Elisabeth Grace Foley
I think the first Bob Nolan song I learned was “A Cowboy Has To Sing.” When I was eleven years old or so, my family got a set of Roy Rogers movies on home video, and my younger siblings and I memorized all the songs and used to sing through our repertoire on car trips. We never attempted to yodel, however. I guess we knew better than to try.
I always enjoyed the musical numbers in the movies even back then. By the time I rediscovered B-Westerns later in my teens, I’d become more seriously interested in music, and was immediately hooked on the Sons of the Pioneers. I’d taken some singing lessons and started singing with a choir, so I was impressed by their vocal technique and beautiful blend of harmony. I’ve listened a little bit to other Western groups of their era, but I’ve never heard anybody who could match the Pioneers, especially in the amount of expression and feeling they could achieve. My favorite recordings are from the pre-war Classic Sons of the Pioneers. I love Lloyd Perryman’s voice—I could go on listening to his solos indefinitely.
Of course it’s hard to pick favorites, but if I had to choose my favorite Nolan songs I’d probably say “Tumbleweed Trail,” “Chant of the Wanderer” and “Trail Dreamin’.” Initially I couldn’t understand why I was so drawn to “Tumbleweed Trail,” since at the first casual encounter I’d labeled it a ‘sad’ song, and I’m usually not keen on sad songs. After listening to it again, though, I realized it was much more subtle than that—the music, the lyrics, the ending on a hopeful note, all form a poignant blend of melancholy and optimism that I’ve recognized in a number of Nolan songs.
Listening to the Sons of the Pioneers has almost certainly influenced my own writing in different ways. To me, the songs of Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer are like the poetry to accompany the prose of classic Western fiction. Though I’m not a poet or songwriter, there are certain lyricists whose work makes me sit up and pay attention to how they choose and arrange words to best capture their meaning, and Bob Nolan is one of those. And I really took to heart what Bob said Hemingway taught him about editing and re-editing until you find exactly the right word to express what you want to say. It’s something that has always lurked in the back of my mind when I’m working.
As a matter of fact, I came upon Western fiction through the B-Westerns. I started reading Zane Grey after learning that Roy Rogers’ early film The Border Legion (a.k.a. West of the Badlands) was based (very, very loosely, I find) on one of Grey’s novels. And then I found Louis L’Amour, B.M. Bower, Max Brand, and more. I had been writing stories myself for practically my whole life, and I’d always loved history, and had recently become more keenly interested in both. All these elements came together at the right time to help me really establish my identity as a historical fiction writer, with a particular bent toward Westerns.
My book, “The Ranch Next Door”, came about more or less by accident. When I read the list of lost songs, that one title caught my eye, and I remember thinking that it sounded like a good title for a story. For some reason it stuck in my head. I kept coming back to it—I couldn’t help thinking about what kind of story it would be and what it would be about. The pieces started coming together practically by themselves—two ranches, side by side, but with something that separated them so effectively that their near neighbors might as well not have existed. A feud, of course! From there it was an easy step to the classic cattleman vs. sheep rancher conflict, and then to the romance that threatens to break the long silence. And eventually I just had to write it.