background music is Wayne singing his own composition, Sierra Timber Wind,
which he said was strongly influenced by Bob Nolan's work.)
I am a retired teacher. I was the chair
of the speech/communication department at DeAnza College in Cupertino,
California, for about 25 years. I retired in 1991 at age 60, and I have been
performing western music since. In my singing and songwriting , I have been
profoundly influenced by the great songs of Bob Nolan. My song Lonesome Range
mourns the loss of Bob Nolan, along with Gene and Roy and Rex, etc.
As a child I loved the movies of the singing cowboys. My favorites were always
Roy Rogers with Bob Nolan and The Sons of the Pioneers. I was born in 1931 just
before the group was formed. As far back as I can remember, I loved the songs
from their recordings and movies. I was a great fan of Bob Nolan himself, and I
always wondered why he didn't become a star as Roy Rogers had done. I still love
Bob's songs and his singing style.
I have sung other kinds of music. In college I sang in musicals and in opera and
concert. I was the first student at Cal State Sacramento to be presented in a
solo vocal recital, and I was cast in the leading role in their first opera
production. But western music has always held a special place in my heart. And I
love to sing songs like those of Bob Nolan because they were written for a
"legit" voice, and I can accompany myself on the guitar (for other kinds of
music I need an orchestra or piano accompaniment). I don't have much interest in
the contemporary western songs with their "twangy" country and/or folk style.
The style of Bob Nolan's songs fits my voice and style.
After I retired in 1991, I got together with some friends and formed a trio, The
Sierra Sidekicks. We planned to sing western music for local organizations. It
had not occurred to me to make an album for distribution until I met
Goodwin, who serves as executive producer for re-issues of the recordings of Roy
Rogers, Bob Nolan, and The Songs of the Pioneers, at Rex Allen Days in 1999.
Fred encouraged me to record a CD of my versions of the songs of the singing
cowboys and offered to assist me in making the album. The album is entitled The
Singing Cowboys. Since then, I have produced two more albums: By the Old San
Joaquin and By Special Request. The albums have been praised by critics and
played by disc jockeys around the world. I continue to be both surprised by and
grateful for the responses I have had.
In 2001, I volunteered my assistance in honoring and preserving the Bob Nolan
legacy by utilizing my years of experience as an actor and theatrical director
in reading and recording some of his fine song lyrics as poetry. Bob said that
in writing a song the idea came first, then the lyrics and then the melody. So,
essentially his approach was that of a poet.
Most song lyrics are not very interesting without the music, but Bob Nolan’s
poetic lyrics are a significant exception. They are fascinating to read both
silently and aloud. It is the depth of feeling in his poetry that ultimately
places his above all other writers of Western songs (although all of his songs
are not specifically Western). And the more I study his poetry, the more I
appreciate it. There is so much depth and so many levels of meaning to be found.
Nolan's movie songs were written for specific assignments. But the songs that he
wrote for himself are of special interest in getting to know him and his music.
I have always especially appreciated the philosophical base and depth in Bob's
writing. And it seems to me that his songs became deeper and more metaphysical
in nature through the years. Here are some of the recurring themes: Nature can
take on human characteristics and can communicate with us (Wind), God is found
in nature (The Touch of God’s Hand), God cares for all things great and small
(He Walks with the Wild and the Lonely), and peace can be found in being at one
with nature and God (My Mistress, the Desert). Also it seems to me that his idea
of the afterlife (heaven) was rather like that found in Asian philosophy--we
become one with the universe (nature). There are often suggestions--especially
in songs like
Wandering--of a belief in reincarnation. There are also
suggestions that love and spirit are eternal as in
Pali Wind. These themes give
his songs some of what I think of as the "Nolan style."
From the body of Bob Nolan's work, I get a picture of someone who has high
ideals about love, but finds it difficult to find this ideal. He often seems to
be a somewhat lonely man who finds peace (if not happiness) in a close
relationship with nature (in which God is found).
The songs and poems of Bob Nolan can have great personal and contemporary
significance. I am intrigued with
which Bob wrote reflecting his
thoughts on the loss of lives in WWII. Those lyrics are as timely and moving now
as they were then.
Shadow on the Wall
is also of particular interest at this
time, and it is a wonderful song. I'm also very moved by
The Wonder of It All.
My program begins with the song, Wandering, in which Bob Nolan wrote of “this
wandering heart of mine” and of a desire to know “all the places, warm hearts,
and smiling faces” and ends with My Mistress, the Desert, which offers a final
consummation. In interpreting the selections, I utilized the actor’s art of
projection in an attempt to recreate within myself the feelings and thoughts of
the writer. In doing so, I have felt closer to Bob Nolan than ever before--even
closer than I have felt in singing his songs. In the readings, I sought to
create a verbal portrait of Bob Nolan using his own words about his experiences,
feelings, and observations.
I hope that this program of songs and poems will offer the listener another way
of understanding, and appreciating this complex, fascinating, and immensely
talented man. The program is entitled
Wandering—the Songs and Poems of Bob
Nolan and is in the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North
Wayne Austin (Shrope) was born in Duke,
Oklahoma, where his grandfather had been a cowboy on the Old Chisholm Trail and
participated in the Oklahoma Land Rush. From him, young Wayne learned to love
the lore and the songs of the cowboys. As a youngster, Wayne was a fan of the
silver screen cowboys and the western music written for their movies and
He earned his BA and MA degrees in speech and drama from Sacramento State
University in Sacramento, California. In 1991, he took an early retirement from
his position as Speech-Communication chair at De Anza College in Cupertino,
California. Since his retirement, he has made numerous appearances in the
Western states as a singer, speaker, and entertainer on concert series, at civic
celebrations, and for special events. These include featured appearances at the
Gene Autry Museum in Gene Autry, Oklahoma, and in Los Angeles, California; Rex
Allen Days in Willcox, Arizona; the Rhymers’ Rodeer in Minden, Nevada; and
showcase spots at the annual Western Music Festival in Tucson, Arizona. In 1999,
he produced the entertainment and commemorative CD for the official California
Sesquicentennial Wagon Train. His programs include songs, poems and stories.
His first solo album as a singer is a tribute to The Singing Cowboys. His second
album is entitled By the Old San Joaquin and features several of his original
western songs. His third album, Wayne Austin: By Special Request, is a
compilation containing favorites from the first two albums plus some previously
unreleased recordings including the singles that made the international charts
of recordings played by disc jockeys worldwide. He was inducted into the Lincoln
Western Music Roundup Hall of Honor (Lincoln, California) on September 28, 2003,
and The Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame (Anita, Iowa) on September 5, 2005,
for his contributions to preserving and perpetuating traditional country and
Two serious lung diseases, side effects from what seemed like influenza, forced him to retire from performing in 2003. Wayne loved to meet / greet the
folks who are interested in his music. Sadly, he passed away on May 30, 2008.
Austin's personal reflections on Bob Nolan's unrecorded songs:
If You are Willing
The Wonder of it All
Empty Arms / Autumn
Selection of Wayne Austin's Recitations of Bob Nolan's songs as poetry:
Apple Squeezin' Time
At the Rainbow's End
Half Way 'Round the World
Heaven is My Island
In the Wind of Time
Lonely Little Room
My Mistress, the Desert
Night Falls on the Prairie
Old Home Town
One More Ride
The Relative Man
Shadow on the Wall
Shootin' My Way Through Town
Sky Ball Paint
Song of the Prairie
A Summer Night's Rain
Things are Never What They Seem
Three Friends have I
To Will Rogers
Way Out There
Why Don't It Rain?