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Memories from the Homestead: Bob Nolan's early life, 1922 - 1931 [part 2]

Last week I provided an in depth look at Bob's early life in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to his arrival in Tucson, Arizona, when he joined his father at age 13 in 1921. Bob's name at this time was Clarence Robert Nolan.

 

     Clarence had arrived in the Arizona desert from Boston, and prior to that he and his brother Earl had lived with their Grandparents in Hatfield Point, New Brunswick. Let's now pick this up in 1922, in Tucson, Arizona. 

 

     Bob recalled in an interview in 1972 that some six months after his arrival to Tucson that he came to fully appreciate the desert's beauty, and just like he had his "wildwood" in Hatfield Point, he now had the desert landscape, full of saguaro cactus and many other plants. He would spend many hours all alone, taking it all in and treasuring the solitude.

 

     Clarence began the seventh grade at Safford Junior High School but would transfer to the Roskruge Junior High for eighth grade. Very athletic, Clarence would enter Tucson High School. His younger brother Earl would join the family around this time. Their father Harry had remarried and he continued his work as a tailor. Money was still tight as the family struggled.   

 

     During the summer months Clarence worked at Wetmore Pool. This was a popular destination as the pool was large, they also offered a roller rink, an outdoor movie theater, dance hall and picnic area.

 

     On the adventurous side, Clarence would also find work in other areas, taking the train, giving him a chance to do something he'd always wanted—travel. Often, he would find work on ranches. Also during these years, his favorite author was Richard Halliburton and his books were a huge influence, deepening his love of travel and exploration. During this time, Clarence began writing poetry and became quite good at it. Years later many of his early poems would become completed songs, simply by adding a melody and complex chords.

 

    While in high school Clarence joined the Arion Club, a men's glee club group, and it's here where Clarence gained a knowledge of singing vocal harmony and chord structure. The twenty-one member Arion Club had a very successful year in 1928, Clarence's senior year, where they won top honors at the Southern Arizona Music Contest.  

 

     Clarence was also on the Tucson High School Badgers track team. He took second place at the Arizona State Track meet with a pole vault of eleven feet seven inches. An injury from a motorcycle accident prevented Clarence from continuing in high school athletics, but he would continue to enjoy swimming and weight lifting. 

 

    Clarence graduated from Tucson High School on May 25, 1928. During his junior year he became acquainted with a pretty young lady by the name of Tennie Pearl Fields. They spent a lot of time together and less than two months after graduation, the high school sweethearts married on July 7, 1928. Clarence was 20, Pearl was 16. Thirteen months later, their daughter Roberta was born.  

 



     Times were very difficult. Clarence went back to hopping rides on freight trains in search of work, anything to put food on the table. Jobs were scarce, and very quickly, the marriage was in trouble. Clarence and Pearl were simply too young.

 

    By 1930 the marriage was over, and Pearl, leaving him for good did not allow Clarence to see Roberta until she was fifteen. Pearl and Roberta would locate to Texas where they would remain with family. 

 

     Clarence would now locate to California and use his middle name of Robert, and would soon go by Bob. Continuing to write during this time, with a genuine love of singing, Bob had not considered a musical career at all. He would soon join a traveling Chautauqua troupe, but work just wasn't steady. Finally, Bob found steady employment with Los Angeles County, working as a lifeguard in Venice.

 

     In 1931, Bob's life would change when he answered an ad seen in the L.A. Examiner. An ad placed by Len Slye (later Roy Rogers) for a harmony yodeler, for an old-time music act to travel. This got Bob into the Rocky Mountaineers group and by late 1933, the beginnings of the Sons of the Pioneers were born when Slye, Nolan and Tim Spencer started the Pioneer Trio and were hired by KFWB radio in Hollywood. The rest is history. The Sons of the Pioneers continue today in their 90th continuous year of entertainment. 

 

     Bob would experience a rewarding career that spanned seventeen years; hundreds of songs were composed which would create an entire genre, and his music would receive world-wide recognition. Bob Nolan, the Poet Laureate of the West would pass away June 16, 1980, from a heart attack, age 72. A portion of his ashes were scattered in the desert near the California/Nevada line.

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