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 VARIOUS THOUGHTS ON BOB NOLAN

 

   I began researching Bob Nolan before Internet and Google searches were available. Everything was done through regular mail and was a slow process but folks who knew Bob were willing to talk about him.

    In the single item through the public library here in Canada, I something I hadn't known -  the Sons of the Pioneers had been associated with Roy Rogers!  Better yet,  there was a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans museum in Apple Valley, California.  I wrote to the museum immediately and found they sent me a copy of Ken Griffis' "Hear My Song, the Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers". I purchased it.

    Then I wrote to Ken Griffis and from there my search for Bob Nolan blossomed. Ken was generous with information and contacts. I found that, although Canada seemed to have forgotten him, there was a plethora of information about Bob in the United States. I was delighted to find that there were still people alive who knew him personally. (See also Recollections) I contacted everyone anyone recommended and all but a few responded. Some have graciously given me permission to create a page for them on the Reflections section of this website. Only one person made derogatory remarks. (Interestingly, this person was repeating gossip and admitted he had never met Bob.) Everyone who knew him was loyal.

    The following quotations and excerpts are from books and magazine articles I found through American used book stores at the time. They are still of interest to me, if only to demonstrate the public's admiration of Bob Nolan and how little they knew about the man himself. Most of these sources have never been reprinted - another reason to record them here. Since then, hundreds of articles have featured Bob Nolan and the Internet has made them widely available. (Elizabeth Drake McDonald)

    The following writers are in alphabetical order. Click on the name of your choice.

 

Julian Aiken, Jon Alquist, Dale Arnsberger, Jim Beaver, Eleanor Bennett, Earl Blair, Dave Bourne, Mario deMarco, John Edwards, Richard Farnsworth, Bob Fee, Judy Friedman, Ranger Doug, Conway Halas, Monte Hale, William Jacobson, Ken D. Jones, Arthur F. McClure, Merrill T. McCord, Phil McNelly, Bobbie Mileusnich, Patsy Montana, David W. Nichols, Earl Nolan, Buddy Overstreet, Mary Rogers, Roy Rogers, Irwin Stambler, Jon Guyot Smith, Fred Sopher, Neill G. Spear, Hal Spencer, Charles Starrett, Jim Bob Tinsley, Charles Wall, Dale Warren, Jerry West

 

Julian Aiken

    It is quite true that I have taught my grandchildren about the unfolding of the West as seen through the heart, mind and soul of Bob Nolan. While I never met him, it is quite true that I knew him well in what he did. He cared for the writings of Spinoza, Thoreau, and they just happen to be favorites of mine, like for life. Rusty [Richards] and Rusty's son say that I look like Nolan. My one interest in this was that Rusty said I did more than look like him. Nolan was harmony in musical action and the interaction with Tim and Glenn Spencer was a rare point in time. Many writers have written perfect songs from time to time. These three seemed to do it every time and not become airheads. In my time, I have made a buck or two writing and perhaps did it because I did not care if anyone bought it or not. It is so today and I have always felt that Nolan, in particular, had this same thought pattern. He could sit down and think up an idea and turn it into music. (Pioneer News, Fall, 1989 p. 18)

    Bob Nolan meant the building of a segment of America, moving west in lyric/poem/song in fact and not in fantasy. A spiritual uplift, that should be told to the world and all of us together, can do just this. If, indeed, I am not privileged to hear more of his unknown works, this does not matter as he has given me the best of all worlds while I am in this world. His works have made me a better writer and he left the world better than he found it. I never met Bob Nolan other than in his music and in the movies but I do feel I know him as well as anyone could have known him. I understand the shyness and by doing so, I understand his heart. (Ibid. p. 12)

    The RCA album "The Songs of Bob Nolan" is played many times in our home as the lyric, music and harmony is perfect. It takes me back in time and heart and allows me to more easily love my fellow man. No one did it better than Bob Nolan. (Ibid. p. 22)

 

Jon Alquist (Assistant Editor of the Arizona Alumni Association)

    Here is some information I have been able to obtain concerning Bob Nolan, the brother of Michael Earle Nolan, as requested in your letter of February 3, 1984. According to the records of the University of Arizona registrar and our records here in the Alumni Association, Robert Clarence Nolan never attended the University of Arizona. There is no record of his ever having enrolled. I talked to his brother Earle and he verified this, saying that Bob was not too interested in continuing his studies. Thus it is unlikely that he every wrote poetry for a column "Tumbleweed Trail" in the campus newspaper. I check back issues of the Arizona Wildcat newspaper for the period 1926-28 and could find no such column appearing it it.

