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Jim Kleist


NB: Kactus Jim Kleist passed away on Dec. 29, 2012. He will be sadly missed.


The late Ken Griffis entrusted Jim Kleist with his entire collection of print and non-print materials. Watch this page for more information for fans and historians. The song on this page, Stan Jones' "Grand Canyon", is from the new CD "The Ken Griffis Memorial Edition" featuring songs from the soundtrack of Sons of the Pioneers TV program that was never aired. The soloist is usually the great Ken Curtis.


Transcriptions of Ken Griffis' interviews of the Sons of the Pioneers:

November 1, 1968 Ken Curtis

January 2, 1972 Bob Nolan, Lloyd Perryman and Tim Spencer at Stuart Hamblen's home.

January 12, 1972 Bob Nolan in his Studio City home.




The Ken Griffis Memorial Edition CD

Liner notes by O. J. Sikes

        Ken Griffis did more than anyone else to record the history of the Sons of the Pioneers with his landmark book, HEAR MY SONG: The Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers, first published in 1974. For the project, he interviewed dozens of celebrities and people who worked behind-the-scenes during western music’s Golden Era. The interviewees included all members of the Sons of the Pioneers through the 1970s, and Ken re-interviewed some of them again, and others, for later editions of his book. In the process, he became close to luminaries like Roy Rogers, who often asked Ken to receive awards in his name when Roy couldn’t get to an awards ceremony, and Bob Nolan, western music’s most widely recognized composer. His research, and that of his wife Nora, contributed immensely to documenting the broader history of western music as well.

        Not only did Ken and Nora keep notes, they kept recordings, both interviews and music, the latter including radio transcriptions and, in some cases, TV broadcasts that otherwise might have been lost. This CD, featuring Ken Curtis, draws from that collection. In 1951, the Sons of the Pioneers hosted a radio show called The Lucky-U Ranch. The group featured a vocal trio of Lloyd Perryman (the group’s leader), Tommy Doss (who had replaced Bob Nolan when Nolan left the touring group in 1949) and Ken Curtis. Curtis was the lead singer and had replaced Tim Spencer in 1949. Previously, he had been a singing cowboy star in the movies. Years later, he was to become “Festus” on the TV series, Gunsmoke.

        In February 1953, the Pioneers decided to leave the show but Curtis preferred to stay behind and host a new show called simply The Lucky-U, dropping the word, Ranch. Some of the old Ranch crew stayed with Ken and the new show, e.g. Shug Fisher played bass and sang novelty songs, Frankie Messina played accordion and Betty Taylor sang. The new trio, “The Ranch Hands,” consisted of Curtis with Rex Dennis and Buddy Dooley. While Ken Curtis sings all of the solos on the songs presented here, Dooley and Dennis accompany him on most selections, e.g. “Chant of the Wanderer” & “A Cowboy Has to Sing.” You’ll also hear Frankie’s accordion and some fine fiddle work by Chuck Huerta on many songs, e.g. “Happy Cowboy.”

        Between 1953 and 1955, the Lucky-U trio filmed a series of programs for TV titled Song Stories of the West. Unfortunately, the series never aired and the video images have deteriorated to the point that copies have not been made. But Ken and Nora managed to lift the soundtracks from those old TV tapes and you’ll hear some of that music on this CD. Better still, Tommy Doss and Lloyd Perryman were invited back to appear on some of those TV shows, and many listeners will agree that the selections featuring these three gentlemen, while focusing on Curtis, are the real gems here. You’ll hear them clearly on “Grand Canyon” and “The Old High Lonesome,” but they appear on others as well.

        The educated ear might be able to detect a fuller sound in Ken’s voice on some selections than what you have become used to, listening to the RCA Victor recordings. This is due to a process they called “Sweetening” which involved having the singer overdub his own voice, singing his lines exactly the way he sang them the first time (as opposed to singing harmony with himself as some artists do today). Whether you can detect it or not you’ll surely appreciate the talent and the music – all of it! You are holding a rare treasure in your hands, one that was almost lost. So enjoy it! (O.J. Sikes)


