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(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
Bob Nolan

Birth name:
Clarence Robert Nobles

Later changed to:
Robert Clarence Nolan

1908 -1980

Elizabeth Drake McDonald (weblink below) provides some info on Nolan:

"He was born "Clarence Robert Nobles" on April 13, 1908, Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Flora and Harry Nobles. His surname was changed to "Nolan" when he rejoined his father in Tucson in 1921. He was "Clarence Robert Nolan" or "Clarence" all the time he lived in Arizona. When he moved to California in 1929, his friends started calling him "Bob". He changed the order of his names when he started publishing music. ("Robert Clarence" made it simpler - it's always a little awkward when you are known by your second name.) He changed his birthdate to April 1, 1908 and his birthplace to New Brunswick simply by usage. He may never have known that he was born in Winnipeg. Dates, names and statistics were not important to him and he changed them freely to suit himself on documents. Music and poetry had priority in his life. Everything and everyone else came second. Nolan passed away on June 16, 1980."

Nolan was a founding member of the Sons of the Pioneers western singing group along with Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers) and Tim Spencer, and the group's original, but short-lived name was the "Pioneer Trio". Their first recording contract was with Decca records in 1934.

Nolan was a prolific songwriter and several of his most memorable tunes are "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds". In the mid 1930s, he and the Sons of the Pioneers signed with Columbia Pictures as helpers and tunesmiths for the Charles Starrett series. And in 1941, Nolan and the group saddled up at Republic to assist Roy Rogers.

It was during their days at Republic Pictures that the billing credit changed from "The Sons of the Pioneers" to "Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers". Nolan often had dialog and screen time as one of Roy's helpers/sidekicks. In the earlier films, it was Roy being assisted by George "Gabby" Hayes and Nolan, while the later entries featured Andy Devine and Nolan.

Their last work in a B-western series --- for Bob Nolan as well as the Sons of the Pioneers --- was NIGHTTIME IN NEVADA (Republic, 1948), one of the Roy Rogers Trucolor adventures. The group --- sans Nolan --- did appear in a few other films such as the cavalry regimental singers in RIO GRANDE (1950) which was directed by John Ford and starred John Wayne.

Some folks have asked why Nolan and the group left the Roy Rogers films (and were replaced by Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage).  Two reasons are often mentioned in books and articles. Both Nolan and Spencer were tired of the touring, and Spencer had a publishing business to maintain.  They both decided to exit at or around the time when the SOP contract with Republic was ending.  The other variation is that the Riders of the Purple Sage were less expensive to the ever thrifty Republic Pictures. (See link below for info on the May, 1948 termination letter sent to the SOP by Republic President Herbert Yates.)

Les Adams has Nolan identified in 90+ movies, and this includes his work with the Sons of the Pioneers and films such as Ken Maynard's IN OLD SANTA FE (Mascot, 1934) where he dubbed the singin' voice for Maynard at the opening of the film. Nolan's film total includes 79 westerns, 6 other films and 7 shorts.  Nolan didn't appear in any cliffhangers.

Following is a summary of B-western film appearances for Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers:

Star Production
Film Release
41 Roy Rogers Republic 1941-1948
30 Charles Starrett Columbia 1935-1941
3 Gene Autry Republic two in 1936, one in 1942
2 Dick Foran Warners 1936
1 Monte Hale Republic 1946

You may want to visit the In Search Of ... page on the Old Corral and then check the California Death Records database. There you will find a record for Robert Clarence Nolan, born 4/1/1908 in Canada, and he passed away on 6/16/1980. There is a corresponding record in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI).

Enjoy the images and filmography.

     Bob Nolan Links

  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Bob Nolan:

Calin Coburn (Bob Nolan's grandson) and Elizabeth Drake McDonald had a fantastic website on Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers with a filmography, biography ... and lots of great photos and images of posters and lobby cards. Sad to report that it is no longer running:
A replacement website is being re-built at:

In a May 7, 1948 letter, Herbert J. Yates, president of Republic Pictures, notified Tim Spencer that Republic would no longer utilize the Sons of the Pioneers. Yates' reasoning was "foreign market conditions and the shrinkage of domestic boxoffice receipts". A copy of that letter is available at the new Bob Nolan / Sons of the Pioneers website - you'll have to scroll about half way down this webpage to see the letter:

Following is the homepage for the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.  When you get to the site, click on 'Hall of Fame' at the top, and you'll find a mini bio on Nolan:

The Sons of the Pioneers were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame:

The Sons of the Pioneers singing group website is at:

Much of the Nolan manuscripts, etc. are in the Elizabeth Drake McDonald Collection, Manuscripts Department, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:

The BMI music licensing website has a listing of songs authored by Nolan. Go to the BMI homepage at:, and in the Search box, select 'Writer / composer' and enter 'Bob Nolan' in the search box.