    As to the pole vault of over 14 feet in the spring of 1926 which you mentioned, this also seems highly unlikely. In 1927 Bob finished second in the Arizona State track meet for Tucson High School with a vault of 11 feet, 7 inches. According to the publication "The United States National Record Progression from 1877" published in 1983, the first official 14-foot vault was made by Sabin Carr on May 28,1927 in Philadelphia. According to Earle, Bob was a fine all-around athlete but a world record vault by a High Schooler at that time seems out of the question. (from a copy to me of his letter to Eleanor M. Bennett, March 22, 1984)   

    [Following up on this, excerpts from two later letters to me from Jon Alquist] Elizabeth, according to those in the know, anybody who enrols in any academic course offered by the University of Arizona (i.e. night school, extension/off-campus, correspondence, etc.) whether for credit or not, paying or non-paying, is assigned a matriculation number and thus would be listed on the registrar's master list. Bob Nolan's name does not appear on this list, or any other UA document or publication that we know of, so I can assure you that he was never officially a student at the UA. There is only one "Robert Nolan" and he entered in 1960. Hope this helps clear things up. (letter to EDM March 2, 1998)

    I just checked the all-time UA registrar's list that we have on fische in our office and there is nobody by the name of "CLARENCE" NOLAN listed. I also checked for persons with the middle name of Clarence and none appear. The only name I found that might be close was a C.C. Noland, date of birth 11-11-03 (I'm sure you can compare that to Bob's), who entered the UA in Sept. of 1926.  Unless ole "C.C." is the guy, I think it's now pretty conclusive that Bob Nolan never officially attend the University of Arizona. (letter to EDM July 19, 2000)
 

Dale Arnsberger

    I can tell you what I was doing the day my father died. I can tell you where I was when World War II ended and I can tell you what I was doing the day I came home and picked up the press release from Bill and Barbara Bowen stating that Bob Nolan was dead. I remember all the important events of my life.

    My three musketeers of the west were: Zane Grey for his stories, Fred Remington for his art and Bob Nolan for his music. What a trio in statuary that would be.

    In the old days it was said of Jim Bridger, Buffalo Bill Cody and a few others that they were "nature's gentlemen". Bob Nolan was one of these. All the elements of nature were so mixed in this Bob Nolan that in the final analysis all one can say is, this was a man. (Historical Society Journal, 1989, p. 12)

    [Speaking of the album "The Sons of the Pioneers Sing the Songs of Bob Nolan"] This is one of my all time favorites. I love it. Especially, "You are My Eyes". Bob Nolan, nature's descriptive artist, used his magic writing brushes with the fine bristles of Doss, Perryman and Warren and painted on the canvas of my mind some of the most beautiful music of all time. Oh, how I have listened! (Ibid. p. 22)

    [Speaking of Katie Lee's book, "Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle - a History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story and Verse"] Ms. Lee did a wealth of research for this one by interviewing original composers on her tour of the West. She said that after Bob Nolan read it, he had to cry. (Ibid. p. 27)

    [Mr. Arnsberger composed a poem about Bob Nolan called "Desert Dream".

 

Eleanor Bennett

    From his songs, one can easily get the feeling he liked to be alone and enjoyed his time alone. He truly left a great legacy of music behind for all or us to enjoy forever. He will never be forgotten. At least not by me. I truly love all his music. (Historical Society Journal, Fall 1989, p. 12) See also a letter from Jon Alquist

 

Earl Blair

    The spirit of the American West has been captured in many ways. On film it is the heroic image of a John Wayne or Gary cooper. In art, it is the colorful canvas of a Remington or a Russell. In music, it is a Bob Nolan song.

    More than a songwriter, Nolan wields the pen of a poet and master story teller. His haunting melodies tell of blue prairies and tumbling tumbleweeds, of cool water and lands touched by the hand of God. It is impossible to hear a Bob Nolan composition and not know who wrote it. Like his own distinctive voice, his style of writing is unmistakable. Simply put, the man is a legend.

    His association with the American West began when he moved to Arizona after being born and raised in the Canadian backwoods. The abrupt change of environment had a tremendous impact on the impressionable fourteen-year-old. He was awed and captivated by the expanse of desert and prairie which, though apparently desolate, actually teemed with life and beauty. He would often spend hours alone in the desert fascinated by its sights and sounds. His love for nature's beauty began to manifest itself in western poems Bob wrote for his school newspaper. Later, many of these works became the Nolan songs. Though he decided to pursue a musical career as early as 1929, it wasn't until 1931 that he met with success. He became part of Rocky Mountaineers hillbilly group along with another young man, Leonard Slye. Later, Sly formed another group with Bob and a third member, Tim Spencer, called The Pioneer Trio which eventually became The Sons of the Pioneers.

