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The Sons of the Pioneers

When most fans of the ol' B western think of singing groups, the first that comes to mind are the Sons of the Pioneers.  Through scores of films at Columbia and Republic, they entertained us with some great music.  In addition to their music, some or all of the group often portrayed helpers to Roy Rogers and Charles Starrett.  Hope these photos bring back some fond memories.

Bob Nolan, Roy Rogers (Leonard Slye) and Tim Spencer formed a trio in the early 1930s, and the group matured and expanded into the Sons of the Pioneers, probably the most influential of the B western singin' groups.  Some folks have asked why the SOP left the Roy Rogers films (and were replaced by Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage).  Apparently, both Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer were tired of the touring, and Spencer had a publishing business to maintain.  They both decided to exit at or around the time that the SOP contract with Republic was ending.  The story also goes that their replacement, the Riders of the Purple Sage, were less expensive to Republic than the SOP.  Of the original Sons of the Pioneers, Roy Rogers was the last surviving member, and he passed away in 1998.

The predominant SOP members during their 1930s and 1940s work in B-westerns were:

Roy Rogers (Leonard Slye) - born in Cincinnati, Ohio, November 5, 1911; died July 6, 1998
Bob Nolan (Clarence Robert Nobles) - born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, April 13, 1908 (not the oft reported New Brunswick, Canada, April 1, 1908); died June 15, 1980
Vernon Harold 'Tim' Spencer - born in Webb City, Missouri, July 13, 1908; died April 26, 1974
Thomas Hubert 'Hugh' Farr - born in Llano, Texas, December 6, 1903; died March 17, 1980
Lloyd Wilson Perryman - born in Ruth, Arkansas, January 29, 1917; died May 31, 1977
Karl Farr - born in Rochelle, Texas, April 25, 1909; died September 20, 1961
Pat Brady (Patrick O'Brady) - born December 31, 1914; died February 27, 1972

Over the years, there were a variety of other members (including Ken Carson, George 'Shug' Fisher, Tommy Doss, Doye O'Dell, Deuce Spriggens, and Ken Curtis ("Festus" on TV's GUNSMOKE)).

The SOP also worked on radio programs such as their LUCKY U RANCH show which aired from about 1951-53 (in early 2002, a CD titled Sons of the Pioneers - Memories of the 'Lucky U' Ranch was issued on the Jasmine label). Another example is the syndicated Dr. Pepper sponsored 10-2-4 RANCH which aired in the 1940s, and the star was Dick Foran, Dave "Tex" O'Brien of the PRC Texas Rangers, and songstress Martha Mears. There's complete or abbreviated broadcasts available of this program from years 1943-44-45.

Texan Doug Bruton recalled seeing the Sons of the Pioneers: "In 1950, I had moved to Houston to live with my Dad. I found out that the Sons of the Pioneers were going to be downtown at the theater with the film WAGON MASTER. I skipped school and went to see the show. After they performed on stage, I ran around to the stagedoor and followed them up the street and asked a bunch of what I am sure were silly questions. They really treated me nice, with patience and courtesy. They answered all of my queries and let me walk with them at least three or four blocks before going in to their hotel. Those are memories you always cherish. Ken Curtis was singing with them at the time and also Tommy Doss."

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above - the Sons of the Pioneers in one of their early film appearances at Republic Pictures in THE BIG SHOW (1936) which starred Gene Autry.  From L-to-R are: Karl Farr, Bob Nolan (on bass fiddle), Tim Spencer, Hugh Farr, and on the far right is a young Len Slye (who became 'Dick Weston' and was a year or so away from becoming 'Roy Rogers').

(Courtesy of Bill Carroll)

Above is the cover of "The Sons of the Pioneers Song Folio No. 1" which was issued by music publisher Cross & Winge, Inc. This 1936 songbook - including front and back covers - is nearly 50 pages. Left to right in the photo inset are Hugh Farr, Karl Farr, Bob Nolan, Len Slye (Roy Rogers) and seated is Tim Spencer.

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above, the Sons of the Pioneers at Columbia with Charles Starrett --- from L-to-R are: Karl Farr, Tim Spencer, Lloyd Perryman, Charles Starrett, Bob Nolan, Pat Brady, and Hugh Farr.  Their association with Columbia began around 1935 and continued until the early 1940s, when they moved to Republic to assist Roy Rogers.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is the title lobby card to MAN FROM CHEYENNE (Republic, 1942). Behind Roy Rogers from L-to-R are Karl Farr (guitar), Lloyd Perryman (bass fiddle), Hugh Farr (fiddle), Tim Spencer (guitar), George 'Gabby' Hayes and Bob Nolan. In the photo inset on the right are Lynne Carver, Roy, Gale Storm, and James Seay.