The Sons of the Pioneers did work on radio programs, such as their LUCKY U RANCH show which aired from about 1951-53 (in early 2002, a CD titled Sons of the Pioneers - Memories of the 'Lucky U' Ranch was issued on the Jasmine label). Another example is the syndicated Dr. Pepper sponsored 10-2-4 RANCH program which aired in the 1940s, and the star was Dick Foran and later, Dave "Tex" O'Brien. There's complete or abbreviated broadcasts available of this program from years 1943-44-45.

Find A Grave website notes that Nolan was cremated:

The Sons of the Pioneers
with Charles Starrett at Columbia
and Roy Rogers at Republic

Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers), Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan were the three original/founding members of the singing group which became the Sons of the Pioneers.  Hugh Farr, who played the fiddle and had a deep bass voice, joined in 1934. Hugh's guitar-playing brother Karl Farr was added in 1935.

Lloyd Perryman and Pat Brady were in the military during World War II, and their replacements were Ken Carson and George 'Shug' Fisher.

Over the years, there were a variety of other members of the Sons of the Pioneers, and some names that come to mind include Tommy Doss, Doye O'Dell, Deuce Spriggens, and Ken Curtis ("Festus" on TV's GUNSMOKE).

The predominant (and most remembered) SOP members during their 1930s and 1940s work in B-westerns were:

Roy Rogers (Leonard Slye) - born in Cincinnati, Ohio, November 5, 1911; died July 6, 1998

Bob Nolan (Clarence Robert Nobles) - born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, April 13, 1908 (not the oft reported New Brunswick, Canada, April 1, 1908); died June 15, 1980

Vernon Harold 'Tim' Spencer - born in Webb City, Missouri, July 13, 1908; died April 26, 1974

Thomas Hubert 'Hugh' Farr - born in Llano, Texas, December 6, 1903; died March 17, 1980

Lloyd Wilson Perryman - born in Ruth, Arkansas, January 29, 1917; died May 31, 1977

Karl Farr - born in Rochelle, Texas, April 25, 1909; died September 20, 1961

Pat Brady (Patrick O'Brady) - born December 31, 1914; died February 27, 1972

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above, the Sons of the Pioneers with Charles Starrett --- from L-to-R are Karl Farr, Tim Spencer, Lloyd Perryman, Starrett, Bob Nolan, Pat Brady, and Hugh Farr.  Their association with Columbia began around 1935 and continued until the early 1940s, when they moved to Republic to assist Roy Rogers.

(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Lobby card from Gene Autry's THE BIG SHOW (1936).  On the left side, and from L-to-R are Smiley Burnette, Bob Nolan (on bass), Tim Spencer, Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers) (guitar). Seated are the Farr brothers (Karl on guitar and Hugh on fiddle). On the right side are Kay Hughes, Gene Autry, Elmer, Max Terhune and Frankie Marvin. The out-of-focus gent in the rear is Texas Ranger Captain Leonard Pack (who played a Dallas sheriff in the film).  Front and center is Sally Payne.

(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)

Above is a B&W still mirroring the above lobby card from Gene Autry's THE BIG SHOW (1936).  From L-to-R are Karl Farr (guitar), Bob Nolan (bass fiddle), Tim Spencer, Hugh Farr (fiddle), and on the far right is a young Len Slye (who became 'Dick Weston' and was a year or so away from becoming 'Roy Rogers').  In the mid 1930s, the Sons of the Pioneers worked in a couple of the early Autry westerns as well as a pair of the Dick Foran oaters for Warners.  Their next stop was at Columbia Pictures with Charles Starrett.  And the answer is yes --- before exiting the Sons of the Pioneers, Len Slye/Roy Rogers was with the group in several of the early Starrett oaters.

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