    Throughout the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, the Pioneers became the group singularly most associated with the western song. And with good reason for, aside from the unforgettable Bob Nolan compositions, Tim Spencer and other members penned songs as memorable and melodious today as they were forty years ago. The Pioneers performed as musical minstrels in over seventy westerns, providing songs and accompaniment for such cowboy heroes as Gene Autry, Charles Starrett, Monte Hale and former member, Leonard Slye, better known as Roy Rogers. And, usually, Bob was featured prominently in the screenplay, often in roles assuming the status of co-star. In addition, the Pioneers had their own weekly radio program and made thousands of personal appearances.

    In 1949, at the peak of success, Bob Nolan left the Sons of the Pioneers to retire, though he periodically recorded with the group until 1957. Essentially a loner, he was unhappy with the constant pressure forced upon him by his success. At times, he would be home only a few days out of the year while spending the rest of the year either working in films or on tour. The film work, while offering security and a steady income, often forced Bob to write songs in a single day to fit a shoot-em-up scenario. Worse still, he became disenchanted with himself and his work.

    Since leaving the Pioneers, Bob has continued writing. His most recent compositions, while still reflecting his poetic qualities, have an almost transcendental feeling. Though Bob Nolan had not recorded in over twenty years, "The Sound of a Pioneer" must rank as one of his finest efforts. The selections in this album give full range to the distinctive Nolan voice. From his own classics, Cool Water and Tumbling Tumbleweeds, to more contemporary country and western songs like That Old Outlaw-Time! And Can You Hear Those Pioneers?  Bob is letter perfect on each song. It is simply hard to believe that the voice you hear belongs to a seventy-one year old man.

    It was fascinating to see Bob at work during the recording sessions. Quiet and soft spoken, he rarely blew a take. And between takes, he would lie down in a corner of the studio to rest, his portable tape recorder playing the sounds of a gentle spring rain or the rippling waters of a mountain stream while some of the most beautiful and poetic music ever written - his music - played back in the studio. This is Bob Nolan - the sound of a pioneer. (Earl Blair, Hollywood, CA. 1979 liner notes to "The Sound of a Pioneer", Elektra 6E-212)   

 

Dave Bourne

    Bob Nolan single-handedly started an entire genre of music. Not many composers can claim that, except for J. S. Bach. Even with Be-bop in the early 40’s, it took Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker to establish the medium. With Nolan, I would argue that no one is even in second place. While Tim Spencer had a few truly great tunes, the sheer volume of Nolan’s (high-quality) outpouring of material makes a large shadow over all the “also rans.”
    Nolan called his material “song poems,” and it is truly an apt appellation. His lyrics stand alone as great poetry, his melodies, distinctive and as Nolanesque as can be. The structure of “Vagabond Whirlwinds” is a revolving progression which never seems to end…it continues to flow, like the wind. The second chord of the bridge (a III chord) leaps out and yells “It’s a Nolan chord!”
    As a full time musician, one must seek to grow and not just perform “Cool Water” endlessly, so the wealth of Nolan material offers excellent opportunities in that regard. I consider the quality and variety in his work to be right up there with Berlin, and Gershwin tunes.
    Western Music will always have a limited market, much like any style of music which is historical. The Internet, the poetry gatherings, and superb groups like Riders in the Sky have all helped to further the music, but in no way will it ever become mainstream. Even in the heyday of the Sons of the Pioneers, the music was not a big seller. The Pioneers never had a hit.
    I never met Nolan but have many friends who did. Through my early association with the Wagonmasters, the cowboy band that entertained at Southern California’s Knotts Berry Farm from 1955 through 1968, I have met many western musicians who have venerated Nolan for a long time. Dick Goodman and Bob Wagoner of the Reinsmen (an offshoot of the Wagonmasters) both were good friends of Nolan.
    Bob Nolan stands alone as a great songwriter and poet. His images of both the desert (where he moved as a teen) and the high mountians (where he was born) shine through as brilliantly today as when he penned them 60 years ago. (Dave "Professor" Bourne in a letter to EDM, Sept. 8, 1998)

 

Jim Beaver, actor

A friendly but introverted man who liked to keep to himself, Nolan had the looks, the charm, and the voice to compete with [Roy] Rogers for stardom in musical Westerns but chose rather to remain on the screen periphery as the amiable friend of the hero, devoting his energies to the writing and singing some of the most memorable songs of the era. [Jim now lives in the Studio City home of Bob and P-Nuts Nolan.]

