see, when the sun goes down on the desert – that big, flat desert, if you’ve got cactus or something like that sticking up, you can see that shadow moving – it’s absolutely traveling across as the sun goes down, the shadow starts getting long, and you can watch it and it just crawls out across the desert.
GRIFFIS: It takes someone like you to see these things and to put them into words.
GRIFFIS: How long do you think that the 3 of you would have practiced before you had your first opportunity… the 3 of you, you and Roy and Tim? You were at the boarding house, how long would you have…?
NOLAN: Oh, we spent about 2 weeks, nothing but practice, morning till night. Then Tim would go out for a couple of hours in the afternoon scouting places for contacts, see. Oh, I don’t know, we had auditions for different people. Although I thought we were excellent, there were people who just didn’t – like there is today, there were people in the profession who just couldn’t see rural music of any kind. It was the lowest thing on the totem pole. It made no difference if you were the most excellent singing group in the world, if you sang those songs you just wasn’t in. So we had to do many an audition for this sort of person, see, under this type of handicap. You had to hit the right person, if you wanted…. I have a strong suspicion that the music world was afraid of us because they knew that we had a built-in audience once they give us a chance to get on the radio. They had to take a back seat to us because there were more country people out there listening than there was sophisticates. [laughs] You could feel it that we were feared and it was hard for us to get a job.
GRIFFIS: What was first group that you were associated with as a trio?
NOLAN: The trio was the Rocky Mountaineers, Slumber and Roy and I.
GRIFFIS: I mean the 3 of you with Tim….
NOLAN: I know our first actual job where we were put on a weekly wage – we went to KFWB. At this time, KFWB was hiring most any group - to name a few, was the Boswell Sisters, the Kingsmen and people like that and these turned out to be big-timers and we was hired about the same time as the Kinsmen and the Boswell Sisters was. We was put on their staff. I think we made something like – the opening wage was $27 a week a man. There was just the 3 of us, see. And, oh, at that time it was a lot of money. Oh, boy! And we was in high class company, the first job that we got and that was KFWB.
GRIFFIS: Did you back up other people?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. Sure. Once you were on the staff of a radio, they had you working all day long.
GRIFFIS: My wife and I once went back and tried to locate the first time the Pioneer Trio were listed on the Radio Guide and it seemed to be sometime in about 1933. Would this be possible?
NOLAN: It would be about that, yes.
GRIFFIS: You would have been on staff then did you join Jack LeFevre and the Texas Outlaws?
NOLAN: Yeah. You see, the Outlaws were on there before we went on the station, see. So that’s where they placed us first, was with Jack LeFevre and the Texas Outlaws. And, although Jack LeFevre and the Texas Outlaws wasn’t on the staff – cuz they didn’t have any singing group and this was KFWB’s long suit – they didn’t like soloists because they had all the soloists they needed but it seemed like everybody was harmony conscious in those days. And that was right, too, because, by golly, when you think of the people that got started just about the time – in 1933 – the singing groups that started coming into being then. I was just trying to think of a few and now I can’t go beyond The Boswell Sisters and The Kingsmen, our own family.
GRIFFIS: Now I don’t know where you’d classify the Beverly Hillbillies in that same classification?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. Sure. Yes.
GRIFFIS: At the time you were with Jack LeFevre and the Texas Outlaws, were you known separately as The Pioneer Trio? Or were you a part of the band? Did they call you The Pioneer Trio?
NOLAN: Yes, they called us The Pioneer Trio in the band. Yes. M-hmm.
GRIFFIS: While you were with Jack LeFevre and the Texas Outlaws do you remember any particular musician that was there at the time that made an impression on you with the Texas Outlaws?
NOLAN: Well, there was a lot of good musicians on the staff, yeah, if I could only think of their names. Eddie Eagan was the organ player – the staff organ player. A fine musician. There was this tall piano player and his… there was a piano-playing duo, a team, and I can’t think of either one of their names now but they were quite popular at that time.
GRIFFIS: Was Hugh Farr with the Texas Outlaws at the time you…?
NOLAN: No, no. Hugh Farr hasn’t come yet…. He and his brother were playing down at Long Beach at this time, during our formative years.
GRIFFIS: Now you were with the Texas Outlaws for approximately how long…?
NOLAN: Oh, not over 6 or 8 months.
GRIFFIS: Then you broke away from them and you remained on staff at KFWB.
NOLAN: Oh, we would have stayed with them. I think KFWB got the idea that we were not in our element so they give us a program by ourself and that’s when we first got the name The Sons of the Pioneers. I think one of the studio - either the announcers or, one of the men around the studio – because they were interested in us and they wanted to see us get ahead because we worked so hard. And they gave us an evening program – one of the prime times – gave us 15 minutes in the evening, see, and they thought up this name for us, The Sons of the Pioneers.
GRIFFIS: Now this is historically important, and that is whether or not you had the title, The Sons of the Pioneers, prior to Hugh Farr joining the group.
NOLAN: Yes, yes.
GRIFFIS: You really think you were called that before Hugh….?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. Sure.
GRIFFIS: Seemed to me that Hugh has indicated and I’ve heard other people make the statement. Of course, you know, everybody had to stretch their imaginations, it’s been so far back, but he seemed to think that the reason for the change of name was the fact that there was an addition to the group and they needed a new name. But I would take your word for it if you seem to recall that the three of you were known as The Sons of the Pioneers….
NOLAN: Yes, on this one program that we had.
GRIFFIS: This was on prime time? About time was this now?
NOLAN: About 7:30 in the evening.
GRIFFIS: Now what kind of mail would you get?
