Sons of the Pioneers
Photos with Sons of the Pioneers
In October of 1931, Bob Nolan answered an ad in the Los Angeles Herald that read: "YODELER, for old time act to travel. Tenor preferred." He met a man named Leonard Frank Slye, who had dropped the 'e' from his family name and introduced himself as Len Sly. (Leonard Frank Slye aka Len Sly would later change his name to 'Roy Rogers') Rogers was a member of a group called the Rocky Mountaineers. Not comfortable singing solo, he wanted to hire another singer for the act and had placed the ad that led to meeting Bob Nolan. Read more... in the summer of 1932 and Rogers placed another ad in the newspaper classifieds for a replacement for a baritone who could yodel. Vern Spencer, better known as Tim Spencer, got the job. A third singer in the group was a singer named Bill "Slumber" Nichols, whom Rogers had hired to create a harmonizing-and-yodeling trio. The trio of Rogers, Spencer and Nichols left the Rocky Mountaineers to join Benny Nawahi and His International Cowboys, then left on a personal appearance tour of the Southwest, barnstorming radio stations along the way, as the O-Bar-O Cowboys, including brief stays in Roswell, New Mexico (where Rogers met Arlene Wilkins, his second wife) and Lubbock, Texas where Spencer met his future wife Velma Blanton, who returned to Lubbock following Spencer's death in 1974. The tour ended in Texas, where Nichols got a fiddling job in Fort Worth, and Rogers and Spencer returned to California, where Spencer returned to his former job at a Safeway store and Rogers got a solo singing position with Jack and His Texas Outlaws. Rogers, convinced that a yodeling trio was the way to go, re-connected with Spencer and Nolan and formed The Pioneer Trio. Before long, they were hired at KFWB (the Warner Bros, station in L.A.), working in the mornings as The Pioneer Trio, in the afternoons as as The Gold Star Cowboys (after their sponsor), and in the evenings on a show called "Painting the West in Song" with the Jack Joy Orchestra, where during one of these broadcasts, staffer announcer Henry Hall, thinking they were too young to be pioneers and they had added a fourth member, introduced them as The Sons of the Pioneers. Rogers, Nolan and Spencer were all adequate rhythm guitarists and the fourth member of the group was a Texas fiddler named Hugh Farr, formerly of Jack LeFevre's Texas Outlaws. These four cut their first record for Decca on August 8, 1934. By the time they recorded their fourth session in October, 1934, Hugh's brother, guitarist Karl Farr had been added to the group. Their songs and their singing led to appearances in two shorts and a feature film called "The Old Homestead," Over the course of the next two years The Sons of the Pioneers sang in westerns starring Gene Autry, Dick Foran and Bing Crosby. The group was contracted, by Columbia Pictures, to appear in their series of B-Westerns starring Charles Starrett, beginning with "Galland Defender" in November of 1935. They did so until mid-1941 when they signed on at Republic Pictures and were reunited with founding-member Roy Rogers. Changes to the group (made up with Rogers, Nolan, Spencer and the Farr brothers) first came when Spencer left the group for a while in 1946, and was replaced by Lloyd Perryman. Spencer returned and made it a six-member group, and after Rogers left to pursue his own career as a Singing Cowboy, his replacement was 'Pat Brady'. Following their third production-year season with Republic, the group was renamed Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers and billed as such until Nolan left in 1949. WWII brought more changes when Perryman and Brady were servicemen and were replaced by Ken Carson and George "Shug" Fisher for the duration. Ken Carson was kept on after Perryman and Brady rejoined following the war. Tim Spencer, as a performer, left the group in 1948 but continued to act as manager for several more years. Nolan, very close to Spencer, left in 1949 as a performing member but continued to work with the group, off-and-on, in recording sessions until 1957. Spencer was replaced by former Tommy Dorsey singer Ken Curtis and Nolan's place was taken by Lloyd Doss, who became Tommy Doss to avoid the confusion of having two Lloyds in the band. Dale Warren joined the group in 1953 after Curtis left to pursue his acting career. Hugh Farr left in 1958 and Kark Farr suffered a heart attack and died on stage in Springfield Massachusetts in 1961. Other short-term members over the years, for various reasons, included Wesley Tuttle, Doye O'Dell, George Bamby and Bob Minser.