 

Mario deMarco

With his rugged good looks and exceptionally fine voice, he would have been the ideal "singing cowboy" for Columbia. Why he never pushed for starring status, I'll never know. And the question will remain unanswered since Bob passed away recently. [Note: Columbia did choose him for a series of his own but he turned it down flat.]

 

John Edwards

Bob Nolan was born in Canada but his father was an American citizen. Bob was reared in Arizona, near Tucson, and in New Mexico. [??] Eventually, he also headed for fame to Hollywood where he answered an advertisement for a singer-guitarist. This led to his meeting with Roy Rogers and also with Tim Spencer.

 

Richard Farnsworth

Well, he was a mighty man. He was stout. He was a man's man, old Bob. He'd take a drink with you or fight or do whatever you wanted to do but he was a genius as far as the stuff he wrote and the way he presented it. I loved his voice, you know. I think the Pioneers' most famous song is Tumbling Tumbleweeds.

  

Bob Fee

During the 1930s, 40s and 50s no one contributed more to shaping the romantic image of the American West than Bob Nolan as leading songwriter for the Sons of the Pioneers - the most popular Western singing group of all time. It was [his] childhood experiences and coming of age in Tucson that enabled Bob Nolan to form his particular view of the West. Bob Nolan, both in song and life, sought the peaceful solace of the desert - lonely, stark, beautiful and it its own way, comforting. Bob Nolan stands as one of the greatest songwriters and poets of our time. His lyrics and melodies shine as brilliantly today as when he penned them over 80 years ago. (p. 14 The Western Way Fall 2008)

 

Judy Friedman with Earl Nolan, Bob's brother.

    It's funny. Ask someone where they think the best cowboy music is written and they'll probably say Brooklyn. But some swell western songs were written in Arizona. Songs like "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". The composer, Bob Nolan, is a former University of Arizona student. [See Jon Alquist]

    Earl Nolan, Wildcat football tackle in the 30s, sat on a red chair on the porch of the West Alameda Street fire station several weeks ago and told me how his brother happened to write the songs.

    "Bob was always fooling around with something," Earl said. "He played the ukulele in grammar school and then the guitar. And he wrote a lot of poetry. "Cool Water" was first written as a poem when Bob was attending Tucson High School. Later, when he helped form the Sons of the Pioneers singing group, he added music to complete the current hit tune."

    Clarence Robert [later reversed] Nolan and his younger brother, Earl, came to Tucson in 1914. [1922 for Bob, 3 years later for Earl] They attended Safford grammar and junior high school and both became Badger athletes.

    "During the summer he rode the freights doing all kinds of odd jobs on ranches and in small towns. I remember one of his early songs was "Riding Free on the old SP Humming a Western Tune" [Way Out There] That title sort of sums up Bob's life back in those days."

    While Bob was in Los Angeles, Earl was going to Tucson High School. He played football, too, as a tackle. Then he went on to the University of Arizona where he was Border Conference tackle for three years. He then turned pro and played with the Chicago Cardinals for two years. This was followed by several years employment with the Allison Steel company. In January, 1941, Earl joined the Marine Corps. Five years later he was honourably discharged with the rank of Captain.

    While Earl was growing up and going to school, Bob was singing and playing the guitar in Los Angeles vaudeville shows. He doubled in a gymnastic act. During the summer he was a lifeguard at Long Beach.

    "I think Bob first became serious about singing when he was in school here, though," said Earl. "He worked at the Circle J Ranch down near Patagonia. At night, he'd put on a dudish outfit, get out his guitar and sing his songs to the ranch guests."

    About 1933, now married and a father, Bob saw an ad for a singing cowboy. He answered the ad. And the Sons of the Pioneers were born. Roy Rogers, Tim Spencer and he appeared over a Los Angeles radio station. They had gathered a group of western songs and soon "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" was tumbling into the ears of radio listeners.

    "I wasn't surprised when I hard about it, " said Earl. "But I was when the group started to appear in movies. I saw the first one down at the State. It seemed funny to see Bob on the screen. Since then I see their movies every time they come to town."

    The two brothers don't see much of each other any more. "I visited him in Los Angeles a couple of years ago," said Earl. "Felt like a country boy when he took me onto the movie set. Couldn't take the late hours, either," he added. "The last time I saw Bob was when he was here in March. I liked the cowboy music that night. That was a pretty good show."

    Earl was referring to the Sons of the Pioneers performance which was presented in the Universit auditorium March 8. It had been the group's first performance in Tucson, though they are expected to be back next season.