NOLAN: Oh, it was beautiful! Because we broke all the rules. You see, all the hillbilly and cowboy singing groups, they spent most of their time talking, you know, instead of singing. We did nothing but sing. Segue from one tune to another. We did more singing in 15 minutes than any other groups did in an hour at that time. And people would tune us in and freeze. Everything would stop and they’d listen from the time we come on the air until we were through. No eating dinner. If you ate at 7 o’clock, you changed to 7:15 when we got through.
GRIFFIS: Like Amos and Andy fans. They were quite popular. Now do you recall that the 3 of you were just playing guitars? 3 guitars?
NOLAN: No, we only used one guitar. It was strictly singing.
GRIFFIS: One guitar and 3 singers.
NOLAN: And that’s about the time that we sent for the Farr boys because that was just one program too much. Like I say, once we was on staff they had us working all day long and then they give us this program and that’s when we decided we had to have help to carry the load.
GRIFFIS: Do you recall how it came about? Who did the actual contacting of Hugh?
NOLAN: I think Tim because he was handling all the promotion and anything that was done for the improvement of the organization, he saw to it.
GRIFFIS: Had you met the Farr Brothers prior to…?
NOLAN: I’d heard them over the radio. We kept track of all the competition throughout those years. We listened to everybody in order to gauge our own advancement. We heard these two boys and we had to have them. We made up our mind that this was going to be our instrumentation when we decided to expand.
GRIFFIS: As Hugh recalls, he thinks he joined the group shortly after the Long Beach earthquake and I think that was about 1933, as I recall. According to him, they were asked to join the group, which I guess would be historically correct, they were sought out by the Pioneers to join the group.
NOLAN: Yes, we did. We definitely did.
GRIFFIS: And then, at the time they joined the group you then made up the original group of the Pioneers which would have been Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer and Roy Rogers. Was Roy calling himself Leonard Slye still back in those days…?
NOLAN: Yes. It was in the late 30s when he got the name Roy Rogers. All the time he was with the Pioneers, his name was Leonard Slye.
GRIFFIS: So now we have worked up to the time the Farr Brothers had joined you. Do you recall where you did any recording as a trio prior to the Farr Brother joining you?
NOLAN: I don’t think so. No. No, I’m pretty sure we didn’t because….
GRIFFIS: And you did none with the Rocky Mountaineers.
NOLAN: No, no recordings with the Rocky Mountaineers at all. But it was about this time, this same year, that we got on the staff at KFWB – everything happened right there in that year from our start as a trio to where, during that same year, we augmented it with the Farr boys, first Hugh and then his brother, Karl. We had a little trouble convincing Karl because they, evidently, had a pretty good job down at their station in Long Beach. Karl was a little… I don’t know who put the clincher on it, whether it was Hugh or Tim but….
GRIFFIS: They joined and that made up your original group. That would have been in 1933.
NOLAN: Yeah. See, I remember one thing. When Hugh came, we went to the station manager at the time and told him we had to get some help. Most of us had…. All three of us, at one time or another, there was constantly one of us had a sore throat because we was working so hard. [pause] I forget now what I was gonna ….
GRIFFIS: You brought them in, then, to augment the singing portion.
NOLAN: Yeah. M-hmm.
GRIFFIS: Once they had joined you and you had formed your original group, during this period of time, I know of the name the Gold Star Rangers being used. What was the purpose for that?
NOLAN: That was just for a sponsor that we had, see. That was about the same time, too. We was on all the staff programs and then we had this sponsor who paid the bill for an hour and then we had our 15 minute program in the evening and any specials during the week, we was on all, like the variety hours that they would have for all the staff. They had a program that lasted for 2 hours once. I remember Johnny Murray had the… hmm… what was the name of his program? It was a big bread - a bakery company that sponsored it. He took that program to another station and then KFWB formed the same thing with all their staff members and extra acts like Oscar and Elmer, the Kingsmen, The Sons of the Pioneers. We had…. Remember NePa, the old Indian remedy fella? He was one on the staff. Jane Jones, the big, big husky woman? Oh, how she could belt a tune! And we had a couple of opera stars on there. Alice Pringle? And, I forget all the people that was on there.
GRIFFIS: It was quite an aggregation of people at one time….
NOLAN: Oh, gosh, yeah. And the variety, too, we had.
GRIFFIS: Did you get paid any more for appearing on all the different programs?
NOLAN: No, because once you were on staff you’re – except that we got paid more when Farley – because he paid on top of our staff pay. We got paid by Farley, see? Then we was really coining money. [laughs] And this was in the deep, dark Depression.
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GRIFFIS: So we’ll pick up here on Part Two of the Bob Nolan interview. Bob, I believe it was possibly not long after Hugh and Karl had joined your group that you made a series of transcriptions. They were referred to as Standard Transcriptions. Do you recall when and where they were made?
NOLAN: Yes, we was still at KFWB, of course, and it was the manager of KFWB’s brain child since he had all these groups who were making, incidentally, making national names for themselves, even though we were on a local broadcasting station. We didn’t have a network … at all. So the transcriptions were just coming into their own now – a brand new idea of radio broadcasting where you put them on transcription and get them…. in fact, all over the world these transcriptions were sent. Gerald King was the manager and he had the Kingsmen and the Boswell Sisters and the Sons of the Pioneers all about the same time, transcribe all their repertoire, their whole library, and he offered each one of us I think it was 20% in the business - 20% of our own library. And he would foot the bill for all the cost of production and distribution.
GRIFFIS: How close do you peg the year that you might have made these?
NOLAN: It was summertime, 1934 or ’35.
GRIFFIS: Where did you record them….?
NOLAN: It was down on Western Avenue…. It was the same studio that we was recording for the recording company we were working for at that time which I believe was Decca. It was a freelance recording studio is what it was but everybody rented it….
GRIFFIS: How many would you have knocked down in a day?
