Robert Nolan

Bob (Robert Clarence) Nolan (b Nobles). Country singer, songwriter, b Winnipeg, 13 Apr 1908, d Los Angeles 16 Jun 1980. Nolan was raised in Winnipeg; Point Hatfield, New Brunswick; and Boston, and moved at 14 to Arizona.

Nolan, Robert Clarence

Bob (Robert Clarence) Nolan (b Nobles). Country singer, songwriter, b Winnipeg, 13 Apr 1908, d Los Angeles 16 Jun 1980. Nolan was raised in Winnipeg; Point Hatfield, New Brunswick; and Boston, and moved at 14 to Arizona. He attended the University of Arizona until 1927, then travelled in the USA, settling in 1929 in California. His amateur musical experience included singing and playing fiddle on Los Angeles radio. With Dick Weston (better known as Leonard Slye or Roy Rogers) and Tim Spencer in Los Angeles 1933, Nolan founded the successful western singing group, the Sons of the Pioneers (originally the Pioneer Trio), with whom he toured and recorded. In addition to singing and songwriting, he played bass fiddle (double bass). When Rogers left for a solo acting career in 1938, Nolan became the group's leader. From 1935-48, Nolan was popular as an actor and singer in supporting roles in dozens of US cowboy films, especially those of Roy Rogers; he appeared both individually and with the group, which became known as Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers. The group had its own national radio show, 'Lucky U Ranch,' and was also seen on television. Much appreciated for their close harmonies, yodelling, and smooth approach to country singing, they were recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Nolan departed the group in 1949, rejoining it 1955-8.

Nolan recorded a solo album in 1953, and another, Bob Nolan: The Sound of a Pioneer, with Elektra in 1979 (re-released by Garrett-Deutz in 2000). Nolan is said to have written more than 1200 songs; he was the composer of his group's major hits, Tumblin' Tumbleweeds and "Cool Water," both of which achieved the status of country classics. They appear in the Hal Leonard 1998 publication Country Music Hall of Fame Songbook series. Among Canadians who have recorded "Cool Water" are the Rhythm Pals, and Joni Mitchell. Lawrence Zwisohn identifies Nolan as "without a doubt the finest songwriter Western music has ever produced" (liner notes, Rhino R2 75722, 1999). Nolan's voice and compositions may be heard on the four-CD set, Sons of the Pioneers: Wagons West (Bear Family Records, BCD 15640 DI).

Nolan was inducted in 1971 to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and posthumously into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Honour and the Western Music Hall of Fame in 1993. "Cool Water" and "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" were inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. The Sons of the Pioneers were also elected to the US Country Music Hall of Fame. The University of North Carolina's Elizabeth Drake McDonald collection holds material on Nolan.


Further Reading

  • Griffis, Ken. Hear My Song: The Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers (Camarillo, California 1994)

    Hopper, Paul Lawrence. Bob Nolan: A Biographical Guide and Annotations to the Lyric Archive (Bergenfield, New Jersey 2000)

    McDonald, Elizabeth Drake. Lyrics: The Song Poems of Bob Nolan (self-published)

    - Bob Nolan, Volume Two: The Last Song Poems (self-published)