    The two brothers got re-acquainted at that time. Bob spent the day with Earl, his wife (the former Nellie Ahee, '38) and his two-year-old daughter, Nellie. The Nolans live at 118 South Melrose. Earl, 33, big and muscular (he has 270 pounds spread over his 6'3" frame) is a local fireman every other day of the week. The opposite days he does construction work.

    When the "Sons" troupe left here, they toured the country for six weeks and then returned to Los Angeles to start another movie and make more records.

    So you see, all westerns aren't born in the east. Though the 'westerner' himself might be, the dry desert of Arizona can still inspire a high school boy to write a song like "Cool Water". (Arizona Alumnus, June, 1949)

 

Douglas B. "Ranger Doug" Green

    The astonishing thing about Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer was the incredible amount --- hundreds of quality songs. Not just a half dozen that you remember - you know "Weeds & Water" and "Timber Trail" - but hundreds of fabulous quality songs. It just knocks me out every time I think of it. Bob Nolan is the Standard by which all western songwriters fail. (to Michelle Sundin)

    A rash of 'new' western songs fundamentally different from their predecessors were appearing, largely from the pens of Bob Nolan and Billy Hill; these songs were concerned not with the life of the cowboy, but with the romance of the West as an entity in and of itself. Entirely apart from the life or even the existence of the cowboy except by implication, they dealt with the beauty of its haunting scenery, and in spiritual rather than earthy terms. (from Hollywood Corral: A Comprehensive B Western Roundup)

 

Conway Halas

Bob Nolan, I guess he was one of those people you might say was deep. He had to be to write some things the way he did. I wish he would have put his thoughts on cassette so they were not lost forever. I am glad Bill Bowen got Bob to do "My Mistress, the Desert" on tape in June of 1980. I treasure my copy of it. I've always been sorry that Bill or Ken Griffis didn't get Bob to sing on cassette tape somewhere his original verse to "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". I have the words to it and can almost hear the drama of the music. Wish Bob would have used it on the LP he did for Snuff. (Historical Society Journal, Fall 1989, p. 120)

 

Monte Hale

I took Marty Robbins to his home a few weeks ago. I hadn't seen Bob in, well, twenty years or more. He and Marty Robbins kept passing the guitar back and forth to each other, singing. I just sat there and relished it all because they are two greats. [to David Rothel in "The Singing Cowboys", 1978, p. 235]

 

William Jacobson

    Bob Nolan. Just say those two words out loud, let them roll off your tongue. I can't think of two other words that sound more formidable or authoritative to a western music fan or artist. Let's face it, the heights of artistic expression that this man ascended to are the yardsticks upon which all other western artists are measured against. When we think that a set of lyrics are particularly poetic, we call them Nolanesque. Many of the great western vocal stylists to come down the trail after Bob Nolan have a quality to their voice which echoes his: Marty Robbins, Tommy Doss and Don Edwards

    Whatever faults he may or may not have had as a human being, his accomplishments as an artist cannot be denied. People have called him a hermit but, considering the number of friends he left behind, I think that label is much too harsh. Rather, he was a person who did not care for the trappings of fame and the intrusion upon one's personal life that occurs when one is a "star".

    If there are stars of western music, surely Bob Nolan was one. Not a "star" in the Hollywood sense but a star as in a celestial body, hovering high above the mere mortals. It is interesting to note how many of Nolan's lyrics concern themselves with angels and how they can effortlessly float above the clouds, unbound by the constraints of gravity. Physically, Nolan may have returned to his mistress, the desert, where his ashes are spread but his words and music remain as illusive angelic butterflies, unable to be caught and pinned to the wall to be completely dissected and fully understood.

 

Arthur F. McClure and Ken D. Jones [this is an example of the misinformation about Bob Nolan originally on the Internet]

Bob Nolan was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, April 14, 1908. [He was born in Winnipeg on April 13, 1908] He graduated from the University of Arizona. [See Jon Alquist] The handsome six footer became the leader of one of the world's most famous singing groups, The Sons of the Pioneers. Fresh from a stint as a lifeguard he joined Roy Rogers and Tim Spencer in California. They began harmonizing and called themselves "The Rocky Mountaineers". The group folded and started again with the addition of Hugh and Karl Farr, Lloyd Perryman and later Pat Brady. Radio made them popular and they later appeared in many western films. Bob is the composer of many songs including one of the most famous western ballads, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". (Western Films: Heroes, Heavies and Sagebrush of the B-Genre, 1972)

 

Patsy Montana

I know I madly loved Bob Nolan and he wouldn't look at me! I've often thought what God-given talent it takes to write such a beautiful song as "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" about a thing so ugly and useless as a tumbleweed.

