Katie Lee (Oct. 23, 1919 - Nov. 1, 2017)
Jerome, Arizona December 14, 2006
"My feelings about Bob have never altered, even tho' I gave up singing about cowboys quite awhile ago for the purpose of saving my river and its canyons. My latest effort is a reprint and complete overhaul of "All My Rivers are Gone" with a new title, fotos, index, design, and Afterword, "40 Years Later". In March 2007 I will be releasing a DVD of my Glen Canyon years – 120 fotos with voice and song: "Love Song to Glen Canyon". At age 87, this should be about my last hurrah! But you never know. I'm a stubborn ol' broad."
Twenty-six years ago, shortly after learning of Bob Nolan's death, Katie Lee wrote a letter to Bill Bowen which is reprinted here with her permission. "Please feel free to use it however it does the most good," she told us just before Christmas. "My feelings about Bob have never altered...."
June 21, 1980
What can I say – what do you say when a monument bites the dust? When your quiet, secret place becomes a mob scene? When a dam snuffs out the life of a great river? When a hero falls or a tradition dies? Do you say, well, there it goes, or it was time, nothing stays the same, all life is change? Or maybe we are so saddened we say, just to give us some hope, what's the use crying, another will come along, even when we know in our hearts that isn't possible.
Like it isn't possible even in the slightest sense that anyone can ever replace Bob Nolan in the song history of the West. He departs after, long after the era he wrote about and loved disappeared forever in a flurry of tract houses, pastel glass monuments-to-nothing and asphalt. It is truly hard for me to realize we'll never have another song about what's gone, or even what's left by Bob Nolan. I was raised on those songs and I intend to take them with me when I go, meaning that I'll be singing them for at least that long.
It isn't hard to tell a Bob Nolan song from most other attempts at western lore. His ring true with a genuine love for the subject. You can tell they didn't come from some guy behind a desk on 42nd Street dreaming about the last phony Western movie he saw and writing a set of lyrics with music to prove it. Most of my adolescent years were spent in blissful ignorance of that fact that Nolan's songs weren't folk songs – all the cowboys sang them, that was proof enough.
When I became older and wiser, more sophisticated at the gentle art of placing things in their proper categories and their proper place him history, I had a bit of trouble separating Tumbling Tumbleweeds from I Ride an Old Paint in my head. Admittedly, on paper they looked too far apart chronologically to make a lot of sense (and we researchers, by damn, we have to make sense!) because they both ring true, you see. The only thing that changed was the musical form. I note as well that one almost always sings the verses to Bob's songs – they aren't just something stuck there by a 42nd Streeter to adhere to a musical form of the early 20th century.
When you called yesterday to give me the sad news I realized how much greater my loss was than a lot of folks who loved Bob Nolan and still love his music. I'm a Tucsonian and there have been many places and times, had I made the effort, to know and communicate with him. Recently, when you so kindly gave him my book and sent it to me to autograph, then had the even kinder heart to call and tell me how much he liked it and that he was going to write and tell me so, I missed another opportunity, my last. Too late. Yet, I am so pleased to know through you that he cried when he finished it. That is something I'll always revere from someone who felt the same about "our West" and scorned the misrepresentation of our music in the term "Country-Western" (which is neither of either, but City-Eastern) as much as I.
Still there's another side, and not to be taken lightly. Bob Nolan is as real and alive and "Western-thinking" to me today as he ever was. I just figured he'd never leave the scene. And you know something? He never will.
My sincere condolences to you and those who knew him best. Lonely but free I'll be found,
A partial list of Katie Lee's books & CDs:
10,000 Goddam Cattle
All My Rivers are Gone
Glen Canyon Betrayed
Colorado River Songs (CD)
Glen Canyon River Journeys (CD)
Katydid Books & Music
PO Box 395
Jerome, AZ 86331