NOLAN: Oh, gosh, we worked for, I would imagine, 2 or 3 months on this goldarned thing…. I guess from 10 or 20 a day. No, maybe not as many as 20. That was an awful lot…. We had the studio for over 2 hours and we’d….
GRIFFIS: I guess back in those days….
NOLAN: Well, it was because there wasn’t enough studios to go around. There was so many artists in Los Angeles and recording studios were at a premium. You were lucky if you could get a studio for 2 hours.
GRIFFIS: These were previously rehearsed songs. You knew them….?
NOLAN: We didn’t have to rehearse them. They were our own library. We had them all…You just walked in and however long we had the studio for, we kept singing steady until our time was up.
GRIFFIS: Do you recall how these were distributed across the United States, in other words, did KFWB…?
NOLAN: No, this was an individual project on the owner of, er, the manager himself. He didn’t even own the station. He had a few bucks saved up and he got the idea of investing it in transcriptions.
GRIFFIS: Gerry King?
NOLAN: Gerry King. Incidentally, he’s a millionaire over that one thing. Once he had recorded all these 3 groups – the Sons of the Pioneers, the Boswell Sisters and the Kingsmen, he never… oh, yes he did. He recorded Oscar and Elmer. It was 4. He recorded all their back stuff. They saved all their scripts, you know, and put them on transcription. After he got these 4 groups all on wax, he never recorded another thing, he just opened up his company for about 4 years; he distributed these…. All the groups had a huge library. I know the Kingsmen could….. We had the biggest library. I mean the Sons of the Pioneers had a repertoire of something like between 3 and 4 thousand songs.
GRIFFIS: That many that you could do without… in other words, you could call on….?
NOLAN: That’s right. We had an immense library. All the time we were rehearsing, we were always doing research, too, for new songs. [pause] Now, let’s see, where was I?
GRIFFIS: Gerry King….
NOLAN: Oh yes, Gerry King. He gave us a percentage of our own recordings, see. And then, after he got us on wax - oh, he was a finagler like everybody was in that day and age – he came to us and he said, “Oh, these things are not going as good [laughs] as I thought they were, see? How about me giving you a flat sum, say, about $600 apiece, see, a man?” That was more money that we’d seen for a long time in one hunk in a long time, you know, because it was still in the Depression. So we went for it. $600 for 5 men, that was $3,000, see? A lot of money, but we found out later that the five of us could have been [laughs] independently wealthy if we’d stuck with the 20%. Isn’t that something?
GRIFFIS: I guess it’s not too unusual in that day but at the same time he must have known how well it was going…
NOLAN: Oh, certainly he did.
GRIFFIS: …and that was the purpose for renegotiation. It wasn’t in your favor….
NOLAN: No. And to this day I blame Tim for it because he was supposed to be so smart and he was, see. I’ve often brought it up to him, “Why wasn’t you smart enough to oversee – or tell - what this guy was putting to us!”
GRIFFIS: Well, I guess that’s true but, as you pointed out, when you talk to a man in those days, $600 was a lot of money.
NOLAN: You bet your life! And to boys who hadn’t in our past - in the history of our lives - we were all poor country boys, for gosh sakes, we never saw that much money and we never dreamed that we’d ever see that much money all in one hunk.
GRIFFIS: And of course you took his word that things weren’t good and you thought, perhaps we’d better take what we can.
NOLAN: Yes. It was a brand new proposition – transcriptions – at that time. It had the ring of truth in it.
GRIFFIS: Did you go back after the first 3 or 4-month period and do transcriptions for him later on?
NOLAN: No, that was all we did for him. We found out in a very short time that we had had the big britches put to us.
GRIFFIS: You had not really made your first recordings for any company prior to the transcriptions, is that correct?
NOLAN: That’s right. That’s the first recordings we ever did was the Gerald King….
GRIFFIS: What do you recall about your first contact by a recording company, Bob…what company came to you and…?
NOLAN: Yes, the old Brunswick, wasn’t it? I forget… The old Brunswick organization. Oh, he was a darling guy, too, this old man that was the R & I man, I guess you’d call it, out here for Brunswick. But that didn’t last long. They were a losing proposition at the time that we went to work for them. So we didn’t work over a year for Brunswick and a new company came along by the name of Decca and this is how they got into the business is that they bought out Brunswick, see?
GRIFFIS: Now do you recall the year you may have made your first Decca recordings in relationship to the Standard Transcriptions? Or what period of time had elapsed?
NOLAN: No, I think we went to work for another company before we went to work for Decca. I think it was Victor for about 3 years, I believe, and then when our contract was up with them, Decca. They ….to go under his label.
GRIFFIS: You think you went to Brunswick then you’d have gone on the Victor label then gone back to Decca?
NOLAN: M-hmm and finally from Decca back to Victor.
GRIFFIS: Now do you recall where you made the first Brunswick recording? Was it made here in Los Angeles?
NOLAN: It was made here in Los Angeles. I don’t know at what studio. It was entirely a different studio than we ever worked on anything else.
GRIFFIS: What would you guess – realizing it was a long time ago – but how would you place it in relation to what period of time had elapsed from the time you did the transcriptions? Would you say you went to Brunswick within a year? Two years?
NOLAN: Yes, I’d say it was shortly after we got through with our transcribed library.
GRIFFIS: Then you could be talking about the first recordings for Brunswick being about 1936?
NOLAN: Yes. M-hmm.
GRIFFIS: At this time, too, I believe you had an opportunity to go with Columbia Pictures for some movies.
NOLAN: Not until about 1939, I’m pretty sure, or was that when we…?
GRIFFIS: Here’s the only point of reference. And, of course, all I can do is repeat to you what others have told me and they could be mistaken, too. According to both Roy and Lloyd, Roy made the first one or two pictures with Columbia before he went to Republic. So, if Roy left… I think he signed with Republic in September of 1937….
