Meet The Pioneers

SOP 2016

Tommy Nallie - Trail Boss

Tommy photo

Tommy Nallie is the “trail boss” of the group, a place held by only three individuals before him. As trail boss Tommy is the curator of the famous “Pioneer sound” guaranteeing that every audience will experience the harmonies and music that made them world famous. He is also the archivist of the group owning a copy of practically every recording the group has made. Tommy grew up in a musical family, his brothers Luther and Jack are both prior members of the Pioneers. Luther was with the group for over 45 years and served as the trail boss before Tommy. His first instrument was the violin which he perfected in Beaumont Texas high school earning the honor of “first chair”. He played in local bands with Luther and learned to play bass. After high school Tommy played western swing around the Beaumont with some ex-Texas Playboys. Then came a tour of duty in the Navy. Upon returning to Texas, Tommy picked up right where he left off by touring across the country as a vocalist and utility instrumentalist. By this time he had added guitar and drums to his resume. When not out on the road he worked as a back-up in the recording studio for country greats like Johnny Duncan. He started being asked to fill in when a Sons of the Pioneers member had to be absent.

Then in May, 1983, Tommy got a call from Luther inviting him to Nashville where the Pioneers were doing a week-long series of concerts. Dale Warren asked Tommy to take over a set of drums that was on stage during the first show. By the week's end, Dale had offered Tommy a position with the Pioneers. Dale and Luther started teaching Tommy the harmony and finer parts of the tenor position. It didn't take long because Tommy and his family had been performing Western music for years. Another significant tutor was Roy Lanham, perhaps the group’s best all-time lead guitar player. Tommy says, "It's difficult to put into words how greatly honored I was to become a part of such a rich and impressive musical tradition." Over the years Tommy learned every other part to all of the songs in the Pioneers’ repertoire and now he teaches them to any new member or substitute. There was a period of time when Tommy also played with Roy Rogers, Jr.[Dusty] in his band, the “High Riders”.

Currently Tommy plays lead guitar, yodels and provides harmony. He also steps up and does a couple of vocal solos. Tommy has made his home in several places over the Southwest but now resides in the Branson area.

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Ken LattimoreLattimore Photo

Ken Lattimore is one of the formal musical scholars of the group holding a degree in music from Texas Tech University. Ken is acknowledged as of one of the best tenors in Western music. He also delights audiences with his fiddle solos and duets. Before joining the Pioneers, Ken had a rich experience in a variety of music genres ranging from singing lead tenor in Gilbert and Sullivan productions to performing in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and a country music festival in Austria. Ken continues his diverse musical interests in the “off season” by joining the violin sections of several different symphony orchestras throughout Texas and Louisiana.

Ken’s interest in western music and particularly the Pioneers dates back to childhood when he became a fan after listening to his parent’s albums. The harmonies and lyrics roped in his interest. As an adult he found himself falling deeper under the spell of Pioneer music and committed many of their songs to memory. On a fateful 1997 stopover in Branson Ken felt led to approach Dale Warren and give him a demo CD. Although Dale was friendly to Ken’s approach and accepted the CD, Ken did not expect to hear anything more. To his surprise Ken got a call from Dale the next day suggesting he try-out after Ken had learned his assigned part to six or so songs. Weeks later Ken returned for the try-out and got the nod. Ken says, “Singing and playing violin with the greatest western singing group ever proves the old adage...at times your fondest dream can come true.”

When not working on his music Ken enjoys a variety of outside interests especially American history. Ken’s family roots dating back to the American colonies has led to him becoming a member of the 19th Texas Infantry, a group of Confederate army reenactors . The Marshall, Texas, native has “fought in battles” at Gettysburg and other locations across the country. (top of page)

Randy RuddRudd Photo

Randy Rudd's full rich baritone voice makes him a natural as the "lead" singer of the group. He officially joined the group in 2001. Dale Warren likened Randy's voice to that of earlier Pioneer Ken Curtis. As an accomplished guitarist, Randy not only supplies rhythm guitar but occasionally adds a riff or short solo. He's the MC and also has been known to add an element of humor with one of his ad libs or impersonations.

He's the only native Missourian of the group having grown up in Marshall and Blue Springs, Missouri. Randy's early musical influences were varied. He admired Merle Haggard, Larry Gatlin, Roy Orbison, Marty Robbins, James Taylor and guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan and James Burton. Randy says that he always had great admiriation for the Pioneers songs, their style and their instrumentation.

"I'm delighted to be a member of a group whose musical performances are impeccable. Working with the other members is a treat beyond compare. Two of my most favorite Pioneer songs are "Lillies Grow High" and "Blue Prairie" says Randy. He loves the music and it shows in every performance.

Prior to joining the Pioneers, Randy performed in Branson first working at Roy Clark's and then at Moe Bandy's Theater.