(From Old Corral collection)

Above - 1940s era photo of one of the permutations of the Sons of the Pioneers singing group. From L-to-R are: Tim Spencer, Bob Nolan, Ken Carson and Karl Farr. Front and center, of course, is Republic star Roy Rogers.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is a lobby card and crop/blowup from DON'T FENCE ME IN (Republic, 1945). Sitting atop the stagecoach are, from L-to-R, Karl Farr (guitar), George "Shug" Fisher (bass) and Hugh Farr (fiddle).  Bottom row from L-to-R are Roy Rogers, Ken Carson (guitar), Bob Nolan (green shirt) and Tim Spencer.

(From Old Corral collection)

Above is a 1954 re-release lobby card from DON'T FENCE ME IN (Republic, 1945), one of the best of Roy and Gabby's films. From left to right are Hugh Farr, Karl Farr, Roy Rogers, Tim Spencer, Dale Evans, Ken Carson and Gabby Hayes. This film includes Cole Porter's hit song "Don't Fence Me In" as well as a great rendition of "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" by the Sons of the Pioneers. Dale Evans is a newspaper reporter out to do a story on 'Wildcat Kelly', a legendary outlaw who has been dead for decades. Dale discovers that 'Wildcat Kelly' is Gabby Hayes, who faked his death years ago and changed his ways from outlawry to honest citizen.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Above is a lobby card and a crop/blowup from the Trucolor UNDER CALIFORNIA STARS (Republic, 1948).  From L-to-R are Lloyd Perryman, Bob Nolan, Doye O'Dell, Karl Farr (guitar), Hugh Farr, and Pat Brady (bass). Andy Devine, one of Roy's later sidekicks, is on the piano. This Roy Rogers film was among the 1947-48 releases which marked the "end of the trail" for the Sons of the Pioneers at Republic Pictures and in series westerns. Their last B-western was NIGHTTIME IN NEVADA (Republic, 1948) another Trucolor oater starring Rogers which was released in September, 1948. The group did appear in a few other films such as cavalry regimental singers in RIO GRANDE (1950) which starred John Wayne and was directed by John Ford.

The official Sons of the Pioneers website is at:

Calin Coburn, Bob Nolan's grandson, has created a superb website on Nolan, the Sons of the Pioneers, and the group members. This link will take you to a webpage where you can select an SOP member biography:

On the Nolan website, there's a great section on the Sons of the Pioneers, Dick Foran, Martha Mears and the Dr. Pepper 10-2-4 radio program:

Want more info on Bob Nolan (real name: Clarence Robert Nobles) and the Sons of the Pioneers --- there's a large section with lots of images off the Old Corral homepage.

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website has info on the interment locations for several of the SOP members:

Roy Rogers at Sunset Valley Memorial Park, Apple Valley, California:
Tim Spencer at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills:
Lloyd Perryman at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills:
Pat Brady at Evergreen Cemetery, Colorado Springs, Colorado:
Karl Farr at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park, Los Angeles:
Bob Nolan (cremated):
Ken Curtis (cremated):

Mark Tourin sent an e-mail noting that Ken Carson was a stock member of Garry Moore's cast on his first TV show which was live, in the afternoon on WCBS-TV Channel 2, NYC. (Correct - Carson was with the SOP and he was the 'crooner' with the Moore show beginning around 1950.)  But Mark also has a recollection that Carson did a kid show (live, cowboy) on channel (5) on the long-defunct Dumont Network, and the show was hosted by Bob Dixon (who began on CBS Radio as a house announcer and was the announcer for legendary Ed Murrow when Murrow did nightly radio newscasts). The Dumont show on Channel 5 (call letters at that time were WABD for Alan B. Dumont) took place on a 'general store' set and there was a female also appearing with Dixon and Ken Carson. TV schedules from that time indicate that this WABD show was probably called "Sheriff Bob Dixon", AKA "Chuck Wagon". If you have details on Ken Carson's DuMont TV work, please send an e-mail to the Old Corral webmaster.

On the Bob Nolan website, Madison C. has authored a lengthy biography on Ken Carson:

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