NOLAN: All right. It could be. Things happened so fast to us once they started to roll. I mean I’ve lost track of a lot of those things – their exact time that they happened because they all happened at the same time.
GRIFFIS: I think you do a remarkable job. I’m amazed at what you fellows do recall because I can’t remember much of what happened last week. Now about this same time, you had gone back to the Centennial in Texas. I think you were invited by….
NOLAN: Yes. I’m sure of that because the Texas Centennial was 1936.
GRIFFIS: Now, after you came back from there, then I believe Lloyd Perryman joined your group.
NOLAN: Yes. M-hmm. That’s when Roy went out to Republic.
GRIFFIS: You were quite impressed with Lloyd’s voice.
NOLAN: Oh, yes. He had a wonderful voice. And I guess he was even younger than Roy at that time. [Editor's note: Lloyd was 19 at the time.] He had this sweet tenor voice. Well, we was badly in need of a tenor at that time. Tim’s voice had lowered considerably during the years and he couldn’t sing tenor any more so we had to switch him to lead and get a tenor and here was this high tenor voice that we wasn’t going to have any trouble with at all. And he could go clean to the sky and he had quite a range, too, well over two octaves.
GRIFFIS: Would you think that it is correct to say that Tim did not have a strong voice?
NOLAN: We were - at the time that we went on the staff of KFWB - a lot of our voices was so overworked that it actually harmed Tim’s voice cuz he was singing high tenor, see, and naturally his voice was affected more than Roy’s or mine from the overwork and he just never got back into it again. Once his voice was strained so much from working so long hours and when you’re a staff musician you can’t get accompaniment to change key from the original that the music is written in, you know. A staff musician will not transpose the original music so you’ve got to sing it even if it’s 4 tones too high for you, you’ve still got to sing it in the original key.
GRIFFIS: You have the basis of a new group, now you’ve added Lloyd Perryman and Tim actually was with the group, it would appear that at one time, you could have had a quartette. You had yourself and Tim and Roy and Lloyd all at one time for a short period of time. And then Roy left the group and then it become you and Tim and Lloyd, really, as the trio and all this time, Hugh Farr could fill in on bass. Were you impressed with Hugh’s bass singing?
NOLAN: Oh, Hugh was singing bass long before Roy left the group. We was singing quartet with Hugh’s voice. Yes, we couldn’t let that voice go to waste and we’d quit singing trio entirely and made it all quartet, I think. Most of it. There was very few songs in our library that Hugh couldn’t sing bass to but those that he couldn’t – or didn’t lend themselves to bass - was the only time we ever sang trio after Hugh started singing bass which was quite early in the group after he came to us.
GRIFFIS: He was a fine singer, too.
NOLAN: Yeah. But the only thing that worried us was when he was singing bass, he couldn’t play his fiddle and we wanted that violin in there so bad. That was probably the main reason why we ever sang a trio after he started singing bass. We wanted the violin more than we wanted his…. Because he was such an outstanding fiddle player. He always wanted to call himself the fiddle player. He never liked to say he was playing the violin. He’d say, “My fiddle.”
GRIFFIS: Then you had Karl’s guitar. He was a fine guitarist.
NOLAN: Oh yes, I wanted to tell you about Karl. Hugh came with us first. We got Hugh through the station itself. I mean the station manager said yes, he would put him on staff and pay his wages, see, but when we asked for Karl, he said, “No. I give you one man and hired one man for you.” He says, “I can’t afford to.” Well, the gist of it was that we all got together and took money out of our wages and hired Karl. And this is the only way we could get him to come up was to pay him more. He was earning more money than we were! [laughs] I think we was earning something like $47 a week and out of our money – the four of us – even his own money – he hated to do it. We took $10 out of each one of our paychecks and paid Karl $40. Now we were only making – we were making less money, see? [laughs] The thing that brought him in was that he was making more money than us and we were paying him out of our pockets.
GRIFFIS: Lloyd joins the group, Roy leaves to go to Republic Pictures, and Ray Whitley entered to represent you in your negotiations with Columbia Pictures.
NOLAN: Not right away. I think Republic and Tim had a falling out over something that brought Ray in. I’m not sure about this. Have you interviewed Ray yet? [Editor's note: A slip of the tongue. Bob meant to say Columbia.]
GRIFFIS: Yes. He’s a fine person.
NOLAN: He’s probably got a better memory than I have. I’m pretty sure it was that. I think Tim was still handling all the negotiations and everything until he had a falling out. Oh, he sued Columbia! [laughs] because they used a song of his or something in one of their pictures without paying him, see? And they had an understanding that he was giving them the song and he said, “No, you had the wrong understanding.” He said, “I’m giving you nothing.” He sued them and he got paid for his song but he also got fired. [laughs]
GRIFFIS: During this period of time now, 1935-39, you were basically performing locally and in pictures?
GRIFFIS: Now did you do much composing during this period of time?
NOLAN: When we went with Roy you mean?
GRIFFIS: I’ll say 1935-1940. Was this a very productive period for you and your songs?
NOLAN: Oh, yes, yes. Productive for me even before Roy left us because I was doing all the music for our series of pictures for Columbia. We were making 9 pictures a year and from 4-6 songs for each picture.
GRIFFIS: Did you do most of those yourself?
NOLAN: I did all of them. [Editor's note: He wrote all of the songs in the Columbia Starrett pictures from Cattle Raiders (1938) to Spoilers of the Range (1939) when Tim rejoined the Sons of the Pioneers. Except for one song (One More Hand on the Range), Bob wrote all the songs for these 11 pictures.]
GRIFFIS: Now did they pay you? Did you realize anything particularly out of it?