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Mark Abbott

Mark Photo

When it comes to knowing how to make a Western song sound great Mark Abbott has a wealth of experience. Mark anchors the lower registers with his bass voice and upright string bass. As a small boy Mark's mother persistently tried to get him to learn the guitar and Mark just as persistently refused. Then at about age eleven Mark was listening to radio station WWL in New Orleans and heard Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys play "Summit Ridge Drive" by Artie Shaw. The bass solo so captivated Mark that he drug the old guitar from his closet and started picking the solo out by ear on the lower four strings.

He continued working on the bass and soon found an opportunity to join an old time string band playing at his god parent's theater. He asked his parents and got his own bass when he was 14. Meanwhile, he learned to read music in the public schools but as a brass horn player. At age 15 he again went to his parents, this time wanting a fiddle. Within a few months he had learned four fiddle tunes and confidently entered a local fiddle contest. But there was a problem. Three other kids were better than Mark leaving him in fourth place. Undaunted, Mark continued practicing his fiddle. With his fiddle bow experience the orchestra teacher put Mark in the school orchestra playing the upright bass with a bow and several All State championships followed.

Mark began picking up some paying gigs playing bass with local bands. One of the bands included Mark Chesnut, who had yet to become well known. Then came a stint playing with Johnny Rodriquez. Deciding he wanted a different career Mark opted for a "day job" and dropped out of playing for 5 years. But he missed the music so when an opportunity to play with Janie Fricke came along he took it. Soon he was backing up Red Steagall and Don Edwards. When Sons of the San Juaqin, Willie Nelson or Marty Stuart headed into the recording studio to do western tunes it was Mark who got the call to play bass. His bass can be heard on many of the jazzy "How the West Was Swung" albums by Tom Morrell and the Timewarp Tophands. He got to fulfill a childhood dream by playing with the Texas Playboys under Leon Rausch. The last 12 years before joining the Pioneers Mark played with Ray Price.

Mark lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas, area. (top of page)

Justin Branum

JustinWhen he was 12 years old Justin Branum watched a parade containing a float full of fiddlers in his then hometown of Belgrade, Montana. He and his mother decided he would learn the fiddle. He took formal lessons for less than one year but continued as a self-taught student. By the time he was 14, Justin was playing in some local bands and started entering fiddle contests. The western swing of Bob Wills soon caught his attention and his Dad introduced him to the Sons of the Pioneers and the musicianship of the Farr brothers. On television he watched a lot of Hee-Haw. He became a fan of fiddler Tommy Jackson in Ray Price’s band. His taste for western music further developed as he listened to Woody Paul of Riders in the Sky. Justin says the one fiddle player that has had the biggest influence on his music is the legendary Johnny Gimble.

By the time Justin was ready for college his family had moved to St. Louis so he entered Webster University where he earned his undergraduate degree in Music. Exposure to the music of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis led him to also earn a Masters in Jazz Performance. While in college his mastered instruments expanded to include mandolin, guitar and even the cello.

After college Justin moved to Nashville and devoted full-time to his music career by playing for recordings and a syndicated TV show as well as performing as a utility musician for numerous bands both in Nashville and on the road. He became acquainted with well-known Nashville fiddle player Buddy Spicher who became a mentor. For a while he played in the Bobby Flores band. Somewhere Justin got exposed to Bluegrass music and soon it was added to his repertoire.

Justin continued to enter fiddle contests resulting in him winning several of the most coveted fiddle contests. In 2008 he went to Weiser, Idaho and won the National Fiddle Contest in his division. This was followed by winning the Texas State Fiddle Contest and the Tennessee State Fiddle Contest. In 2010 he won the Grand National Championship Fiddle Contest in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2015 he won the Tennessee State Mandolin Contest.

In 2014 lead fiddle player Ricky Boen left the Pioneers to go into the ministry. Mark Abbott changed over to fiddle until Ricky’s replacement could be found. In preparation for the Pioneers’ 2015 Canadian tour Justin was asked to take over the lead fiddle position which allowed Mark to return to bass. Recently Justin has also been adding some mandolin parts to give a little variation. Justin said, “I am highly honored to have been asked to perform with the Sons of the Pioneers. They hold a unique and highly important place in American music. Their music has enjoyed decades of popularity. It’s not about loves found or lost but it’s about the love of our great American West, the beauty of the landscape, the pioneering spirit and our history. The music and lyrics are wholesome so that it can be enjoyed by both a grandparent and a three year old. Not much of today’s music is like that. I like it as a musician because the music has challenging chord changes and phrasing borrowed from early jazz and big band sound. For all those reasons I’m glad to be performing with the Pioneers.”

Justin’s outside interest include hiking, traveling, fishing, cooking and reading. He continues to live in Nashville.

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