September 24, 1976 Jimmy Wakely interviews Bob Nolan
The following transcription is of the first part of an interview of Bob Nolan that Jimmy Wakely started on September 26, 1976, after the celebration at the Palladium that followed the dedicating of the Sons of the Pioneers’ star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The remainder of the interview has been lost. (Transcribed by Elizabeth Drake McDonald from the Calin Coburn Collection.)
WAKELY: Well, here we are in our den once more and this time we’re taping the last in a long line of interviews pertaining to the great Sons of the Pioneers show at the Palladium a few days, a few nights ago. And we’ve had a lot of stars – practically everybody. Now we’re going to introduce and interview the man who wrote the greatest songs for the Sons of the Pioneers without which the Sons of the Pioneers might have had a different kind of a career. He not only sang in it but he wrote Tumbleweeds and Cool Water. Today we’re going to talk about his other songs – those many songs that he wrote with such great lyrical and musical impact upon the world of western music. The one and only Bob Nolan. Hi, Bob.
NOLAN: Jim, it is one heck of a pleasure to be with you here this afternoon. And I hope that we can get this thing – the real essence of what happened about two days ago, down there at the Palladium.
WAKELY: You were out in the front watching the show, then later you were on the stage. But when you were out front, you didn’t dream there was a cowboy by the name of Jimmy Wakely back there getting all the color, did you?
NOLAN: (laughs) No, I did not.
WAKELY: Well, I did. Today I played you all of the interviews before we started this one here. It was quite nice to hear all those voices, wasn’t it?
NOLAN: It certainly was. I sat there in that audience and I had a continual lump in my throat all the way through that thing. Four hours of it!
WAKELY: I’ve never been to a show where there was more manifested love and affection and kindness. It seems like everybody was just so happy to be there.
NOLAN: M-hmm. It was wonderful.
WAKELY: And, Bob, you know you have written many words. You have a way of putting words that people understand and finding phrases that people have not used before. The late Fred Rose once told me that people often called him a creator because he wrote great songs. He said, “I’m not a creator. God created all things; I’m an assembler. I assemble words already created for me.” And I wanted to get your comment on this.
NOLAN: Uh-huh. He’s so right. I mean, I work awfully hard with my lyrics to make one word sell the next, sell the next, and so on until they pile up and you get give the impact that you want to give to your lyrics.
WAKELY: Bob Nolan is still writing songs to this day. Don’t you write a song a day or try to?
NOLAN: Oh, no. I’m not near as prolific as I used to be when I was younger. I work about 3 hours a day and sometimes it will take me over a month or maybe six months. If I’m not satisfied with a tune, I either finish it or I will dump it if it’s still going at the end of six months.
WAKELY: Did you ever come up with a song that just rolled off in a few minutes?
NOLAN: Oh, mercifully heavens, yes. You start on a thing and before you get up out of the chair, it’s all written. Tumbling Tumbleweeds was one of those. It just wrote itself. Once I started, it just seemed to be there. That’s all.
WAKELY: I’ve heard that Tumbling Tumbleweeds was not originally Tumbling Tumbleweeds ….
NOLAN: No, no. The original song was written about leaves and then – the leaves in Autumn, you know, blowing down the street and what not – and then, well, it was the audience themselves – when we sang the song first over the radio – the first Pioneer trio, Roy Rogers and Tim Spencer and myself – the audience said, “Sing that Tumbling Weeds song,” see? They misinterpreted the words. The Tumbling Leaves, see, and they said Tumbling Weeds. And it just gave me an idea that what was the matter with changing it to Tumbling Weeds?
WAKELY: Oh, you mean that you actually did perform it then as Tumbling Leaves?
NOLAN: Oh, yes. We had it going for months before we decided that we’d have to change it to Tumbling Tumbleweeds because the people kept requesting that Tumbling Weed song, see. No songs had ever been written about a tumbleweed and there was a perfect opening for us.
WAKELY: My first acquaintance with the Sons of the Pioneers was when you were with Charlie Starrett at Columbia Pictures and your transcriptions come out on Standard Transcriptions and the little radio station that Johnny Bond and I were working for in Oklahoma City – we weren’t together then, we were working on our own separate shows on KTOK there - we started digging the Sons of the Pioneers and your songs. Then we went out and bought a songbook of yours which was published by a company in Portland Oregon by a company called Cross and Winge and in the book and on your transcriptions was a song that was to draw me to the Sons of the Pioneers and specifically to Bob Nolan, the songwriter, because you had done such a great job writing a song called Love Song of the Waterfall.
NOLAN: M-hmm. I was quite proud of that at that time. I’m telling you, it was….. You see, the song was given to me by two fellows that started to write it and couldn’t get beyond the first line, see. So they decided to give it to me and let me finish the song. So, I just - this was another one. With the start of that first line that these two boys had written, this just rolled out and I was through with it in 20 minutes.
WAKELY: Well, that’s nice, Bob. And you know, I’ve got a little surprise for you. Throughout the years, or since we have built a studio in our home, I’ve recorded time and time again and I’ve got over 300 masters that have never been released. Like you write songs and put them away in a trunk?
NOLAN: Yeah. (chuckles)
WAKELY: I’ve got record masters that have never been released. Now this one is not what I call a record master that I’m not going to spring on you, it is a result of a rehearsal. I used to play the lounge circuit in Las Vegas – all the clubs back in the 50s Las Vegas, Reno and Tahoe, Nevada, and my son and daughter had just graduated high school and they joined the act. And Charlie Hodge was my piano player but a fantastic vocal group singer having been with the Foggy River Boys on the old Red Foley Show. He was a fine tenor singer.
So we teamed up and created a vocal group for my show. And we did our rehearsals here at the house and taped the rehearsals just to play it back and see how we sounded. And we recorded and I found it in a reel the other day of tape out takes – what you call it out takes - and I decided to play this for you today. This is an attempt at doing the modern vocal harmony much like the Modernaires used to do
NOLAN: Yes, that close harmony. Right. Yeah.
WAKELY: Four-way harmony. Now Charlie Hodge, in case you don’t know who he is – after being with me 6 years, he joined Elvis Presley – and he’s the little guy that hands him his guitar and they call him the head of the Memphis Mafia.
NOLAN: No! (laughs) That’s a….yeah…
WAKELY: Charlie’s got a lifetime job there with Elvis.
NOLAN: … good name for him.
WAKELY: But he always comes out to see me when he and Elvis come out here to California. So I’m going to play that rehearsal record for you of Charlie Hodge, Linda and Johnny Wakely and their pappy, Jimmy Wakely - that’s me - and we’re gonna sing with just one guitar - typical vocal rehearsal – your great song - and this will start our interview today because it’s typically Bob Nolan writing, The Love Song of the Waterfall.
(The song plays while the conversation continues in the background - but indecipherable.)
WAKELY: (Whispering.) Stop the machine. ‘Course, we gotta change the tapes here. Don’t we have to change, Mama?