Iconic Western band to perform in Artesia
By Christina Stock
The Sons of the Pioneers will perform at Artesia’s Ocotillo Performing Arts Center, 310 W. Main St., on Nov. 17 at 2 p.m.
The Sons of the Pioneers band, formed in 1934, is known as the original “singing cowboy” band, instrumental in creating the earliest sounds of Western music. Founded by Roy Rogers (then known as Leonard Slye), Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer, the band has remained together continuously since then, rotating a total of 46 members over the years. This award-winning, legendary band continues to gain fans young and old, playing original favorites like “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” along with gems from the early days. These six accomplished musicians (including Roy Rogers’ son, Dusty) bring fresh energy to this classic genre, taking audiences time-traveling into the great American West with them.
This year, for its 85th celebration tour, Roy “Dusty” Rogers Jr. is returning with the Sons of the Pioneers to perform in Artesia.
“Since the last time, we’ve got a new bass player and a new fiddle player,” Dusty Rogers said during a phone interview. They are so magnificent in what they do that it’s added a tremendous amount musically to the Pioneer show.
“We’re bringing a lot of new songs and the old songs in a new way,” Dusty Rogers said. “In three-, four-, sometimes five-part harmony. It’s going to be a fun deal and I hope that it brings back a lot of memories for folks. We just got back from a tour in Canada, we played the Grand Ole Opry on Friday night (Oct. 25), and we went down to Georgia and played the Booth (Western Art) Museum. People are bringing their young people to the shows, which is amazing to me. You’d think the older folks would recognize the music, but they are bringing their young ones with them to hear the music. It’s timeless and goes on forever. People don’t get tired of hearing it. A lot of these songs they grew up on, their parents and grandparents sang to them. We don’t mess with the harmonies too much; we don’t mess with the arrangements too much. We’re going to bring it on.”
Dusty Rogers has been in the area before, retracing his famous father’s early days and his mother’s family. After all, according the the Daily Record’s archive, Roy Rogers, who was known in 1933 as Leonard Slye, came to Roswell to perform at the Capitan Theater, 314 N. Main St.
In an earlier interview, Dusty Rogers remembered his father telling him that he and another band member were driving down Main Street when they stopped to get directions to KGFL radio from a young girl who was walking on the sidewalk with her friend. Driving on, Roy Rogers said that one day he would marry that young woman. Her name was Arline Wilkins, who must have liked the musician as well, because when hearing on the radio about the band asking for food and making smart remarks that women nowadays can’t cook, Wilkins got her mother, Lucy Wilkins to bake with her a lemon pie. While Roy Rogers had to continue his tour to Los Angeles, he and Arline Wilkins wrote each other and visited as his career prepared to take off. Roy Rogers — Slye — Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan formed the Pioneer Trio and when Karl and Hugh Farr joined, a radio announcer referred to them as the Sons of the Pioneers. The name stuck.
The relationship between Slye and Wilkins continued to grow, and June 11, 1936, Slye, 24, and Wilkins, 21, were married in the Wilkins’ home in Roswell.
Now using the name Roy Rogers, he and his wife adopted Cheryl Darlene in 1940. Their daughter Linda Lou was born April 18, 1943 and Roy Rogers Jr., nicknamed “Dusty,” was born Oct. 28, 1946. Six days after giving birth to her son, Arline Slye died of an embolism, Nov. 3, 1946.
A little more than a year later, Rogers married Dale Evans Dec. 31, 1947. The two had been co-starring together since 1944.
In 1980, Evans appeared at the Pueblo Auditorium for Gateway Church and said she felt a connection to Roswell because her uncle was a guard at the prisoner of war camp in Roswell during World War II, and because of Arline Wilkins, Roy Rogers’ late wife.
Growing up in the show business, Dusty Rogers has been acting and performing since birth, accomplishing a career that his father supported. It was only a matter of time before Dusty followed in the footsteps of his parents and launched his own recording career.
Dusty Rogers’ singing has taken him to many concert halls and dinner houses throughout the United States and Canada. In 2003 and 2004, he had the distinct honor of performing at the esteemed Carnegie Hall in New York. From 2003 through 2009, Dusty performed in his very own “Happy Trails Theatre” in Branson, Missouri, located inside the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum. In 2010, Dusty moved his show to the Mickey Gilley Theatre in Branson. In 2012 and 2013, he took his show to the RFD-TV The Theatre. During off season in Branson, “Roy Rogers Jr. and The High Riders” take the show on the road to perform at various venues, festivals and conventions. Dusty Rogers returns to the area with The Sons of the Pioneers of 2019. Band members are Tommy Nallie (trail boss, lead, harmony vocals and guitar), Ken Lattimore (lead, harmony vocals and fiddle), John Fullerton (lead, harmony vocals and rhythm guitar), Paul Elliott (fiddle) and Chuck Ervin (harmony vocals and bass).
Asked if Dusty Rogers would have some time to spend in Roswell after his performance in Artesia, he said with a chuckle, “I never have enough time. Every time I plan on it, something happens and I don’t quite get there. I really enjoyed the last trip. I was able to spend a little bit of time trying to find my parents’ and grandparents’ gravesites. I had a hard time finding them because they, the cemetery, couldn’t locate them. But it was enjoyable to see the cemetery and those trees that my grandpa, Mr. Wilkins, planted so many years ago. I just got a real good feeling being in Roswell, I spend a whole lot of time there visiting once in a while.”
Dusty Rogers said that this time, he is planning to find out where his grandparents lived and where his father stayed when he first visited Roswell in 1933. According to the Roswell Daily Record’s archives, Roy Rogers — Slye — stayed with his band at Greenhaven Tourist Camp at 612 E. Second St.
“We’re really looking forward to getting back there and spending a little more time, if possible. It always seems like they point me in one direction and say, ‘Get your butt over there,’” Dusty Rogers said and laughed. “Hopefully I get to spend more time and meet more folks. The folks are so friendly there and I really am looking forward to coming back.”
For more information, visit sonsofthepioneers.org, artesiaartscouncil.com or call the box office of the Ocotillo Performing Arts Center at 575-746-4212.