Cool Water: Western Writers of America Poll #3 of the Top 100 Western Songs (2010)

Cool Water
Written: 1936 
Recorded by: The Sons of the Pioneers
Recording date: March 27, 1941
Genre: Western standard
Songwriter: Bob Nolan

"Cool Water" is a gospel-folk song about a man, his mule, and a mirage in the desert. Written and recorded by Bob Nolan and The Sons of the Pioneers, it won a Grammy Award in 1941.

In 1979, the Smithsonian's Division of Performing Arts designated the Sons of the Pioneers a "National Treasure." In 1986, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences of Los Angeles chose the Pioneers' "Cool Water" recording for their Grammy Hall of Fame.

Western Writers of America Inc. (WWA) was founded in 1953 to promote the literature of the American West. In 2010, WWA surveyed its membership to choose the Top 100 Western Songs of all Time. "Cool Water" was voted number 3.

The Sons of the Pioneers (1934)
"Yodeler for old-time act. 
To travel. Tenor preferred."
Ad in Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
In 1931, Ohio native Leonard Slye - who became Roy Rogers - moved to California. He worked as a truck driver and later as a fruit picker for Del Monte. When a Los Angeles radio show held an amateur singing contest, Slye entered it. A few days later, he was invited to join a band known as the Rocky Mountaineers. Before long, Canadian-born Bob Nolan answered a classified ad placed by the Rocky Mountaineers in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner: 

"Yodeler for old-time act, to travel. Tenor preferred." 

He auditioned, and the group hired Nolan on the spot. His time with them was brief, but he stayed in touch with Slye. In the spring of 1932, Slye also left the Rocky Mountaineers with another group member, Tim Spencer. Slye, Nolan, and Spencer formed an act called the Pioneer Trio. Success eluded them 

The Sons of the Pioneers

In 1934, the group consisted of Leonard Slye, Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer on vocals, with Nolan playing string bass and Slye playing rhythm guitar. During that time, fiddle player Hugh Farr joined the group, adding a bass voice to the group's vocal arrangements. The Pioneer Trio became the Sons of the Pioneers. 

Along the Navajo Trail (1941)

In 1935, the Sons of the Pioneers signed with Columbia Pictures to supply the music for the studio's Charles Starrett westerns. Two years later, Leonard Slye left the group, became an actor with rival Republic Pictures, and changed his name to Roy Rogers. Nonetheless, he and the Sons of the Pioneers remained close. 

When the Starrett unit disbanded at the end of the 1941 season, the Pioneers - billed now as "Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers" - rejoined Rogers at Republic. That year, they recorded "Cool Water" as the B side of "Drifting Along in the Tumbling Tumbleweed." It was used in the film "Along the Navajo Trail" and peaked at number 25 on the music chart.

Cool Water 
Sons of the Pioneers

Hank Williams (1948-9)

Hank Williams recorded a version of "Cool Water" in 1948 or 1949 for the Johnny Fair Syrup Company radio show on KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Cool Water
Hank Williams

Rango (2011)

"Rango" is a 2011 computer-animated Western comedy. The title character, voiced by Johnny Depp, is a pet chameleon. His owner's car is in an accident, and his terrarium is ejected. Stranded in the Mojave Desert, he looks for water, narrowly avoids being eaten by a hawk, and ends up in a town called "Dirt." The inhabitants of this outpost desperately need a new sheriff. Their water comes in through a mysterious rite at noon on Wednesdays. Hank Williams' version of "Cool Water" is used in this scene. 

Cool Water

Tim Blake Nelson (2000)

Tim Blake Nelson is an American actor who played Delmar O'Donnell in the 2000 Coen brothers' movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?." The film is a loose adaption of Homer's "Odyssey" set in the American South. Co-starring with George Clooney and John Turturro, who plays Ulysses Everett McGill and Pete, respectively, the three main characters break out of jail and form the fictional music group the "Soggy Bottom Boys." The name pays homage to the Foggy Mountain Boys, a bluegrass band led by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

The soundtrack to the movie won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2002 and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for singer Dan Tyminski, whose voice overdubbed George Clooney in the film "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow." All the songs credited to the "Soggy Bottom Boys" are lip-synched by the actors except Tim Blake Nelson's vocals on "In the Jailhouse Now." 

In the Jailhouse Now
Soggy Bottom Boys

Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

In 2018, the Coen brothers made the movie  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. An anthology of six short stories set on the American frontier, it stars Tim Blake Nelson as the title character. Nelson, as Buster Scruggs, on horseback and singing "Cool Water," opens with the first tale.

Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Cool Clear Water 


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