Songs that conjure up images of tumbleweeds, horses, prairies and canyons — simply put cowboy music.
It is what the Sons of the Pioneers are synonymous with, having spent decades as a western singing music group whose songs are entwined into the lore and mystique of the American West. And, they are bringing that nostalgia to the Okanagan region.
“People in the audience light up because they remember all these songs like Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water. They remember them from when they were a child watching western movies and hearing the Pioneers songs that were in over 100 movies,” said Tommy Nallie, member of the Sons of Pioneers who are performing in Oliver, Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops among other places in B.C.
The group was first started 84 years ago by Roy Rogers and the gifted songwriters of Canadian Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer. They garnered national and international fans through appearances in western films during the 30s to 50s. As well, numerous albums were recorded with songs like Ghost Riders in the Sky and others that were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Nallie, who resides in Branson and is the trail boss of the group, takes on the role of curator of the famous pioneer sound and archivist of the group owning a copy of almost every recording they have ever made. It was a duty passed along to him from his brother, who served as trail boss before him.
“I feel fortunate that I was given this opportunity. I want to do my best to keep the legacy going because we don’t want to see it die. It is just good music and the Pioneers have a great history. I feel like it is a great responsibility we all have. It would be easy to say, ‘OK, lets stop.’ But, this is a legacy that is 84 years old and as members retire or leave us, we make sure the new people coming in do things properly. They learn all the original arrangements and the group evolves slowly without abrupt change to make sure the history remains,” said Nallie.
Sons of the Pioneers provided several songs for John Ford westerns, including the soundtrack for The Searchers starring John Wayne. When TV came along, they regularly appeared on the Roy Rogers Show and had guest appearances on such programs as the Barbara Mandrell Show. Walt Disney called upon the Pioneers to supply the soundtrack for the film Pecos Bill. They were the first cowboy musical group to perform at Carnegie Hall and the first to headline in Las Vegas casinos.
The current configuration of Sons of the Pioneers is part of a continuous and uninterrupted 84-year existence in which they have accumulated more coveted honours and awards than anyone in western music. The group has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Western Music Association Hall of Fame and the National Cowboy Hall of Fame among others. The Smithsonian Institute named them as “national treasures.”
The Pioneers are known around the world for their unique three and four part harmonies. According to the trail boss, who joined the group in the 1980’s.
“We are honoured to be returning to Canada. We had western Canadian tours in 2015, in 2016 and we were parade marshalls for the Calgary Stampede in the 1990’s.” Nallie said. “Every concert is pure cowboy music packed with our timeless hits, solid western swing and a good measure of comedy and banter. Each of the five members share the vocals and instrumentals.”
Part of the hallmark sound comes from acoustic fiddles, mandolin, upright bass, and lead and rhythm guitars.
Sons of the Pioneers are performing at the Frank Venables Theatre in Oliver on June 24 at 7 p.m. Oliver tickets are available through www.venablestheatre.ca or by phone 1-250-498-1626.