NOLAN: I didn’t realize a thing for some reason or another. It was in the contract. This is where Tim fell out with Columbia was over the music. They took some of his songs, see. I understood that this was the package deal that I had to write the songs. And this is me – dumb me – I didn’t think nothing of it all. I thought it went with the package.
GRIFFIS: That’s fantastic. Today that would be worth a fortune, wouldn’t it?
NOLAN: Oh, yeah. I know it.
GRIFFIS: Did you retain the rights to the songs?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. That’s one thing that I did.
GRIFFIS: I’m surprised they didn’t talk you out of that.
NOLAN: I am, too. When I look back at the guy that was our immediate boss, Irving Briskin, he never let a trick get by him, boy. Yeah, I don’t see how he slipped up there! [laughs]
GRIFFIS: During this period were you still following the same theme as most of your songs because I’m not familiar with the order of your songs. Do you remember any of the hit songs from the 1935-1939 era that you would have composed for the movies?
NOLAN: Uh, golly whiz, there was so many of them, I can’t. I’m looking at one of the right now. Love Song of the Waterfall was one of the songs that we did in a picture although this was written with two other men.
GRIFFIS: How about Chant of the Wanderer?
NOLAN: Yes, that was mine.
GRIFFIS: So you were in pictures and performing locally and I would say probably about this time (1935-1940) era you were probably about the biggest name in the Los Angeles area.
NOLAN: That’s right, yes, and working everything from radio to stage to pictures. We just had a tremendous career about that time. It was really too much. I mean, they piled all of it on us all at once.
GRIFFIS: What about the general feeling of the group – as a group would you say you got along fairly good – was there the normal amount of…?
NOLAN: Yes, when work piles up on you like that, there’s bound to be tempers get away every once in awhile. This was one thing that made me realize that we were working too hard was that we begin not get along as well with each other, we didn’t enjoy our work the way we did before we were working too hard.
GRIFFIS: Knowing Hugh Farr pretty well for some time. He’s a little bit of a temperamental person.
GRIFFIS: Karl was a rather easy-going person.
NOLAN: Oh Karl was, yeah. Nothing ever bothered him. I think the tempers were all with Tim and Hugh and I. Tim was a feisty little one, too.
GRIFFIS: Now, Lloyd was fairly easy-going, wasn’t he?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. Lloyd and Karl and…. Let’s see, Pat Brady was with us then….
GRIFFIS: Pat came in. Technically, if you want to be real historically correct about this, Pat was the replacement for Roy and we think of Lloyd as being Roy’s replacement but technically – although probably voice-wise he was - but physically when Roy left, that’s the time Pat Brady came in.
NOLAN: That’s right. After Roy left, it was awfully hard to replace him. It was just natural that we’d have to get another man because we were 5 until Roy left and we were 6 after that.
GRIFFIS: Was Pat much of a singer?
NOLAN: No, but the combination of being a comedian and a good bass man, a bass instrument man. It was a little deviation from the instrumentation that we’d had so far.
GRIFFIS: We come up now to about the beginning of World War II and I believe this is about the time you lost both Pat and Lloyd. Now, am I correct that Ken Carson – was he the first replacement?
NOLAN: For Lloyd.
GRIFFIS: What brought him to your attention?
NOLAN: Ken had been trying for years to get into the Sons of the Pioneers. Like Lloyd. He’d always wanted to be one of the Sons of the Pioneers. Same way with Tommy Doss. He eventually wanted to be a member of the Sons of the Pioneers and they made it. They kept themselves alive in our memory by periodically asking for a job. So that when we needed a man, why he was the natural one we’d turn to.
GRIFFIS: Where was Ken Carson performing at this time?
NOLAN: Ken Carson had done first with the Beverly Hillbillies, then with the Arizona Ranch Boys and that was a good group but he still wanted to become one of the Sons of the Pioneers. I don’t know whether the Ranch Boys were – no, I think Ken was doing solos then, about that time.
GRIFFIS: Now he did not record with you prior – now he would have joined you in about 1943 and all the recording had ceased at this time.
NOLAN: Yeah. M-hmm. It seems like…. Yeah, somewheres between 42 and 43, I think.
GRIFFIS: I don’t know if you recall whether or not you did any recording with him prior to the end of the war….
NOLAN: Oh, yes, we were doing a transcribed program for Dr. Pepper and that was an account we’d had for quite awhile and he started recording those.
GRIFFIS: Now were these made before…? Now here’s a thing that confuses me and I’d like to get it ironed out in my mind. On some of these transcriptions, there’s a Harry McMahan or somebody, now what series of programs were those? Were they the Dr. Pepper series?
NOLAN: Yes, but this is later on. This thing ran for a long time, ran through 2 producers. We had a different producer before we had Harry McMahan. We had, one time we had stars along with us, like Dick Foran was with the earlier transcribed Dr. Pepper show. And later we took it all by ourselves.
GRIFFIS: I’ve never heard any of the Foran things. Were you background for him?
NOLAN: Yes. No, he was just our – we had a ranch. We were supposed to be the personnel of the ranch and he was the boss. He did the solos and we did the group stuff and we backed him up.
GRIFFIS: Now these would have started about 1942?
NOLAN: Golly now, I….
GRIFFIS: Would this have been during the war years?
NOLAN: No, this would have been before the war when Dick Foran was with us.
GRIFFIS: You mean you had a Dr. Pepper series prior to Lloyd leaving you?
NOLAN: Yes, that’s right.
GRIFFIS: Of course, I know that on some of these recordings Lloyd and Ken Carson are on them, too. You had both of them on there.
NOLAN: Yes, we was with Dr. Pepper for an awful long time.
GRIFFIS: Would you guess that it went completely through the war years?
