Bob Nolan

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Bob Nolan
Bob Nolan in Lights of Old Santa Fe (1944)
Background information
Birth nameClarence Robert Nobles
Born(1908-04-13)April 13, 1908
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
DiedJune 16, 1980(1980-06-16) (aged 72)
Newport Beach, California, United States
GenresWestern, country
Years active1933–1949

Bob Nolan (born Clarence Robert Nobles; April 13, 1908 – June 16, 1980, name changed to Robert Clarence Nobles in 1929) was a Canadian-born American singer, songwriter, and actor. He was a founding member of the Sons of the Pioneers, and composer of numerous Country music and Western music songs, including the standards "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds." He is generally regarded as one of the finest Western songwriters of all time.[1] As an actor and singer he appeared in scores of Western films.

Early years[edit]

Nolan was born April 13, 1908, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada[2] to Harry Nobles and Flora Elizabeth Hussey Nobles. The couple separated in 1915, and Flora raised her two little boys in Winnipeg.[3]

In the summer of 1916, Flora temporarily moved her children to her husband's parents' home in Hatfield Point, New Brunswick, but due to the machinations of his father, Nolan never saw his mother again.[3]

In the summer of 1919, Nolan went to live with his aunt in Boston, Massachusetts.[4] There he attended The Belmont School until 1921, when, at the age of thirteen, he moved to Tucson, Arizona, to live with his father Harry, a United States Army officer.[4] He attended Safford Junior High School until 1922, then transferred to Roskruge Junior High. In high school he was an average student, was a member of the Arion Club choral group, and excelled in athletics. He graduated from Tucson High School in May 1928.[3]

On July 7, 1928, less than two months after he graduated high school, Nolan married his high school sweetheart, 16-year-old Tennie Pearl Fields. Thirteen months later, daughter Roberta Irene was born to them, but the marriage foundered almost from the beginning.[3]

After he left school, Nolan drifted around the country, finding work where he could and always writing songs. He took a lifeguard job in Los Angeles in 1929. His father had changed his name to Nolan and it was as Bob Nolan that he began a career as a singer on the Chautauqua tent-show circuit and as a lifeguard in Santa Monica.[3]

Sons of the Pioneers[edit]

In September 1931, 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, led by a young singer named Leonard Slye, who would later change his name to Roy Rogers. After listening to the tall, slender, tanned Nolan sing and yodel, Slye hired Nolan on the spot. Although he stayed with the group only a short time, he stayed in touch with Slye.

In 1934, Nolan co-founded the Sons of the Pioneers with Leonard Slye and Tim Spencer. The singing group became very popular and produced numerous recordings for Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor.

The Sons of the Pioneers began performing Nolan's original songs on a nationally syndicated radio show. "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" became their signature tune and a Western standard, and was one of the first songs the group recorded when it signed with Decca in 1934. In the coming years, The Sons of the Pioneers recorded many other Nolan songs, including "Way Out There", "There's a Roundup in the Sky", "One More Ride", and "Cool Water", which became one of the group's most famous recordings.[1]

In 1937, Leonard Slye took the name Roy Rogers and was forced by his new employers, Republic Pictures, to leave the group. The Pioneers continued to function as a cooperative partnership, with no formal leader, until they rejoined Rogers at Republic in 1941. Nolan reluctantly became the group's front man because his face and voice were the most recognizable in the group.[1][5]

Film career[edit]

In 1934, Nolan began his career in film as the singing voice for Ken Maynard in the 1934 film In Old Santa Fe. In 1935, the Sons of the Pioneers appeared in their first full-length Western movie The Old Homestead. That same year they signed with Columbia Pictures to provide the music for the western films of Charles Starrett.[1][5] The deal was far from lucrative (they were paid $33 apiece to appear in each film, and Nolan and Spencer each received $10 for every original song), but the worldwide exposure was beneficial to the group.

Nolan appeared in at least 88 Western films, first for Columbia Pictures and later with cowboy stars Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. With the Sons of the Pioneers, he made guest appearances in high-budget films like Hollywood Canteen and Rhythm on the Range with Bing Crosby. He also appeared in the Walt Disney short, Melody Time.[5][6]

Nolan had strong featured roles in the Charles Starrett westerns, often playing the second lead. Columbia's president Harry Cohn took an interest in Nolan, and issued three edicts: he ordered Nolan to have his nose fixed; he decided that Nolan's singing voice in the early Starrett pictures was not a polished baritone and should be dubbed by other singers; and he wanted to groom Nolan to star in his own movies. Nolan grudgingly went along with Cohn's first two directives but turned down the chance to be a movie star. Movie fans (who knew Nolan's singing voice from records and radio) urged Columbia to use Nolan's own voice, which was finally heard on screen in 1940.

In 1941, Columbia disbanded the close-knit Starrett unit temporarily, freeing the Sons of the Pioneers to join Roy Rogers at Republic Pictures. Nolan and the group appeared as his musical sidekicks in numerous films through 1948. Their last film together was Night Time in Nevada. In many of these films, Nolan was featured in prominent supporting roles with significant dialogue.[1][6] Republic once offered Nolan his own cowboy film series, which he declined.

On June 11, 1942, Nolan married Clara Brown, whose slight stature led to her being nicknamed P-Nuts. They met at the Columbia Drugstore on Sunset and Gower near the Columbia Studio lot. P-Nuts had come to Hollywood in search of stardom, but found work instead at the drugstore, where Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers frequently had lunch and where Nolan would work on his song lyrics.[7]

Later years[edit]

In 1949, Nolan retired from show business and began a semi-secluded life as a songwriter. He returned to record with the Sons of the Pioneers in 1956, at the insistence of RCA Victor executives who wanted to capitalize on Nolan's TV exposure in the old Rogers westerns.

In 1971, Nolan was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1980, at the age of 72, Nolan recorded his last LP album Bob Nolan: The Sound of a Pioneer.[1][8]

Nolan died on June 16, 1980, in Newport Beach, California, of a heart attack. At his request, his ashes were scattered in Red Rock Canyon in the Nevada desert.[8]

On July 27, 1980, many of his friends and former colleagues gathered at Rex Allen's Diamond X ranch in Calabasas, California, to honor him musically. Among those who attended the memorial were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, the current Sons of the Pioneers, and the Reinsmen.[8]

Honours and awards[edit]




  1. ^ a b c d e f Huey, Steve. "Bob Nolan Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Williams, Rob. "Guess Who duo in hall of fame". Canoe. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Bob Nolan: Early Life and Career (1908–1931)". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
  4. ^ a b King, Betty Nygaard. "Robert Nolan". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved January 8, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c "Bob Nolan: Early Life and Career (1935–1940)". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  6. ^ a b "Bob Nolan: Early Life and Career (1940–1941)". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  7. ^ "Bob Nolan: Early Life and Career (1942–1943)". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  8. ^ a b c "Bob Nolan: The Final Years (1950–1980)". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  9. ^ "Lyrics & Poems". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  10. ^ "Bob Nolan". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved August 8, 2011.

External links[edit]