TRAIL BOSS - Luther Nallie
Luther Nallie is an intricate part of the Sons of the Pioneers. With over 40 years in the group his longevity exceeds all the original members and is second only to Lloyd Perryman & Dale Warren. Recognized for his rich baritone voice and versatile musicianship the Pioneers recruited Luther to join the group in 1968. He was tutored by the architect of the “Pioneer Sound”, Lloyd Perryman, learning the trademark voicing and famous harmonies that still today distinguish the Pioneers from all other groups. As “Trail Boss” he serves as curator of that sound guaranteeing fans they will hear “The Pioneers” at every performance.
Luther’s contribution as musician and leader is immeasurable. Guitar, bass, clarinet, saxophone and keyboards are all Luther’s domain. He is the consummate musician who can sing any part needed, add a guitar riff, provide a dixieland clarinet, develop a song’s voicing and arrangement or contribute in a hundred other ways.
Luther participated in many of the groups’ pinnacle moments. As the group gathered awards such as Country Music Hall of Fame, Western Music Hall of Fame, Cowboy Hall of Fame, Luther was there. He has performed on the groups’ recordings as far back as the 1960s. And when the group appeared on several national television shows, Luther was there.
Growing up around Beaumont, Texas, Luther joined some of his high school buddies, including country music great George Jones, providing music for all types of occasions. He played with some regional bands and on the radio before hearing of a job in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1953. Former Bob Wills vocalist Rusty McDonald was fronting a band that needed a bass player. The fact Luther hadn't ever played bass was only a temporary inconvenience. While in Albuquerque Luther made friends with a yet to be famous Glen Campbell, then more a guitarist than vocalist.
Luther returned to Beaumont for two years of teaching guitar and playing before joining the Army in 1957. Along the line Luther had learned the clarinet and saxophone so he joined a military band while in service.
While the Pioneers were in Houston in 1967, Luther learned they had an opening. Although he was interested other matter prevented him from auditioning. Somewhat later, Luther and his family moved to California looking for better work. In 1969 the Pioneers let Luther know there was an opening for a tenor. This time Luther made the audition. In a few days another phone call requested Luther to join the group in Olympia, Washington. Lloyd Perryman never told Luther he was "hired" but after a few more dates Luther assumed that he was. Lloyd Perryman mentored Luther teaching him his parts, voicing, phrasing etc. just as he had done for others in the group. Luther temporarily left the group in 1974 returning in 1980. When Dale Warren got sick in 2008, it was Luther that he asked to take over as leader of the group.
Other Nallie family members have also contributed talent to the group. Over various periods of time Luther’s brothers Tommy and Jack as well as his son John have been members of the Pioneers. (top of page)
Ken Lattimore is the formal scholar of the group holding a degree in music from Texas Tech University. A tenor, Ken provides the higher harmonies. 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 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 also been known to add a laugh with one of his ad libs.
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 does say 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.
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)
When it comes to top Western style fiddle players... Ricky Boen heads the list. Competing against the best of the best he has won the titles of Texas State Fiddle Champion and World Fiddle Champion.
Ricky is totally dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Western music. "It's real music and it's our heritage", says Ricky. "I grew up in Texas and in the Western culture and this music is ours. It didn't come from England or some foreign country. It is totally American. I just want everyone to have a chance of enjoying it the way I do."
Ricky's career began when he was given a fiddle at age 10. Growing up in Odessa, Texas, Ricky has always been tutored in Western swing by his father Darrell, a noted musician in his own right. So Ricky already had a keen interest in emulating the music of Bob Wills and Johnny Gimble. But Ricky's dad believed in learning the right way so he insisted Ricky also have training in proper classic violin. He studied hard and took first chair in his high school and area orchestras. But Western swing still didn't lose its hold on Ricky. By age 15 Ricky was playing in local dance hall bands.
While still in high school Ricky's grandmother convinced him to enter a "little fiddle contest" over in Crockett, Texas. When Ricky showed up the day of the contest he discovered it was more than just a "little fiddle contest" it was the World Champion contest that had been held in Crockett since the 1920s and was attended by all the greats. Ricky didn't win that year but the contest did inspire him to keep improving his talent. He returned every year to Crockett and at age 20 he won the title World Champion Fiddle Player. He accepted an invitation to learn more styling under the instruction ofTerry Morris, a noted fiddle player with the famous Flying W Wranglers of Colorado Springs. Ricky continued his formal education obtaining a degree in business from the University of Texas at Permean Basin.
Prior to winning the World Championship, Ricky and some friends had an opportunitiy to go to a Johnny Gimble performance. They arrived early and found the famous Johnny Gimble talking to another person on stage in the empty theater. As they walked toward the stage Johnny looked up and said "Well, there's that Ricky Boen." Ricky was astounded because they had never met. Johnny admitted he had seen him at some of the fiddle contests. Ricky was invited to play a particular song which had difficult fingering. With his life-long hero watching Ricky's fingers got "locked up" at at certain spot in the song. Johnny said, "I was wondering how you were going to handle that spot." Johnny kindly showed Ricky a "way out" of the fingering problem and a friendship was born.
Before coming to the Pioneers Ricky played in the bands of Michael Martin Murphey, Asleep at the Wheel, and Red Steagall. He performed with Steve Wariner at the 1989 Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C. While touring with his own Western swing band in 1999 he met Dale Warren in Tucson, Arizona, and the two became friends. In 2005, Ricky started his own show in Branson, Missouri. A few weeks later Ricky got an unexpected call from Dale inviting Ricky to become a member of the Pioneers. Ricky accepted and has been a key member of the Pioneers ever since.
Ricky now makes his home in Branson, Missouri. (top of page)
Tommy perfected his first instrument while in Beaumont, Texas High School earning 1st chair violin. But would you expect any less from the brother of multi-talented Luther and Jack Nallie? While still in high school he started playing bass. After high school Tommy joined Luther and a few ex-Texas Playboys playing western swing around the Beaumont area. 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. There were a few concert dates he filled in with the Pioneers.
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. Luther and Dale immediately started teaching Tommy the tenor harmony along with the so important phrasing and breathing. Another significant tutor was Roy Lanham. 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." After five pleasurable years Tommy found himself needing to resign for personal reasons but the music was never far from his mind.
During the 1990's Tommy was approached by Roy Rogers, Jr. [Dusty] to join Dusty's band, "The High Riders". By then Tommy was anxious to get back to the music he so thoroughly loved. He played bass and provided vocal harmonies with a few solos until 2011 when the Pioneers came to need Tommy to fill in during Gary LeMaster's illness. Of those events Tommy said, "We all deeply regret the circumstances which brought me back to the Pioneers. Everyone misses Gary."
As of January 2013 Tommy officially rejoined the Pioneers. During a normal concert all of Tommy's skills are used ranging from lead guitar to vocal harmony, to yodels and sometimes he handles the upright bass. Tommy has one of the most extensive collections of Pioneer albums, posters, photos and other memorabilia around. When we are looking for an old album, Tommy is who gets the phone call. (top of page)