Kalpana Kalpana (Editor)

Sons of the Pioneers

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Genres  Country, Western
Associated acts  Roy Rogers
Active from  1933
Years active  1933–present
Website  Official website
Awards  Grammy Hall of Fame
Sons of the Pioneers wwwsonsofthepioneersorgImages193420SOP

Labels  Decca, RCA Victor, Vocalion
Past members  Roy RogersBob NolanTim SpencerHugh FarrKarl FarrLloyd PerrymanPat BradyKen CarsonDeuce SpriggensShug FisherKen CurtisTommy DossRoy LanhamDale WarrenGeorge BambyRome JohnsonRusty RichardsLuther NallieDale MorrisSee the Timeline section
Albums  Symphonies of the Sage, The Sons of the Pioneers
Members  Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, Ken Curtis, Tim Spencer, Pat Brady

Maureen o hara john wayne and the sons of the pioneers in rio grande

The Sons of the Pioneers are one of the United States' earliest Western singing groups. Known for their vocal performances, their musicianship, and their songwriting, they produced innovative recordings that have inspired many Western music performers and remained popular through the years. Since 1933, through many changes in membership, the Sons of the Pioneers have remained one of the longest-surviving country music vocal groups.


The sons of the pioneers cowboy camp meeting 1949


In the spring of 1931, Ohio-born Leonard Slye—the cowboy singer who would later change his name to Roy Rogers—arrived in California and found work as a truck driver, and later as a fruit picker for the Del Monte company in California's Central Valley. He entered an amateur singing contest on a Los Angeles radio show called Midnight Frolics and a few days later got an invitation to join a group called the Rocky Mountaineers.

In September 1931, Canadian-born Bob Nolan answered a classified ad in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that read, "Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred." The band was The Rocky Mountaineers, by then led by Leonard Slye. After listening to the tall, slender, tanned Nolan sing and yodel, Slye hired Nolan on the spot. Although Nolan stayed with the group only a short time, he stayed in touch with Slye. Nolan was replaced by Tim Spencer, who had been working in a Safeway Stores warehouse.

In the spring of 1932, Slye, Spencer, and another singer, Slumber Nichols, left the Rocky Mountaineers to form a trio, which soon failed. Throughout most of 1932, Slye and Spencer moved through a series of short-lived groups like the International Cowboys and the O-Bar-O Cowboys. Spencer left the O-Bar-O Cowboys and quit music for a while. Slye joined Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws, who were a popular act on a local Los Angeles radio station.

In early 1933, Slye, Nolan, and Spencer formed a group called the Pioneer Trio. The three young singers rehearsed for weeks honing their singing. While Slye continued to work with his radio singing group, Spencer and Nolan began writing songs for the group.

Early success

By early 1934, the group consisted of Leonard Slye, Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer on vocals, with Nolan playing string bass and Slye playing rhythm guitar. During that time, fiddle player Hugh Farr joined the group, adding a bass voice to the group's vocal arrangements. He also sang lead on some songs. Later that year, the "Pioneers Trio" became the "Sons of the Pioneers" through a radio station announcer's chance remark. Asked why he'd changed their name, the announcer said they were too young to have been pioneers, but that they could be sons of pioneers. The name was received well and fit the group, who were no longer a trio.

By the summer of 1934, the Sons of the Pioneers' popularity and fame extended beyond the Los Angeles area and quickly spread across the United States through short syndicated radio segments that were rebroadcast all over the country. They signed a recording contract with the newly founded Decca label, and on August 8, 1934, the Sons of the Pioneers made their first commercial recording. That same day, the immensely popular crooner Bing Crosby also made his first Decca session.

One of the first songs recorded by the Sons of the Pioneers during that first August session was written by Bob Nolan, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", that would soon become a staple in their repertoire. The original title "Tumbling Leaves" was changed to give the song a western character. Over the next two years the group would record 32 songs for Decca. Their output includes a 1937 recording of "The Blue Juniata," by Marion Dix Sullivan,.

