These radio transcriptions made for Jerry King and KFWB in 1934 and 1935 are among the earliest recordings by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers, done at about the same time as their first 78s for Decca Records. Rogers was still known as Leonard Slye at the time, a 22 year old from Ohio who had moved to Southern California and formed the Pioneers with Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer only a couple years prior to the Decca deal. The group added fiddler Hugh Farr shortly before these recordings were made, and he figures prominently in the instrumental arrangements here, as does his brother, guitarist and vocalist Karl Farr, who appears on the later batch of transcriptions. It was a time in American radio when stations were reluctant to play commercial 78s for fear that free transmissions would impact street sales of the record, a concept that seems a bit foolish today, but was a very real perception in the late '30s. Artists got around the problem by doing special recordings that were used only for radio use, and these "transcriptions" were never mass pressed for commercial sale. Rogers and the Pioneers recorded their entire repertoire for King under such an arrangement, which came out to an astounding 300 some selections, 18 of which are collected on Under Western Skies. The sound is wonderfully clear, full, and intimate, and with the simple instrumentation of just guitar and fiddle, the vocals seem particularly crisp. Highlights include the fine version of Jimmie Rodgers' "My Little Lady" (here called "Hadie Brown") that opens the set, a convincing rendition of the pseudo-spiritual "One More River to Cross," the lovely "I Still Do," and an energetic Rogers calling out dance moves on "Square Dance" (later in his career Rogers would record a couple of albums of Kentucky-styled square dance calls). Rogers moved on to Hollywood and acting in 1937 (when he officially became known as Roy Rogers), while the Pioneers continued in ever-shifting lineups. Nolan, in particular, left his mark with a pair of compositions, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "Cool Water," that are arguably the high-water mark of California's unique brand of faux-cowboy Americana. Given the fresh sounding intimacy of these transcriptions, this collection makes an ideal introduction to the earliest recording configuration of the Sons of the Pioneers.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett