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Mel McPhee

Edmonton, Alberta

My enthusiasm for "western" music stems from the original Sons of the Pioneers radio broadcasts I first heard as a youngster in the Dirty Thirties and Tumbling Tumbleweeds was the song that all of us were thrilled by and, of course, I tried to sing.

I kinda lost track of the Pioneers later, especially during the War years which had taken us to many lands. And then the business of trying to earn a living afterwards in a number of different areas seemed to occupy more work time than pleasure time. With retirement came a number of trips, one of which was to the Tucson area in March of 1987 where I discovered that the present day Sons of the Pioneers were playing at a nearby ranch. Well, I had to attend and, my wife who was not really a western music fan, came along. We enjoyed the evening immensely and their music took me back in time to another day and time that had been somewhat dimmed in memory. That was the start of a hobby to which I've now become addicted - Pioneer music.

On our return to Canada, I started searching for their old albums and any information which might be available, trying to bridge a gap of some 40 years absence of "Pioneer" material. Surprisingly, a few of their albums graced the record store shelves and, on one, came upon the John Edwards Memorial Foundation name and that of Ken Griffis. Eventually, contact was made with Ken and soon I had several of his recordings and most importantly, his book, Hear My Song, which to me is a Bible and, of this date, pretty well thumbed.

After extensive playing of the records I'd obtained, many of which were from 1934 to about 1966, I came to the conclusion that I would have to return to Tucson to compare today's group with those of the past. Which I did in March of 1988, accompanied by my brother this time. Again, it was a great evening, excellent harmony, exceptional talent and certainly worth the trip but the sound I was looking for was not there. I had become attached to the Nolan-Spencer-Perryman sound which I think all others are to be measured by and that will not occur again because they're gone. Even with better instruments, sound systems and recording methods, the harmony achieved by that group along with the background melodies produced by the Farr Brothers, leave me with an impression that lasts longer than any other music I hear. Too, with today's Pioneers, I don't care for their big band impressions which are superbly done but I would love to hear more of the Old Pioneer stuff authored by Spencer and Nolan and more, too, of Dale Warren's mellow voice.

Anyway, I was not deterred from attending the Western Music Association Festival in November of 1990 with my wife because these Pioneers are still the best western group anywhere today and I'm glad to be a supporter and fan of theirs.

Well, I didn't mean to write a book but when it comes to the Pioneers, I get a little carried away, as my wife and some of my friends can attest to! My collection of Pioneer albums is now huge and I think that is pretty unique for the Great White North and shows this has been fairly fertile ground for their type of music.


The late Mel McPhee was a lifelong fan of the Sons of the Pioneers and of Bob Nolan, in particular. He was a proud member of the Western Music Association and loved the festivals where he could meet others who loved the same music. Three of his poems are printed here with the permission of his widow, Eva.


 

The Legacy of Bob Nolan

(Melville A. McPhee)

 

Sometimes when I face a long sleepless night

With a problem I just can't resign,

To help me get through this personal plight,

Many thoughts will race through my mind.

 

I think of the day and events that occurred,

Decisions I've made right or wrong,

But soon those thoughts will all become blurred,

And my head echoes faintly in song.

 

It isn't a fact that I'm musically bent.

Hell, I couldn't give voice to a tune!

But songs o'er the years certainly leant

Admiration from me for those who can croon.

 

Visions of sagebrush and the high chaparral,

Of boots that jingle with dusty old spurs,

Of horses that mill 'round an old corral,

And a cowboy singing some very sad verse.

 

These are the things about which songs are made

By many who lived in America's west

And among all the ones in the music trade,

The Pioneer Sons have said it the best.

 

Bob Nolan to me was the ultimate bard.

His songs so inspired with feeling

While his beautiful voice painted picture cards

Of a West he made so appealing.

 

Of deserts he wrote and of trickling streams,

And waterfalls heard in the distance.

Those echoing hills and of sunlight beams

And clouds that appeared in an instant.

 

He heard music in rain coming down from above

On fields where cattle so lazily grazed

And afterward rainbows for mortals to love,

Heaven-sent gifts to brighten our days.