Film and television career

Between 1935 and 1984, the Sons of the Pioneers appeared in 87 films, several movie shorts, and a television series. In 1935 they signed with Columbia Pictures to supply the music for the studio's Charles Starrett westerns. In 1937, Leonard Slye was offered a contract as an actor with rival Republic Pictures. Part of that deal required him to leave the singing group. Leonard Slye was rechristened Roy Rogers, and went on to achieve major success as a singing cowboy in the movies. Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers remained close throughout the coming years. When the Starrett unit disbanded at the end of the 1941 season, the Pioneers rejoined Rogers at Republic and were soon appearing as highly popular supporting players in the Rogers westerns.

By this time the group was billed as "Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers." Nolan was reluctant to be the "leader" of the group, which had been formed as a co-operative outfit with no formal leader, but he bowed to the demands of show business; agents, music publishers, and recording companies insisted that co-operative bands needed a name to promote them (as in Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra). Because Bob Nolan's featured appearances with Starrett had made him the most recognizable of the Pioneers, Nolan reluctantly became the "front" for the group.

In addition to their appearances and filmed performances, their music was used in numerous other films and television shows. and for John Ford movies Wagon Master in 1949 and Rio Grande in 1950, and performed the theme song for the John Ford classic The Searchers in 1956. "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" was used in the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski in 1998.

Passing of an era

In 1971, Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer were both elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1972, most of the surviving members of the Sons of the Pioneers, including the original Pioneer Trio of Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer, gathered at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles for one last performance. In 1980, the Sons of the Pioneers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In 1979, Bob Nolan returned to the studio for the final time and recorded a successful solo album of classics and newer compositions titled Bob Nolan – The Sound of a Pioneer.

The late 1970s saw the passing of an era, as many of the founding members of the group died. Tim Spencer died on April 26, 1976. Lloyd Perryman, who had been with the group since 1936, died on May 31, 1977. Hugh Farr, who had retired from the group in 1958, died on April 17, 1980. Bob Nolan died on June 16, 1980.

Sons of the Pioneers today

Following the death of Lloyd Perryman in 1977, Dale Warren, who had joined the group in 1952 and continued on until his death on August 8, 2008, took over the leadership of the Sons of the Pioneers, guiding them into the 2000s. They continued to perform in concert and recorded as well with a lineup that featured, amongst many others, Luther Nallie (guitar, vocals), Rusty Richards (vocals), Doye O'Dell (guitar, vocals), Billy Armstrong (fiddle), Billy Liebert (accordion), Gary LeMaster (lead guitar)and Rome Johnson (vocals).

The current "Trail Boss" of the Sons of the Pioneers is Tommy Nallie (guitar, yodels, harmony vocals), who joined the group in 1983. Other current band members are Ken Lattimore (tenor vocals, fiddle), Randy Rudd (lead vocals, guitar, MC), Mark Abbott (bass vocals, bass), and Justin Branum (fiddle, mandolin). In 2001, a book about the group was published, titled The Sons of the Pioneers by Bill O'Neal and Fred Goodwin. Another book about the group, first published in 1974, is called Hear My Song, The Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers by Ken Griffis, and is available on The Pioneers' website.


In 1977, the Smithsonian Institution, which designates certain artists and performers who have made a noteworthy contribution to the arts and culture of America, named the Sons of the Pioneers as "National Treasures".

In 1995, the Sons of the Pioneers were inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The Sons of the Pioneers were the first Country and Western group to sing at Carnegie Hall, and the first to perform at the lavish nightclubs in Las Vegas. The group has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6845 Hollywood Blvd. for recording.


Since 1933, 43 singers and musicians have been official members of the Sons of the Pioneers.

Honors and awards

  • 1971 Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame
  • 1976 Gene Autry Award
  • 1976 Hollywood Walk of Fame Award
  • 1977 Smithsonian Institution's "National Treasure" Designation
  • 1978 Pioneer Award from Academy of Country Music
  • 1980 Country Music Hall of Fame as the Original Sons of the Pioneers (Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer, Hugh Farr, Karl Farr, Lloyd Perryman)
  • 1984 New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame Award
  • 1986 Grammy Award for "Cool Water"
  • 1988 Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame
  • 1994 Western Music Association Hall of Fame Award
  • 2002 Grammy Award for "Tumbling Tumbleweeds"
  • 2003 Golden Boot Award by Motion Picture and Television Fund
  • Songs

    Tumbling TumbleweedsThe Big Lebowski · 1998
    Cool WaterCowboy Classics · 1949
    Riders in the SkyRCA Country Legends · 1990


    Sons of the Pioneers Wikipedia