Karl Farr and Roy Lanham

by Gene L. Davenport

Only two lead guitarists in fifty-three years! That. undoubtedly, is a record! The group, of course, is the Sons of the Pioneers, and the guitarists - Karl Farr and Roy Lanham - Karl from 1935 until 1961 (a total of twenty-six years).

Our biographical spotlight this issue falls upon these two fine guitarists in recognition of their contribution not only to the sound, but also to the stability of the "Aristocrats of the Range".


Karl Farr did not grab a guitar the moment he sprang from his mother's womb, but there were times when you might think he did. In fact, the guitar was neither the first nor the only instrument on which Karl excelled. The first was a mandolin, in 1916, when Karl was only seven years old. Michael Mendelson, in his fine sketch on Karl for the Texas Crapshooter album (JEMF-107), says, that Karl learned mandolin because it was the smallest instrument available and the one Karl best able to handle.

Karl was born in Rochelle, Texas, in 1909. By the time he was thirteen, he had learned to play several instruments - including the banjo, drums and the guitar - and soon he played various instruments with Chet Miller's Band in Texas and banjo with Frank Sebastion's Cotton Club orchestra in New Mexico. From 1920 until 1925 he and brothers. Hugh and Glen, performed all across the southwest as (what else but) The Three Farr Brothers.

In 1925 Tom Farr moved his family to California. For three years Karl and Glen worked hard all day at odd jobs and played hard most of the night for dances and other social events. During those years Karl also married and became the father of a son, Karl, Jr. In 1928 the three brothers again performed as a trio. Then, in 1929. Karl and Hugh joined Len Nash and his Country Boys and, along with Ira McCullough, soon became staff musicians on KFOX in Long Beach.

In 1925 Hugh - who had been performing for several months with a relatively new group called the Sons of the Pioneers - urged Karl to leave Jimmie LeFevre and His Saddle Pals and become guitarist with the Pioneers. Karl agreed, and he remained with the Pioneers until his death .

It seems appropriate that Karl died doing what he loved to do - entertaining on his electric guitar. In the midst of a solo of "Up A Lazy River", at the Eastern States Exposition, in Springfield, Massachusetts, a string broke on his guitar. He fussed over the string for a few moments and then collapsed. The broken guitar string seemed to signal the end of his life. It was September 20, 1961.

Karl always was the immaculate dresser among the Pioneers. Before Dale Warren joined the group, you could bet that if anyone wore a suit and string tie, it would be Karl. Even his jeans and western shirt always appeared to be freshly pressed.

His guitar reminded you of lazy summer days in front porch swings or under sprawling shade trees. His playing combined a Texas drawl and a Tin Pan Alley swing. If you heard a song by Gene Autry or Tex Ritter with Karl playing backup. you knew it was his before you were out of the introduction.

Karl was a genuine original. And we miss him still.


They call Roy Lanham the "Corbin Flash". To hear Roy tell it, Corbin might be as difficult to find on a map of Kentucky as Lake Wobegon is on a map of Minnesota. But that is all a part of Roy's humor, Actually, Corbin is a respectable-size town.

Roy, of course, is the humorist with the Sons of the Pioneers; and, in his soft, Kentucky drawl, that years of national and international travel have not corrupted, he can keep you in stitches for extended periods of time. Such is his skill that you find yourself laughing at his stories and one-liners even when you have heard them too many times to count.

Roy's great contribution to the Sons of the Pioneers for twenty-five years has been his artistry as lead guitarist. He did not replace Karl Farr, for Karl was irreplaceable. Instead, he made his place and contributed his own style just as surely as Karl made his place.

Roy was born in 1923 in (as already mentioned) Corbin, Kentucky. Growing up in the '20's and '30's, he came under a number of influences that you might predict - church music, local country music, and, of course, the Grand Old Opry.

When Roy was sixteen years old, and still in high school, Archie Campbell brought a musical group through Corbin and Roy asked to join the show. Campbell liked Roy's playing and persuaded Roy's parents to let Roy join the group. It was the beginning of his professional career.

Campbell's group performed regularly on KNOX in Knoxville at the time, and during the few months he was there Roy got to know quite a few performers from whom he learned and who would go on to become nationally known performers.

After a brief period in Knoxville, Campbell moved the show to Chattanooga. Soon afterward, Gene Austin - one of the hottest stars of the day - played Chattanooga and, upon hearing Roy's combo (the Fidgety Four), he asked them to join his troupe. Upon joining Austin, the Four changed their name to the Whippoorwills, a name that Roy would resurrect several time in the years that followed. Soon, the Whippoorwills returned to Chattanooga and rejoined Campbell. Then, when the combo disbanded, Roy played with several groups and entertainers. Across the years the list of those groups and entertainers came to include (among others) the LeFevre Trio, Hank Penny. Merle Travis, Grandpa Jones, the Delmore Brothers, Smiley Burnette, Roy Rogers, Bonnie Guitar, Jim Reeves, and Sy Zetner.

In the early '40's Roy married Marianne La Glise, who - more often than not - can be seen in the Pioneer audience, laughing at Roy's tales as though hearing them for the first time.

In the late '50's Roy cut two albums - The Fabulous Roy Lanham and The Most Exciting Guitar. On both, the style is upbeat, nightclub jazz.

Whereas (as mentioned earlier) Karl Farr's style was like lazy summer. Roy's style reminds you of smoke-filled night spots at 3 a.m.

When he isn't busy as a Pioneer, Roy frequently can be found tending his numerous real estate interests, watching TV (which comes close to being a hobby for him), or simply enjoying the company of his faithful Marianne.


The thing that Karl Farr and Roy Lanham have had in common has been their rich background in jazz, combined with an equally rich background in traditional folk and hillbilly music. You will seldom, if ever, hear a guitarist on the Grand Old Opry (or on any other country music show) whose style even begins to approach the style and sound of Karl or Roy. Say it either way you prefer; they have played jazz with a country twang, or they have played country with a jazz clip. Whichever is the case, without them the Pioneer sound would have been quite different from what it has been.

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