 

Merrill T. McCord

    Although my arrival at Bob Nolan's home in North Hollywood in '76 was not expected (I was taken there by a mutual friend, Peggy Stewart) I was greeted with a broad smile and an extended hand. Quickly sensing my interest in B-westerns and Republic, Nolan immediately began reminiscing about the old days. While radiating with happy memories and a loving air, Nolan did have one villain in his life scenario - Herbert J. Yates, founder and head of Republic, where Nolan worked for several years. Nolan spoke freely of his dislike of Yates, saying Yates used the revenue from the Roy Rogers and Gene Autry films to finance his "follies", referring to Yates' attempts to produce major motion pictures and specifically to productions with Vera Ralston. Out of disgust, Nolan walked off the set in '48; and though he continued to live only two blocks from Republic, he said he never again set foot on the lot.

    During my meeting with him in '76, he seemed to be proud of his accomplishments but pleased with his retirement decision and happy with his life away from the limelight. His hair had thinned and turned gray, he had added some poundage around the once trim waist and his voice wasn't as full as it once was but he was still strong in spirit and neighborliness - just what one would expect from a western music legend. ("A Meeting with Bob Nolan - A Legend in Western Music", Western Clippings, 1980)

 

Phil McNelly

Bob Nolan seems to be a man who had a dream and worked to see it through. He was a man who loved the outdoors and the wildlife. He was a man who believed in God and never failed to give Him the credit for all the pleasure of life. I never got to meet him but, by listening to his music, I feel I know him. I only wish we had someone today with his vision. (Historical Society Journal, Fall 1989 p. 12)

 

Bobbie Mileusnich

He seems to have been a mystery to everybody. Everybody would try to get to him to find out what he was thinking about and it was very seldom [he would]. He would never make small talk. He wouldn't talk about personalities but if you started to talk ideas with him, then you had him. Philosophical ideas. He studied a lot of philosophers and he'd sit there and read those books and read one line and then sit there and think for half an hour, then read another line. Took him forever to go through those philosophers.  The boys always came to his house to rehearse and I always enjoyed that. Something I thought about the other day was that quite often there were a lot of people around the house. P-Nuts cooked for everybody. People all over the place and Bob would sit there and think and, apparently, if he thought about something he wanted to work on - a line or something of a song - he'd take a chair, go out in the yard and sit in the corner, facing the corner of the yard. It was kind of a silent admonition 'not to disturb me right now'. But he could do that when the house was full of people. It always amazed me. The main reason  he left [the Pioneers] was because he just hated the touring and the one night stands and traveling all over the country. He still wrote profusely but not always in the Western vein.

    He never studied music of any kind. Could not read music. He could play on the guitar the most intricate of chords but couldn't tell you what they were. When he finished a song, he had someone come to the house and write it out as he sang and played for them.

    His father changed his name to Nolan to avoid creditors.

    Bob [tried to visit me] but my mother would not allow it. I have a letter he wrote to my mother asking for me to live with him as he felt he could give me so much more. My mother relented when I was 15 years old and took me to meet him when he and the Pioneers were performing at the Oakland Auditorium in Oakland, California. After that meeting, I spent a few weeks at a time a couple times a year with him and P-Nuts. We all became very close though my son didn't spend very much time with him.

    [He wasn't moody] excepting when one tried to make unnecessary conversation. We had many wonderful philosophical conversations. He was always searching, thought there had to be something out there he hadn't yet discovered; that there was something more to life if he could only find it.

    [I had no idea his influence would be so far reaching] or I'd have saved and collected everything I could get my hands on.       

 

David W. Nichols

    Since the field of country music, or hillbilly as it was called back the, was already crowded, it was decided the trio would specialize in western music. A large factor in this decision was because Bob Nolan had written several songs of a western nature. This, along with their unique harmony, would make them stand out above the crowd.

