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Wayne Austin (Shrope)

(The 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 Fred 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 Remember Me 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 Carolina.


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 recordings.

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 Western music.

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.


 

Wayne Austin's personal reflections on Bob Nolan's unrecorded songs:

 

If You are Willing

Pali Wind

Have You?

The Wonder of it All

Empty Arms / Autumn Reverie

Bronco Pal


A 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

Redwood Trees

The Relative Man

Shadow on the Wall

Shootin' My Way Through Town

Sir Tumbleweed

Sky Ball Paint

Song of the Prairie

A Summer Night's Rain

Stray Wind

That Cloud

Things are Never What They Seem

Three Friends have I

To Will Rogers

Tumbling Leaves

Wandering

Way Out There

Why Don't It Rain?