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Memories from the Homestead: Remembering Western writer and cowboy star Johnny Bond

     A native of the Enville, Oklahoma area, located between Oklahoma City and Dallas, Texas, Johnny Bond was born Cyrus Whitfield Bond on June 1, 1915. One of my favorite writers and an excellent vocalist, Johnny had a long career where he worked alongside several of the greats, Gene Autry and Tex Ritter in particular.


     Johnny's professional music career began in Oklahoma City when he began performing at WKY radio, performing alongside Jimmy Wakely. In 1937 the two men added Scotty Harrell and became a singing cowboy trio known as the Bell Boys, sponsored by the Bell Clothing Company. This led them to regular performances at KVOO in Tulsa. Johnny's composition "Cimarron (Roll On)" had been written in 1938 and soon became their theme song that would open all their radio broadcasts.


     Johnny had been a huge fan of the 1931 Western Movie classic "Cimarron" which starred Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. He often had wondered why there had never been a song written about the river they had crossed many times that flows across southwest Kansas into Oklahoma. One day in 1938 while in Oklahoma City, Johnny wrote his fast paced "Cimarron (Roll On)" and immediately it was featured in the Bell Boys radio show.


     The Cimarron River was a long respected and well-known area to many cowboys in that region during the times of lengthy northbound cattle drives. The river was known to be dangerous with its areas of quicksand and its crossing points were often treacherous. 


     Johnny with the Bell Boys made a California trip to Hollywood and appeared in the filming of the Roy Rogers feature "Saga of Death Valley" in 1939. By June of 1940 they were back again, this time with a new name—the Jimmy Wakely Trio, where they became regulars on Gene Autry's "Melody Ranch" radio show. Scotty Harrell chose to remain in Oklahoma, so he was replaced by Dick Reinhart, an excellent tenor vocalist and bass player.


      "Cimarron (Roll On)" was featured quite regularly and received a lot of exposure. Wakely's trio featured it early in their run with Autry, and they performed it in a Hopalong Cassidy feature, "Twilight On the Trail" in 1941, and was heard again the following year in Autry's film "Heart of the Rio Grande." Wakely recorded it as a solo artist, and the first version to become a hit record was performed by Les Paul and Mary Ford at Capitol Records in 1956.  This version is quite unique, as Mary Ford sang all three vocal parts. Check it out on YouTube!


     In 1953 Johnny Bond took a writing position and solo performer opportunity with Cowboy star Tex Ritter on the "Town Hall Party" at NBC. This series would become the "Ranch Party" television series out of KTTA in Los Angeles, and Bond would remain with it until January 1961 when it went off the air.


     Remaining busy, Johnny recorded solo albums and continued in personal appearances all during the 1960s and ‘70s. A composer of over 300 songs, he passed on June 12, 1978, eleven days after his 63rd birthday.


     "Cimarron (Roll On)" remains a thrilling song to perform. I began singing it when I was eight; my Granny Evelyn had a 1956 copy of the lyrics in a "Cowboy Songs" magazine. I learned it from the Sons of the Pioneers recording they did in 1982. Just about every Western group I've ever been involved in has performed it, and we still feature it in the Sons of the Pioneers today.


     Several years ago, Luanna took me into that part of southwest Kansas north of Elkhart, very close to where she grew up, so she could introduce me to the Cimarron National Grassland, an area along the Cimarron River that covers just over 108,000 acres of land in Morton County and Stevens County. We have crossed the river quite a few times in my travels with the Sons of the Pioneers. Every time we come to it, we usually pull over, roll the windows down, and turn the radio up full blast and let the Pioneers 1960 recording bring Johnny Bond's lyrics to life.


    I have very fond memories watching the great guitarists of the Sons of the Pioneers doing a guitar solo portion on "Cimarron" in between the vocal segments. Those players were all huge influences to me and the best guitar experts ever—Roy Lanham, Luther Nallie, Tommy Nallie, Sunny Spencer and Gary LeMaster. There are quite a number of YouTube versions by various performers over the years. Definitely take a moment and give them a listen!


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