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The Sons of the Pioneers is an American cowboy singing group founded in 1933 by Leonard Slye (better known by his later screen name, Roy Rogers), with Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan. They were joined by Hugh Farr (fiddle/bass vocals) in 1934, Karl Farr (guitar) in 1935, and Lloyd Perryman (vocals) in 1936.
When Rogers began his film career, the group took on Pat Brady (string bass), who brought with him his flair for comedy (Brady later starred as Rogers’s sidekick in his popular 1951 television program). The group remained popular into the 1960s. In 2003, the Sons of the Pioneers was among the winners of the Golden Boot Award, along with actors Chris Alcaide, Kelo Henderson, Tommy Lee Jones, and Kris Kristofferson.
Though all of the original members are deceased, the group continues. Group “trail boss”, Dale Warren (a member since 1952, replacing Ken Curtis), died in August of 2008, ending a 56-year stint with the group. The group still performs regularly at concerts in Branson, Missouri and other locations, as of 2010, led by current “trail boss” Luther Nallie (who joined 42 years ago). Current members are Luther Nallie, Gary LeMaster, Ken Lattimore, Randy Rudd, Ricky Boen and Mark Abbott.
It has been claimed that The Sons of the Pioneers is the oldest continually performing private musical group in history. Ken Curtis is best remembered as an actor, primarily for playing Festus on Gunsmoke, but was a member of the Sons from 1949 to 1953. Western character actor Shug Fisher was a member from 1943 – 46, 1949 – 53 and 1955 – 59.
Sons of the Pioneers was the name of a 1942 singing cowboy film starring Roy Rogers and featuring the group. The Sons of the Pioneers recorded songs for the 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 also used in the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski (1998).
In 1962, The Sons of the Pioneers appeared in the short-lived comedy, Western, and variety program,The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, on ABC.
The six members who made The Sons of the Pioneers famous in the 1930s with their close-harmonied Western style music were elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980. In 1995, they were inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The group has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6845 Hollywood Blvd. for recording.
It has been estimated that the group appeared in 150 motion pictures, usually providing musical backup to cowboy stars from Roy Rogers to the non-musical John Wayne.
The Sons of the Pioneers recorded for RCA Victor Records (Hollywood, CA) until 1969. Their final RCA album was The Sons of the Pioneers Visit the South Seas. The smooth orchestrated albums produced in the 1950s and 1960s for RCA are perhaps the most familiar to this generation of listeners. Vocalists on those albums were usually the trio of Lloyd Perryman, Dale Warren and Lloyd (Tommy) Doss. Doss retired from the group in 1967 and moved to his home state of Oregon, where he still lives.
In 1978, the Pioneers produced an album titled Western Country for Granite Records. And in 1979, founding member Bob Nolan returned to the studio for the final time and recorded a successful solo album of classics and newer compositions titled Bob Nolan’s, The Sound of a Pioneer. Nolan died in California of a heart attack in 1980. The last of the original group to pass away was Roy Rogers.
In 1977, the Smithsonian designated the Sons of the Pioneers as “a national treasure.” That year their album A Country-Western Songbook hit number 50 on the US country charts.
Writing in Country Music magazine, Wayne Forsythe noted, 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.
In 2001, Bill O’Neal, an author based in Carthage, Texas, published with Fred Goodwin a book about the group titled The Sons of the Pioneers.