    A factor that had much todo with the success of the trio would have to be the singularly unique songwriting style of Bob Nolan. Born in the backwoods of New Brunswick, Canada, Bob and his family (father, in reality) moved to Tucson, Arizona, when he was 14. This would mark the beginning of a life-long love affair with the southwest. (THE WESTERN HORSE)

 

Buddy Overstreet

His music keeps many of my childhood memories out in front of me, reminding me of Saturdays many years ago at the ten cent picture show. He keeps me mindful of a lot of things I still would like to do and places I would like to go, of conversations with my father about the Sons of the Pioneers and Roy Rogers through the good years, 1940 through 1950. (Historical Society Journal, Fall 1989 p. 12)

 

Mary Rogers

Bob Nolan has left us with what he wanted to share, and I thank him for his work he has left us. I will remember not Bob Nolan the B movie actor but Bob Nolan the writer. His songs are what mean a lot to me. Good songs are like great books, paintings, sculptures, and movies. They cause you to think more about yourself and mankind. I personally believe it is probably better to concentrate on how Bob's songs affect you rather than trying to read something about Bob in them. Songs impress all people differently. We should not take them literally as the concrete beliefs of Bob Nolan. Maybe we just should accept them as they are and what they bring to us individually. Bob Nolan's songs have brought to me more than a brief moment of pleasure; they are something that continues with me in my life. I never tire of them. He has given us a lot and I feel he got so little in return. (Historical Society Journal, Fall 1989 p. 13)

 

Roy Rogers

    He had this magnificent physique, a waist about twenty-eight inches and shoulders that looked about three feet wide. He was a very private man, his own man. Bob did not like crowds and certainly wasn't a party guy. You could tell from a lot of his songs, especially the later ones like The Mystery of His Way and He Walks with the Wild and the Lonely, that there was a guy who did a lot of tall thinking. He was so very quiet and he didn't talk much at all but after you knew him, you really liked Bob. He was very honest but he was just bashful all the time. We were like brothers. When we first got together, we lived in a boarding house, all three of us in this little old boarding house. Nine dollars a week room and board each. But we had to make al living so that was the way we knew how to do it. Bob was a long ranger kind of a guy. He could set out on a rock and just gaze out into space for three days.

 

Irwin Stambler and Grelun Landon

The group had already named itself Sons of the Pioneers when Roy left and, under Nolan's leadership, gained both increased size (to six members) and national repute. Nolan was born in northern Canada to American parents [Canadian parents] and grew up in Tucson, Arizona. (Encyclopedia of Folk, Country and Western Music, St. Martin's Press, NY, 1975)

 

Jon Guyot Smith

Pioneers they were, however in the true sense of the word. None could read music but each member of the quintet was simply "the ultimate" talent-wise. Nolan and Spencer were extraordinarily gifted composers and fine natural poets. "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" became the title of the first Autry musical western for Republic Pictures and its success prompted Gene to ask on more than one occasion the renowned cowboy poet for another hit song along the same lines. "Sure, Gene", Nolan would always respond from his customary perch in the café he frequented. "I'm working on a new song just for you." Somehow that promised song which would have undoubtedly been a classic was never delivered. (liner notes from "Gene Autry with the Legendary Singing Groups of the West", 1997)

 

Fred Sopher

Bob Nolan brought a wealth of music and meaning to me. Almost like a way of life and philosophy, of the meaning of life. I am proud to have been living in the era when this great person lived. I think if he would have lived many hundreds of years ago, a religion would have started around him. Without knowing him through western movies and recordings, life would be less but we wouldn't realize it. His music will live on forever and will be discovered by later generations. Several years ago as I drove across Nevada with my cassette playing songs by the Sons, I thought of Bob and drove my car off road. This was late in the evening as the sun was going down. I sat on a rock off of the highway. I could almost feel a a spiritual quality listening to his music and being there alone with nature on the desert. (Historical Society Journal Fall 1989 p. 12)

 

 Neill G. Spear

    It is my belief that this album [The Sons of the Pioneers Sing the Songs of Bob Nolan] shows off the versatility of Bob Nolan's talent as a songwriter, composer and poet. Further, it shows that Bob covers a larger range than just western music, as some folks might think when they think of him as a songwriter. There are songs of the west, songs covering the beauty of nature such as "A Summer Night's Rain". "Following the Sun All Day" covers a trek westward of the early pioneers. The song "The Boss is Hangin' out a Rainbow" is at least a semi-religious song and yet it also covers the beauty of nature. I doubt that many people would argue with the beauty of a rainbow. "At the Rainbow's End" would also fit this description as well. Then, of course, there are two beautiful love songs that I would like to comment separately on.

    I had been wanting to hear "Half Way 'Round the World" ever since I first read about it in "Hear My Song". At that time, I got it in my head that it would be more of a World War II song much in the manner of "Johnny Doughboy found a Rose in Ireland". I guess it is and yet it is not. I am sure that many members who were overseas during the War and during the Korean War as well as Vietnam can well understand Lloyd Perryman's feelings about this song and his voice breaking when he would try to sing the song.

