Obituary: Roy Rogers

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MUSICALLY, THERE was far more to Roy Rogers than "Four Legged Friend", his popular tribute to Trigger, writes Paul Wadey [further to the obituary by David Shipman, 7 July].

Along with Gene Autry, Tex Ritter and a handful of others he helped to put the "western" into "country and western"; his status as a wholesome, clean-cut icon to millions brought mass acceptance and dignity to a genre that was struggling to lose the label "hillbilly". To date, he remains the only person to have twice been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame; first in 1980 as an original member of the Sons of the Pioneers, and second, nine years later, in his own right.

In 1933, following brief periods with now forgotten groups like the Rocky Mountaineers, the O-Bar-O Cowboys and the Texas Outlaws, Len Slye, as he was then still known, joined forces with Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer to form the Pioneer Trio. Realising that the short life of many bands was due to a lack of both professionalism and originality, they honed their vocal work and their song-writing skills with the intention of creating something new. The quintet they made with the jazz-influenced Farr brothers Hugh and Karl, on fiddle and guitar respectively, formed the nucleus of the great western harmony group the Sons of the Pioneers.

Signed to Decca, they began recording the songs which became the core repertoire of "western" music including "Way Out There" and "Tumbling Tumbling Tumbleweeds" (both 1934) and "There's A Round-up in the Sky" (1935). These Decca cuts and those recorded for ARC in 1937, especially the superb and long-unissued "Cowboy Night Herd Song", are notable for the beautiful textures produced by the subtle interplay of vocal solos, duos and trios and for the Farrs' dazzling guitar and fiddle breaks.

Although Rogers parted from the Pioneers when his film career took off, they remained on good terms and often recorded and appeared with him. In 1940 he cut his first discs for Decca as a solo star, sessions which were notable for his early championing of important C&W songwriters like Fred Rose and Ray Whitley ("You Waited Too Long"), Jimmie Davis and Ted Daffan ("Worried Mind") and Cindy Walker ("Blue Bonnet Lane"). In 1944, in the film Hollywood Canteen, he introduced the Cole Porter standard "Don't Fence Me In", a song which Porter had purchased from a Montana rancher named Bob Fletcher. A year later it became the title of another Rogers movie.

Over the next 30 years he recorded for RCA, Capitol and Word. His later albums, many of them featuring his wife Dale Evans, were often of a religious nature and included The Bible Tells Me So (1962) and In the Sweet By and By (1973). He also made several popular children's records.

In 1974 he broke into the country charts with the nostalgic "Hoppy, Gene and Me" and six years later repeated the feat with "Ride, Concrete Cowboy, Ride" from the soundtrack of Smokey and the Bandit II. In 1991 he was the subject of a Tribute album on RCA on which he duetted with many of Nashville's finest, from Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson to Clint Black.

On the album's final track these admirers appropriately join Roy and Dale for a warm rendition of the theme tune to their long-running television show, Happy Trails.