GRIFFIS: Would we be safe in saying this thing lasted through 1940-48? Would it run that long?
NOLAN: Oh, yi-yi.
GRIFFIS: It’s kind of hard to pin.
NOLAN: I can’t pinpoint it now.
GRIFFIS: So during this time, also, after Lloyd had come back, you probably did your really first big series of records featuring some of your songs like Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water. That was called One Man’s, that’s not what it’s called. What did they call it? Your album. A group of them. They came out in one little package as I recall. Some kind of favorites. There is a title called some kind of Western Favorites or something. And this was that series of Cowboy Camp Meetin’, Tumbling Tumbleweeds with the big orchestra. Now would those have been made immediately after the war?
NOLAN: I think so, I really do.
GRIFFIS: Were you particularly pleased with the style of Ken Carson’s singing? Did you think he was gonna ever make it with your group?
NOLAN: I knew we’d have to be satisfied somewhere along the line because we wasn’t going to get exactly what we wanted because by this time everybody was working and we had to take the ones that we could get. Ken was a fine singer but we just had a little trouble blending. The voice wasn’t what we was used to blending with.
GRIFFIS: He takes the high lead on Cowboy Camp Meetin’? He’s the high voice you hear, right?
GRIFFIS: And also during this time, Pat Brady went in service and Shug Fisher joined your group.
NOLAN: M-hmm. That’s right.
GRIFFIS: Now he was mainly again was just for comedy?
NOLAN: That’s right, of course, he played pretty fair bass fiddle along with it.
GRIFFIS: So after the war we come to the 1948-49 period, you were making tours around the country and so forth. I believe in 1949, you decided to hang it up. Would you like to tell us what thoughts went through your mind? What really went through your mind at the time you decided you were going to get out?
NOLAN: Well, I think the cycle had started to repeat itself like when I quit the…. It did in my mind, anyhow, that we wasn’t going nowhere. In fact, there was no place to go but down and I didn’t want to slip. We’d gone as far as we could, I felt. But I proved myself wrong because the boys have stayed right there, though.
GRIFFIS: Did you feel, though, at this time… Both you and Tim, I believe, retired about the same time…
NOLAN: But we was getting old by now and still working very hard. At the time that I quit I was home exactly 9 days that year. 9 days! And I was beginning to - the traveling, constant on the go - was beginning to get to me. One thing and another, I figured, well, I can write music for the rest of my life and I can’t sing for the rest of my life so I better quit now.
GRIFFIS: Also, I think you want to mention that it was no longer fun….
NOLAN: That’s right. It begin to be a real drag.
GRIFFIS: It wasn’t difficult for you to make the decision?
NOLAN: No, no. [laughs] I just…. Of course, I had to go to the boys and be sure that they knew what was going to happen – that I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to retire – and for them to start looking for a boy to take my place. Of course, we didn’t have to go very far. Tommy Doss was right next door.
GRIFFIS: Tell us about your first encounter with Tommy and your impressions of his singing.
NOLAN: Well, Tommy, bless his heart, his voice was so close to mine that every job he got he was accused of copying my voice and he wasn’t. This was his voice and he couldn’t do anything about it, see! [laughs] I was real pleased when I did decide to retire that he was right there to take the job.
GRIFFIS: How do you compare the values of your two voices…?
NOLAN: Tommy has a stronger voice than mine, although it blends. It wasn’t strong enough to cause any standout. I mean, he could still blend just as…. The blend was right there with Tommy but his voice, I think, was stronger than mine. It seemed to be heavier on certain ranges.
GRIFFIS: I found it really interesting – your comment that at times you had to really listen rather closely to….
NOLAN: Yes. Although his voice was heavier than mine, he started working on his placement of voice in order to retain the same blend that we had and he could, by golly, when he started to soften his voice down, I’d have to hear maybe 8 bars before I could know whether it was him recording or a recording of my voice.
GRIFFIS: Well, just to sort of finish up and go back and recount your years with the Pioneers, would you say that it is the happenstance of a grouping together of splendid voices and also the fact that Bob Nolan came along and furnished the springboard? Would the Pioneers have - I’m gonna put you on a spot – would the Pioneers have had a little more difficult time achieving the fame that they have if they hadn’t had the Nolan /Spencer compositions as a basis for their group?
NOLAN: I think so, Ken. It was just a lucky combination of everything we had going for us. Once we got on the road up, it just took off; it was no struggle at all. It was just getting our foot in the door. But I think you’re right. The Pioneers, as they were, would not have been the same group without this combination of the new songs coming in fresh from Tim and myself. This was part of the Pioneers. The Pioneers made the songs and the songs made the Sons of the Pioneers.
GRIFFIS: I would like to hear you to put on tape, Bob, what you told me earlier about the placement of yourself in relation to the other boys.
NOLAN: Yes, well, we was…. This was almost natural for us to do that because we strove for perfection and in order to get our blend, we…. From time to time we would change our position around the microphone so we could hear each other. In other words, we would put the lead voice in the middle and the other two on each side of him and try it that way and we’d switch from the lead to the offside, to the left side and the baritone to the right side and then we’d shift them. I was always on the outside, you see, and finally I took the middle and this was where we finally ended up and that was because they could hear my voice. What they were actually doing was using my voice as a soundboard for their voices and they could hear me better from the outside and hearing my voice would now reach both of them - equidistance. We noticed it right away that we had a much better blend when we recorded with me standing in the middle and I could see it in the boys’ eyes that they were listening more to me than they were to their own voice, see, and this is the way they could hear me better and form the blend.
GRIFFIS: I never thought about listening to each other. That’s how little I know about it but I never thought of them listening to another voice as they sang.
