100 Greatest Men: #74. Sons of the Pioneers

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Country artists are known for their longevity, but the Sons of the Pioneers make the rest look like flash-in-the-pan newbies.

First formed in 1933, Sons of the Pioneers are the longest-running active vocal group in country music today.   The lineup, of course, has changed over the years, but the original group weren’t just sons of the pioneers.  They were the pioneers of Western music, that post-ampersand genre that was once an essential half of mainstream country music.

The classic lineup included Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer, who dubbed themselves the Pioneer Trio when they first began performing as a group.  Hugh Farr joined in 1934.  A radio announcer changed their name when introducing them.  He felt they were too young to be pioneers, but that they could be sons of the pioneers.

The new name stuck, and the foursome began recording for Decca records in 1934.   As one of the first multimedia supergroups, Sons of the Pioneers would become known not only through recorded music and live shows, but also through radio, film, and later, television exposure.   Their first big hit was originally called “Tumbling Leaves,” but to give it a Western twist, it was recorded as “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”

Over the course of five decades, Sons of the Pioneers appeared in 87 films, recorded countless albums, and starred in their own television series.      Roy Rogers, an icon in his own right, left the band for a time to secure a contract with Republic Pictures, but the band rejoined him when their contract with Columbia expired, and they continued to work with him in the decades that followed.

Several band members have come and gone, and the original lineup has all passed on, but despite different incarnations, the band has remained successful.  The original lineup was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, alongside later additions Lloyd Perryman and Karl Farr. In 1986, their recording of “Cool Water” was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame.  Today, their Branson show remains a top draw, and they will celebrate their eightieth anniversary as a group next year.

Essential Singles:

  • Tumbling Tumbleweeds, 1934
  • Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima, 1945
  • Baby Doll, 1947
  • Cool Water, 1947
  • Room Full of Roses, 1949

Essential Albums:

  • Columbia Historic Edition, 1982
  • Bear Family Collection Vol. 1-4, 1987
  • Ultimate Collection, 2002

Next: #73.  Tennessee Ernie Ford

Previous: #75. Jim Ed Brown

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List


  1. “Cool Water” is one of my favorite country drinking songs. According to secondhandsongs.com it was composed by Bob Nolan in 1936 and released as a single in 1941. The song was also covered in 1960 by the Browns featuring Jim Ed Brown. Also always liked “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”.

  2. many good singers passed through this group including one that folks of my generation know well, Curtis Gates. Gates changed his name to Ken Curtis and starred as “Festus Hagen” on GUNSMOKE

    My favorite version of the band was the in the late 30s when Hugh and Karl Farr where members. The music they made during this period verged on western swing. They drifted toward the easy listening cowboy harmony sound as the 40s progressed

  3. Cool Water was one of my favorite song and I don’t have any idea that this song was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame…I played this song 4 to 6 times a day specially when am bored..Thumbs up for Sons of the Pioneers!

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