Track List for the Ken Griffis Memorial Edition CD

01. Chant of the Wanderer (Bob Nolan)

02. Old Pioneer (Tim Spencer)

03. A Cowboy has to Sing (Bob Nolan)

04. Cowpoke (Stan Jones)

05. Rollin' Dust (Stan Jones)

06. Open Range Ahead (Bob Nolan)

07. The Old High Lonesome (Stan Jones)

08. Old Forgotten Trails  (Bob Nolan)

09. Echoes from the Hills (Bob Nolan)

10. The Chisholm Trail (traditional)

11. Move Along, Lazy Cattle (Bob Nolan)

12. Serenade of the Cowboy

13. The Touch of God's Hand (Bob Nolan)

14. This ain't the Same Old Range (Bob Nolan)

15. Bound for the Rio Grande (Bob Nolan)

16. At the Rainbow's End (Bob Nolan)

17. A Summer Night's Rain (Bob Nolan)

18. Happy (Roving) Cowboy (Bob Nolan)

19. Grand Canyon (Stan Jones)

20. Song of the Trail (Stan Jones)

21. The Mystery of His Way (Bob Nolan)

22. Stars of the West

23. When the Prairie Sun says Good Morning (Bob Nolan)


Song Stories of the West (featuring Ken Curtis and the Ranch Hands)


        "It is obvious these artists took this project seriously. They, or someone has spent much time creating the vocal and instrumental mood for each song, and the singers have worked hard to compliment what the composer envisioned the song should sound. Hopefully many will hear it for the first time and have the ability to appreciate it for what it is, and for those of us who grew up listening to these songs, a nostalgic return to an earlier, sweeter time, when this music was 'King'".

(Jack Hannah of the Sons of the San Joaquin)


Liner Notes by OJ Sikes

        "Ken Curtis, a native westerner (from Colorado), became a singing cowboy star in B-western movies for Columbia Pictures in 1945. His screen career was temporarily interrupted when Gene Autry moved from Republic Studios to Columbia, and the studio ceased production on Ken’s series. But in 1949, Ken joined the Sons of the Pioneers, just in time to record “Riders in the Sky (a Cowboy Legend)” and “Room Full of Roses.” He soloed on the latter, and it became a big hit. Interestingly, the song was composed by Tim Spencer, the man Ken replaced in the Sons of the Pioneers.
        "Before long, the Pioneers found themselves hosting a musical radio show called “The Lucky-U Ranch.” Ken was called upon frequently to sing solos and to host the show, sharing the hosting chores with Lloyd Perryman. After a successful run, the Pioneers decided to leave the show early in 1953, but Curtis stayed behind with the supporting cast and crew to film a series of TV shows. These programs were to be called Song Stories of the West. Unfortunately, the series never aired, but Ken kept copies of the tapes and in later years they were passed on to Ken’s friend, historian Ken Griffis. He, in turn, gave them to Kactus Jim Kleist. These tapes of TV soundtrack material form the basis for this CD.
        "To fill the void left by the departing Sons of the Pioneers, Ken formed a trio with two other fine vocalists, Rex Dennis and Buddy Dooley. Dooley, in particular, was no stranger to western music and the music of the Sons of the Pioneers, the kind of music you’ll hear on this album. He had recorded with western notables like Wesley and Marilyn Tuttle, Johnny Bond and others, and he had recently been a member of the musical group, The Roy Rogers Riders, appearing in Roy’s last three films.
        "On this album, Ken Curtis sings the solos and lead, Buddy Dooley sings bass and Rex Dennis sings tenor. Their three voices blend beautifully in western harmony. Accordionist Frankie Messina and bassist/comedian Shug Fisher stayed on with the new show, and violinist Chuck Huerta joined them to provide some outstanding instrumental support.
        "If the music of Ken Curtis is new to you, this CD is sure to make you a fan. And in case you weren’t already aware of it, there’s a companion CD titled The Ken Griffis Memorial Edition, featuring western music by the same performers, from the same source. (O.J. Sikes, host of Western Music Time)



Track List for Song Stories of the West

01. On the Rhythm Range (Bob Nolan)

02. Tumbleweed Trail (Bob Nolan)

03. Old Trail (Glenn Spencer)

04. Timber (Tim Spencer)

05. Trail Dust (Andy Parker)

06. Trail Herdin' Cowboy (Bob Nolan)

07. Trail Dreamin' (Bob Nolan)

08. Dusty Skies (Cindy Walker)

09. Press Along to the Big Corral (Traditional)

10. Following' the Sun All Day (Bob Nolan)

11. I Follow the Stream (Bob Nolan)

12. Yippi Yi Yippi Yo (GLenn Spencer)

13. Sky Ball Paint (Bob Nolan)

14. Blue Prairie (Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan)

15. Roll On (The Cowboy's Dream) (Traditional)

16. Lie Low, Little Dogies (Tim Spencer)

17. When it's Sunrise on the Prairie (Bob Morgan)

18. Round-up Time is Over (Bob Nolan)

19. When Pay Day Rolls Around (Bob Nolan)

20. Rocky Roads (Bob Nolan)

21. Song of the Prairie (Bob Nolan)

22. The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma (Tim Spencer)

23. Lord, You Made the Cowboy Happy (Bob Nolan)