NOLAN: Oh, yes, and the minute I took my position between the boys I could tell. Oh, it was just…. You could hear that big round pear-shaped tone just all-enveloping our heads. It was there right away and the boys noticed it, too. I could hear from both ears. They had only one ear to listen out of.
GRIFFIS: In most of your recordings, did you use 3 mikes?
NOLAN: No, no. That’s the way we had it - with one mike. We were striving for one voice. Naturally we took one mike.
GRIFFIS: Before you left the group, Ken Curtis came on the scene. Did you…?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. Let’s see now. Tim just had to retire as an active performer in the group because his voice was getting very, very tired. I’ll tell you. It was a real chore for him to sing for any length of time so we got Ken to take his place and Tim then devoted his full time to managing and negotiating.
GRIFFIS: Were you impressed with Ken Curtis’ voice?
NOLAN: A new voice never did impress me. It was always a chore to get back to that blend again. It meant more work but Ken had a wonderful voice. True - he was just like a pitch pipe.
GRIFFIS: Now how about Dale Warren? What is your impression of Dale Warren’s voice?
NOLAN: Dales’ voice has been changing down through the recent…. Well, ever since he’s been…When he started, his voice was rather thin and then it started taking on body and it’s been getting heavier and heavier ever since. I don’t know. I like his voice now better than when he first came with the group.
GRIFFIS: Just a final question. I understand that you still devote a good deal of your time to writing. Could you tell us what you do and when you do it?
NOLAN: Well, this is a funny thing. Somewhere along the line I heard of some writer who always worked in bed and I tried it about 7 or 8 years ago and it worked fine for me if I did it in the morning instead of in the evening. You see, I used to go to bed and read and I tried to make that my working hours. But I wake up now in the morning religiously at 5 o’clock and start writing before I get up until 7:30 or 8 o’clock. I’ll spend about 3 hours working in bed. It just works fine. My mind seems to be sharper and I can….
GRIFFIS: How many songs will you write in a week?
NOLAN: I work differently than I did when I was younger. I used to get on a song and I wouldn’t quit until that song was finished. Now I may have as many as a dozen different projects going at the same time.
GRIFFIS: You start a song and go back to it?
NOLAN: Yes. M-hmm. I find if I have numerous things - a variety - 3 or 4 things going at the same time, you know, it … [pauses]
GRIFFIS: What is the theme that you’re following…?
NOLAN: [interrupts] I’m thinking right now. What happens as you grow older and you work longer, you do start to run a little dry. You find yourself going in circles and once you start doing that you’ve either got to quit or do something else, see. So, in order to get in 3 hours a time every day, I have to stop some things I’m doing and the minute I find myself repeating or going in a circle, so to speak, I have to drop that and maybe pick up something else. And that’s why, like I say, I may have a dozen things I can pick up on any place and start work on.
GRIFFIS: What about the themes of your general songs that you’re writing now?
NOLAN: I have an awful time finding good inspirational topics. They’re awfully hard. They come very hard now. Where it used to… my gosh, I could just close my eyes and reach up in the air and bring one down. I can’t do that any more.
GRIFFIS: Are they of a western flavor?
NOLAN: No, I don’t try to handicap myself or… “handicap” is the word - because once you start and say, “I’m not going to do anything but westerns”, that’s a handicap. You just open up your mind and do anything that you think is good, that comes to you.
GRIFFIS: Would any of your songs approach what you would call “pop”?
NOLAN: Oh, yes, sure. I’ve got one now that I think no singer could possibly do besides Andy Williams. It’s strictly “pop”.
GRIFFIS: Do you have people listening to these and you try to get them …?
NOLAN: No, I like to live with them for awhile and I mean when I say “live with them”, I mean from six months to a year and six months, to find out if they’re good. If they wear well for a year then I could risk and go and face anybody to tell them that here is something they need and convince them, I think.
GRIFFIS: Have you tried this over the last few years?
NOLAN: No, outside my religious things, I’ve been a little reticent to do it on account of the music that is selling today. I mean it’s strictly for the teenagers. They’re doing the biggest part of the buying, see, their records and the tapes and stuff …. Elvis Presley and The Beatles and….
GRIFFIS: Are you impressed with The Beatles’ music?
NOLAN: I had to listen for quite awhile before I could see whether they had and they did have…. Some of their stuff is just absolutely great. Here’s an odd thing and I hope it doesn’t get back to the boy himself. But this Burt Bacharach has still got to sell me. I know his music is good or he couldn’t go as far as he is but I still can’t give him “Excellent”.
GRIFFIS: What about Mancini?
NOLAN: Too sugary. I mean it was fine but nowadays the trend is… I feel something in the good music that’s coming along today. I mean things like Softly as I Leave You. I mean, oh, you can look into the depths of these songs and see and feel the heart of the man that wrote it. And even in our Country, the music like By the Time I Reach Phoenix [sic]. When you look into these lyrics, it’s just like looking into the heart of a real artistic writer. And you feel it as you hear it the way he felt when he wrote it, see? Now this is good stuff.
Softly as I Leave You
(Hal Shaper / Antonio Devita / Giorgio Calabrese)
Softly, I will leave you softly
For my heart would break if you should wake and see me go
So I leave you softly, long before you miss me
Long before your arms can beg me stay
For one more hour or one more day
After all the years, I can’t bear the tears to fall
So, softly as I leave you there
(softly, long before you kiss me)
(long before your arms can beg me stay)
(for one more hour) or one more day
After all the years, I can’t bear the tears to fall
So, softly as I leave you there
As I leave I you there
As I leave I you there
By the Time I Get to Phoenix
By the time I get to Phoenix she'll
GRIFFIS: Would you say that’s true of some of Stuart Hamblen’s things?
NOLAN: Oh, yes, and especially his sacred music. Absolutely beautiful.
