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Area Entertainment: 90 years, still going strong

     From the humble beginnings of three, to the strength today of five, and everywhere in between, let me introduce you to the longest ongoing performing band with no interruptions. Let me introduce you to this band that has taken 47 members, used over fourteen instruments, thousands of miles and towns, hundreds of television appearances, hundreds of recordings, over 100 films, hundreds of songs, millions of fans, numerous award titles, and so many memories added. 

 

     That's what's made this band. No other band can have this title; the only thing close is orchestras (and the Chuckwagon Gang). And that brings another point: they have played and recorded with orchestras. They've played the Madison Square Garden Rodeo, to the Grand Ole Opry, to the Houston Fat Stock Show, the Calgary Stampede, and hundreds of others.

 

     Welcome to the legendary Sons of the Pioneers.

 

     As this writer, I get the honor to attend their performances, keep track of their fun and antics, help with photo shoots, have the privilege of driving them around, and one of whom I'm honored to be married to—John Fullerton. Through this relationship I have been able to live out some of my dreams of traveling, meeting people, and experiencing new things. Now let's take a look into what makes these five members stand apart.




 

     Let me introduce the current longest active member, the Trail Boss: Tommy Nallie. His background begins in Beaumont, TX, where he grew up in a musical family. He played violin, he was concertmaster of his high school orchestra. Other instruments that he has played include, but not limited to, lead and rhythm guitar, bass, harmonica and drums. He is a military veteran having served in the Navy. Being well-rounded in musical talent, he has played with many well-known musicians and bands. Since joining the Pioneers in 1983, he has sung all vocal parts and played many instruments. He currently plays lead guitar, sings the middle vocal part in the trio, as well as solos. Currently he lives outside of Branson, MO. I asked if Tommy could recall his most embarrassing moment onstage! His reply, "That time we were singing Whoopie Ti-Yi-Yo and when it came time for my solo, I sang the verse to Strawberry Roan. I totally forgot where I was and just started singing. And to top it off, another time I kicked off the incorrect intro to a song!" When asked if he could jam with anyone past or present, he recalled, "Gosh there were all those times at Luther's house, with all my brothers and my nephews. Those are the fun times I'd like to have back. There’s nothing that beats those family jams! I also have my heroes, Sunny Spencer and Roy Lanham; it's hard to choose just one!"

 

      Next, I'd like to introduce Ken Lattimore. Born in North Carolina, but a longtime resident of Marshall, TX, Ken's music experiences have taken him around the world. He has participated on violin in numerous symphony orchestras and has a degree in music from Texas Tech University. He taught school orchestra for thirteen years and still writes scores and arrangements as needed. He sings tenor in the trio and is currently in his 26th consecutive year with the band. I asked Ken to tell me his most embarrassing moment onstage. "Well, when doing my first Marshall Symphony Orchestra appearance, we were doing the Star Spangled Banner and while on the upbow, my bow got caught in my jacket, it flipped around several times and landed below in the orchestra pit! I had to just stand there!"

     When asked who he would like to jam with, past or present, he replied, "Definitely the original Sons of the Pioneers of the 1930s, and also Bing Crosby or Louis Armstrong."

 

     Third, I'd like to introduce John Fullerton, born and raised in Branson, MO. John's musical talents were encouraged from his grandparents, but it was his inspiration from the Pioneers that formed his musical education. He has perfect pitch which has served him well in being self-taught on instrumentation, chord structures and vocal structures. He is currently the band's vocal arranger, historian and sound director. He sings baritone in the trio, plays rhythm guitar, and is in his seventh year with the band. He also has performed with many well known acts over the years and has owned his own bands. I asked him if he could jam with anyone, who would it be? John replied, "Without a doubt, all four of the Pioneers lead guitarists—Karl Farr, Roy Lanham, Gary LeMaster and Tommy Nallie." When asked about his most embarrassing moment onstage, he recalled, "Well, there was the time I was asked to be a guest with Riders in the Sky and we performed “When Pay Day Rolls Around.” Ranger Doug asked what part I would sing and I said middle, but in the excitement of the moment I sang Too Slim's baritone part on the whole thing!"  