    Even now, some twenty years after my last sea voyage, as I listen to it I, too, choke up. I am sure that there are many sailors who are on extended cruises in the West Pacific or in the Mediterranean would be choking up if they were lucky enough to hear the song. I am sure that the citizens, soldiers and sailors must get the same feeling that Lloyd spoke of as they listen to this song.

    "You are My Eyes". In my humble opinion, this has to be one of the most beautiful songs ever written. The story is well told and a beautiful story it is. The melody is superb and, of course, Tommy Doss does a masterful job of singing it. This song will be on my all time top ten list of songs and may even end up in the top five on that list (Historical Society Journal, Fall 1989 pp. 22-3)

 

Hal Spencer

Bob Nolan was always kinda the mystery one. I really looked up to Bob Nolan because he didn't reveal a whole lot of things about himself, personally, when you talked with him. But he revealed a lot of that in the songs that he wrote. And he was a very quiet, gentle man in one way but he was a rugged cowboy individual in another way. I can remember my father, Tim, and Bob Nolan were assigned songs to write for the movies and, in that case, it was pretty much done in a 'let's go down and do it' [say] but the other songs that they created.... I can remember them stopping in the middle of dinners, parties, doing things together, and they would get an idea and they would go off and finish a song or start a song or work on a song. They'd do that together a lot and they would do it separately, too.

 

Charles Starrett

I enjoyed working with Bob as much as any person I had ever worked with, whether it was theater, radio, television, or anything. Bob was a wonderful person. A strong person and a good musician and a very poetic sort of a person. He saw into people. He was a loner. I'd had the Sons of the Pioneers to begin with when I went to Columbia. I won't say they were number one or anything but I've known nobody that's been any better than Bob Nolan and the boys. Anyway, as an action persona, I would have preferred to have gone along with a person like Bob Nolan as a sidekick or co-star. (from Those Great Cowboy Sidekicks by David Rothel, 1984)

 

Jim Bob Tinsley

    Someone had rewritten Nolan's prelude to the [Tumbling Tumbleweeds] refrain, turning it into one for which he held little fondness, preferring his own personal assessment of being lonely but free as it was first published:

 

Days may be dreary

Still I'm not weary

May heart needs no consoling

At each break of dawn

You'll find that I've gone

Like old tumbleweeds, I'm rolling.

 

    This philosophical statement is a more typical expression from the soul of the free-spirited Nolan about his propensity for drifting along. Even with fame and success, the spell of the desert and its power of the mirage was forever in the soul of Bob Nolan. In it he found beauty and solace. The beauty and cruelty of the silent Arizona wastelands made a decided impact on Bob Nolan in his youth and it drew him back time and again.

    Nolan wrote a poem entitle "Cool Water", a commentary on the ceaseless conflict between truth and illusion. From that poem came the heartrending musical image of a desert traveler almost delirious from lack of water and the disappearance of shimmering water holes. Racked with pain and thirst, the man and his sore-footed horse ultimately yearn more for death than for cool water that seems to evaporate into a merciless expanse of sand before their eyes.  (pp. 90-1, 150-1 For a Cowboy Has to Sing, 1991) [Note: Bob in Teleways Transcription #71, said Dan was a burro.]

   

Charles Wall

    Bob Nolan means that I, and many others for years to come, will have a source to gain in-depth knowledge of the West, nature and life in general. Not through dry textbooks, often times incomplete through a solely intellectual approach, but rather through Nolan's inherent and perceptive understanding of transcribing it all into dramatic, captivating songs

    The western ballad, "Cool Water", since being first recorded in 1941, has remained a favorite song of many for its dramatic portrayal of a desert mirage. Unknown to most, however, Bob Nolan intended the song to also depict a symbolic struggle between truth and the forces of illusion with a mirage representing a phantom of false hope though beyond it rested a green tree symbolizing truth and freedom. (Historical Society Journal Fall 1989 p. 13 and p. 20)

 

Dale Warren

[Recalling his first recording session with the Pioneers] Bob Nolan was in the studio and I guess he sensed that I was a bit nervous. Nolan called me over to his side and said, "Dale, don't worry about being nervous. I never got over being nervous, whether it was on stage or on a recording session, and don't concern yourself about not being good enough. Just be yourself and you'll do fine." I've always remembered those kind words and at the time they meant a great deal to me. (pp 161 Hear My Song, 1994)

 

Jerry West

Being a devout Christian and Southern Baptist, I will refrain from saying he means as much to me as Jesus Christ does to a Baptist. I wouldn't say that at all. If I were to list the most important people to me, Bob Nolan would be in the top five.