GRIFFIS: Do you ever listen to music yourself? Do you ever put on records? Do you find yourself listening to any kind of music at all?
NOLAN: Records? Oh, [laughs] I have a beautiful set my daughter gave me and I hardly ever use it.
GRIFFIS: Do you have a desire to hear Pioneer music? Do you ever put on a record and listen to your old songs?
NOLAN: No, the old stuff - I’ve heard it and I don’t want to hear it again. I‘d like to hear something new. That’s why I get a little disenchanted nowadays with the music that is prevalent. I’m not saying that all of it’s this way - where there’s nothing to listen to but a beat. Now when you get to that where there’s….. This is the question they ask themselves and this is not music. They say, “Where is the beat?” And that’s all you’re hearing is nothing but the beat. They get maybe a line of lyrics. There’s nobody writing good lyrics except a very few and they’re having the devil to pay getting the music before the public because the only thing that’s selling…. Now Kristofferson – his story material is just marvelous.
GRIFFIS: He’s exceptional. Is there any performer today that impresses you?
NOLAN: “Performer”, you mean voice?
GRIFFIS: Yeah, in the Country field.
NOLAN: No, I’ve still got the same favorites I’ve had for years. Eddie Arnold. The fact that he’s going more for pop worries me a little bit.
GRIFFIS: I was always a great Tommy Duncan fan. I don’t know whether you ever cared much for Tommy Duncan.
NOLAN: Tommy, yeah, but it’s entirely a different style. You couldn’t look at Tommy’s voice and say, “This is a real beautiful voice.” It wasn’t. When you heard Tommy sing, you heard the personality of the man and that’s all you heard and that was part of it….
GRIFFIS: One last question. Will there ever be a return to our music?
NOLAN: I think so, I think so. I think it’ll all go in cycles. Before it gets to us you’ll be warned ahead of time. It’ll pick up with…. You will go back to the old-fashioned… You’ll hear some songs that will probably come out of the Gay 90s and they’ll start picking them up there and the cycle will begin. Songs like…hmmm…. Yeah, they might even go back as far as Carrie Jacobs Bond or something like that. Start picking up those old love songs of hers. When they start singing When You and I Were Young, Maggie, you’ll know the cycle has started again.
GRIFFIS: Well, let’s hope so because one of the greatest eras is the Pioneer era and the music of Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. I’m awaiting that return because that was my music and….
NOLAN: I think that will be the kick-off for it when they go for those things that came out in the 90s like, I’d say, When You and I Were Young, Maggie. That was the first big popular tune, you know, out of that era.
GRIFFIS: Bob, we want to thank you very much. It’s been extremely nice of you to take the time. I know it’s quite a drag to be able to have to sit down go back so many years but it’s been very gracious of you to take the time. We certainly want to wish you the very best for the future and hope that sometime in the future we’ll begin to hear some new Bob Wills, er, Bob Nolan compositions come on the market and we’re certainly looking forward to that.
NOLAN: Well, Bob Wills wrote a few, too, you know. [laughs] Yes, I hope so, Ken. Gosh, I do, with all my heart and soul. I’d like to see our type of music come back, updated, of course. Which it would have to be, you see.
GRIFFIS: Thank you so much and we hope we will be able to get to see you gain some time and see what’s new in the music of Bob Nolan.
NOLAN: From time to time, why I think, from here on out, we’ll get together.
GRIFFIS: Thanks so much, Bob.
Another undated bit on the same taped recording (sound poor – I could hardly hear Ken’s questions)
NOLAN: I know when I wrote the tune and the original date. Drifting along with the leaves. Tumbling Leaves.
GRIFFIS: Was that a few years before you wrote Tumbling Tumbleweeds? Was it quite some time before you…?
NOLAN: Oh, I didn’t copyright it until 1934 but I wrote it in 1930.
GRIFFIS: Tumbling Tumbleweeds?
NOLAN: Tumbling Tumbling Leaves. The Tumbling Leaves. I’m sorry. That was the title.
GRIFFIS: That was in 1930.
GRIFFIS: But then you copyright Tumbling Tumbleweeds in 1934?
GRIFFIS: Now was it written as a poem or did it have music with it?
NOLAN: Yes. I wrote Tumbling Leaves, words and music. Let’s see. I never even thought of making it Tumbling Tumbleweeds. But Tumbling Leaves. I was just sitting in my little cottage out in West Los Angeles. My girl, Mickey, was working at the Old Soldier’s Home and I was working up in the hills in Bel Air Country Club, caddying. It was on a Sunday afternoon when I started to work on this song and Mickey was in the kitchen. Oh, she was going to do a cuisine for our Sunday evening dinner. Have I ever told you? Oh, yes, I did, too! I decided I was going to tell Snuff Garrett the same thing. He wants me to write out the music to this, I mean the whole thing in my handwriting – the notes and the music and the words….. Instead of going through all that, I’d like to give him… did I explain it to you? Then you know about it. That’s where it was written – out in West Los Angeles sometime in the year 1930. I think that was the same time of the year that the boys were trying to get me to come back….
GRIFFIS: Tumbling Leaves would have the same melody that you …?
NOLAN: Same melody. Only one note was changed. Instead of drifting along with the tumbling leaves it was along it was drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds. Well, I had to do something if I was going to change it from leaves to tumbleweeds but I had to because everybody that requested the doggone song, see we sang it and My God the requests coming in for Tumbling Leaves, see. “Sing that Tumbling Weeds song.” I didn’t think of it first. Our damn engineer thought of it. Why don’t you change it to Tumbling Tumbleweeds?
GRIFFIS: Did you ever copyright Tumbling Leaves? Did you ever think of copyrighting it?
NOLAN: No, no. It wasn’t really copyrighted until 1934.
GRIFFIS: As Tumbling Tumbleweeds.