 

Music, I'm sure, was the heart of this man

And all nature a part of his being.

Each living thing under God's guiding hand

Were the beautiful songs he was seeing.

 

I shudder to think what this world might be

Were it not for poets like Nolan,

Giving pleasure to all, making memories

In the music he bared his soul in.

 

So, while time moves on, along with our wants,

We recall every once in awhile

Those who broke trail with a music that haunts

Leaving hearts with a beautiful smile.

(for permission to copy this poem, contact Mrs. Eva McPhee c/o this site)


Fans familiar with the songs of Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer will recognize the song titles Mel wrote into these next verses.

The Music of the Pioneers

(Melville A. McPhee)

 

There are times when these old bones do tire

Much quicker than ought to be so.

It is then that I feel such an urgent desire

To put up my feet and rest them, you know.

 

So I begin a recording of those "old Pioneers"

And lay back and listen in a kind of a dream

As melodies float to me back o'er the years

And soon, like Nolan, I Follow a Stream.

 

It takes me over a Prairie  that's Blue

With Tumbleweeds Tumbling Way out There

 And those Echoes from Hills, I hear them, too,

As I drift in a dream world with nary a care.

 

The Water is Cool as I ford that old stream,

And then find an Old Forgotten Trail

Leading to Redwoods, Close to Heaven, it seems,

And off in the distance some coyotes wail.

 

Then a Waterfall sings its Song  about Love,

Quiet and soothing, like A Summer Night's Rain,

And a trio of voices comes down from above

In unison, all, with A Chant of the Plains

 

And then I am Bound for the Rio Grande,

Following the Sun all the weary long day.

It is One More Ride to that Old Home Town

As I jog along on The King's Highway.

 

The melodic strings from Hugh's violin,

Accompanied softly by Karl on guitar,

Fills the Lonely Little Room I'm in

As Perryman sings his lament from afar.

 

By a Campfire on the Trail is Tim,

Who'll soon be Heading for the Home Corral

With Slow Moving Cattle just ahead of him,

Wending their way through the high chaparral.

 

What pleasant moments this music brings

From the famous "Sons of the Pioneers",

With songs of the west and of cowboy things,

Bringing joy to the world over fifty years.

 

Most of the original "Sons" are now gone,

They're feeling the gentle Touch of God's Hand.

Others have taken their place now in song

And, of late, they have expanded the band.

 

I know time alters the wishes of man,

His wants can change with the years,

But we'll always remember the way it began,

The beautiful harmony of the "Old Pioneers".

 

(for permission to copy this poem, contact Mrs. Eva McPhee c/o this site)


The Sonoran Desert

(Melville A. McPhee)

 

Today there's a veil cast over the desert,

In clouds that are laden with life giving rain.

And they've spread their moisture over the desert

To succor all creatures, all life to sustain.

 

From the stately saguaro with shadow so tall

And arms reaching skyward in beckoning way,

Seeking that rain to grow in the desert

A part of the landscape that surely must stay.

 

The prickly pear, barrel and staghorn cactus,

Palo verde, yucca and Joshua tree,

All cry for water and give thanks to get it

By adding color with flowers, you see.

 

Amid all the growth is the wily old coyote,

Furtively searching for food as it roves,

Stopping at stream to drink from its waters

And patiently watching for something to move.

 

Many more creatures call the desert their home,

Each dependent on the moisture that falls.

And mankind among them, not always welcome,

For some cause destruction in ways that appall.

 

There are also those who warn of the danger,

Who've listened to nature's cry to be heard,

And bring into being a message that's needed,

For all to live in a harmonious world.

 

They do it by song in words so poetic,

Having lived as one on its wasteland floor,

And now seek a balance for all living creatures,

So much a part of each desert's lore.

 

May we hearken to bards like the "Pioneers' Nolan",

And the great Marty Robbins of El Paso fame.

They truly saw all the beauties of nature

And the seeds of ruination when heartless men came.

 

This world was not made for humans alone;

Each specie must have its own space to survive

With old Mother Nature's hand in control,

Selecting the ones that should stay alive.

 

(for permission to copy this poem, contact Mrs. Eva McPhee c/o this site)