Review: Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers – The Centennial Collection (Varese Sarabande, 2011)
To mark one-hundred years since the birth of Roy Rogers (November 5, 1911), Varese Sarabande’s put together a set of twenty-one early tracks by Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers. Rogers, still performing under his birth name, Leonard Slye, formed the group in the early 1930s with Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, and they quickly added fiddler (and bass vocalist) Hugh Farr. Before moving on to a film career as Roy Rogers in 1938, he and his fellow Pioneers became the model Western harmony singing group. These recordings are taken from transcriptions made in 1934 and 1935 for Standard, and include the group’s iconic “Cool Water” (with Rogers, unusually, on lead vocal) and several fine examples of Rogers’ yodeling. The collection ends with an early Rogers solo, “It’s Home Sweet Home to Me,” recorded shortly after his film career began. Laurence Zwisohn’s liners provide a quick sketch of Rogers career and a few notes on the recordings, and they’re supplemented by Cheryl Rogers-Barnett’s fond remembrance of her father. The packaging proclaims these as “never-before-released recordings,” but without detailed information (there are no dates or master numbers provided), it’s hard to be sure some or all haven’t appeared among Bear Family’s extensive box sets. What is for certain is the warmth and continuing vitality of these 67-year-old recordings, crisply transferred and restored by William Cook, Phil York and Steve Massie.