The Sons of the Pioneers

Active - 1935 - 1982  |   Genres - Western

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Biography by Hal Erickson

One of the earliest country-western groups to cross over into the mainstream--and to enjoy a healthy movie career to boot--The Sons of the Pioneers began life in 1933. At that time, it was an LA-based operation known as the Pioneer Trio. Its charter members were three previous members of a group called the Rocky Mountaineers: Leonard Slye, Vernon "Tim" Spencer, and Bob Nolan (born Robert Clarence Noble), who wrote most of the group's songs. The trio was officially christened the Sons of the Pioneers when fiddler Hugh Farr joined them in 1934; the following year, Hugh's brother Karl Farr made the group a quintet. Establishing themselves on Hollywood radio station KFWB, the Sons recorded their first big hit, "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds," in 1935, the same year that they made their film debut in Rhythm on the Range. In 1936, the Sons, now with Lloyd Perriman in the fold, showed up in the big-budget Bing Crosby vehicle Rhythm on the Range. In 1937, Leonard Slye--now known as Roy Rogers--was tapped for cowboy-movie stardom by Republic Pictures; his replacement in the Sons was Pat Brady, who later played Roy's TV comical sidekick. From 1937 to 1941, the group co-starred in the Charles Starrett westerns at Columbia. Just before Brady and Perryman went off to fight in World War II (they were replaced by Ken Carson), the group recorded its biggest song hit, "Cool Water." During the postwar years, the Sons were regularly featured in Republic's "B"-western product, often in support of their old crony Roy Rogers. In 1949, the group turned out the last of its substantial hits, "Room Full of Roses." The following year, they provided the ballad-like musical score for John Fords Wagonmaster. By this time, Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan had been replaced by future Gunsmoke co-star Ken Curtis and Spike Doss, and Perryman had assumed leadership of the group. Curtis himself would leave in 1953, to be replaced by Dale Warren; other newer members of the Sons included Shug Fisher (who like Pat Brady before him enjoyed a lengthy career in comedy-relief parts) and Deuce Spriggins. The last of the original Sons, Hugh Farr, left the group in 1958 after a bitter internal dispute; his replacement was Wade Ray. And when Karl Farr died in 1961, Roy Lanham became the last "new" member of the aggregation. Still going strong into the 1970s, the Sons reunited with Roy Rogers in 1979 to record the top-20 success "Ride, Concrete Cowboy, Ride." In 1980, the Sons of the Pioneers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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