Bob Nolan in Lights of Old Santa Fe (1944)
|Birth name||Robert Clarence Nobles|
April 13, 1908|
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
|Died||June 16, 1980
Newport Beach, California, United States
|Associated acts||Sons of the Pioneers|
Bob Nolan (April 13, 1908 – June 16, 1980) 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. As an actor and singer he appeared in scores of Western films.
Robert Clarence Nobles was born April 13, 1908 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to Harry Nobles and Flora Elizabeth Hussey Nobles. The couple separated in 1915, and Flora raised her two little boys in Winnipeg.
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, Bob never saw his mother again.
In the summer of 1919 Bob went to live with his aunt in Boston, Massachusetts. 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. 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.
On July 7, 1928, less than two months after he graduated high school, Bob 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.
After he left school, Bob 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.
Sons of the Pioneers
In September 1931 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, 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.
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.
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. Bob Nolan reluctantly became the group's front man because his face and voice were the most recognizable in the group.
In 1934 Bob 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. 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.
Bob 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.
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 Bob 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. Republic once offered Nolan his own cowboy film series, which he declined.
On June 11, 1942 Bob 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.
In 1949 Bob 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.
Bob 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. Nolan was survived by a grandchild, Calin Coburn, and three great-grandchildren, Cayleen, Miles, and Connor Coburn.
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.
Honours and awards
- 1971 Western Heritage Wrangler Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame
- 1972 BMI Special Citation of Achievement for "Cool Water"
- 1976 Gene Autry Award
- 1976 Hollywood Walk of Fame Award
- 1977 William F. Cody Award
- 1979 National Western Film Heritage Award
- 1980 Country Music Hall of Fame Country Music Association Award
- 1984 New Brunswick Country Music Hall of Fame Award
- 1986 Grammy Award for "Cool Water"
- 1993 Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Fame
- 1994 Western Music Association Hall of Fame Award
- 2005 Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Award for "Tumbling Tumbleweeds"
- 2005 Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame Award for "Cool Water"
- 2011 American Cowboy Culture Award for Western Music.
- 2012 Manitoba Country Music Association Hall of Fame Award
- Huey, Steve. "Bob Nolan Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- Williams, Rob. "Guess Who duo in hall of fame". Canoe. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- "Bob Nolan: Early Life and Career (1908-1931)". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
- King, Betty Nygaard. "Robert Nolan". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved January 8, 2011.
- "Bob Nolan: Early Life and Career (1935-1940)". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- "Bob Nolan: Early Life and Career (1940-1941)". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- "Bob Nolan: Early Life and Career (1942-1943)". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- "Bob Nolan: The Final Years (1950-1980)". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- "Lyrics & Poems". Bob Nolan Web Site. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
- "Bob Nolan". International Movie Database. Retrieved August 8, 2011.
- Bob Nolan at allmusic
- Bob Nolan at B-Westerns
- Bob Nolan at CMT
- Bob Nolan at the Internet Movie Database
- Bob Nolan at Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
- Bob Nolan at Western Music Association Hall of Fame
- Bob Nolan at Manitoba Country Music Hall of Fame
- Bob Nolan Web Site by Grandson Calin Coburn
- The Elizabeth Drake McDonald Collection in the Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill
- Poet Laureate of the West Video produced by the PBS Series History Detectives