 

     And now to Mr. Paul Elliott. He calls me by my nickname of "George" all the time! While growing up, his household was music filled; he started on violin at age seven. He, too, has played with well-known musicians and bands, which began at age 19. He's recorded for films, television, radio and CDs. He has a degree in music composition. A huge fan of the band's first fiddler, Hugh Farr, Paul continues that sound bringing to the band the tone of a true natural fiddler and brings it to life through his natural ability. He's been with the Pioneers for seven years and is from Seattle, Washington. When I asked him what his most embarrassing moment onstage was, his reply: "It was actually a studio session. A jazz piano player hired me for a session. When I arrived at the studio there were three other musicians there—he put some music up in front of us. It was a fast be-bopp jazz piece in D flat. I thought, I'm dead, there's no way I can play this. He counted it super fast, I blew my part, and the engineer stopped the session. I thought I was gonna die! But it turned out he didn't even hear my mistake—the studio had just made the switch from tape to digital, the engineer didn't know the system and he'd messed up! It happened again on the next take! I was off the hook and told to return a week later! I learned my part! I was so relieved!

   Next question I asked was if he could jam with anyone, soloist or band, past or present, who would it be? He replied, "I think today would be Eldon Shamblin on guitar, Hugh Farr on fiddle, Cary Black on bass, and Tiny Moore on electric mandolin."  

 

     Last but not least, the 47th member of the band, Chuck Ervin, who hails from Oakland, California. Chuck was born in Memphis and raised in Mississippi. He grew to love classic country and western music from family singings on their front porch. He started out on guitar and mandolin, and almost forty years ago relocated to the San Francisco Bay area where he studied jazz bass. This led to performances and recordings in jazz, country, blues, swing and other genres. He has taught at music camps for many years. He joined the band in early 2019 and uses his experiences with journalism in the band also. Chuck claims that if he could be involved in a jam session with anyone past or present, he stated, "Chet Atkins would be fantastic! Also, the Allman Brothers Band, Duane and Gregg." When asked about his most embarrassing stage moment, Chuck mentioned his first theater stage performance. "Back when I was in the second grade, age seven, I was part of a song and dance routine as dancing, prancing snowmen! In my snowman costume, I'm so glad my face was hidden, it was traumatic!"

 

     Now you've met this fabulous five, let's take a short peek into the starting three in 1933. Let's start with the men who had the vision. The founder, Mr. Roy Rogers, yes, the King of the Cowboys. A shy young man who wanted a band that specialized in harmony yodeling and harmony singing. He came to California from Ohio and found work picking peaches. A man of many talents, he could play a guitar, call a square dance, and he wrote or co-wrote many of the band's early favorites. And he could ride a horse. 

 

     The next co-founder was Bob Nolan, Canadian born, who ended up in Tucson, Arizona. Known for writing poetry based on his experiences in the desert, two of his works would become the most celebrated songs in Western music: "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds." He would write nearly 900 songs.  

 

     And the next co-founder was a talented one as well. With connections not far from Branson, being born and raised in Webb City, Missouri, Tim Spencer would also write several hundred songs for the band. His greatest works are perhaps "The Everlasting Hills of Oklahoma," and "Room Full of Roses." He also was the original publisher of "How Great Thou Art."

 

     In the beginning the group was based in Los Angeles, but by the late 1970s, home base was Colorado Springs, Colorado. By the mid-1980s, Branson, Missouri, was home in the summer and Tucson, Arizona, in the winter. I find this as an extremely unusual fact about a band of this longevity, to only have four locations that were called home. While they were based in Branson, they appeared at the Lowe's Country Music Show, the Foggy River Boys Theater, the Braschler Music Theater, the Moe Bandy Theater, the Pavillion Theater at the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, and the Baldknobbers Theater.  

 

     Another fun fact about this band: they have done most of their nationwide traveling in their own cars all these years! All the past and present Pioneers are down-home normal people just like us! All members through the years have always had interests in other fun activities that include bowling, golfing, fishing, hunting, horse training, cattle ranching, volunteering, boat racing, action shooting, book authors, gardening, and hiking, among many other things. There are former members whose final resting places are in the Branson area also.

 

     One of the present accomplishments has been the release of their Gospel CD in just the past month, "Campfire Spirituals." It's been over sixty years since the group last released a Gospel project. There are other recording projects on the horizon. So, check them out at their website, sonsofthepioneers.org for purchase of merchandise, tour schedules, photos and more. Also check out their other media outlets, YouTube, Instagram, and two Facebook sites, including the Sons of the Pioneers Official Fan Corral.

 

       As the entertainment writer, being strictly unbiased, I want to say, "WHAT AN OUTSTANDING ACCOMPLISHMENT OF 90 CONSECUTIVE YEARS, BEING LEGENDARY COWBOY MUSIC PERFORMERS!" Happy 90th Birthday, Pioneers!

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