Photo Courtesy of M. Ryland.
I can't recall if I had already told you about this one, but years back Hi told me a great story about Bob that "fleshes out" what's most commonly known about his inspiration for "Tumbling Tumbleweeds:"
Hi Busse, Western Music Association Hall of Famer and creator of The Frontiersmen (the first group to appear live with Roy Rogers when he was assigned that name by Republic), was walking down a street in El Paso, Texas with his friend Bob Nolan. Bob had been silent for a while...not unusual for him. Out of the blue, he suddenly said to Hi, "did I ever tell you the story of how I came to write 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds' ?" Hi said he hadn't, and as they walked Bob related it.
It did happen during his time as a caddy, which we already know. One day he had been engaged to work with a moneyed group at the country club, but coming bad weather forced a cancellation. This depressed Bob, as the group would have been good tippers for him. As he stood at his apartment window glumly looking out, he noticed the patterns the fallen leaves were making as they whirled around in the wind, and he began to get sufficiently inspired to at least use the time productively. He put together a poem called "Tumbling Leaves" which served as the basis for "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."
What isn't generally known is, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story!" Bob actually turned "Tumbling Leaves" into a song that the Pioneer Trio performed on the air and at appearances. Once at a private party they were playing, they performed the song, whereupon a drunk standing nearby began pestering them to "play that 'tumbleweeds' song again!!" Bob and the guys initially laughed it off, but when they began having listeners to their radio show also ask for the 'tumbleweeds' song, he figured "oh well, why not?" The public has spoken!
Aware of the Nolan situation, Hi always maintained he was in the club in Los Angeles one evening listening to Ole Rasmussen's band when Tommy Doss began singing. Hi spotted the obvious similarity in vocal tone to Nolan, and offered to record a demo with Doss since Hi & The Frontiersmen were set to cut some sides in the studio the following day. Doss had a cold the day of the recording but seemed to find being represented to the Pioneers to be worth his coming in to try the vocal.
Hi took the recording of "Blue Prairie" (with himself and the band changing their own vocal sound to imitate the Pioneers to enhance the effect) and showed it to Roy Rogers, who played the record eight times in a row. Roy said to Hi "you can't release this, you know!" Hi answered, "of course...it was just done to show you...will you let the guys know about him?" It was Roy who alerted Perryman, who dispatched Hugh Farr to the club to hear Doss.
"Blue Prairie" by Tommy Doss with Hi Busse and the Plainsmen