Personalities | Roy Rogers & The Sons Of The Pioneers | Cowboys & Playboys | Country

The Sons Of The Pioneers are one of the most influential vocal groups in American history – an impeccable hallmark of fluid precision and musical integrity since 1933, universally admired for their tight sound and gorgeous harmonies.

The group also boasted two great American songwriters in Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan, and two of the most influential country instrumentalists of the 1930s–40s in Hugh and Karl Farr. The third member of the group’s original vocal trio, Leonard Slye, was perhaps the least conspicuously talented of the lot, but he ultimately rose to a level of individual stardom – under the name of Roy Rogers (1911–98) – that eclipsed that of the group he had been instrumental in forming.

Sons Of The West

The Sons Of The Pioneers were formed when the western music scene in southern California was still in its infancy, though there had been other western groups in the area, most notably the influential Beverly Hill Billies, an early role model for the Pioneers. After a few false starts, the original Pioneer Trio of Len Slye, Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer first came together in 1933. In 1934, they added the Texas-born country-jazz fiddler Hugh Farr and began recording for the fledgling Standard Transcription company, which spread their name and style nationally even before they had made a commercial recording or appeared on film. In early 1935, Hugh Farr’s talented guitarist younger brother Karl joined the group.

Tight harmonies, a beautiful vocal blend and the instrumental virtuosity of the Farrs set the Pioneers apart from the beginning, as did the songwriting abilities of Spencer and particularly Nolan, whose early efforts include all-time American classics such as ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds’ and ‘Cool Water’.

Recording, together with film appearances with Gene Autry and Charles Starrett, spread the Pioneers’ fame and influence, but with success came upheaval. Spencer left for a while, replaced by Lloyd Perryman, who possessed one of the most loved voices in western-music history and who would become the band’s sturdy lynchpin for much of its later existence. Rogers left in 1937 to pursue a solo career, replaced by bassist-comedian Pat Brady. Despite the changes, the band went from strength to strength into the war years, when the departure of Perryman and Brady for war service necessitated further personnel changes, including the adding of veteran western vocalist Ken Carson and bassist-comedian Shug Fisher.

Pioneering Film Stars

In 1941, the band appeared in the first of some 40 films in support of old colleague Rogers, by then a star in his own right for Republic Pictures. Rogers had been signed by the studio in 1937 when its disgruntled star Autry had walked out on his contract. By the 1940s, Rogers was billed the ‘king of the cowboys’, and had become one of the biggest stars in the country.

After the war, both Rogers and the Pioneers began long associations with RCA Victor, recording numerous classics, including, together, the lovely hit ‘Blue Shadows On The Trail’. A widowed Rogers married co-star...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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