Robert Clarence Nobles was born April 13, 1908 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to Harry Nobles and Flora Elizabeth Hussey Nobles. The couple separated in 1915, and Flora raised her two little boys in Winnipeg.
In the summer of 1916 Flora temporarily moved her children to her husband's parents' home in Hatfield Point, New Brunswick. But, due to the machinations of his father, Bob never saw his mother again.
In the summer of 1919 Bob went to live with his aunt in Boston, Massachusetts. There he attended The Belmont School until 1921, when, at the age of thirteen, he moved to Tucson, Arizona to live with his father Harry, a United States Army officer. He attended Safford Junior High School until 1922, then transferred to Roskruge Junior High. In high school he was an average student, was a member of the Arion Club choral group, and excelled in athletics. He graduated from Tucson High School in May 1928.
On July 7, 1928, less than two months after he graduated high school, Bob Nolan married his high school sweetheart, 16-year-old Tennie Pearl Fields. Thirteen months later, daughter Roberta Irene was born to them, but the marriage foundered almost from the beginning.
After he left school, Bob Nolan drifted around the country, finding work where he could and always writing songs. He took a lifeguard job in Los Angeles in 1929. His father had changed his name to Nolan and it was as Bob Nolan that he began a career as a singer on the Chautauqua tent-show circuit and as a lifeguard in Santa Monica.
Sons of the Pioneers
In September 1931 Bob Nolan answered a classified ad in The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner that read "Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred." The band was The Rocky Mountaineers, led by a young singer named Leonard Slye, who would later change his name to Roy Rogers. After listening to the tall, slender, tanned Nolan sing and yodel, Slye hired Nolan on the spot. Although he stayed with the group only a short time, he stayed in touch with Slye.
In 1934, Bob Nolan co-founded the Sons of the Pioneers with Roy Rogers and Tim Spencer. The singing group became very popular and produced numerous recordings for Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor.
The Sons of the Pioneers began performing Nolan's original songs on a nationally syndicated radio show. "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" became their signature tune and a Western standard, and was one of the first songs the group recorded when it signed with Decca in 1934. In the coming years, The Sons of the Pioneers recorded many other Nolan songs, including "Way Out There", "There's a Roundup in the Sky", "One More Ride", and "Cool Water", which became one of the group's most famous recordings.
In 1935 the Sons of the Pioneers appeared in their first full-length Western movie, The Old Homestead. In 1938, Leonard Slye starred in his own film, took the name Roy Rogers, and left the group to focus on his own career. Bob Nolan became the leader of the Sons of the Pioneers.
In 1934 Bob Nolan began his career in film as the singing voice for Ken Maynard in the 1934 film In Old Santa Fe. In 1935 the Sons of the Pioneers appeared in their first full-length Western movie, The Old Homestead. In late 1937 they went on to sign an exclusive contract to appear in Charles Starrett's Western films, an arrangement that lasted until 1941.
In his career in film, Nolan appeared in at least 88 Western films, first for Columbia Pictures and later with cowboy stars Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. With the Sons of the Pioneers, he made guest appearances in high-budget films like Hollywood Canteen and Rhythm on the Range with Bing Crosby. He also appeared in the Walt Disney short, Melody Time.
In 1941, when their arrangement with Starrett and Columbia Pictures came to an end, the Sons of the Pioneers joined up with Roy Rogers at Republic, appearing as his musical sidekicks in numerous films through 1948. Their last film together wasNight Time in Nevada. In many of these films, Nolan was featured in prominent supporting roles with significant dialogue. Republic once offered Nolan his own cowboy film series, which he declined.
On June 11, 1942 Bob Nolan married Clara Brown, whose slight stature led to her being nicknamed P-Nuts. They met at the Columbia Drugstore on Sunset and Gower near the Columbia Studio lot. P-Nuts had come to Hollywood in search of stardom, but found work instead at the drugstore, where Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers frequently had lunch and where Nolan would work on his song lyrics.
In 1949 Bob Nolan retired from show business and began a semi-secluded life as a songwriter. In 1971 Nolan was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1980, at the age of 72, Nolan recorded his last LP album, Bob Nolan: The Sound of a Pioneer.
Bob Nolan died on June 16, 1980 in Newport Beach, California of a heart attack. At his request, his ashes were scattered in Red Rock Canyon in the Nevada desert. Nolan was survived by a grandchild, Calin Coburn, and three great-grandchildren, Cayleen, Miles, and Connor Coburn.
On July 27, 1980 many of his friends and former colleagues gathered at Rex Allen's Diamond X ranch in Calabasas, California to honor him musically. Among those who attended the memorial were Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, the current Sons of the Pioneers, and the Reinsmen.